Different Sides of Afrobeat with Afrikan Boy
Amelia Vindy (V) talks to Afrikan Boy (A).
You often raise numbers of social issues which some of it are personal, such as your song called “One Day I Went To Lidl” that you use as an introduction to your music. Why did you decided to use this kind of topic as song materials?
With “One Day I Went to Lidl” in particular, it was based on a true story. So I went to Lidl, went to steal some sweets, go to Asda; which is just like a supermarket in the UK, take some chicken.
Back then, like 10 years ago in the UK, Lidl was very new, actually. It’s a German supermarket and it was really cheap at the time, so it was always associated with people who are poor, people who came from migrant backgrounds, you know, immigrants. It was always classed as that. Middle-class white people don’t shop at Lidl, you know, or middle-class anybody.
Because it was cheap and the quality of the food was not so great, kids in school would say, “Hahaha, you shop at Lidl! You must be poor.” But I knew that their parents probably shop at Lidl too. So for me, not only was it a true story, but it was also about just kind of being honest, to just honestly say, “Look, I shop at Lidl, you know?” It’s no shame!
I’m being open about the realities that I lived and once I knew other people who I went to school with lived. But when they’re on the mic and doing their rapping and MC-ing, they don’t wanna share that reality. They wanna share the reality of, “Oh, I’m in the streets, I’m selling drugs, I’m hard!” For me, yeah, that’s some of the reality, but it’s a whole other reality. So I just wanna be more interesting. To be honest, I didn’t think about it too much when I made that track when I was 16. I just wanted to be honest, and I knew it would make people laugh.
The UK’s Afrobeats are growing nowadays, due to the fact that there are numbers of rising stars in the scene such as G.A, Not3s, and Afro B. How do you see this trend in the UK music scene?
I started when I was 16, and I did something fresh and new that no one my age had done, which was rapping and the African accent and saying African things, but still doing grime.
Ten years on now, you have UK artists like J Hus, Kojo Funds, and Abra Cadabra. All this new generation who are not doing exactly what I did, but they’re building on. I think it’s natural with these scenes that they will always develop and there will be another one in 10-20 years time.
Grime that everyone enjoys right now was from another scene, like jungle and garage. Out of grime, you’ve got other things that are coming out. Every decade or 20 years, a new evolution of the sound comes out, because the younger generation feels like they wanna do something new. They wouldn’t wanna do what the older guys are doing. I think it’s natural.
What makes your music different from another Afrobeats, that make you won’t categorized yourself as UK’s Afrobeats?
I don’t know what I categorize myself in. I’m definitely not Afrobeat, even though I’m Afrikan Boy. In the UK people would say I was one of the first people to do Afrobeat, but what they actually mean is that I was one of the first people to do African stuff. But I did it on grime music.
I used to call myself Afro-grime, which didn’t necessarily mean that I was mixing African music and grime, but it was just a new name that I could say. I believe my sound is my voice and wherever I put my voice on, whether it’s punk rock, hip hop, dance. My sound is my voice. And my personality is my sound.
So, yeah, I’m not really grime, I’m not really hip hop, I’m not dance, I’m not reggae, I’m not Afrobeat, but I’m somewhere in the middle of all of that. And yeah, people categorize me cause people think that they have to have a category for you. I feel like I’m one of the characters in the UK that was proud of my African side and put that into the music. Now, 10-15 years on, a lot of people are doing it, and there are now people who make Afro-swing, Afro this and that. And I was like, Wow! Because 12 years ago, when I heard afro-grime, I thought to myself, “What are you even saying?” It seemed funny to me. And now it’s like, everyone’s at that stage. So I’ll just move forward and continue to do what I do, really.
We knew that you’ve been in the music industry for more than 10 years as an independent musician. What’s your motivation that keeps you going and is there any challenges throughout your music career?
Back then, the motivation was to be the best. And then the motivation was to be the most known, to be a megastar. Then the motivation is to leave a legacy. I’m sure you know how certain musicians are not alive anymore, but people know their music. That’s my aim.
As for challenges, you know, in whatever you wanna do, even when you’re on camera or doing an interview, there’s so many challenges you’re just kind of trying to stick to. In my case, it’s music. The challenges come from everywhere. Life itself possess the biggest challenge, and I mean that in the sense of. You grow, you have a family, you need to make money, and your manager asks you to still do free shows, but you need to eat! So that’s a new challenge.
Then comes the challenge of being original and relevant, because you see all these younger kids. I’m still young, but you see these younger, younger kids who are poppin’ off! Most of the challenges come from within. You cannot master what’s outside when you cannot master yourself. So if you master yourself and conquer every challenge within yourself. Your self-doubt, self-hate, laziness. Then the outside will also follow.
It’s been a hard road and I’m still grinding. I’m 12 years deep of having an amazing career that people in my area really look up to me. But for me there’s still so many challenges, like getting your band over to Indonesia. That’s a challenge!
So, yeah, the motivation is to make great music. I know that I’m great. It’s not everyday I know I’m great. You know some days you just feel bad. But deep down inside, I know I’m great. Because I know I’m great, that’s my motivation. To make sure that I show that greatness, so that long after I’m done doing music, my music is still gonna be relevant and important, and is part of the culture. It’s gonna continue making money for my grandchildren.
The challenges are the fun part for me, cause I’m still on the way up. There are always gonna be challenges. More money, more problems. There’s always gonna be challenges and it’s how you deal with them that really would show how long you would go.
After releasing “ABCD”, we heard that you’re planning to release a second album that will emphasize the African culture. How influential is this cultural aspects or culture in general in your creative process?
My album “The ABCD” was great because I traveled all over the world, and then I made music and kind of sat down and I had all these music and put it all together, and it was my album. Boom! So it’s almost like a mixtape released as an album. All original music. Classic.
The second album, however, is more tailor-made. It’s a concept album. It has a strong message all the way through. It’s very personal. With the cultural aspects, I wanted it to have more Eastern influence. I mean from Africa to where we are now in Indonesia, in terms of instrumentation.
So there’s a kora (African musical instrument) at the opening track, which I’m gonna perform tonight. I just wanna have more African instruments and merge them with Western drums or whatever. Really, it’s just about showcasing different sides of Afrobeat. Right now when you say Afrobeat, you think about one type of thing. You probably think of Nigeria, Ghana, maybe South Africa, and that’s it. But in Angola they do Kuduro. Crazy Afrobeat! I’m just trying to explore the sound, do things that are different. Not necessarily because I think this is gonna get loads of radio play, not necessarily because I think all the teenagers are gonna jump on this, because they probably won’t. But it’s still an album that needs to be made. It’s something that I believe people will catch up to.
A lot of artists aren’t in my position, you know? I’m a married man, I have two children, I’ve got different responsibilities. A lot of other guys, they haven’t. These things that I’m talking about might not register to them now, but later in life when they catch on, they’ll be like, You know?
In terms of creative process, it’s just about discovering things and being open. This album is different cause I’ve really taken what I do in my live performances and tried to put that as much as possible into my music. ‘Cause I feel like, if you wanna see what I’m all about, come see me live at a good show. Then you’d get a good feel, and then you can go and listen to the CD, and remember when I did it live. I’m really excited for this album. I’m producing a lot of it, and it will definitely sound like a futuristic African album.
Throughout your music career, you seem to be very interested in raising awareness in humanitarian issue. Do you actually have your own target of audiences? How do you manage to deliver this kind of issue to your audiences, so that they will understand the message behind your song?
My audience ranges from people very close to me, to people very far away from me. Those who are close to me are family and friends, and those who are far are people who don’t know me. I don’t start off with a track and think I want to make this track contain this issue. I don’t focus on any humanitarian issue on purpose. If something affects my life or if something is on my mind, then I’m gonna speak about it.
I believe I’m a communicator, so I would try my best to break down whatever I’m trying to say in a way that if I do it at a school to 14 year-olds, they would understand it. In the university, they would understand it. In a big concert, they would understand it. So in any format, you could understand what I’m saying, and I think that’s what a lot of my mentors are like, People like Bob Marley, Fela Kuti. They were able to break down these messages and ideas into very very simple ones, so that the common man or woman who hasn’t got extensive vocabulary or hasn’t gone to school can understand it. They wouldn’t feel like, “Ah, this is too complicated for me.” I don’t want that. Cause I listen to music and feel like that sometimes. It’s really just about putting this message out there that everybody can understand. As long as it’s true to me, then the message will get passed on.
What is the role of internet for Afrikan Boy – as a musician who made it by promoting on the internet. And how is this affects your music?
I’m a first-generation internet star, cause YouTube was born in what, 2006? I first came to the scene in 2006. For my first album, “The ABCD,” we didn’t sell any physical copies. We did promo copies, but I didn’t print off any physical copies. I’m a child of the 90s, so hell yeah, I wanna have a CD with my name on it. But Mac computers don’t have CD players anymore, you know? Within 20 years, technology would be like, You know, it’s like floppy discs, mini discs. It’s gonna be the same with CDs. So I think the internet is my distributor.
What the internet did for this boy, who came out of this small town in South East London. It enabled people to share “I Went to Lidl,” cause it was infrared then, wasn’t even bluetooth. People were able to download it off the internet, and that took me worldwide! CD couldn’t have done that. The internet made it worldwide, and even now it’s still sold. So the role of the internet is very supported, cause it allows freedom for you as an artist. You can get out there. You don’t need a label. I’ve never done anything with a big label.
Management will find you. No one really knows how to get a manager, you know? You can go and find them, but the manager has to go and really find you. The music industry is not glamorous. It’s glamorous sometimes, but the majority of the time it’s not. If you don’t find a manager you can build a good relationship with, it’s gonna be hard. You really want a manager who isn’t just about the 20%. At the end of the day, that’s what they’re working hard for, but it’s not just all about that, they have to look out for your best interest as well. Getting yourself out there, doing shows as much as possible, you’ll meet people.
Eventually, I say the best person to manage you is your friends. Most of the young successful guys in the UK right now are managed by their friends. No complicated management, and they’re all learning as they go along. And they’re doing it big! So get your friends on board. I wish I did that. If your friends really believe in you, and they’re on it, and you haven’t found a manager yet, get your friends on board. Let them go out and do the meetings for you. Get them involved. why not? Then you’re gonna enjoy your time on the road, cause touring can get lonely.
How do you see festivals like Archipelago Festival, that gather emerging artists from different countries?
It’s very important. Traveling opens your eyes and I think I’m gonna go to the studio with the UBC guys over the next couple of days. I’m looking forward to learning how they do stuff. I’m looking forward to even listening to some traditional music. And I’m sure they’re interested in how I do my process. I think it’s a very rich experience and they’re what you’re gonna tell your grandkids. “One day, I went to Indonesia!” You know?
But I think what’s important is that they should happen more because this music industry is a global thing. Because of the internet, everyone is just sort of into the same thing. So when I was in South Korea, someone was like, “The ting goes SKRRRRA!” And I was like, “Where am I again?” I think it’s important to understand that even though I’m in Jakarta, it doesn’t mean that there’s no hip hop heads there, or grime heads, or people that follow the UK scene like I do.
I’m lucky that I’m from the UK, and I guess people look into that. I don’t know if UK guys look into the scene in Indonesia. Probably not. It probably also helps you as an artist, cause if I’m here now, this is a viable market. Like, I wanna be coming back. I will be coming back, you know what I mean? And I wanna be able to make connections with artists who are local, cause they’re gonna be able to show me to other people. And if they come to the UK, I wanna be able to say, “Hey man, what’s up?” And be able to help them too. That’s why it’s important, it’s to get that link.
I make music with people all over the world, everybody has value. Nobody’s too important to be nice to someone. I think the more things like this could happen, it’s good cause it’s rich for the music. I’m gonna go back to some Indonesian vibes now in my head. It will come out somehow, and vice versa. This exchange is not something that should be taken lightly. It’s very important. It’s just as important as when presidents go over to other countries just to drink tea! Why is that so important? Because there’s so much importance in that cultural exchange. It’s good for both sides.