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Regional Interests

For Jax the Band, It’s a Family Affair

To the members of Jax The Band, sheltering in place during the pandemic was nothing out of the ordinary. The Haitian American family band, made up of three siblings, was already used to spending a lot of time together. As the rest of their peers struggled to adjust to online school and staying home, the Jackson siblings simply continued doing what they’ve always done: making music together.

“We were like, ‘Welcome to homeschool, everyone!’” recalls Sudan Jackson, the group’s 17-year-old guitarist and singer.

The band’s other two members are Aman Jackson, age 19, who plays the bass, sings, and raps, and Ayo Jackson, age 16, who plays the drums and sings. Together, they make up Jax The Band, blending hip-hop, soul and rock with influences from their own cultural roots of Haitian music.

Jax The Band has already reached some impressive milestones, having shared stages with artists like Yo-Yo Ma and Jennifer Hudson and performed internationally well before the eldest of them graduated high school. Raised by a musician father and a professional dancer and artist mother, creativity was always inevitable in their household. “My dad is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer… he does everything. He is music, for real,” Aman explains. “He taught us a lot.”

The three used to dance together with their mother, who has been part of a Haitian dance company for as long as they can remember. One day in 2013, after a dance lesson that ended with a particularly raucous sibling dispute, their exasperated mother sent the three to the studio in the back of their house to go play music instead.

“From that day forth, there wasn’t really a big question about it,” says Sudan. “We just continued to play music together and we were Jax The Band. It was kind of made up in everyone’s minds before there was ever a discussion about it.”

“It just slowly got more serious, until it became super real,” adds Aman.

Sudan, Ayo and Aman, in their younger days, performing as Jax the Band. (Courtesy Jax the Band)

Although the pandemic made the siblings miss their friends, they found their unanticipated new free time had benefits as well. “We were already growing musically before, but when COVID hit it was almost like an incubator,” Ayo describes. “We were just working, working, working.”

They recorded their debut album, The Glo Up, in early quarantine, and released the 10-track, 28-minute project last October. They also started a live at-home concert series, playing from their living room and livestreaming on Facebook and Instagram on the first Friday of every month from April to December of 2020.

The group also recently relocated to Los Angeles, where they’ll be based for the foreseeable future as they work on new music. Aside from an occasional trip out of town, they’ll be living in L.A. full-time—a change of pace for the Jacksons.

From 2015 to 2020, the family split their time between Oakland and Haiti, spending a few months on one side of the world and then a few months on the other. The length of their stays depended on how many shows they could book. “Sometimes it would be six months, sometimes it would be one month. You just never knew,” says Sudan.

Jax the Band, some years ago, performing live. (Courtesy Jax the Band)

“I was actually born in Haiti,” Ayo adds. This unorthodox upbringing was one of several plus sides to homeschool. When they were younger, the siblings shared the classic fears of being excluded from the social life provided by traditional school. But eventually, they’d come to realize that the benefits of homeschool outweighed the costs.

“I’ll speak as the graduate,” says Aman with a laugh. “Once I got older and discovered my passion for music, being homeschooled meant I had so much time on my hands to pursue that. By the time I got to high school, I didn’t want to go to regular school at all.”

“I definitely still wish I had the social experience of going to traditional school, just to get to know more people my age… but I’m definitely grateful to have had the spare time to focus on music,” Sudan adds. “And I’ve never had to raise my hand to go to the bathroom!”

“That is a crazy concept to us,” Ayo laughs.

Siblings Aman Jackson, Sudan Jackson and Ayo Jackson (L–R) are Jax the Band, a trio with roots in both Haiti and Oakland. (Courtesy Jax the Band)

As accomplished as they already are, the three siblings are still at the beginning of their career. I ask them to go around and each tell me what success looks like to them.

“I want to tour the world,” says Sudan. “Success to me looks like making enough money from my art to be comfortable, and never have to worry about the number in my bank account… and having a career I can look back on and think, ‘I’m legitimately proud of that.’”

“I want to be able to just work on music,” says Ayo. “That’s success to me, to be able to focus on making music and not have to worry about all of these other things that you have to do as an artist to support yourself or get your work out there.”

“I want to be able to take care of the people around me,” says Aman. “I imagine I’ll be holding a Grammy, or eight. I want to be working only when I want to and not because I have to, making music for fun and out of love.”

“We’re on our way there,” he adds with a smile. And after our conversation, I have no trouble believing him.

Copyright 2021 KQED