Interview: Q&A with Camilla George & Soojin Suh – Jazz as a Universal Language (November 2021)

The 2021 edition of London K-Music Festival is in full swing and, until Wednesday the 17th of November, is offering the London gig-goers another remarkable programme of traditional, contemporary and avant-garde sounds from the Korean peninsula.

We have already introduced the acts enriching this year’s edition, so on this occasion, we wanted to focus our attention on one of the highlights of the festival, which is going to close the event on its last day, and jazz up the concomitant EFG London Jazz Festival and Purcell Room Sessions calendars as well.

Connecting the dots between “K- and UK jazz”, the collaborative double-bill that will go on stage at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room is a truly one-off show, bringing together the talent of Seoul-based experimental drummer and composer SooJin Suh and her trio with the one of Londoner saxophonist, composer and improviser Camilla George.

To present you with the event and unfold how the project came to light and developed, we reached out to the protagonists – both of them – for a double interview in which both Camilla George and Soojin Suh reflected on their perspective of the collaboration, each other’s music and jazz.

- Camilla George

How did the collaboration come about and what was your reaction when they proposed it to you?

Camilla George: David Jones from Serious called me up and suggested this collab, and I was instantly intrigued. I was unfamiliar with Soojin before but when I started listening to her music, I was hooked! I love the fact that she and her band studied in New York and are immersed in the NY jazz scene.

When did you first hear of Soojin Suh and what was your idea of her music before the project?

I first heard of Soojin when the collaboration was suggested. I watched a video of her collab with Kit Downes and that was framed in an ECM vibe but having spoken to Soojin I know that her experience is very broad when it comes to jazz. 

How was it to work and create something together also considering these Covid-times? And what are you looking forward to about your show on the 17th of November?

I think that’s what is so lovely about this collab- despite this awful pandemic- we have been able to break down barriers through music. Ordinarily I think we wouldn’t have been on each other’s radar but the increase in online collaboration as a result of the lack of live gigs has meant that we have been able to keep in touch and discuss music. I’m so looking forward to meeting Soojin and her amazing band in person and playing with them!

Is the collaboration a one-off project or are you already thinking about and planning a second chapter?

Ooh that is a good question- I would very much love to play with Soojin again!

Is there any element that particularly intrigues you about Soojin Suh’s music? And what would you “borrow” from her musicianship and music vision?

I love her compositional style- it’s elegant, complex, yet accessible- she is a real talent. The thing I would like to borrow is the breadth of musical projects that she has. I currently only write for one outfit but would like to take a leaf out of Soojin’s book and write for other projects also.

You come from and grew up listening to music traditions and repertoires that are worlds apart. Could you find any common ground between your cultural backgrounds?

I think that is what is so beautiful about jazz- it is a common language no matter where you come from in the world and I feel this is definitely our common ground.

What was your relationship with the Korean/UK jazz scene before “meeting” each other? Is there any musician/band you are passionate about?

I must confess apart from being desperate to perform at the Seoul Jazz festival, I was relatively ignorant about Korean music. The K-Music festival has changed that though and I have absolutely loved discovering new music!

I looked online at your past tours and couldn’t find any gigs in South Korea. Are you giving a little thought to eventually “exporting” your music there?

Yes definitely! Literally can’t wait to play there!

To different extents and in different ways, you both employ jazz in your music. Do you see the genre as a universal musical language able to connect and eventually bond musicians from all over the world?

I think it really is and that is why our jazz scenes and family are so important and should be treasured. I don’t know many other instances where you have such a bond.

Your event is one of the highlights of this year’s K-Music Festival. Have you had the opportunity to attend any of the other shows or do you know any other musician performing?

I have sadly missed a lot of the festival due to touring commitments but I was very excited about the collaboration between Kyungso ParkSoona Park and Angharad Jenkins.

Besides your K-Music Festival show… What are your projects for the near future?

I am working towards the release of my third album, Ibio-Ibio, dedicated to my tribe the Ibibio people of South Eastern coastal Nigeria. The album will be released in Feb 2022 and includes Sarah Tandy, Daniel Casimir, Shirley Tetteh, hip-hop drummer and producer, Daru Jones, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Rosie Turton and Kadialy Kouyate on kora. I’m very excited about this release!

How would you introduce your K-Music Festival event and what would you say to invite people to join you?

I think it’s a meeting of worlds through the all-encompassing language of jazz. A marriage of cultures and ideas.