Artist attempts to close the musical culture gap

Jai Matt has found success abroad, particularly in the UK and Poland. | Sergei Blair TTN
Jai Matt has found success abroad, particularly in the UK and Poland. | Sergei Blair TTN

Building a bridge is no easy task for anyone. For Jai Mathew, building a bridge is a personal calling.

Mathew, a 23-year-old Temple alumnus, is in the business of making music that not only showcases him as an artist, but also as a bridge builder between Western and Eastern music.

His latest single, “One Thing,” to be released later this month, encompasses a blend of traditional Indian and American pop vocal and instrumental elements.

“This is something the audience hasn’t heard and something they have yet to experience,” Mathew said. “They haven’t heard an Indian man singing R&B pop with both Western and Eastern runs and riffs, and I’m sort of bringing those two worlds together by making it mainstream.”

Mathew, an India native who goes by the moniker Jai Matt on stage, already has an extensive collection of recorded music, featuring original and cover songs.

He also stars in many professionally produced music videos that were shot in Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia.

“One Thing” was written by Mathew and produced by Foreground Music, a production label based in Paris. The up-and-coming artist works with a French producer and uses Skype as means to create music.

“There’s a lot of cyberspace, emails and Skype chatting going on all the time,” Mathew said with a chuckle. “[My producer] sends me a beat, I write on that beat and then we have Skype sessions composing it. He’s an exceptional producer, so I have to make an exception in working with him.”

In a field dominated by a slew of ambitious young artists, Mathew said he doesn’t fall under pressure by trying to rise above the competition. He said he knows how to satisfy his audience’s musical appetite.

“I’ve been in this industry for nine years and I’ve gotten to learn myself as an artist and songwriter,” Mathew said. “Music is perception, and if you bring about sound that people can enjoy in the Western culture, they’ll take it. People like [music differently] in America and you need to bring it forward if you want to make it in this business.”

Mathew does this by making a global connection.

“Bringing those two cultures together is very possible – you just need to blend it in correctly, and I think we’ve done just that with [‘One Thing’],” Mathew said.

In 2012, Mathew’s song “Kiss the Sky,” produced by Robert Mączyński, commonly referred to as Robert M., received high acclaim in Poland, where it became a dance hit.

Mączyński, who is a renowned Polish DJ and music producer, invited Mathew to perform during Poland’s Eska Music Awards that year. Mathew sang on stage with dancers in front of a crowd of 33,000 and called the moment a “tease of stardom.”

The award ceremony is annually televised live on Polish public mainstream channel TVP, and has given awards to Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Ke$ha and OneRepublic, among many others.

But it was his education at Temple that Mathew said helped him be prepared for spotlight when he found himself on television and radio being interviewed by foreign reporters. Mathew earned a bachelor’s degree from Temple’s media studies and production program in May 2011.

“I’m not going to lie, I was never shy of the camera,” Mathew said. “All of my experience here [at Temple] did help me in terms of learning the work behind and in front of the camera. All those details I learned became very helpful when I was on tour.”

While at Temple, Mathew participated in the London study abroad program in Spring 2010, where he interned at Blow Up Records, a London-based independent record label.

“I’ve had those opportunities where I was in the room with people from the industry doing big things,” Mathew said. “For me it’s all about surrounding yourself with people who are at that level in order to get to that level.”

After the decision to leave his family in Northeast Philadelphia, the artist moved to Los Angeles in August 2011 to pursue his career. Today, he lives in New York City, a recent move he was advised to make to prepare for flying to Europe frequently for career purposes.

To get where he is now wasn’t easy for the singer. Mathew grew up in Kerala, a state in southwest India. With the help of his three aunts, who already had been living in America, he and his parents came to the U.S. when he was 14 years old.

Although he had a good start to learn English while in Kerala, Mathew said he pushed himself harder in learning the language and losing his distinct accent in the process.

While discovering his early musical abilities, Mathew’s parents invested in getting the youngster guitar, piano and vocal lessons.

“Music is a very emotional and innate part of me,” Mathew said. “Even while I was 3 years old, I would sing and dance around the house. Music is very intense in my soul, and it’s kind of hard to explain because not a lot of people experience that. But once you experience it and you know you were supposed to do something, you can’t stop until you get there.”

Sergei Blair can be reached at sergei.blair@temple.edu.

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