At the 2013 Freedom Festival in Hull, we got to catch up with Saturday’s Yellow Bus Stage headliner Akala to chat about his new material on ‘The Thieves Banquet’, plans for The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company and more…
“Love of life and the desire to learn keeps me motivated”
S] How do you feel about playing Hull and Freedom Festival in 2013?
A] “I’ve been to Hull before, but many years ago when I played a show at a festival. It was about six or seven years ago now, though. So, I don’t remember it well. Freedom Festival is really cool. It’s got a very SXSW [South By Southwest is a worldwide new music showcase held over in the States…] type of vibe to it. I’m really enjoying it.”
S] You’ve got a new record out called ‘The Thieves Banquet’ – can you talk to me about the themes and ideas behind that and how it moves forward from your other material?
A] “’The Thieves Banquet’ is a full live album. So, it’s all live musicians and no samples used, so that’s definitely something new. It’s also got a constant theme looking at ideas of corruption and power I feel like it’s the evolution and maturation of ideas from my earlier albums.”
S] Can you talk us through the title track of the new record, ‘The Thieves Banquet’?
A] “Yeah. It’s the story of how the world works in my opinion, and these powerful interests that align to keep the world the way it is. Which is a world where people like me and you, weren’t fortunate enough to be born in a rich imperial country and have access to pretty much anything, and then it examines the people that are not that fortunate which represents the majority of humanity who don’t have access to things like food and water. And that’s no accident, I want to be clear. Often, Third World poverty is presented to us as an unfortunate accident by people who are a bit stupid, but I would say it’s a deliberate and functional design of the world’s system the way it is.”
S] Can you talk a little bit about ‘Let It All Happen’ as well?
A] “That song was looking at, as human beings we can make the ultimate difference to the world, and no difference whatsoever. It’s sort of a contradiction in terms; that we should just be a bit nihilistic and let everything happen without caring, but we should also be meditative and accept the world the way it is while trying to make a difference where we can. Musically, that’s my favourite track on the album. It’s the most ‘filmic’ as well.”
S] How do you feel like you’ve develop as a person through the music that you’ve made from the beginning of your career up until this point?
A] “I think that I have been fortunate enough to travel, learn, grow and read; all of these things have influenced the way that I approach music and make music. It’s been a constant progression.”
S] As a successful artist, what would you say that your biggest challenges are these days?
A] “I think for me, it’s trying to make sure I use my time as well as possible. Trying to stay true to my spirit and measuring the realities of being ‘successful’ against the way that I feel about the world. I am trying to always…I think giving back is the wrong word – I don’t believe in charity, I believe in solidarity. I believe that my benefits and my privileges to do things like tour, are not because I am so wonderfully talented. They are facilitated by the very things that I am talking about. If I was born in Somalia or Brazil. Or, even in this country, and I had a different family circumstance; maybe if a few of the things in my life had gone slightly differently, my life wouldn’t be the way it is. I know that musicians and other people like me try to work hard, but I certainly don’t work as hard as the majority of the planet. I suppose it’s me always battling with that contradiction, and using the influence that I have to highlight things. I am constantly questioning how effective it is. So it’s that battle, working out whether my time would be better used something else, and that’s a daily philosophical battle that I have.”
S] What are your plans for the rest of this year with The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company?
A] “We’ve got a production of ‘Richard II’ touring nationally from the first until the 6th of November. Unfortunately we’re not coming to Hull, but if people can come the closest date is in Newcastle. We’re just working away at that.”
S] Have you got plans to come back up to Yorkshire?
A] “I will be going to Leeds as Akala in November on tour – that starts on the 19th through until December 5th. If people want me to come to Hull then they need to talk to promoters here!”
S] As an artist championing independence and creativity for young people, how do you feel about an event like Freedom doing the same sort of thing?
A] “It’s amazing. Really good. I’ve seen the vibe here and people are really enjoying themselves. There are lots of different cultural offerings. It’s great.”
S] As an artist from London who has experienced a lot of success, what would you say to those creative types in areas like Hull and York who want to build their career? Do they need to move or can they use their own surroundings?
A] “I think that as an artist you naturally use your own surroundings and that’s what makes you unique – it’s where you come from. I think that the reality of economics is that you travel to where the work is. And, if you are from a smaller city or town, I don’t think you should change your style, but you have to travel to bigger cities to make a name for yourself. There’s plenty of small town musicians and footballers that have done well. To use another industry example, look at Christiano Ronaldo – he’s from Santo Antonio? That’s a very small island, and he’s become arguably the second best player in the world. Location can be a barrier, but I don’t think it’s an insurmountable one.”
S] What kind of things, people or places are inspiring you outside of music?
A] “Literature really. I am really into a book at the moment called ‘Planet Of Slums’ [by Mike Davis] and that looks at some of the things that we have been discussing. I’m just into writing; a lot of novels by Gabriel Garcia Marques, and another guy that inspired my latest album, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o who wrote ‘Devil On The Cross’. So yeah, literature is where it’s at for me, and exercise. Physical exercise.”
S] What keeps you motivated and willing to get out of bed in the morning?
A] “Love of life, and the desire to learn.”