Nataal talks to the London MC about M.I.A.’s Meltdown Festival... and fried chicken

“£2 Chicken N Chips should be his theme tune,” Afrikan Boy laughs, discussing one of his tracks and a possible collaboration with London’s fast-food reviewer The Chicken Connoisseur. As a second generation Nigerian who grew up in Woolwich, the artist (real name Olushola Ajose) has always hailed his love for chicken shops and other signifiers of inner city London life. His songs expertly encapsulate the diaspora experience: fast food menus are dissected alongside the hypocrisy of immigration issues, whilst visa troubles riff alongside visits to discount supermarkets.

I’m speaking to Ojose just before his gig as part of the Southbank Centre’s annual Meltdown Festival, curated this year by his friend and long-time collaborator M.I.A. He joins her choice line-up for the 10-day shindig alongside the likes of Young Fathers, Giggs, Crystal Castles, I Wayne, Dexta Daps and Mykki Blanco. M.I.A. says that she wanted to “bring together new outlaw musicians from everywhere, who have contributed to keeping things weird, exciting, opinionated, loud, emotional and brave or off the grid in the present climate.” Afrikan Boy couldn’t agree more: “My musical journey covers all of the above. I feel like an outlaw from grime and afrobeat, I'm somewhere off grid.” Has the recent resurgence of grime rubbed off on him too? “I don't think it's affected my career directly,” he says, attributing the genre’s rise “to artists putting their art first before anything else.”

“I feel like an outlaw from grime and afrobeat, I'm somewhere off grid”

This is something Ojose has always done too. Born in 1989 and harnessing a passion for music from an early age, Ajose grew up being as much influenced by Fela Kuti as Dizzee Rascal and soon developed his own irresistible MC flow. One of his earliest tracks, One Day I Went To LIDL, caught the attention of M.I.A. who invited the then teenager to guest on her 2007 album, Kala, and subsequent Paper Planes remix. He went on to work with the likes of DJ Shadow and Silver Bullit, tour with Africa Express, and release his first LP The ABCD in 2014. He’s remained a consistent voice in the UK’s music scene and last year made headlines for performing a gig at the migrant camp in Calais, once known as the Jungle.

Now all grown up, his stage name might seem juvenile but its sentiment still resonates with him deeply. “It’s a powerful name to give yourself as an artist - the responsibility it bears is huge. I was the first artist in my generation to take their African culture and put it to the forefront of their musical expression. My culture informs everything I do right now.”

Humour is everywhere in Ojose’s work too, and much of it stems from a deeply instilled understanding of identity confusions in the UK. His use of accents and dialects accentuates this comic touch. “If you have ever held a decent conversation with me for some time you will know that I switch between the Queens English to Pidgin English very smoothly, so it's a part of who I am. Accents can change the whole character and meaning of what's being said.” He feels proud of the fact that many people recognise his voice “as one of the first times they heard a truly African voice on a western rap record.”

Now joining M.I.A. again for Meltdown, does he mind being discovered through the gateway drug of other musicians' work? “One reason to collaborate with another artist is to be exposed to their listeners,” he explains. “I've spoken to many people who have discovered me through listening to other artists - or they've seen me perform on stage as part of another artist's show - and it's all good.” It’s an unsurprising attitude coming from an artist who so expertly exposes the melting pot of cultures and influences that characterise the modern megacity of London and our ever shrinking globalised world. But Afrikan Boy is certainly a musician who also knows how to hold his own - a fact we’ll see compounded on his forthcoming sophomore solo album this autumn.

To pre order Afrikan Boy’s new album visit Pledge Music
M.I.A.’s Meltdown Festival is at the Southbank Centre, London, until 18 June 2017

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Published on 12/06/2017