The Groningen Report
The 24 years old Jeangu Macrooy is a singer-songwriter, was born and raised in the tropical warmth of Paramaribo, Suriname. In The Netherlands he started working with producer and composer Perquisite and signed to his label, Unexpected Records. He released his debut EP ‘Brave Enough’ in April 2016, followed in 2017 by his debut album ‘High On You’, which was recently nominated for an Edison Pop for ‘Best Album’. His song ‘Gold’ was later used in a commercial for television network HBO. In 2016 he provided the support for Selah Sue and others and played 120 shows in just 12 months. To promote his album ‘High On You’, Jeangu played 15 clubshows throughout The Netherlands, of which all but two were sold out. He also played on Noorderslag in Groningen, Lowlands Festival and North Sea Jazz Festival. In Suriname the title song of his debut album ‘High On You’ had been at the number one chart position for seven weeks straight.
Of course I had to talk with Jeangu Macrooy for 60Minuten, at ESNS18 in Groningen. We met one hour before his soundcheck January 18, very close to his stage, the ‘Eurosonic Air’, at the market place in the center of Groningen. And we met in De Kostery, a very old and cozy cafe from the seventeenth century, of course renovated and very close to the Martini church tower. Jeangu’s concert with his band feat. Jelle Huiberts (drums), Gijs Batelaan (guitar), Patrick Rugebregt (keyboards), Florian Sperzel (trumpet), Floris van der Vlugt (saxophon), Xilian Macrooy and Milaisa Breeveld (background vocals) was available for everybody and for free, isn’t that amazing?
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Hi Jeangu, nice to meet you here at ESNS! When did you arrive?
Jeangu Macrooy: This afternoon, around half past three.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: First of all I have to say: happy new year! How did you celebrate New Year’s Eve?
Jeangu Macrooy: I celebrated in Suriname, which is my home country. I don’t have been back home since 2014, which is 3 and a half years. Because I’ve been very busy in Holland, building my career. So I took the chance last year to go home and play some concerts there and I also got the chance to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the warmth with my family. That was beautiful and I never want to miss it again. Here in The Netherlands I had my first culture shock during New Year’s Eve in this country. Because here it is very cold and I didn’t know people. In Paramaribo everybody is dancing in the streets, it’s just one big festival, we really party the year!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You also have fireworks and drink champagne?
Jeangu Macrooy: Yes, we have. The fireworks are not much, because the country has a economic crisis. So, we have less fireworks, but maybe more champagne (laughing). But people there party through the good and the bad.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You are a very successful musician since 3 years!
Jeangu Macrooy: Oh, thank you! I moved to Holland in September 2014. I went to study at the music academy in Enschede. But at the end of my first year I met my manager Pieter Perquin and immediately signed to his label. It all started in summer 2015. The first time I played in Groningen during the Eurosonic was not even on the normal program in January 2016. It was in a small Café, where I played just a few songs. But that was the beginning. There people saw me playing and from there I started with my booking agent and my publisher. That’s just 2 years ago. In these 2 years a lot of things happened.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Holland is a small country, but you really reached already very much in your young career. You had a great interview in the NRC Handelsblad, you were on TV a lot and you played on many big festivals.
Jeangu Macrooy: Yes, they also were interested in my story. I am really glad, because it is always scary when you make a decision to step into the spotlight. I was just so happy that my music was embraced by the media and I got many chances to perform on TV, radio and festivals.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: How does this feel, that it’s working so good? Did you change through your success?
Jeangu Macrooy: Definitely I grew! I studied at the conservatory in Enschede until last year. Then I decided to stop last September because it was just hard to juggle these two things. Studying and at the same time being successful, being on TV and after just having classes the next day. With my new schedule it just didn’t function anymore. The real learning happened outside of those so called academic safe walls.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Can you see, how and in which ways you’ve changed?
Jeangu Macrooy: Yes, I can. I learned a few things and that also has to do with how you handle a crisis. People always have an opinion. The first thing I actually learned after being on 3FM radio, which was during a night, with Eva Koreman. That was the first time I got feedback from the audience that was listening. People liked that, but there were always people who didn’t like it. That was one of the first thing I learned, how to deal with it. I had a period where I didn’t want to read the Twitter feed or messages like that. But right now I am in a place where I can accept that. Not all people accept my music, but this does not necessarily have to touch me. It does not have to affect what you do, because I try to do my best all the time.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You first studied at a conservatory in Suriname, then you switched to the Pop Academy in Enschede. What did you learn the most in these two schools what you still use today?
Jeangu Macrooy: When it comes to the conservatory in Suriname, that was one of the most special schools I’ve been to. Suriname is multi cultural, you have the people that come from families of slaves but there are also people coming from immigrants, like from Asia, India, China and Indonesia. All these cultures are coming together there. The conservatory in Suriname made it their mission to bring many different teachings into one study. When you study there, you are motivated to use all those influences from all these cultures and make it something of your own. When you live in Suriname and you are aware of all these many cultures, on that school I just became more alert that this is something really special. You can use these influences for inspiration in a lot of different ways. This influenced me a lot and still does, for example when you need to look outside of your box. It’s like leaving your comfort zone.
There I met one of the best teachers I ever had, her name is Alida. She said, it’s not about imitating. Audience does not want to have the next or the next or the next Michael Jackson or who ever. This never sticks actually. The thing is, you should take something and let it inspire you and then it should transform into something of your own. We all have of course our limitations. When I would imitate Michael Jackson, it would not be the same. If I take what he does and try to fit it inside my limitations and try to grow, then it can become something unique and more my voice. That’s what I learned. Then I wanted to leave Suriname, because I couldn’t focus on my songwriting there. The Netherlands were a logical choice, because of its history and it is affordable, especially when you compare it to the United States, which is super expensive. At the Pop Academy in Enschede I learned many things, especially discipline. One of the best points of that school is, it approaches the musician as an artist and business man. That was really enlightening. You can have dreams and I am a very big dreamer. I always have huge dreams. Here I learned how to make the good plan for my dreams, step-by-step. Always keep your goal in sight, but walk in small steps, not a huge jump. That’s what I learned in Enschede.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: My photographer Zoltan asked me to meet you here on ESNS. Then I checked your music and also your videos. They combine music with excellent artwork. “To Love is to Hurt” shows amazing drawings. Can you tell me more about this video?
Jeangu Macrooy: Beside being a musician I am also a drawer. Drawing was the first talent that came to the surface in my life. There was a time, before I moved to Holland, I got accepted into an art academy and a music academy. I choose music because it was more confident. When I draw, for me it’s always about esthetics, what I like to see. I also try to corporate this in my music. I drew all the covers of my albums, my recent full CD and one EP with 6 songs, which came out in 2016. “High On You” shows my portrait and this kind of work I want to keep doing. For every project I want to make more self portraits. But even my music is also kind of a self portrait.
To come back to the video, I didn’t draw it myself. But it was my idea to have a video like this. This is how I think about my music, similar to lines that come together and create a new life.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: How did you find the right people for this video?
Jeangu Macrooy: We were scouting a Dutch animation festival and spotted 2 animators from Maastricht, Janneke Swinkels and Tom Frijsinger. We just approached them. Actually they did a great job, because we didn’t had much time. We wanted the video in 2 months, which for animation is really short, but they did a wonderful job. Both were very disciplined. The year after, our video was presented on the same animation festival, which was really nice to see of course. Then our work and how we met became a circle.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: With what kind of music did you grow up in Suriname? Did you have a connection there also with American music or was it more the natural traditional music from Suriname?
Jeangu Macrooy: The music from Suriname was always around me. Always on the radio and on parties. That was music I just naturally grew up with. But at home my parents almost never played traditional music. Maybe because it was just already around. When they put on music, my father listened a lot to reggae music and soul. But it was my mother, who made the playlist I guess (laughing). She was really into 90’s Divas, like Mariah Carey and Toni Braxton, these power women and their power songs with big voices. That is what I grew up with. When I first developed my own taste in music, I first reached pop-rock. The first album I bought was Kelly Clarkson’s My December. I haven’t heard music like that before, because my parents didn’t play rock in our house. It was just amazing inspiring to hear a big voice with a different kind of instrumentation. My taste is just so wide, I never put on my own playlist when I’m in a car. I do not like classical music that much yet, but reggae and all the other styles around and between (laughing). In Suriname I had painting lessons and my teacher always put on classical music. But until now classical music didn’t touch me really much.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Last year I was talking with Izaline Calister. She grew up in Curacao and came to study at the Prins Claus Conservatoire in Groningen and even lives here in Groningen. She was and still is singing about slavery, like you do. Especially she sings about the Dutch roots in slavery, which is really sad to mention of course, but slavery is even a modern way of life, like when a person is forced to work for free to pay off a forced debt, child slavery, forced marriage and so on. We can face it still everywhere, even in racism.
Jeangu Macrooy: Yes, and in the colonialism. Slavery still exists.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: How important is it for you to sing about slavery, because you do sing already about this part of history. Is it also a combination of today’s slavery you are singing about?
Jeangu Macrooy: Yes. My first single in Holland was “Gold”. It is a song about the history between Suriname and The Netherlands. I found myself a bit frustrated after being a year in Holland. It seems that a lot of people are just not aware of their history they share with Suriname and at the same time also their own. This are not two different things, Suriname’s and Dutch histories are combined. The fact that we live in a first world country and lots of things are better than in lots of parts in the world, is partly based on slavery. I found it really shocking the first time I discovered this. The end of slavery in Suriname was officially the 1st of July 1863. In Suriname this day is always celebrated very big, it is a really major memorial. But here in Holland it’s just not existing, not at all. Most of the people here are not even aware of it. Only the Surinamese people know about this. I found out the Dutch people have a really weird way of treating this part of history. People often say, it’s long ago and you should forget. But asking people to forget their history, it’s where you are coming from, this makes your identity, it’s not a fun part, not for both sides, it is not a fun subject of course. But it is the cause of many ways like they are even now. My song “Gold” ends positive. When you hear the song for the first time, you may think it’s about being victimized. But it is also about taking the challenge we get now and turning it around. It is a metaphor for welfare. We take that GOLD and make it our own. Our promised land. We can also have a good future, but we cannot do it alone, we need to co-operate. Acknowledgement is the beginning of respect for me. I just felt the need to sing about that.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You sing about the children of ignorance and you end with ‘we will write our future in gold’. Does this also mean, you have hope about humanity and their future?
Jeangu Macrooy: I have hope! That’s the point of the song, I am not the one for dwelling in the past. But we have to learn from the past, we have to know about the past and we have to acknowledge it.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Are you a protest singer?
Jeangu Macrooy: Yes, sometimes I am a protest singer. I think if I have a stage and an audience and they listen to me, then I have something to say about how the world is in my opinion and I want them to think about it, maybe even to discuss it and to contribute to change. I think this is the role, the function of the artist in general. It is not about telling people how it should be, but it’s about painting a picture like holding up a mirror and say, this is how things are now. And maybe we should think about it, maybe there are other ways to solve problems.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Very often the artist is even coming before people recognize something. They often walk some steps in front of the rest of the human family. I think it’s important, you pick something up and at least let others try to discuss it, like you said already.
Jeangu Macrooy: Yes, it’s not like I thought about it. I don’t think, I would make a protest album that easily. There are a lot of things I want to do with my music. I also like to sing about happy stories, about love and other themes like insecurity and so on. Because that is another way of helping people. When I get the chance to say something about the world the way it looks and is, things that are in my opinion wrong about it, then I use my music.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: How did you enter this years’ ESNS in Groningen?
Jeangu Macrooy: Last year I attended Noorderslag, the Dutch Eurosonic day of this huge festival.
Suddenly Jeangu’s manager Pieter Perquin came in and interrupted with two answers, just in time:
Pieter Perquin: Yes, then I invited some booking agents from Germany to watch the show. One of them liked it and then started to book Jeangu for shows in Germany.
Jeangu Macrooy: Yes! Last year was also the first year that I played outside The Netherlands. I had 4 shows in Germany, even two in Berlin.
Pieter Perquin: It happens, when you make a lot of noise. When you play already many shows and all we did really worked very positive to get into ESNS.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: How was it for you to play in Germany?
Jeangu Macrooy: It was really nice! I had been to Berlin once, but this time I played there twice. It was really nice to discover that my music also works with other audiences. Of course I was anxious, but I was just wondering if people would like my music. I have just beautiful warm memories of these concerts.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Was the audience different than audiences here in The Netherlands?
Jeangu Macrooy: Yes, they were less talking during the concerts (laughing)! Maybe it has to do with the fact that I cannot speak German. So I spoke in English. Maybe people were more polite and focused on my music, because I am an artist from outside Germany. It was really nice there! I have friends there, people that study at a conservatory. I also played in Frankfurt and in Cologne.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You are born in Suriname, a country with also a very beautiful culture. What do you like the most of your home culture?
Jeangu Macrooy: The warmth literally, but not just the weather. Of course the weather! When I was there for New Year’s Eve it was raining all day long, but it was still warm, so everything was fine. The weather is one thing, but also the people. I think, Surinamese people have a passion for life. We like and need it loud. It’s all about the passion and the way we talk. I remember my drive from the airport to Paramabido together with the band and some of my family members. Everybody was just laughing about the energy that came from my family (laughing). I forgot that here people just talk. But if you want to be part of any talk or discussion or conversation in Suriname you have to talk like mad (laughing)!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: What are your most strong influences and inspirations in music or in general for the last 7 days and nights? Are you reading a book right now?
Jeangu Macrooy: I don’t read at the moment, I even miss it. I am just too busy. What inspires me in general is when I see people doing something at the best of their abilities. Then it doesn’t matter what it is. It can be in music, or acting. I also like people who enjoy what they are doing. It can be as simple as a person driving a tram and at the same time being a friendly person and open to others. Of course I am looking for inspirations, but sometimes you cannot see the forest through the trees.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Do you love art?
Jeangu Macrooy: I love art. I go to museums. I really like to draw people, their portraits. I have a love for the classical art. Maybe, because that was the art I was trained in. Right now I am just more and more discovering the world of modern art. I really like to visit the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Another museum I really like in The Netherlands is Museum Voorlinden, located in Wassenaar in the province South-Holland, close to Den Hague. It is a private collection of someone who is really rich. This was one of my favorite museum experience. What I discovered about modern art is that it is usually about the experience. This is also how I see my connection with music, I try to give the people an experience, let them feel something. Modern art is usually more abstract about what you are trying to make people feel. But the beautiful thing is, you never fully control what people feel. People can cry during a happy song, people can laugh during a sad song and it can have deeper meanings.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You come from a so called macho-culture in Suriname. And you Jeangu talk and sing about your emotions. With this you show yourself vulnerable. Earlier you told someone in an interview, it’s kind of a therapy for yourself. Did this change start here during your time in Holland?
Jeangu Macrooy: It did. But I was always more into my emotions. It is very nice to know that there are cultures where it is also okay for men to express their emotions. I think, it is unhealthy to try to portrait this image of the always being strong never crying, never being vulnerable man. Because all humans experience those emotions at some level and at some time. Then we just need to express these emotions. I think, if you can’t show this, it will make you sick.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Do you feel yourself like a refugee here in Holland? You told me earlier, you expressed kind of a culture shock when you arrived here. Of course you didn’t have to flee from your home country.
Jeangu Macrooy: That’s true. It is not exactly like being a refugee, but it has in a way broaden my horizon to leave my country. Suriname is really a beautiful country, but there is not much connection with the world. It is a bit more isolated. Because we have so many wonderful things it is a beautiful place, even the culture and the nice people. But when you get the chance to go away, you can put things in perspective.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: What is the new perspective you have?
Jeangu Macrooy: I just in general have the situation to be able to discover the world in a broader perspective right now. It is easier to stay in the comfort zone, but it’s even beautiful to enter a new unknown place and experience huge new perspectives.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: If you had a magical power in hand, what would you change for humanity?
Jeangu Macrooy: I think, the ability to make people see that the most important thing in life, even if it sounds like a cliché, is to be kind. I am not religious, but for me it is important to show love first. If we have the ability to fully understand that and to fully practice that, then earth would be a better place.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Would you like to create something new that doesn’t exist yet?
Jeangu Macrooy: I’m fine with all creatures here. We have a beautiful planet! We just need to recognize this all, that is really important.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: How do you compose?
Jeangu Macrooy: I get my inspirations from a lot of other things, from other art forms like theater, books, other music. When I was younger, songwriting was easier. Then I just sat down and wrote something in just half an hour and it was nice. What I do now, I have a little book and I write things down. That could be a page or two, just a few sentences. From time to time I go back and read and try to make something out of it.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: How do you take care of your voice?
Jeangu Macrooy: I drink a lot of hot mint tea, mostly with ginger, lots of ginger. And honey, I love honey. I try but don’t do that as much as I should, but I try to do breathing exercises from time to time. There is this new thing where you blow into a bottle of water and it regulates the pressure. It works like a massage for your voice. I do that. I try not to drink that much, actually I don’t drink. I do drink but not that much. I also don’t smoke and I try to live a healthy life.
Bernd Ihno Eilts: You eat a lot of apple cake!
Jeangu Macrooy: I do (laughing)!
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Who are you in private?
Jeangu Macrooy: I love artistic things. I sing all day long, I try to draw more and more and I don’t go out every week, I do not go to parties. I like being home a lot, watch a movie, that’s really rock and roll I guess (laughing).
Bernd Ihno Eilts: Thank you very much Jeangu for being beautifully open with me!
Jeangu Macrooy: That was good! Thank you too Bernd!
For more information please check: www.jeangumacrooy.com
Thank you very much Jeangu!