Tracking down Jutta Collet was not an easy task. When you’re living a double life that involves teaching tennis while pursuing a professional music career, you find yourself in different corners of Los Angeles at unpredictable speed. But the course of Nawao’s life has always been eclectic and on the move. Her story spans from Africa to the shores of California. Her mother hails from the Ivory Coast and her father from France and Belgium.
Much of this cultural fusion in Jutta’s own biology fuels the sound of her music. It is an ambient, yet rhythmic identity that fills songs like “Oxum”- including that particular song’s lush music video. Think of Jutta’s style as Sade meets world music. It is so professional and refined that it’s astonishing to discover that she’s been gigging without a manager.
When Jutta is not composing and performing, she teaches tennis at Santa Monica High School. While she searches for a label to call home, Nawao has stayed busy performing on stage. Her melodies and voice have graced The Mint in Los Angeles and the Ivory Coast. A maverick, she also models, with her image gracing many high end advertising campaigns across Africa.
As fog covered Santa Monica’s promenade on a Monday evening, Jutta sat down in Le Crepe Café to indulge in a favorite meal and discuss her adventure as an artist. Our meeting was weeks in the making between fashion shoots, tennis classes and other factors that kept this writer and his subject out of reach. Jutta has a natural energy that fills the room the moment she walks in. It makes her stand out even within a bustling Le Crepe. Not a surprise considering it is now obvious what kind of energy keeps an artist living at such a roving pace.
Jutta’s choice of crepe is Lemon-Sugar variety. Her choice of drink is hot chocolate.
So how long has the sound been brewing in Jutta’s mind? “I’ve always been into music,” she says, “I remember my first real CD- my dad gave me- was The Cranberries. I remember hearing it for the first time in the car and thinking ‘wooooah.’”
But the urge to perform and create music didn’t truly begin until about two or three years ago. With a vivacious laugh she reflects, “I always felt like my songs were way too weird. I would always invent songs. I would listen to them and say ‘what the heck is this?!’” As she describes it, the material she would produce sounded like nothing that was big on the radio.
From a young age Jutta gravitated towards literature, which eventually led to writing lyrics. “I was always very literary, especially in school, with subjects like History especially. When I started really writing was about five years ago. I would just start singing and record it.”
Adding to the excitement of her story, this aspiring artist was already living the professional career of a tennis teacher. “I played tennis while studying Communications at Santa Monica College and California State Northridge,” she reveals while stirring her hot chocolate. “I’ve been playing since I was eight, so I started teaching early.” Today she coaches the Santa Monica High School boy’s tennis team.
When Jutta made friends with Chris Lightfoot- a musician known for performing at the Third Street Promenade – they decided to team up. “I told him – and I don’t know why I said this, I usually don’t, maybe I was relaxed- I actually write songs. He said ‘go ahead and sing it.’ I sang and he said ‘I really like this, can I make the music for you?’” Both have performed at The Mint and at Third Street for the waves of passing pedestrians. It’s an egalitarian arrangement where Jutta and Lightfoot perform two songs a piece from each other’s repertoires.
“I began to think, ‘hey making music is not that hard,’” says Jutta, possibly oblivious to how this sounds for the “ungifted.” She looks with bemused disappointment at her hot chocolate, deciding it is not up to par. “This is water, look at this. Maybe it’s because I’m from the Ivory Coast where chocolate comes from.” She seriously, but charmingly, informs the waiter that this cup will not do. He offers the Netula warm drink as compensation. She accepts with a friendly smile before continuing to narrate her journey.
“I have songs on SoundCloud and YouTube. I could put them on iTunes, but right now I am looking for the right team. I would love to get a PR person or manager. Someone that really believes in your music,” she says.
It’s here where Jutta’s two worlds merge. Tennis and music are two disciplines that depend a lot on forming workable teams. “The team aspect is crucial. I’ve seen it in tennis. I left my parents in France when I was 13, to go play, and I was alone for four years. And I tried my hardest but I realized that by myself it was hard. When I would lose, I would have people behind me.” In the same way that tennis players have coaches and teammates as support, an artist needs a proper crew to make real music possible.
Yet Jutta has already knocked at the doors of a few industry temples. “I’ve been to Sony, I’ve been to Universal. I’ve had good returns. But what I’ve learned nowadays is that they don’t look at talent much. What they look at is if you have a following,” she says as the Lemon-Sugar crepes arrive.
The muse can arrive at any moment as well. “I’ve written songs where it came from my girlfriend telling me about her break up story with her boyfriend, and I’ll think of a lyric like ‘we’re one in the same/did we split the sky,” she explains while singing the melody.
But it is the natural world that gives Nawao her deepest inspiration. “I was listening to this beat, this techno beat and I loved it. I closed my eyes and it was like I was in Hawaii, at the beach,” she closes her eyes, recalling the moment. At Santa Monica College she discovered Afro-Brazilian dance and its connection to spirituality and nature. “You’re dancing and singing to energies of nature. You have different energies, like the energies of the ocean.”
Words flow so naturally out of Jutta that describing her process of writing lyrics in our 30 minutes’ time is effortless. “When I dream about a song it’s the best time, because everything is already done. I will have all the music. I will wake up and sing into my phone, even if I look like I’m dying.”
She composes in her dreams, but Jutta keeps a sharp lioness eye on her next gig. “My last gig was in the Ivory Coast, I did five songs. It was a cool experience. This year my goal is to perform as much as possible,” she says as we order a second round of crepe, this time of the Nutela variety. “Good choice, I’m trying to be healthy here,” she says with a mischievous grin.
For Jutta holding back – in anything – is not option. To those who feel they have the music in them but are too afraid to take the plunge, she offers humble observations. “I myself haven’t moved out of this spot. I don’t feel I have reached my full potential. There’s always this part of me that’s very afraid. A lot of people who are famous today can’t even sing, but they dare to do it. I have friends and family who sing so well but don’t go for it. I understand why. The schools today don’t exactly tell you to sing. When I tell people I sing they just say ‘oh cool,’” she says “oh cool” with an almost mocking little voice, adding “or they’ll be like ‘oh wow that’s going to be very hard, why would you do this when you’re modeling?’”
“If you decide to do it the steps you take are going to be the same steps you take when doing any normal job interview. You’re going to go there, and build relationships. Might as well do something that you love,” she emphasizes while enjoying the second round of crepe.
Pointing out that we’re having quite a lot of crepe and sugar for the evening, I tell her “if you’re going to do something, do it all the way.”
“I agree with you. Completely!”
Video Production by ROLAND GOGO Starring JUTTA COLLET Songs Writers JUTTA COLLET, CHRIS LIGHTFOOT Dancers BIJOUX MEVOA, JOËLLE OBIN Actors SAFE TRAVEL, ADÈL NZÉ, GRETTA DIGBEU, SAFIATOU KONÉ Stylist PELEBE (Zak and Amara Knoé) Mastering by BABI CHARLI
Editor’s note: Keep up with Jutta Nawao’s Jutyful lifestyle and music here: www.jutyful.com