The British-Ghanaian artist talks about growing up in East London, getting in touch with his Ghanaian heritage and his new project, Cashmere Tears.
In this age of technology, "creative" is a blanket term facilitating the spread of multiple talents, which is readily seen in copious social media bios. The phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none," springs to mind in that respect, yet now and again an artist follows the path of the polymath and blooms.
Kojey Radical is one who belies his young years as a studious figure who incorporates a myriad of experimentation via spoken word, fashion, design and music, just (to name a few.
Born Kwadwo Adu Genfi Amponsah in London, of Ghanaian descent, Kojey has navigated the underground with a number of insightful and acclaimed projects tracing his own identity as he builds visual narratives themes on depression, love and God.
Following the recent release of Cashmere Tears, we speak to the accomplished artist on growing up in London, the experience of dual heritage, and headlining his first festival this year.
Kojey Radical - Can't Go Back (Official Music Video) youtu.be
You grew up in Hoxton, East London traditionally a working-class area which has felt the sprawl of gentrification. How was that early experience as a young person there?
For me it like living in any ends in London, it was a little bit like the hood so your experiences are way different. London was a different place. I think ultimately what I remember was a sense of community which was the main change. Hoxton got hit early so it wasn't anything to us we were living in and amongst it anyway. It was more when it started to affect people's lives on the day to day. A lot of people couldn't afford to stay in the area but I was one of the fortunate few to stay in Hoxton since I was born, basically.
On reflection, how do you navigate that influx of art-aesthetic circles in close proximity to your local community?
I find a way to make money off them and give it back to the local community.
On a Robin Hood vibe?
Standard. In and out. You can't dwell on these kind of things and try to change things which cannot be changed. You have to find the best way to make it work for you so once more opportunities came into Hoxton, I took those opportunities and found ways to give it to the youth.
In what way does that manifest creatively in your work?
I think it's seeing the duality in people's lives. A lot of the time I create, write and draw around real life. So it's always been interesting to me that people from such different perspectives and walks of life can inhabit and share a space. I think it gives me more fuel for my writing most of the time.
Kojey Radical - 20/20 (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
I heard that a visit from fellow Ghanaian spoken word artist Suli Breaks to your school was a lightbulb moment. What impact did it have with regard to experimenting art forms?
For me it was seeing a young black man doing it well and achieving some success. A lot of the time that's the little spark needed to inspire a young generation to do what they're going to do. I'm not only the seed that came from Suli, George The Poet or Sophia Thakur…so many young poets were doing it around the time I was coming up.
Your second project, 23 Winters, is centred around a conservation between you and your father. A call and response exploring identity, Ghanaian Independence and a coming of age referencing the first President Kwame Nkrumah and your dad's involvement in the CPP. How did you approach it initially and what was it like being open on a personal level?
I think at the time I was turning 23 and needed a different perspective on the experiences that I was having. Me and my dad spoke but didn't speak in a lot of detail a lot of the time. So I was going around to his house and I noticed he was telling me longer stories each time but there was a certain spark in his eye and love in his heart when he would speak about those things. I thought this is a parallel where I have to draw from and look upon my experiences in comparison to his in order to know where I'm headed next in life. So it was part of this coming of age story I was working on.
Last year you went back to Ghana for the first time in over a decade. What was that experience like as a self-confessed London boy?
It was beautiful. The memories of everything such as how the place smells,the temperature, the smiles, the people, the flow of the language…
The smell of the food! Everything kinda hits you in a burst of nostalgia and you suddenly feel like your home again. It's not to say I don't get the same feeling when I touch back down in London but it's more spiritual. It's less about knowing where your house but knowing where your soul is.
Cashemere Tears cover art.
I guess trying to place yourself as growing up, you don't understand your mother tongue and not being able to engage as much but trying to connect in other ways.
Definitely. I was brought up in London and we were taught to assimilate. My mum didn't want to teach me the language like that as for her she wanted me to have the most normal version of growing up in England. I appreciate her for that and I don't hold nothing against her for that. I think for me as I got older I realised being in touch with (Ghanaian) culture was really important. It's not something you really see as a child and as I got older I realised what they were saying to me but I couldn't really respond. Even within that the innateness of being able to understand and speak it goes back to that idea of where your home is and where your soul is.
How was the process of bringing together your latest project Cashmere Tears?
It was a long and short one. It took me two years mentally and emotionally to get out of that space of depression and anxiety to a point where I could make music again. Once I got out of that space the project took me 19 days. It goes to show that the process isn't always the practicality. Sometimes the process is something you have to see within in order to tell your story. In the last few projects even though people got an understanding of things I was concerned about and going through, I don't think they had a holistic picture of me. I knew it was going to take more than one project to do that. So throughout this I was like let's make something that feels and sounds as good as any album that's out there and let's give ourselves something to top. We made the album and just said it's an EP. CASHMERE TEARS is like the therapy before you can really embrace what my album is going to be.
A warm-up in a sense?
A warm up but it's like music these days is so fast?... It comes today you enjoy it for a little bit and then you discard it once your bored of it. I don't want to ever make music like that even if I say it's a warm-up,it's a top up,it's an EP. Listen to it like you would listen to anything and enjoy it. By the time the next thing comes around you wanna feel you got your experience worth.
Juls - Normal ft. Kojey Radical www.youtube.com
On 20/20, you say "Tell them I need every piece of gold that came from Ghana."
Yes every piece!
This lyric in particular feels like you've come full circle knowing where you've come from and where you're going. How important is it to share your own search for identity?
It's a very multi layered line. It's everything you are saying and it's also when I came into the game I was speaking about political matters. Obviously we are in a political time and in the studio we were talking about major political problems in the UK which is affecting everybody. Kids these days are now really embracing the duality in their heritage. There are also political problems going on in Africa and multiple different countries. For us that line was like you want me to fix the problems here but you still have the gold from my country and my country needs work as well. So really let's start at the top of the pyramid and work our way down.
In the same video, you've created a visual world that touches on the black masculine, Afrofuturism with some cameos from Ghetts and Novelist paying homage to the lineage of Black-British music. What is it about that medium which allows you to experiment and be free?
Videos in general are an art form in itself. I think that's why some shine through and others blend in. You have a way now to further articulate some of the thoughts you had when making the tune and with all the videos we try to go down to the base emotion. What's the emotion behind the record and what's the best way we can show it. Also what's the best way we can represent people as ultimately I want my music to be for everyone and for people to be able to see themselves. So it's like how can we hold a mirror up in a way which is not confrontational but welcoming. So we can confront the problem but deal with it and speak about it.
Sugar (feat. Amaarae) www.youtube.com
You regularly connect with artists in the diaspora such as Juls, Michaela Coel and most recently, Amaarae. What does it feel like to connect and resonate with people who share a similar experience of dual heritage?
It's dope. I just like the fact that people want to work with me because they want to make something sick. It's not about clout or how many streams or views. I've never regretted a collaboration and I've always made stuff that I thought was special. If I can't make that then I rather not do it.
Swindle is an effortless musical wizard you regularly collaborate with and features heavily across your discography. What was your initial connection with him and why is it so bountiful?
I have no idea! It was just synergy and the moment when we met we both understood that it's just about music and nothing else matters. Me and Swindle have had so many sessions and I would say out of 20 songs there are two which aren't instant hits. The synergy comes from the fact that I like music and he likes music. I am inspired by so many different genres and sounds. He can incorporate that into the music so when we made Cashmere Tears, I brought Swindle in with my main producer KZ whose been producing for me since DEAR DAISY:OPIUM (his first conceptual project) just to see what would happen. Suddenly you got this perfect blend of this bounce and groove which I am used to doing but now with these live instruments that really bring the song to life.
You have worked with Jungle, Shy FX and Shay Lia. What is it about the independent DIY culture in London which makes it an epicentre for so many underground genres?
That's how we began innit! We made the music and let them man come in and buy it! Eventually down the line we clocked the game. My contract is beautiful as I learned the game. I stayed independent for 5 years of my career because I had to build it from the ground up. When I see people building it from the ground up I respect it. Make your mountain and let them come to the top of it to find you. Don't meet them (major labels) at the ground, meet them at the height of your Mount Everest. Whatever you need to do to get there… get there. It's all love and organic. Everybody that I worked with that was independent made some of my favourite tunes as there was nothing to lose at that point. We can make whatever the hell we feel like.
You headlined your first festival at We Out Here this summer and just recently finished your own FOR YOU tour. How has your stage presence and musicality developed in a live capacity?
It was amazing. This year I think the appreciation for live (performance) for me was really starting to be taken in. I think people now understand that when it comes to a live show from me I am not there to play no games. I could be at my yard or in the studio but if I touch the stage I am coming to make sure everybody front to back, left, right and centre has had the best time of their lives. So for me it was always a matter of time and someone was going to see and know I could do the big slots. Big up Gilles Peterson (Broadcaster and Co-founder of We Out Here festival) every time. He booked me and I didn't even know I was headlining. I came down and asked them what time I was on. They said last and I said what do you mean last…the headline ting!
Then we went on the FOR YOU tour which was the mini thing. It was about how could we make the shows affordable and accessible for fans so they can come and enjoy music for a little bit and not feel like I am trying to sell them something. I was trying to make the tour free and I couldn't. I make it £3 a ticket so people got a full Kojey Radical show for three pounds as I wanted to celebrate Cashmere Tears rather than worry about what it's doing or what people are saying. I wanted to give people a new vibe and groove in a safe space to come and chill. By the time we got to the last show the energy was through the roof and I was charged up. 2020. I am going to do the biggest show I've ever done and doubling it. Now it's time to take things to the next level. I am bored of the monotony and dryness we celebrate.
What would be your dream collaboration? Note the O.G. Daddy Lumba is still around.
Yeah Yeah! If I could make a Daddy Lumba tune I've made it! I want to do a tune with Tiwa Savage she's so cold. Sho Madjozi. Nasty C. There are bare people who I want to link with and say wa gwan. I want to take things as they come. The reason why I made Cashmere Tears with one feature is because Amaarae is the coldest to ever do it and she's family. It made sense as I wanted to make this project about family, me and my life. Amaarae being on the project was a godsend but other than that collaboration has to be meaningful. I've got some dream ones on the horizon… they are going to be special.
Cashmere Tears EP by Kojey Radical is out now on Asylum/Atlantic Records.