Azekel Adesuyi isn’t a new player in the game. Quietly honing his craft between intermittent EP releases since 2013, Azekel has procured the biggest co-sign of all time from the late Prince, racking up collaborations with Gorillaz and Massive Attack along the way. Now, he’s ready to step out from the fringes, readying the release of his first full-length. “It’s been a long time coming, it took me a while to believe I could actually do it,” Azekel tells Clash, “I'm ready now, I have a story to tell.”
‘Azekel’ an Angolan-African name, translates as “God-given” or “praise from God”, and the namesake could not be more apropos for the Nigerian-born, East Londoner, his music imbued with the soulful directness of gospel music, as if you’re listening in on an intimate confessional. Titled ‘Our Father’, the immensity of faith and its ties to heritage are woven into the narrative, “the record is very spiritual. It’s also honest and soulful, and those are 3 things I want the listener to walk away with.”
Sonically, Azekel has a broad crossover appeal, enthused by the amorphous Avant-RnB of Sampha and Kelela, but also by the pantheon of black history, his musical stimuli defined in part, by the sounds of his childhood. Azekel reminisces, “my Dad had a big sound-system in the living room, and my parents were constantly playing the likes of Fela Kuti, Whitney Houston and Marvin Gaye. My Mum really loved Marvin,” and its Gaye’s imprint on Azekel’s own vocal musicianship that is telling, possessing a striking multi-octave range, no more evident than on the scintillating, disco heat of ‘Can We Have Fun’.
‘Our Father’ comprises 3 segments – family, mental health and youth, each chapter delving deep into the consciousness of a young family man, lifting the veil on modern masculinity and presenting a variant of the black diaspora. “I'm drawing from the influences in my life and the experience of being a young black father is something that is near and dear to my heart, it’s all I know.” Azekel’s personal experience of parenthood may feel insular, but his meditation on ‘Don’t Wake The Babies’ is a wry, at times sombre, refreshingly relatable take on the reality of adulthood. “The whole ethos of the project is to showcase a different black experience to the one that is usually portrayed.”
Azekel is as much a visually inclined, as he is musically, “for this project, it was important that the visual and the music aligned closely,” Azekel says. The stark simplicity of The Rest-directed video for ‘Family (Chapter 1)’ - featuring a miscellaneous display of black women swathed in natural, minimalist tones - is a welcome deviation from the commonplace depiction of them as sexualised and ornamental. “I wanted to convey that black is beauty. It’s quite simple really. All shades, sizes and personalities, regardless of what is shown in the media. Having daughters inspired me to write this song and to move with this concept for the visual.”
In the ‘Mental Health’ chapter, Azekel explores the generational ripple effect between men, on a micro-level but also an institutionalised, structural level. Consciously removing the stigma attached with mental health by being audaciously open with his own admissions, Azekel is hoping more young black men open up. “I’m still figuring it all out. Making this record has been cathartic, but the balance comes and goes. What I am learning, is that living my truth and being introspective, provides me with that sense of balance.”
The feeling of unsettledness and ambiguity is best expressed on the song ‘Loading’, Azekel listing his vices and struggles in tandem with fragments of real-life conversations. “I had a hard time when I entered my 20s, I started feeling a lot of crazy emotions and had to revisit a lot of stuff that happened previously in my life. Hearing myself retell my experience with mental health feels like someone saying it's going to be OK. It heals.”
However emotionally hefty the chronicle of Azekel’s life has been, he wants to subvert the status quo, with rhythmically-inclined, effervescent odes that celebrate blackness in all its glory. “I learnt through this process that responsibility can make you feel too serious at times. I had to stop and remind myself that I'm still young. ‘Youth’ is a mind-set of curiosity, hope, and fearlessness, and as a result the music I made was brighter and funkier.”
WHERE: East London
WHAT: Off-beat, avant-RnB with a message.
GET 3 SONGS: ‘Loading’, ‘Don’t Wake The Babies’, ‘Black Is Beauty (Daughters)’
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Words: Shahzaib Hussain
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