JR and friends. Picture: Supplied
JR is busy. Outside, the sun is playing hide and seek in a leafy Johannesburg suburb but in a room inside a spacious house, Thembi and Lebo are playing games with JR’s heart.

“My shit is f*****,” he exclaims to a friend just as I am led into the room.

The artist whose real name is Tabure Thabo Bogopa Junior is referring to his laptop. Boom Shaka’s It’s About Time is playing through it but only a specific part keeps looping itself against JR’s will.

“Maybe the late Lebo Mathosa doesn’t want you to play her music,” I tease and his agitation begins to melt. As we decide on where to conduct the interview, he tells me that he’s putting a set together as he’s been asked to DJ at an event.

Over the years, JR has established himself as one of the most multi-dimensional artists in Mzansi.

‘Warrior’ hits the right notes

His latest project is the Feel Good Live Sessions. Every Friday, he gets his industry friends – big names like Donald and Kwesta as well as new acts like KLY – to perform live for a few guests against the backdrop of a beautiful Jozi sunset.

Then those performances are released each Friday, thus making up one of the most interesting web series on the net right now.

“Initially when I did these sessions,” JR starts to tell me once we’ve sat down for the interview, “it was just going to be performing for, let’s say -how long do we have until the album drops? Let’s say, like six weeks of performances every week.

JR. Picture: Twitter

“Firstly, I wanted to touch base with my fans without being on stage. I had cut down on gigs because I was in studio so while working on the album, I couldn’t lose the space I had in the fans’ hearts.

I had to figure out what I could do to stay top of mind but also not be forced to be out of the (studio) environment.”

“Most importantly, I found myself in a place where I wanted to perform new music, but I just felt that people might not understand it and I didn’t want music to fly over people’s heads, so I decided to do the Feel Good Live Sessions to create a bridge between the stage and the studio.”

He continues: “In studio, you make the music that you want to hear and on stage you perform the music that people want to see.

Nasty C the ‘coolest kid in Africa’?

What happens in the space, the void, that parallel universe that sits there where there’s a space of emptiness and self-fulfilling work for you as an artist?”

“Where you write a song that’s special for you but never really makes it on to an album because you feel like the record labels or whatever might say no? (Like) this is a dance album, you can’t have an R&B song. Or your album is cluttered with so many bangers that you feel like you want to release something worthwhile, your album has expired or people feel like your album is old.”

This is why, on the very first episode of this web-based live music series, JR makes it a point to not call these moments merely performances. He calls them “artist vulnerability sessions”.

And they are. Take for instance, Shekinah’s pulling of heartstrings when she takes us through her musical journey singing stripped down versions of Gin and Juice (for real) and Your Eyes as JR’s band backs her. She even brings friend and Jamali co-founder, Mariechan, out for a duet.

These episodes are interesting because the artists explain their ties to the songs they perform and that allows the viewer to gain a better insight into who the artist is. JR, who knows a lot about being a chart-topping musician, chalks up the intimacy created between performer and listener to a willingness to be like Nike and just do it.

“Independence is built from frustration and desperation,” he explains. “When you’re finally gatvol and just need your space. This is exactly what it was that allowed me to make these sessions in that specific way.”

The first two episodes of the Feel Good Live Sessions featured JR and the band and the rest are his friends.

But what’s important to note is that this show is treated like a very serious entity. There is a director, graphic designer, photographer, sound engineer and JR is both producer and executive producer so it sounds and looks good.

These sessions are testament to what can happen if an artist takes their craft seriously enough to put out work for and by artists – work that the audience will appreciate.

* Watch JR’s Feel Good Live Sessions on YouTube every Friday.

@uHelenH