Thank you so much, especially for playing it first on your show last week. It feels great to have the song out there, we’ve been working on it for a while and it’s my most mature and reflective song to date.
What’s the story behind it?
Just putting things in perspective really. It’s about the sacrifices of leaving my home town and loved ones to make my art happen in temporary homes all over the world, and the contrast of coming back home to unstable housing conditions in London. Living in guardianships where you have loads of creative space but could get kicked out in 28 days.
You collaborated with Jay Johnson on it, how did that come about?
He’s a super talented songwriter and good friend, and we’ve always wanted to collaborate with each other when the time was right. When I needed to record the track and couldn’t do it in my home studio Jay told me he was working at Sirlute in Bow and I could record there. So he came down to help me record, I played the instrumental and laid my bars down. Jay loved my lyrics and the instrumental immediately and we both connected on this track mainly because of the lyrics. I wrote the hook as a testament to the beauty, struggle and the hustle of living in south London “socks and sliders pave the way it was sunny now it’s grey” and Jay said you know I actually have something with the word socks in that would go really well, and his verse fit so perfectly. We connected on the culture and community of that strip between Peckham Rye Lane and Deptford High Street called New Cross and both identify that as home.
You worked with Hvndred Plus on this, what was it like?
Hvndred and I met at these online music business seminars in lockdown called Cre8ing Vision and were matched together to collaborate based on our shared interest and expertise. His compositions speak to me, at the root of it I can hear influences of 90s Hip-Hop and R&B, the roots of Caribbean sound system culture and that grittiness and realness that makes it South London. I find working with Hvndred is always inspiring, he’s so knowledgeable and supportive and I have been able to hear myself improve while collaborating with him.
What did you learn from these two artists?
They’ve both taught me so much as musicians and I’m very grateful to get to know them as people. What I’ve learnt from them is to trust my feelings with the music, and to push beyond what I think is my best for that day. Hvndred will show me possibilities I never thought of, I cherish his encouragement to grow and enjoy the process. Jay has shown me his devotion to music, literally how to live and breathe this as an art form. That’s why this track is so blessed and has received the recognition it has so far. Great team.
You are from south London how did it all begin for you?
I say I’m from South London now but I was actually born and raised in Southampton. I was part of 3 choirs while I was in secondary school, formed a couple of bands in Southampton with my mates, but my parents actively discouraged me from going into music or fine art and told me to get a proper job, get married and have kids like other traditional African-Asian families expected of this migrant generation. Odds were seriously stacked. I would sing at school but never in my parents home. Then my singing teacher died before my year 11 singing exam and after that there was no one who would nurture my dream of doing music as a career for another 10 years.
I got into uni to study Fine Art at Nottingham Trent. I was sad to leave Southampton but the racism was so stifling I couldn’t get a job or opportunities in what I was good at. Leaving my hometown and going to uni in Nottingham which is an incredibly supportive creative city was my ticket to survive. I did music in secret with my friend Ben who played Ragtime songs and I would sing jazz along over the top in rehearsal rooms at Trent. On my course I learnt to make video art, record and mix soundscapes and music to make the scores for my videos that I exhibited in art galleries. It wasn’t until much later when studying my masters degree in Fine Art at Goldsmiths in New Cross that the Curator Anne Duffau, interviewed me for the Red Mansion Art Prize residency to Beijing. She pointed out how much music was a key part in my videos and asked, had I ever thought about making music as its own thing? I’d let the dream go long ago, but I was selected for the prize and then did this residency in China where I had my own flat and studio, without the stress of London rent and got to just create. I was given a survival budget, with so much inspiration around me, and the influx of Black American culture being imported into China, was like something unlocked to all the influences of my childhood. I just started rapping again.
What did you listen to growing up?
I passively listened to everything and anything, I love music, I loved the intros to TV shows like Moesha, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Saved by the Bell! Rug rats! Everyone in my house was a taste-maker. My dad is a session percussionist and plays in a couple bands, what I guess is called “world music” so I grew up hearing Afrobeat patterns, Caribbean, Indian and Arabian riddims and instruments from all over the world, from the tabla to mbira to the darbouka to steel pan.
My sisters played R&B and Soul, a lot of Babyface and Teddy Riley records. As a kid of the 90s Aaliyah was a huge influence along with Missy Elliott, Timberland, Fugees, SWV, Dru Hill. I’d listen to Diana Ross. Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, George Michael. In Southampton I grew up hearing a lot of Reggae and Dancehall music, anything Trojan Records, I loved Desmond Dekker, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Bob Marley, SuperCat, Beenie Man, Chaka Demus and Pliers, Sista Nancy.
At an early age my cousins from the USA introduced me to A Tribe Called Quest via Low End Theory (go and see that film Rye Lane by the way). That was my gateway to US Hip Hop really, after hearing Missy, Tupac Shakur, Wu-Tang Clan, DMX, Rakim and Busta Rhymes and of course every summer was LL Cool J without fail. That’s all just before the age of 12. My teenage years were a combination of everything, from Skunk Anansie, Machine Head, Bjork, Skindred, Tinie Tempah, Dizzee Rascal all the way to Jill Scott and India Arie. I grew up in a Muslim household, with no Muslim artist around me, my mum let me go and sing in the church choir at Christmas as long as I didn’t say Jesus or Christ. It was so awkward! Haha! So I guess my love of Gospel music comes from the church opening its doors for me to be allowed to sing in a safe place of love and acceptance. But primarily, my love of Hip Hop and Rap music comes from hearing Muslim rappers from the US rip a mic over albums, spitting emotive lyrics over catchy beats, placing a Quranic ayah in there now again let me identify with it early, along with the violent reality of racism I faced as a child. I was too young for the UK Garage scene but Craig David also unlocked my love and potential for pursuing music.
You’ve been featured on BBC Introducing in the past how did that feel?
That was so lit. I was having a bad time with a guy I shouldn’t have been dating when I got the email that Black Forest Ghetto was Record of the Week. He wasn’t happy for me so I knew we had to break up. So being selected for that radio show literally changed the course of my life. Then Steph from BBC Introducing Solent called and interviewed me for the show. I was working as a technician in an art gallery at the time hanging up projectors and paintings, so to do the interview I had to sneak out and sit inside the lobby of Somerset House where people were walking past me looking dusty sounding posh, I was so nervous. Then I had to go back to work drilling into walls trying not to smile too much feeling like a very happy idiot.
Your bars seem to come easily to you, a case in point being that you wrote bars about electronic waste in a video art installation, how do you prepare?
Generally my lyrics come from feeling passionate and energised about my message, especially my context as a musician, artist or electronic music producer. I can write on just about anything that I have a connection with. To prepare I guess I transport myself there to that moment and communicate what I’m thinking and feeling in response to a certain situation. Sometimes I’ll spit whatever I think it should sound like over any instrumental but for me it’s how the words feel in my mouth and how they sound in the space in front of me. I self-produced and wrote my second EP You May Have Been Wondering Where I’ve Been, during lockdown and is all about love, lust, loss, and heartbreak of all kinds but learning through relationships and challenging life situations. So some of that preparation comes down to just living.
You sing too, who are your top 3 favourite vocalists?
How do I answer that… If you asked me yesterday it would be Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey and Brandy. Today it’s Jazmine Sullivan, Kehlani and Alicia Keys.. and tomorrow it will be Sampha, Nao and Frank Ocean, cuz it moves like that. For me there’s room at the top for more than just 3 of all time.
You’ve been on tour post COVID what was your favourite gig?
That’s just like the last question! How can I choose? They’re all great for a different reason. The one in Peckham Four Quarters was a vibe because my friends and family got tickets and it reminded me of all the house parties I put on back in the day.
Performance-wise my best gig was the one at Luna Lounge in Leyton, it was an hour-long set, my friend Kinga was DJ-ing and I jumped on their baby-grand piano to do a couple of acoustic versions of 2 songs, Trouble and Runaway. That was a first for me, but a true highlight!
The most purposeful gig was the first one out of lockdown at AMP Studios where I met a few of my fans for the first time and they told me how much my EP has brought them joy and comfort in lockdown. It was the most beautiful thing to meet them and perform to amazing young people that love my music and support my journey. That makes me feel accountable and assured in the most incredible way. Have to mention Southlands Summertime Live festival, such a great line up, well organised and wholesome event.
You’re also a videographer what are the three things that you look for when setting up a project?
If I’m shooting for a client I just follow their brief, but I check my battery and card life, lenses, and location.
When it comes to shooting I’m looking for interesting things in interesting locations with the best available lighting. These days I spend more time in front of the camera, and have to actively forget things like shutter speeds and lens distances and focus on giving the best performance to camera and be directed.
COVID impacted the creative industry in a big what kept you motivated?
For all of the creative sectors that I work in, art, music, theatre and film to suddenly be shut down like that prompted me to look at my closest relationships, pay attention to my health, reflect on my journey so far, and do some crate digging in my own recordings. I got symptoms of this virus before there was even a test for it and I’d already started self-producing my second EP early 2020, so that was not only my opportunity to follow up from the debut EP, I laid those bars down with urgency while I was unwell because I really didn’t know about tomorrow. So yeah man, imminent mortality motivated me. It sounds cliche, but it was the reality. Also that’s when I connected with BK Bakari and Jay Millz. I could feel their presence all the way from East Africa sending me verses and instrumentals, while I was writing bars in the basement of my old guardianship in East London these two made me forget the world had collapsed. They motivated me for sure.
The last few years have been a time to reflect, what did you learn about yourself?
I’ve learnt so much about music and understand why my parents discouraged me from pursuing it – but also that I enjoy being a musician and I get to co-create music in an industry and determine my part in its expression. I’ve learnt more about my African-Asian heritage and the power that comes from difference. I’ve learnt about forgiveness, given it and received it. I learned that grief is the last expression of love. I learnt that my Saturn Returns was the end of one life and the start of another. I’ve learnt it’s important to create my bridges as well as my boundaries. I’ve realised that when it feels like it’s all working against me it’s actually working for me. I trust the process.
Did you pick up any new skills?
I taught myself piano by ear, after a friend of mine left his piano at my house when he fled the country before lockdown. I also set up a record label called Tava. It seems to be growing well and I’m learning more about the business and publishing and being a consultant and manager to younger artists. I’m also learning more about my taste in music and what I want my contribution to the music industry to be.
What’s next for you?
I’m about to release another record with an excellent singer called BGBGB produced by a dope young producer called K-Wolf. This song is called Resonate, it’s about having powerful trail blazing Aries energy and a fun fact – all of us are the star sign of Aries. We’re planning to release the song with a video via my independent label, Tava Records in April, just in time for all our birthdays.