This week’s Unmistakable character is Jason Bavanandan, songwriter and record producer, who premiered the first cinematically-released album in history. Growing up with a Trinidadian mother and a Sri Lankan father in the heart of southeast London, Jason was unique amongst the typical cockneys, geezers and lads in the area. Reflecting on his childhood, Jason is now on a path to find out more about his Sri Lankan heritage.
What's your name and what do you do? Tell us about a recent piece of work.
I’m Jason Bavanandan: a songwriter and record producer. I first signed as an artist in 2005 as the lead singer and songwriter of the band ‘Battle,’ and since then I’ve worked in the industry as a writer and producer. In 2015, I premiered my album movie, Whiplash Dreams, which was the first cinematically-released album in history. Presently, I’m focused on writing with emerging artists from the diverse and fertile UK music scene.
How does your identity affect your work and your life in general?
Being London-born, bred and based, I never saw colour in the way others often do. I never experienced blatant racism, though looking back, micro-aggressions persisted. Still, I never self-oppressed because my family role models were such go-getters, so I never consciously let ‘epidermal conspicuousness’ affect me. Though in truth it did unconsciously affect me as I thought I was like everyone else, i.e. white. And that’s where the cultural self-erosion happens: an unwitting disregard of the past to ‘better’ align with the dominant environment. In my case, that was 90s southeast London, replete with cockneys, geezers and lads. All my friends were white, and my mannerisms and vernacular were white. As I got older, it dawned on me that I knew more about the Battle of Waterloo than of any historical era in my father’s rich Sri Lankan heritage. I never learnt Tamil but I could speak fluent French. I’ve been working on correcting this, but it’s a slow journey which sometimes feels like character assassination.
Who have been your role models and why?
My mother is Trinidadian. She came to London to study when she was 17. She is as tough as the tropical sun which raised her and I get all my cockiness and audacity from her. My father came to London as a shy 16-year-old Tamil boy with a stammer, and he grew up to be the most stand-up gent I know. He is a paragon of honour, and I still feel I will never match up to his value system of discipline, hard work and humility. Above all though, my wife is the most encouraging, capable and fair person I know. Her wit and humour is medicine to me. She is the one person I don’t ever want to let down.
Do you think other people see you differently to how you see yourself?
I hope not but it’s likely so. I don’t know how other people see me but it’s probably based on my interaction with their space. I wish I was more consistent but my chameleonic tendencies are symptomatic of my need to adapt to myriad social expectations. For years I lived as an extrovert only to realise I prefer my own company and that I take my energy from silence.
Do you see yourself in advertising and marketing?
I never have done, unless in my most reductivist self: the heteronormative male (and in this sense, I am reflected everywhere #patriarchy). I’m undecided about being lumped-in as a ‘BAME’ - a catch-all which feels more like a non-white landfill. There is some genuine South Asian talent now emerging in mainstream film and music, but the challenge is to get these faces ensconced in the wider consciousness and prevailing zeitgeist.
Are you tired of hearing about diversity & inclusion?
No, it’s important. We don’t live in a society that’s anywhere near egalitarian or meritocratic. I look at how far the women’s movement has come with affecting a cultural and systemic shift in the way ‘woman’ is perceived, only to realise how far behind it still is. It’s scary. And then there’s LGBTQ+; it’s all an endless quest for fairness and freedom. Until then, we need to keep banging that drum.
What one thing would you say to your younger self?
Fans of Back to the Future will understand my reluctance to change the past. Though had it been a Bollywood film, I’d tell myself to invest abundantly in avocados and become a Desi king. But seriously, in my younger years I wish I was more tolerant and kind; less angry and more calm. But perhaps that’s a rite-of-passage too... I’m fortunate to also lecture in contemporary music at university, and the advice I routinely give to my young students is: keep asking questions, collaborate, and understand that time itself is your most valuable commodity.
If you loved Jason as much as we do, go support him here.