Cycles Collective opens XJazz in Berlin: the sun rolls past the window

The incident light circles and circles and circles over the stone floor of the Emmaus Church in Kreuzberg. A Steinway grand piano, set up near the draped altar between long curtains that slide diagonally down to the floor from a few meters, casts a long shadow that seems to be pulsing slowly. Sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker – depending on where the cone of light falls.

The dancer circling the wing keeps stopping: upright, almost hard poses, the arms and legs stick out. Pianist Moses Yoofee sits at the instrument, layering dreamy chords on top of each other. “I noticed the sun, rolling past my window today,” the narrator can be heard speaking. A young woman approaches the scene. “And so am I, repeating my steps. Dancing my cycles”.

Empowerment through beauty

“We had this idea of ​​a concept film that explores the topic of circularity using recurring motifs,” says Dhanesh Jayaselan on a sunny afternoon in a Kreuzberg café. We, that’s Jayaselan and his partner Sydney Nwakanma, who founded the Cycles Collective together last year. “When the idea came up, we asked ourselves: How can we interpret circularity as a human experience while using all the artistic mediums we love?”

The collective is not just a film team. Which is also evident from the fact that on Wednesday night it opens the XJazz festival with a ceremony that includes music, poetry and more. XJazz, which has been taking place in Berlin since 2014, is one of the most important German jazz festivals.

Stars like Theo Croker, Avishai Cohen, Melanie Charles and José James are among the stars this time. In addition, exciting newer acts such as Emma-Jean Thackery, Lady Blackbird, the Berlin band Jembaa Groove and many more.

The Cycles Ensemble, which consists of Moses Yoofee, bassist Sofia Eftychidou and saxophonist Marius Dick, will play in the Emmaus Church – the very place where the film scenes were filmed. They will be joined by harpist Miriam Adefris and synthesizer sound artist Robi.

In addition, the Berlin Neo Soul artist Mulay and her band as well as a trio around the drummer Ziggy Zeitgeist, the keyboarder and producer Abasé and Moses Yoofee will play – all three of them cause a stir as band leaders in Berlin with a club-affine jazz sound.

“We see the evening’s program as a holistic sensory experience. Even the smell when entering the place plays a role,” says Jayaselan. “Musically it’s something special because everyone comes together especially for this evening,” says the 25-year-old. And ventures a prognosis: “There is so much talent in this city. The people who know about it are mostly part of the scene themselves. We want this event to make waves in other circles as well.”

Bassist Sofia Eftychiou plays at the XJazz opening as a member of the Cycles ensemble.Foto: Cycles Collective

The talent he means has also evolved during the pandemic. Diverse musical synergies and smaller scenes have emerged. Series of events such as the Cassette Head Sessions, a weekly jam session in the basement of the Filmkunstbar in Kreuzberg, which is recorded on a multitrack cassette recorder, play an important role in this. Many of the artists from Berlin who are represented in the Emmauskirche on Wednesday and also in the rest of the XJazz program play there regularly and accompany each other.

Jayaselan, who came to Berlin in 2019, developed his connection to the local scene there. He started documenting the concerts and sessions with a camera – “so that I can still have the material ten years later,” as he puts it. He met his partner Sydney Nwakanma on the basketball court. In addition to his film work, Nwakanma is a fashion designer and has suits tailored for his label “Emeka” in Kenya from fabrics that come from bins of old European clothes.

The two share creative interests, but more importantly, their shared artistic ethos. “Our storytelling should portray the beauty that is within us. Let that shine through the oppression and empower ourselves with kindness,” says Dhanesh Jayaselan. Nevertheless, the team also has very specific goals. One of them is to bring more people of color not only in front of the camera but also behind it. Because a film set is not a set where you should feel nervous – because of the composition of the crew. Jayaselan grew up with Indian roots in Malaysia and Australia, Nwakanma as a German-Nigerian in Hamburg.

Klaus Lederer has never been to XJazz

The Cycles short film marked the beginning of the collaboration with the XJazz festival. The festival team not only provided the Emmaus Church as a film location, but also funding. After a two-year Corona break, the festival is taking place again with an audience for the first time. “2019 was one of our most successful years,” says festival director Sebastian Studnitzky on the phone a few days before the start, “then the whole Corona thing happened”.

But the 49-year-old also looks positively at the time: “We’ve learned a lot and were able to reposition ourselves.” Sebastian Studnitzky is a trumpeter, pianist and composer; he conceived the festival from the perspective of musicians right from the start.

The dancer Exocé Kango in a film scene.Foto: Cycles Collective

You can see that in the program: the singer and bassist Natalie Greffel, for example, not only performs, but also acts as a guest curator. “I heard her final exam at the Jazz Institute Berlin and booked her straight away. Since then she has definitely played with us four or five times,” says Studnitzky.

And makes no secret of the fact that they also want to set themselves apart: “We founded ourselves as a counter-movement to the Berlin Jazz Festival. Back then it was still in the hands of men, they were intellectually thrown together bands – we had a much younger program and audience.” The fact that Jazzfest Berlin – under the influence of director Nadin Deventer – is now breaking new ground is certainly also due to the influence of the XJazz Festival to do. XJazz recently won the German Jazz Prize for Festival of the Year.

It just doesn’t seem to have really caught on in the capital’s cultural-political cosmos, says Studnitzy. “Up to now we’ve always been more like the basement children of the German jazz festivals. Klaus Lederer has never visited us.” Berlin’s culture senator has plenty of chances to make up for it by Sunday.

By Editor