Back in 1997, their debut album, All Comes Around, became the best-selling album in South African history. A year later, follow-up Something for Now also went platinum, and the band then known as ‘Just Jinger’ (with a G) have since been named the country’s best-selling band ever. Then they went for world domination – they changed the spelling of their name to Just Jinjer to make it more internationally pronounceable. They went on the road with U2, Counting Crows and Def Leppard, and moved to California for six years in a bid to tap the American market, returning to home soil in 2009. Making a welcome return to Dubai to play a free gig at Barasti on Friday April 13, we caught up with 33-year-old bassist Denholm Harding.
You’ve been to Dubai before – what’s different this time around?
We’ve got a new record coming out and it’s a different sound. The South African community will want to hear the hits, and rightly so – but there’s something new coming too. We’ve scaled down to a power trio since we were last in Dubai. As a three-piece you can make a lot of noise – Muse are the obvious example – and we find the energy is more exciting. Since 1997 we’ve always had an extra (session) guitarist – we’ve been through so many I can’t remember them all.
So, what’s it like being South Africa’s biggest band?
Success is obviously very flattering – it allows you privileges you wouldn’t normally have, but it can make you scared and fearful. Human beings are creatures of habit. Since we got used to a certain standard of living, selling albums and playing shows, you don’t want to put that at risk and take chances. But we’ve been doing it for so long, our fans have stuck with us and now we’re at a point where we want to push ourselves onto new ground. We could be scared of disappointing some fans, but there’s such a vast mass of public that will never hear us if we stay on one track. We’re not going to let fans or success keep us imprisoned artistically or musically.
Do you have fans in other parts of the world too?
It’s difficult to say, because it’s hard to know how many of our fans abroad originally came from South Africa. But if each of them brings a non-South African friend along, we’re happy. As much as we are fiercely patriotic and proudly South African, there’s something about South Africans where they don’t allow themselves to fully immerse themselves in the live music experience. Every city has its own way of showing appreciation, but we always rock up and do the best job we can.
So what are Dubai crowds like?
It’s similar to playing in London. I guess the southern hemisphere crowd are drawn towards each other, over rugby or whatever, so I don’t know how much of a local crowd we get. Dubai isn’t exactly party central,
so our past experiences haven’t been that debaucherous.
What’s your plan for world domination?
The same thing we do every night – carry on trying to write the best song we can. We used to say ‘what does it take to be the biggest band in the world? Three and a half minutes’. One breakout song and the rest is history. Some bands have been slogging away for 14 years first – for some it’s just a moment of luck and you get a one-hit wonder. If we had a global hit tomorrow, we’d be ready for it.
Speaking of world domination, how was it playing with U2?
People always expect them to be conceited and divas, and they were absolutely not. The bigger the band, the more cool they are [as people]. It’s the bands where the stars have somehow aligned and they’ve had a sudden hit and they become household names where – and I’m naming no names – they make ridiculous demands and have 15 pages for their rider. Growing up in South Africa you never think that one day you’ll share a stage with Stevie Wonder. There’s no school you go to that teaches you how to be cool in front of famous people.
Just Jinjer play Barasti on Friday April 13 at 8pm. Free. Le Méridien Mina Seyahi (04 318 1313).