We are very excited about M.I.A’s Meltdown Festival from 9 – 18th June at Southbank Centre and were delighted to be able to speak to Afrikan Boy ahead of his performance on the 10th June.

You just have to listen to his latest release ‘LITW’ (Life In The West) for a superb introduction to not just an incredibly talented artist, but someone who oozes a vibrant, positive personality to boot. Otherwise known as Olushola Ajose, Afrikan Boy was clever when he concocted his artist name as he knew he would come up first if you google Afrikan with a K. And when he was younger, on the streets of London, they said, “that’s the African boy“. He says of his moniker, “it sounded better and I wanted something that was really obvious that no one took hold of” he adds, “it’s a legacy thing, it’s a family thing.

Afrikan Boy is all about legacy and heritage and this is evident in his music which is punctuated with Yoruba words and references to traditional Nigerian food such as Amala and Pounded Yam. And not just his lyrics, but his sound which is influenced by a vast range including Afro-Juju, Afrobeat, Afro beats, highlife, soul, rap, grime amongst others. He says of his Nigerian roots and East London upbringing, “I’m proud of my roots and show my love for my heritage in different ways. The conceptualising of Nigeria from my parents to being blessed growing up in a part of the UK where I was surrounded by different cultures.

‘LITW’ alone takes you on a journey through Afrikan Boy’s life. Memories, feelings, and anecdotes are accompanied by the most serene and calming of beats. He takes many influences and incorporates them into his music, “I am conscious of situations I’m in within society and being conscious of that allows me to hold onto that memory and take that fully into a song.” He says of his London upbringing, “being able to live in an area with different cultures and society, I draw from those things” as well as “using my imagination, the things I don’t see and allowing creativity to go beyond the realms of all I see and hear around me.” Afrikan Boy says he thinks outside the box and puts himself in different situations which he then pours into his music. You get an experience when you listen to it, whether it’s a cultural expedition, an insight into Afrikan Boy’s life or even if you just take the fun aspect from it. It is uplifting and inspiring. His sound and style are peppered with creativity, soul and with love.

Afrikan Boy is inspired by other artists including Nigerian greats Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, and Shina Peters, as well as 2Pac and Dizzee Rascal.

Afrikan Boy does get frustrated when he is put in a box genre-wise (which is crazy as it’s pretty impossible to!) He says, “don’t put me in a box, I do all of it. I get frustrated.” He admits when he first started, “I was trying to push Afro Grime, I wanted to put a coin on this sound it doesn’t sound like anything else.” He came up with the name Afro Shola “Afro slash something!” He says, “there is room for the genre, a lot of people who are eclectic who like these different sounds. I try to create what feels right.

One of his first tracks ‘LIDL’, a humorous rendition about shoplifting in LIDL and ASDA (and never going back) caught the attention of M.I.A. “She heard it and hit me up on my Myspace.” He wasn’t too familiar with her music as he only listened to grime then and “M.I.A was way out of that box,” but he thought “nothing ventured nothing gained and I was curious to see what that collaboration could be like. She gave me an opportunity to see what the music industry was like on a higher level.

Afrikan Boy is looking forward to the Meltdown Festival as it’s an opportunity to “showcase new work, new sound, new visuals.” He will be performing tracks from his forthcoming album also called LITW which is a mixture of experiences and stories which either he has experienced (charity, religion, mental health) or people who have lived through certain experiences (such as a refugee camp in Sudan). “The performance (at Meltdown) gives purpose and understanding“.

Talking about his new music he says, “there is so much room to surprise people like with ‘LITW’. That’s the first indicator of where this album is going. People will get an experience from this album.” It is set for release in the Autumn along with a five-minute piece on “how my parents had me, economically, socially everything is discussed in that story but done in a way that presents and represents the story of West Africa. The new oral gatekeeper.” He is also planning a music video for the track ‘LITW.’

As he says of his new album, “I can do a lot more than you think I can“. You know it. His life might be in the West, but his heart and soul are firmly rooted in Africa. This Afrikan Boy is Y.A.M (Young, Ambitious, Motivated) and he’s going far.

Afrikan Boy performs at M.I.A.’s Meltdown festival at Southbank Centre on 10 June, find out more.

Interviews