Local Hackney resident Jermain Jackman overcame shyness to achieve his dreams and bag a recording deal through The Voice UK. Ever eager to break free from stereotypes and strive to be the best, Jermain’s desire to get the voice of youth heard and to motivate his community runs parallel to his music career. At only 20, his youthful energy is complemented by a thoughtful outlook and his feet are firmly on the ground. We catch up with Jermain in the Borough he calls home to hear more about his journey so far.
Jermain’s early years were spent on Dalston’s Holly Street, after which he moved to Finsbury Park where he spent the remainder of his childhood. Despite living so close to the West Reservoir, Jermain has always passed up the opportunity to go for a splash, “At primary school we were given the chance to go canoeing but I refused…I can’t swim!”
Jermain recalled the blocks of flats that used to exist along the eastern side of what is now the New River path, “A number of my secondary school mates used to live here; I can remember coming to house parties around here, it was completely different back then.” He’s witnessed the changing face of Hackney over the years and fondly remembers making day trips with his mum to see the demolition of dilapidated tower blocks by implosion.
The Borough of Hackney is very close to his heart, and he loves the diversity and multi-culturalism found here. For him, it’s the ability to walk from one end of Hackney to the other and feel like you’ve walked the world that makes it so special; “Whether it’s in Dalston, Shoreditch, at Ridley Road Market, or even here in Stoke Newington, Hackney allows you to learn how to be sociable with different cultures.” Jermain spent a lot of his teenage years around Hackney Central, Mare Street and Clapton. A lot of his friends live in Stamford Hill, Bow, Whitechapel and Bethnal Green, so he knows these areas like the back of his hand. His favourite hang-out spots include Hackney Empire and what was Hackney Ocean, now Hackney Picture House. Back in the day a number of famous faces could also be found here, some of which became Jermain’s friends and acquaintances, including Leona Lewis, Labyrinth and Paloma Faith.
Hackney Empire played a key role in carving out a future for Jermain in performance. He first graced the stage here aged only four, during his short-lived tap dancing years. After battling his nerves and deciding to take his singing from the shower to the stage aged 11, he joined Hackney Empire’s two week Artist Development Programme, where he got the chance to work with talented people within the performance industry. Jermain went on to compete in the Live@TheEmpire Hackney vs. Harlem singing competition. Winning this gave him the opportunity to perform at The Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York City. He has no doubt that Hackney Empire provided the first building block in his journey to becoming a musician and it’s clear that he’s very much at home here; warming his vocal chords as soon as he strode into the dressing room.
Whilst at school he sung ‘And I’m telling you’ for an IAMS idol competition, the very same song that elevated him to stardom and secured his victory on The Voice UK last year. He remembers how his acapella version back then was performed wearing a hat and sunglasses, MJ-style, to hide his embarrassment. He’s come a long way since then, and his Granny’s laminated newspaper clippings will testify to it!
Having grown up on gospel music and the sounds of soul classics, it’s no surprise that his debut album, released in March 2015, has hints of old soul with a modern edge. Working alongside will.i.am last year helped Jermain open his mind to different sounds and genres, allowing him to look at songs in different dimensions. The production of his album saw Jermain play with words to write and co-write a number of his own songs, as well as collaborate with some leading artists and producers including Jack Splash, Ali Tennant, R-Kelly and Jessie J to create a number of smooth, catchy tracks. His favourite, ‘With Me Today’, is the second single to be released from his debut album. The song really resonates with him; he connected with it so well that the recorded version was his first studio take of the song.
Jermain’s family is incredibly close-knit, and the ninth track on his album is dedicated to his mum. His good manners may be attributed to his Guyanese upbringing but his musical talents are not inherited, “My mum is tone deaf, and none of my four siblings sing.” They are, however, creative in their own right – one of his brothers is a sports journalist and aspires to run his own talk show, whilst Jermain’s twin sister Chanelle used to write scripts and plays for Platform arts hub near Seven Sisters Road.
It was hearing a Luther Vandross record aged 10 that really inspired Jermain to be a singer, “I just thought wow, what an amazing voice. I wanted to be like him when I was older.”
Jermain is conscious of giving back to his local community and to this end used to run vocal lessons and workshops locally, as well as being an ambassador for the National Citizen Service. He hopes to inspire young people to believe in themselves, to adopt an aspirational work ethos and to use their talents from a young age to propel themselves to achieve their dreams. He also rubbishes the claim that music and politics can’t run parallel; the fact that it hasn’t been done before is a challenge he embraces.
As living proof that it is possible to smash the boundaries often imposed by growing up in Hackney, the ever-charismatic Jermain has a simple message to those who, like him, dream big, “It’s important to understand the avenues that lead to your dream, and to accept that the routes may be bumpy, may change, or may stop altogether, but if you fully back your dream and believe in yourself, nothing can stop you.” Placing cupped hands by each eye Jermain went on with a smile, “Like a horse with blinkers, you just have to focus and go for it.”
“Like a horse with blinkers, you just have to focus and go for it”