Photography – Derrick Kakembo
Styling – Mirtsy Dee Grifths
It’s been 10 years since Afrikan Boy, the self-proclaimed afro-grime rapper, stepped on the scene. Born in the UK to Nigerian parents, the Woolwich based star uses his cultural experiences as a focus point in his music, which is both humorous and meaningful. We caught up with ”artist, real name Olushola Ajose”, to talk to him about his musical journey and staying true to his art.
It’s been ten years since your first track “One Day I Went To Lidl” was released. Looking back, what are your thoughts on the song?
My thoughts on it now is [that] its old but gold lol. I never actually commercially released the song. It is a cult classic but things are different now. The song inspired a self-titled play ‘One Day I Went To Lidl’ which is currently being performed in Berlin. I play myself in the play along with a cast of 12 who also share their stories of migration, identity and life in the west. Our play has sold out every performance since we began in 2014 and we are currently in the process of a London version.
When you started out, was music something that you took seriously or was it something you did for fun?
It was something I did for creative fun at first, which was probably at the age of 11. I always said to myself I’d like to keep a hobby with me for life to see how far I can get with this skill and out of many choices – music was my first love. My understanding of the music industry began to grow more whilst touring with M.I.A. at the age of 17. That really showed me the levels to this music industry and I was exposed to new audiences and people who like my sound outside of my southeast London circle.
To what extent did the musical genres you grew up around influence your sound?
They influenced my sound just as much as what I eat influences my body. For me music is life. It’s definitely my life. The world wouldn’t make sense [to me] without sound, so everything influences my sound one way or another. I grew up on British pop, American R&B, Reggae, Nigerian music from the 80’s.
Is this a good time to be making Afrobeats / Afropop? There are so many great artists in the genre right now.
It’s a good time to be making good music because it seems there are more available avenues and ready audiences waiting to receive the music.
How do you feel about the pressure that is on artists these days to release new music very quickly?
I don’t think there is a pressure but it depends what that artist is trying to do with their career. It’s like once an album comes out, its called ‘old’ after 5mins lol. Every artist is different and people work at different rates.
What stories are you trying to tell with in the new album Life In The West (LITW)?
Stories of travel, migration, love, spirituality, family and finding my way back ‘home’. This album is a collection of real peoples stories and conversations that have inspired the art.
What is the reasoning behind the album name?
All the songs I chose to be on the record contain a narrative and story about an experience in the ‘West’, being America, Europe etc. It’s about the perspective. A social commentary on my experiences living in this time and people that I have met.
Can you tell us about the song “LITW”?
LITW is the album opener. It’s a record produced by myself and Adio Laval West. The instrumentalist who played the Kora on the record is world renowned Diabel Cissokho. I wanted the world to hear real world music! This style of story telling is from my tradition and heritage being West Afrikan. The tradition is the Griots. The story told is about my mother and father leaving Nigeria in the 80’s to have me in England, then I talk about growing up in the 90’s and millennia. The song also raises important questions such as human rights, freedom of expression and the feeling of home away from home.
As an artist, you are known as being very real – how important to you is it that your fans are able to relate to you?
I believe music is a universal language. A powerful tool and weapon for transmitting ideas that may be foreign to what you know and relate to but it has the power to influence. My music is about reaching people who don’t think they have [anything] in common with me to be surprised. We are all living a human experience.
How important is it to have complete creative control over what and how you record / make music?
A wise man once told me “If you don’t own your masters, your masters own you”. Creative control is everything and a good collaborative effort with your team is productive. As an artist you have to allow yourself to be creatively free by any means necessary.
As a Black musician do you feel a responsibility to address socially conscious themes in your music?
No. Not as a black musician but as a Father [yes, I do].
Do you think there’s ever been a more creatively critical time for artists to address social themes?
We are living in a time when everyone knows or thinks they know what’s happening in this world. So much information inflation! If people believe the only time is NOW then NOW is the time to say what you want to say.
Tell us about your involvement with M.I.A’s Meltdown Southbank festival? How did that come about?
It was something that happened organically. We have a cool relationship but it was about the music and what I stand for as a musician. It’s a festival for the people to come and see acts that aren’t part of the ‘industry’ like that. And it’s a chance for people who wouldn’t normally come to south bank to come.
Do you have any plans to go on tour?
Yes. Follow me on twitter and Facebook ‘AfrikanBoy’ for all updates on tours and live performances.
Afrikan Boy’s new album Life In The West will be released in September 2017 but is available for pre-order now over at www.Pledgemusic.com/AfrikanBoy
See him perform live as part of M.I.A.’s Meltdown / South Bank festival on 10th June 2017.