Cross-border creativity, avoiding the hype, and why it ain't called 'Afro-Swing'...

Tucked away in the corner studio at London’s Red Bull Studios, Vianni appears to be in his element huddled around the mic, headphones balanced precariously discussing arrangements with his producers. You wouldn’t know it from his understated demeanour, but this 21-year-old has a viral hit to his name –‘Recognise’. Over six million views on YouTube and counting, it’s not something he’d imagined from his bedroom in Croydon, South London.

Taking inspiration from everyday life, including his Congolese heritage, growing up in the Capital and his love of R&B music, Vianni’s sound is one big mash up. Tipped as the newest star out of the freshly coined ‘Afro-Swing’ genre, (a label he might prefer to avoid) and with a mixtape and an EP both imminent, we sat down with Vianni.

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How did ‘Recognise’ come about?

I was in the studio with two of my friends playing around and I’d just finished listening to some PARTYNEXTDOOR and I thought “I need to make a song like this” but with my own twist. Then, I was singing and playing my own chords and my friend was like it doesn’t sound too great.

Was it a conscious decision to take the R&B route instead of rap, especially as it’s not currently ‘in vogue’?

Yeah, I think R&B almost matches my character. You listen to certain people rap or certain people singing and you can put what they would look like to it. R&B is the only place I’d belong if I had to be in a genre.

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I think R&B almost matches my character.

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‘Recognise’ did really, really well. It’s currently on six million+ YouTube views. When did you know you had a hit on your hands?

When I sent the video to the group chat that I was in. It was like 4am and I took a selfie and said “I think I just made a banger guys”. But the video that I sent, the first verse was my second verse and the second verse was my first verse. It’s even weird because when I listen to it I think “this ain’t the song” but then I changed it around. That’s when I knew there was no going back.

What about the public response?

I never knew that was going to happen. I just thought it was going to be like a song that people like do you know what I mean? But ‘cos of the song growing quickly I had to shoot the video quickly as well and now I’m well known I guess.

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Coming back to the topic of R&B, it’s a genre that’s synonymous for artists pouring out their emotions. How much of your music is inspired by real life?

There’s no song I have that’s not about me. At one point in that song [‘Recognise’] my heart is on my sleeve. You can look at me and see it. I don’t think I’ll ever make a song where I’m not in the song. I can write for other people but I wouldn’t create a story that doesn’t involve myself.

Right now, there’s a movement that’s been labelled ‘Afro-Swing’ and some would put your music in that camp too. Do you think it’s an accurate description for the genre?

No. Afro is one thing and Swing is one thing. Nobody is anyone to combine them.

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I’m evolving everyday and so is the sound.

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So what would you call the music that you make?

It’s just music for the soul. It makes you feel good. I can’t say that it has a genre because it’s evolving. I’m evolving everyday and so is the sound. There are elements of it in other artists’ music…I wouldn’t say it was Afro-Swing because if you took it back ten years – what would it be? R&B.

So why do you think there’s a new contingent of British-Africans tapping into the afropop sound?

I think it’s because of how grime has evolved and then obviously this is the next thing. That’s why so many people are trying to keep with the style.

Before there were people doing it, don’t get me wrong. I could name names but when they were doing it, it wasn’t called Afro-Swing it was just good music. But now because someone’s given it a name then they’re saying it’s Afro-Swing. Everyone just ran with it because they knew it was going to be the new platform.

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With the success of ‘Recognise’ and ‘S.O.S’ is there a pressure for you to follow up with another big track?

No one wants to say can you make a song better than ‘Recognise’? My friends will come to studio, even my brothers will come to the studio and listen to stuff. I say it all the time, in life you have to reach a milestone. When you reach a milestone…you have to leave it behind. Because I don’t have a genre, I can’t say I have that one sound. But I can also say that ‘Recognise’ isn’t my best song.

I’m intrigued to see what I’m evolving into. At the time I did ‘Recognise’ it was fresh, there weren’t many of those kind of songs around. That’s why I believe it’s done what it’s done.

When it comes to production, some artists like to be hands-on and others take a step back. How involved are you?

I don’t think there’s a song that I’m on that I haven’t played a part in. I never jump on an instrumental that I’ve been sent. That’s not how I work. If you’re a producer, you’re in there with me working - you bounce of me, I bounce of you…It can’t be your creativity then my cherry on top. We make a cake [laughs].

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I say it all the time, in life you have to reach a milestone.

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How much of the time do you go in with a plan or is it spontaneous?

It depends on what I’ve been listening to. When I go into the studio with a producer I never like to go onto something that they’ve started or something that I’ve started. It has to be what the vibe is. The vibe always has to be right. He’ll start playing something and I’ll be like “what was that? Go back there”. And that’s where you start to see the ingredients in the cake.

You’ve got a mixtape and an EP coming out. Have you got any surprises in store?

The mixtape, that’s going to be full of surprises because you know you’ve got Goku and Gohan - Super Saiyan! You have to turn up a level.

I feel like the EP is like when I’m baby Wee and the mixtape is like ‘OK, this guy’s now grown up a little bit’. Even if one song doesn’t appeal to you, there’s something that will.

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Vianni’s mixtape will be out on December 8th.

Words + Photography: Nonny Orakwue

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