Young, Ambitious, and Motivated: An Interview with Afrikan Boy
Afrikan Boy has been a fixture in the international music scene since he appeared in M.I.A.’s tracks “Hussel” and “Paper Planes.” Now, he stands poised for his moment in the spotlight on the eve of the release of his debut alum, “The AB CD,” a follow-up to his acclaimed 2011 mixtape “What Took You So Long.” His music is a blend of urban London rap and the Afrobeat sound that has taken the world by storm. Ayiba’s Akinyi Ochieng spoke to Afrikan Boy about how he stays YAM (young, ambitious, and motivated) in and out of the studio.
Akinyi: Your moniker is Afrikan Boy—a name that plays a deliberate, unashamed homage to your culture. How did you arrive at the choice of such a stage name?
Afrikan Boy: My name was what people called me because of the lyrics I would come up with such as immigration problems, Nigerian parenting, West African food and music, amongst others. I consciously decided to spell it with a “k” after learning the meaning behind it.
Akinyi: Did you always know you wanted to produce African-influenced music?
Afrikan Boy: Yes, African music influenced me automatically because it’s what my parents always played in the house and in their cars when we were growing up. Although they listened to a mixture of all different genres I was definitely brought up on musicians such as Wasui, King Sunny Ade, and Fela Kuti before African music was really played on the radio like it is now in the UK. My first ever recorded tracks include me rapping about my favourite Nigerian dishes such as pounded yam and vegetable stew. The culture will always come through in my music, whether it’s lyrically or instrumentally, it’s a part of who I am. I don’t have to think about it.
Akinyi: How do you think growing up in a global city like London influenced how you connect to your Nigerian roots?
Afrikan Boy: Growing up in London, especially southeast London, has me proud to be Nigerian. However, this wasn’t always to the case growing up in a time where Nigerian culture was not as prevalent in the media as it is now. The scene has changed from being a predominantly dance hall and reggae vibe to now afro beats. Even in the fashion scene there’s been a big influx of African-influenced designs on the market. Living in London being a Nigerian makes it easy to connect with your Nigerian roots because we are everywhere.
Akinyi: You’ve mentioned Fela Kuti in the past as one of your big influences. Which contemporary African artists inspire you?
Afrikan Boy: Right now Ghanaian-Brit Benjamin Clementine inspires me; his creative and musical talent stirs me up to write.
Akinyi: What’s the story behind the origin and concept of your YAM line?
Afrikan Boy: The YAM movement started three years ago in the studio whilst I was recording a track titled ‘Amala Azonto’ which was inspired by the yam porridge my mother made for us to eat. We turned yam into an acronym meaning Young Ambitious & Motivated. Our goal is to inspire ourselves and others to achieve and to realize their highest potential. The concept behind our clothing line is to use recycled materials and fabrics to make cost effective on trend African-influenced clothing. We combine both western and eastern fashion trends to shape our designs. You can check us out on international online retailer ASOS at WeGoYAM. (www.wegoyam.com)
Akinyi: Why did you choose the title “The AB CD” for your new album?
Afrikan Boy: I wanted to choose a title that represented the beginning of my career in the music industry. “The AB CD” title literally means The Afrikan Boy CD but I leave it open to interpretation and many supporters have openly tweeted in their suggestions on what “The AB CD” means for them. Seun Kuti tweeted, “Anybody Can Dance.” I want to interact with the listeners of my album as much as possible.
Akinyi: How is your latest album similar or different from your previous work?
Afrikan Boy: None of my previous work is like my album. You can say all of my previous singles and mixtape have been a lead-up to this debut. I have grown and gained a lot of experience, musically performing across international platforms and touring with various artists such as Keziah Jones, M.I.A, The Africa Express tours, etc. Without these experiences my music would not be at the level that it is now. Contributions on the album from international acts and producers include Denmark, Italy, Lagos, UK, Canada, and New York, to name a few. I feel I show my musical range on this album; you can hear all the different influences across the fifteen tracks.
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