Worldmaking is important to Azekel, it drives him and guides him toward what he believes is being able to speak his truth –– and then giving that power back.
Through his music and art, Azekel is keen on tracing Black Britain’s musical history, even though he sees himself as Nigerian, he’s grown to understand the legacy that his soul and acid jazz forebears laid before him. The canon in which he exists, he says, couldn’t have been made possible without the artists that came before him and it’s through honouring the past that he’s able to find space for himself in contemporary narratives about Black male identity in Britain.
Since releasing ‘Our Father’, Azekel has been working out of a studio in Somerset House with a group of young artists and creatives including Gaika. For him, the experience has been enriching as he’s often used to working in a bubble but collaborating with like-minded people, creating a harmonic space where Azekel isn’t creating in isolation or solitude. Although he creates to express his own narratives of fatherhood, masculinity and Blackness, Azekel believes that when he does he fashions a world for himself where he’s able to exist freely without reserving any part of he is.
Beneath all of the masks we wear in our daily lives, that’s where our sensuality can often be found. Azekel, however, wears his sensuality proudly as though it unlocks and heightens his senses. Something that isn’t always easy being a Nigerian-born man raised in Britain but without tapping into his own carnal desires, he wouldn’t be able to bring his full, whole self to the music he’s creating. In turn, it’s allowed him to create more freely for others beyond himself.
How did you go from making music for yourself to creating it for other people?
For me, I’ve always been self-absorbed when it comes to making music. Doing stuff that makes me feel good? As a person I’ve been evolving, therefore, my art has as well, I wouldn’t say that the growth has been linear as it’s much broader. I’ve been able to articulate myself better and how I want to express myself.
What have you learnt about yourself since working on Our Father?
What I did learn most importantly is that I’m an archivist, that is what I am. Through music, I document my experiences and influences at the time, whatever it is and it’s stored forever. With Our Father, I captured this with a film although I didn’t make it, it was still my story and narrative. When that was screened at The Tate it put me in a new space of understanding that I shouldn’t worry about imposter syndrome because I didn’t go to art school or anything like that. I would definitely say that in all the work that I do, whether that’s music, film or writing, I archive moments and experiences from my life.
How important is it for you that you archive those experiences in your life?
I believe it’s important to archive because a lot of time, you can only know you can do something until someone else has done it. I wouldn’t say it’s my duty but it’s what drives me, especially as I’m exploring my own Black male narrative.
Considering all of that, do you ever consider the canon of Black male vocalists you’re a part of in the UK?
Yeah definitely, there’s the original Funky Dread, Omar and Seal who I connect with due to being Nigerian. But a lack of archiving of Black British male vocalists has made me want to study people like IG Culture and Roni Size. We’re often told about the Soul II Souls and Omars but there’s so much variation coming out of the UK, it’s not even just London, there’s a lot of musical history in Bristol and Birmingham. Without people documenting these artists, a lot of us wouldn’t be here so I care a lot about studying those that came before me.
It’s important those names are acknowledged especially at a time when people will call themselves ‘the first’ without necessarily doing their homework. The past informs the present and whether people know it or not but they’re influenced by what came before.
I was born in Nigeria but then I came here, it was easier for me to identify with being a Nigerian rather than taking on the ‘Black British’ identity because maybe there weren’t a lot of artists for me to see myself in but I was wrong. There’s been bare artists that have come before us but they perhaps didn’t get the accolades or were overlooked, they made great art.
That’s a real thing where you talk about the dichotomy between identifying as Nigerian and Black British, which then impacts how artists are remembered.
I think when a lot of these artists were coming out in the 80s and 90s, it was very much subculture, a lot of what they were doing was community-based. That’s what I’ve always aspired to do but it doesn’t always get archived if it doesn’t become mainstream or commercialised. When people do breakthrough certain doors, it’s our duty to study who came before us and learn how they were able to get to where they are. My leaning’s acid jazz and neo-soul so there were a lot of artists beyond Omar and Soul II Soul that were doing their thing.
How do you want your music to speak to you, personally?
When I make the music initially, it’s cathartic. It’s dope to listen to because, in a weird way, you find yourself in your own voice but after all of that, I use it as a vehicle to lose myself and tap into something that’s greater than me. Recently, what I’ve learned is that artists are world makers and that’s what I am. I make a world for me to exist in and then I invite other people to come and exist in it with me.
In what way do you mean ‘world’? Is that in a physical or spiritual sense?
I think it’s all perception. Your world is different to the bartender or the person next to her, it’s how you see your reality and its based upon your experiences, how you’ve been raised and your environment. That becomes part of your world. One person could live in Soho and another person in Croydon but that disparity, despite living in the same city, will make you see the world differently because of the experiences those two different places provide.
You say that it’s a chance for you to release yourself when you’re on stage, as an artist do you feel as though you’re always switched on or do you ever get to turn it off?
When I made Our Father and all of the work before that, I used to turn it off but now I’ve come to realise that’s who I am and how I see the world. For me, it isn’t about the work I do, it’s a way of thinking and a philosophy of the way I live my world. It’s world-making and it’s special when you’re a Black artist because of our displacement. We naturally make our own worlds. When you think of funk music they made their own worlds; the way they dressed and afros. The same with grime when you think about puffa jackets and raves, it’s still a Black experience but just a different world.
Being born in Nigeria and coming here, how has that informed your own world-making?
I don’t really remember much of Nigeria but I grew up in a house where they played a lot of Naija music, juju music and one thing that was the same with all the artists I listened to was that they spoke their truth. That has influenced me, I don’t necessarily make music my influences made but what I do take from it is speaking my truth.
How does the new project explore the world you now live in?
Freedom, in the sense that I came to a place where I’ve found my community of artists. I share a workspace with Gaika and even though our music is different how we see the world is similar, we’re both Pan-Africanists. And this new work has allowed me the freedom to find the spaces I belong in whilst being a Black man, a father and all of these things that make me who I am. Being able to express yourself in the ways you want to is freedom, especially on this project where I’m a lot more sensual and that’s something that’s always been linked to femininity. I always wondered as a kid why I care and feel so much and why I’m moved by other people’s experiences but the world numbs that but I’ve tried to reclaim all of that. But this is what allows me to be a songwriter.