South Jersey. Circa mid 80s: Jake and James Evans hang out with a bevy of musicians three times their age as their dad thumps his bass guitar on stage. The boys pitch in when necessary, even operating the spotlight from time to time. Music and musicians abound and the boys couldn’t be happier. This was just the beginning of what would turn out to be a lifelong love affair. For the Evans brothers, now 30 and 31, music was never just a hobby; it was a way of life. Morning, noon and night, the Evans house was alive with the sound of music -- all types of music; everything from Latin to jazz to funk to gospel. They credit their father with exposing them to an array of genres and lighting that “spark” that today is a raging fire of creative and musical genius. “Our dad was a huge Philly International fan,” James recalls, “and he used to play their music all the time. We would tell him songs we wanted to hear and as we got a little older, around seven or eight, we used to actually sit down and write songs together.” Though the brothers were both good at sports and toyed with the idea of pursuing careers as professional athletes, their love for music trumped those notions, taking center stage in their lives and constantly holding the number one spot on their list of dreams. Says James, “When you’re young you don’t think of it as a career that you want. You just think of it as something that you love.” Thailand. Circa mid 80s: Samoeun Cheng grows up in a refugee camp where he was born after his parents fled Cambodia. “I lived there until I was six years old,” he says. “All I remember was that we often had to escape thieves and hide. I remember the sounds of gun shots. It’s all like a bad dream.” Eventually, a Christian organization in San Francisco arranged for Samoeun and his family to be adopted. “We flew to San Francisco and from there went to Memphis where we stayed with this family for a year until my parents saved up enough money to move out on their own.” They moved to South Philadelphia where there was a large Cambodian community, he says.
Samoeun’s parents eventually separated, his mother remarried and the family relocated to Williamstown, NJ. It was there that Samoeun discovered his love for music. “It was my stepfather who actually introduced me to music,” he recalls. “He used to love the Righteous Brothers. From then on I just fell in love with music. I was in the choir, did musicals....and then I went to school and met two brothers named James and Jake.”
After growing up in two totally different worlds with drastically different backgrounds, Samoeun and the Evans brothers found themselves in the same city bound by a common love and speaking that universal language known as music. The boys became fast friends and eventually formed a singing group together, along with two other friends. After awhile, “life happened” to the other two and they went their separate ways. But there were no hard feelings. Says Jake, “It’s a tough business. W’eve had a lot of success but there have been ups and downs. Sometimes people give up that drive. They don’t see it ending well. That’s basically what happened with the other two guys.” But Jake, James and Samoeun, now known as Ju-Taun, are stronger than ever, having amassed quite a following for their brand of music which they say is as diverse and eclectic as they are. “We’re working with Leon Huff now,” says James, “which is very ironic because my dad was a huge Philly International fan. He was always playing their records and telling us about Gamble and Huff.” The group is also working with John Whitehead of McFadden and Whitehead. The trio of singers/songwriters/musicians say their debut CD will reflect their diversity but the influence of the greats is apparent. Says James, “If you look at the group, we’re all mixed up, we’re all from different backgrounds and nationalities -- all jumbled up -- that’s sort of like our sound. There are influences from genres and places and music that we grew up listening to. It’s a fusion of classic R&B, modern stuff, 80s classic rock and pop and even some Latin stuff.” And their audience is as varied as their style is: From the Pantene Total You Tour where the group shared the stage with Mary J. Blige and Tyrese, performing for an audience of mostly African American women to the Joe Piscopo Room where the fans were mostly Caucasian men and women, ranging in age from 50 to 80. Jake says the group doesn’t feel compelled to be locked into any one genre or sound. “Artistry comes from the heart,” he says. “We try to do what we feel, not what’s hot right now. We did that at one time but we’re learning and growing as artists so our sound continues to evolve.” While Ju-Taun’s music is clearly entertaining, it also packs a meaningful punch. Case in point: “Take Me Home.” Says Jake, “This song is about being on the road so much and just wanting to go to that place where you’re comfortable and that’s home.” Samoeun adds, “Sometimes you get caught up and forget about what’s important in life, then you realize how special home really is to you.” “Wishing on Willows” is a gentle nudge to take note of the simple beauty that life has to offer. Says James, “This song is about taking you back to that time in your life when you had that feeling of being carefree and enjoying everyday and enjoying what you’re looking at, seeing the sights and not worrying about all the craziness in life.” Rounding out the set is the hauntingly beautiful “Lookin,’” a song about searching for love that could easily be an anthem for three men who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of their dream: “You can say that I’m dreaming for the way I believe in something with all my mind / But this is something I feel and I know that it’s real so I’m willing to spend my life....” Brought together by fate and circumstances, bound by their mutual love for music and each other, Samaouen and the Evans Brothers now find themselves on a road that is sure to lead them to the place they’ve been dreaming of all their lives. For them, it will be a place filled with music, filled with love. For them, it will be home.
R&B, SOUL, POP
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