I had the pleasure of chatting to the very talented North London Rapper AWATE.Fresh from supporting Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and Talib Kweli AWATE releases Jewels, a quick-witted and crisp ‘70s throwback
This time we talk new music, visual innovation and black power.
Where does your name come from and what does it mean?
I was born AWATE, my name holds a lot of significance. I was born on 29th May 1991 the day my country [Eritrea] was liberated after 30 years of war. I was named after Hamid Idris Awate who founded the Eritrean liberation front for us to have independence. The name means victory.
Did you always go by AWATE?
I used to go by the translation Victory…but around this time all of my older peers were saying drop the name Victory and give yourself a multifaceted name because by giving yourself a multifaceted name you become a more multifaceted artist. So in my music you’re getting a super hyper-version of me. My mentor from the Poisonous Poets says “Take A toke of life and exhale a day of smoke”. There is a reason why those measurements are what they are. For one day I take a toke of my entire life and then only one day of smoke. And then when you give them that day of smoke every line needs to be a punch in the face a tear jerker.
I love that quote and I feel a lot of your lines are a punch in the face like in “displaced” for example you say “Free the poor and jail the leaders, they lead us into a a path of treachery or advanced weaponry and call it security its a joke”
You draw a lot of inspiration from Africa, the US and your peers in the UK. How important for you is it to see the similarities in black struggle across the world?
I am the son of revolutionaries I’ve been raised by people who are giving me revolutionary principles but also telling me hold it down, go and get and job, become a doctor you idiot, but also you’re equal don’t let anyone touch you. Hip hop in itself is a continuation of the black power struggle and its something that was quelled.
A little while ago you released the video for ‘Displaced’, it’s a fantastic music video. Tell us about how that came about.
I was able to think about what I want to happen in this music video and every single scene that I had in my head I made happen. Essentially the premise is that I’m from the version of my country that my parents fought for that never existed but in this parallel universe it did and it existed in another galaxy. Because we’re still in exile and a lot of Eritreans are technically in exile and not allowed to return.
The costume designer I hooked up with [Florence Hendricks] took six months of meeting every couple of weeks, getting different mood boards, fabrics and making prototypes. Its the first time I’ve had anything made for me that didn’t exist before. I had to say that I wanted Power Rangers, I wanted Samuri. So I had the video in my head essentially and thought how can I make the opening of Mr Bean happen when I didn’t want to use any visual effects. It happened from a lot of hard work and me having a creative vision that was solid , I wouldn’t have been able to take this at any point of my life. I want every visual I make to look at it and say “wow what is that!?”
Displaced is also gonna come out as well as a short film sometime next year.
You mentioned your new track Jewels so lets talk about the new album “Happiness”.
Why is it called “Happiness”?
This album is called happiness because that is what is represents it was one of the only sources of happiness I had that time in my life. The album is 25 minutes, its short and so is happiness! Also in Turkish’s early versions he refers to the album as “Happiness is Open For Business” which is a line from Yasiin Bey from Mos Def. The first time I met him I said “Yo I wanna call my album Happiness is Open For Business and he was like “Yo do whatever you wanna do, I’m so proud of you just do what you wanna do”. And since then I’ve changed it to just Happiness because I think it represents a lot more mystery.
The lead single is Jewels. What was the writing process like?
Jewels took about 2 years to complete in terms of when I wrote the first line. It started off as a poem, I don’t even write poems its weird but they asked me “They asked me where is the blackness now, its in between the officers heart and the cold hard, ground…”. The first line in Jewels is “I’m from a place where I’ve never been”. I wrote that as a tweet in 2011 and then wrote it down as a note in my phone then, I just built upon it and I was walking in Camden and I remember what is now Carpet Right I sat down and just wrote more. Then a while later I wrote the second verse and chorus because Turkish was like we need a chorus there aren’t enough on the album
So “not many choruses” is that intentional ?
Yeah I’m not repetitive. I think its a waste of space continuing something. Mainly I don’t copy choruses, as in chorus 1 is not the same recoding as chorus 2. More times than not I record the entire song main chorus and verses and then I add the vocals on top of that. I believe thats how you should do stuff, its like cheating the audience to just have your emotional response in the first chorus as your emotional response has changed. Its a different world its a different story, so even should the words in the second chorus be the same?
In one sentence define black power
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