Azekel has come a long way since his Circa EP landed in 2013. The prolific artist continues to be on of the UK’s best voices, which makes it unsurprising that he soon found fans in Gorillaz, Massive Attack and Banks. Having toured with all three and collaborated with the two groups, he’s back with a new LP and levels of soul that make you feel like the ‘70s golden era never ended.
‘Family’ is the first chapter of the singer-songwriter’s three-part debut, and features ‘Black Is Beauty (Daughters)’, ‘Don’t Wake The Babies’ and ‘Can We Have Fun (In This House Tonight?)’. Directed by filmmaking duo, The Rest, the visuals celebrate the black family in muted tones and scenes that encompass the current renaissance of black art. We spoke with Azekel to find out more.
gal-dem: Tell us about your journey from Circa until now.
Azekel: I’ve worked on two EPs in-between, Raw Volume I and II. I had a song called ‘New Romance’, which gained me a lot of attention, and it was really good for me. I had a few good songs, got to work with really cool people – I collaborated with Massive Attack and Gorillaz – but I just don’t think I had the story. But with this album and the visual side of it, I’m trying to tell my story.
Was there a visual inspiration for the video?
I worked closely with the directors The Rest (Little Simz, Kojey Radical, Slow Thai). I think for me there’s been a really big black renaissance in art and you’d have to be blind to not be inspired. Whether it be [people] like Solange – there’s so many of them. I think everyone’s in that place right now. There were mentions of Malick Sidibé. That was a big influence. The main thing was to show being black in a different narrative that what we tend to see. We looked for inspirations in those places. Things that were more unconventional.
What was the thought behind the women sitting in the introduction for ‘Black Is Beauty (Daughters)’?
I kind of wanted to make sure that they looked fierce. The song was an ode to my daughters because once I had them and started teaching them… I remember one time my daughter asked – we were doing colours – and she was asking what colour she is and I was like, “you’re black”, and she said, “no I’m brown.” There are all of these negative connotations associated with black and it inspired that song. Visually it was about being black and bold. That’s why they’re sitting staring dead into the camera.
What was the thought behind ‘Don’t Wake The Babies’?
The song is about juggling being young and having responsibilities but I wrote that through my narrative of wanting to get down with my partner. We can’t always because the babies wake up. It’s really about being in that place of wanting to be young and be spontaneous but at the same time, you have stuff to do.
Who did the lighting?
Olan Collardy. Working with him and The Rest, it was a really nice team and a labour of love. Obviously, I’m an independent artist and have hardly any budget but everyone was really excited about the concept and the story, so it was great.
The third part of the video segues into ‘Can We Have Fun (In This Place Tonight?)’, which at this point turns into a dream state.
Even though there’s a story we didn’t want it to be confined; we still wanted it to be abstract. And that was definitely inspired by Malick Sidibé and showing black elegance, and showing me as a performer. It’s weird because the song is about: even though the world is going crazy, we’re having time to have fun.
Going back to your earlier music, you talked about your father’s presence in your life and now you’re talking about your own fatherhood. Is there anything you’ve learned or been surprised by? And will you continue to express it in your music?
My daughters have made me see things more through a female gaze and made me question how I see things as a black male and me relearn certain things I’ve been taught growing up. I always try to make music that is true to me and tell my truth so I guess I will still talk about them in my music. And it has affected how I see fatherhood having my kids. It has opened my mind up and the reflecting of my own relationship with my father. I’m being more understanding in the way he’s messed up. Like damn, it’s not easy, I understand now. There are always two sides to every story. I’m more thoughtful being in the position I’m in now.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.