Listen to any song by Kwabs and it’s hard not to be drawn into its soulful melodies. Whether it be in the funky beat of ‘Walk’, the swelling fragility of ‘Pray For Love’ or the sultry comfort in ‘Wrong Or Right’, there’s one thread that ties his work together: each track feels like it comes from within.
“Music kinda found its way to me,” begins Kwabs - full name Kwabena Sarkodee. It’s clear that music has always been so much than just a hobby to the singer. “I don’t really feel like I was ever really looking at it from a distance. It always felt like a part of what I did. I had always sung so I think music as a career, one way or another, always felt like it was gonna be the next step, even when I thought I was going to do other things. So yeah, that law degree, or that medical school didn’t look so fancy or so appetising once I had found my voice and my musical journey.”
Since he was a small child, he’s used music as a means of expressing his emotions. “I think I’d probably sooner have sung than had a temper tantrum or gotten upset or started crying,” he says, without a hint of embellishment. “As strange as it sounds, it was my way of letting out any emotion that I was feeling when I was younger. It continued to be completely bonded with my emotional and physical demeanour and character. I feel like me and my music are one and the same.”
“I feel like me and my music are one and the same.”
The few songs that we’ve been treated to so far in his career confirm as much. Having already worked with the likes of SOHN and The Invisible’s David Okumu, he isn’t, however, just another singer songwriter bearing all with just a guitar in hand. While his lyrics and voice are quite obviously important to him, he’s keen to try and realise the bigger picture; experimentation is high on his list of priorities.
“As a new artist who was finding his feet and learning what he wanted to do musically with a first statement as an artist, I had to learn,” he comments of his collaborative partners. “I had to acquire. For me, I had to be around people who knew what they were doing and who I could learn from and glean a bit of inspiration and knowledge from. I think if you find people who get what you do, get what you’re about and really understand what you’re trying to say, then that is a really good thing.
“I think it’s important to be incredibly fluid with your process and not think that any one way has to be the way that it’s going to work,” he continues. “Otherwise, you’ll find yourself stuck, or rather unstuck by being too rigid about it. So, my mantra towards songwriting is to be ready for your approach to change and be ready for tomorrow to be different. How you write today might not work tomorrow, and you’ve got to throw in a different set of ingredients and use different tools and see how those come out.”
Having already quickly made quite the mark on public consciousness – after all, Kwabs was a bit of a bookies favourite for this year’s Mercury Prize, without even having released an album – he’s also more than prepared for the challenge of merging alternative and mainstream. With such an incredible voice and invigorating production to match it, he hopes that his music will be able to infiltrate both musical spheres.
“I’m proud to do that because I think good music can reach a lot of people and it can still be deep, it can still come from a very heartfelt place, and it can have a bit of an edge to it. Sometimes, the things that break through after often the things that people aren’t expecting to. They’re kind of maybe a bit strange, or a bit odd or they come from a slightly different slant. Yeah, I feel good about that. I don’t have any agenda to be Number 1, but I’m not sad about that being a possibility. Lines are being pushed and distorted between what is expected to progress and travel where. I think it’s making people suspend their sense of expectation and their preconceptions about what is gonna do what.”
“I don’t have any agenda to be Number 1, but I’m not sad about that being a possibility.”
Now, it seems as though Kwabs-fever is catching on (best not to get that confused with any other more serious ailments though…) with the singer having already played a whole summer’s worth of festivals earlier this year, before rounding the year out with a sold out show at the grandiose venue of London’s Koko.
“It was very cool,” he relays. “Obviously it was the biggest headline show that we’ve done so far, and I think that we’ve done a really good job of making every London gig that we do really special. In terms of scaling up and getting more people on board, and we always save the best for that show; the newest material, the slickest show. It just felt good to come home and have that many people there on my side and to be in that venue… It’s one of my favourite venues, so I’m chuffed.”
As for 2015, it’s set to be a big year for the Londoner. Having recently blown away punters during a intimate hush-hush performance in November, there’s little not to love about his soulful offerings. “I mean, I just really want a lot of people to hear this music,” he says, delving into what he hopes the next twelve months might hold. “There are one or two songs on the album which mean so much to me, so I would just love for them to get the exposure and the love that I think they deserve. Not just because I made them but because I feel like they could really touch a lot of people. I think only time will tell whether that works out or not, but I have high hopes for that music travelling far and wide. My mission is to touch loads of people. I wanna travel more. The honest truth is that I don’t actually know what’s ahead so I’m just gonna pick whatever opportunities are thrown at me and not be too precious about them. I think if I’m to really make this next year special, I’ve just got to throw myself into it and see what it throws at me. To enjoy it the entire way through. That’s the ideal.”
Taken from the December 14 / January 15 issue of DIY, out now. Photos: Mike Massaro.