Photo: Black Butter/Sony UK.

Interview: JAE5 Is Crafting London's Distinct Diasporic Sound

We talk to the buzzing producer about his Grammy win alongside Burna Boy, his work with J Hus and the ever-looming influence of Ghana.

When tales about the origins of hip-hop come into the cypher, the hyperfocus is almost always about the culture being born out of a unique and profound struggle that centers Black and Indigenous youth in the Bronx. First and second generational youth with roots in both the English and Spanish-speaking Caribbean, who in spite of their deteriorating environment — at the time some of the most impoverished streets in North America — learned to harness the power of creative ingenuity as a form of survival.

We can, arguably, deduce then that the original purveyors of this music that was made from scratch — quite literally — weren't actually intending on making music that could speak for or represent a people and their stories. No. I'd wager the first DJs worrying the vinyls on Uptown blocks, and the first MCs spitting outside corner bodegas were simply living, relishing in the little joy they could manifest for themselves. Two-stepping and waving braggadocio hands in the few darkened spaces that welcomed them.

For JAE5(born Jonathan Mensah) one of today's most prolific producers on the other side of the Atlantic, creating a fresh UK sound that in many ways is an expression of contemporary African British youth, it was not intentional. It was simply inevitable.

"I lived in Ghana for three years. J Hus grew up around a lot of Ghanaians. All of our friends are African and our parents are African," he shares. "So even when we were trying to make music from the UK, it would always have an African influence because that's what we grew up listening to and that's who we are. So I don't think anything was intentional. It's what it is."

With origins in Ghana and a coming-of-age set in London, JAE5 first became known as the genre-splicing beat machine behind J Hus' intoxicating songs, including the summer smash of 2017 "Did You See" off his Common Sense album. Having executive produced J Hus' entire debut album, JAE5 made a name for himself as the East Londoner developing a distinct diasporic sound combining elements of hip-hop, afrobeats and afro-fusion.

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Rocky Dawuni On His Grammy Nomination & the Power of Ghanaian Music

We talk to Rocky about what’s at stake as African-rooted genres become global.

Earlier this year, Ghanaian singer-songwriter and producer Rocky Dawuni opened his keynote speech at the World Day of African & Afrodescendant Culture in Accra by saying, “Culture is our identity. There has never been a people who have been able to rise to their highest potential without having their culture as a means of stating who they are.” This serves as the singular impetus behind Dawuni’s recently Grammy-nominated album Voice of Bunbon, Vol. 1, which he tells OkayAfrica is a “sonic journey of empowerment.”

On the heels of the announcement that the 2022 GRAMMYs Awards show had officially been rescheduled to April 3, Dawuni sat down with OkayAfrica to discuss the makings of his eighth studio album and its nomination in the category of Best Global Music Album, the cultural moment that popular African music presents to diasporic musicians and the diaspora at large, what it means to grow up in a royal traditional family of Bunbon, and what’s at stake as African-rooted genres such as afrobeats become global and a part of mainstream culture.

Read our conversation below.

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