Projext Liquid caught up with the rising star to talk about his influences, the evolving musical landscape, being difficult to pin down, and the breathtaking new EP.
Listen to Kwaku Asante EP 'Wanderlust' below:
One of the many beautiful aspects of artistry is the ability to document your own story. Most people wander through existence with a collection of hazy memories, retold inaccurately in moments that they stumble into, perhaps recounting the surface level experiences, but unable to again muster the true emotional impact of the past. It’s a priceless gift then, for those who are able to look back on their art and again evoke those emotions. Whether devastation, love, confusion or hope, the ability to reenter a period of your life and immerse yourself fully in its humanism is an unmatchable power. Singer/songwriter Kwaku Asante writes from deep within, selecting memories and transforming them into sonic bliss, reigniting his own deep-seated feelings that many listeners will themselves relate to.
A dazzling emerald in the new wave of soul that's riches are increasingly bountiful, an essential clog in the progressive nature of the wider UK scene, Kwaku is a writer and performer who evokes empathy, passion and intimacy. His voice oozes emotion, seeping out into the far-flung corners of self reflection and fragility before finally drying gushing out defiance, acceptance and austerity. His narratives are often sparse of detail, with no syllable wasted on worthless description, each story focused on being understood at its core. Emerging with jazzy sun-kissed 2018 debut single ‘The Way That You Move’ and consolidating his appeal with the groove-laden ’19 EP ‘honeycomb’ the singer has been rising in popularity, swiftly becoming among the most compelling alternative acts in the country.
It’s been a breakthrough year for Asante; his new EP ‘Wanderlust’, a fourth in three years, is an engrossing body of work, both musically and thematically. Palming aside convention on his journey of artistic and personal development, the project is refreshingly open; a snapshot from the past, it’s a project that undresses his flaws and feelings, an unflinching gaze into his soul. Drawing from a wide range of influences to concoct a rich sonic palette that can only be defined as the Kwaku Asante sound, it’s an EP that nails down his seat at the industry table, spring-boarding his career ahead of the inevitable seminal debut album to come.
What influences you to create?
I feel like life should be documented. Things shouldn’t be forgotten that are important. It’s like a timestamp because things happen so fast. I want to remember these memories and how I felt at the time. Also, I want to come to terms with how I feel. Certain things frustrate me, certain things bring me peace. Whatever it is, I just want to come to terms with it and writing about it helps that. I can vividly remember the feelings I felt when writing so many of my songs, and what inspired me to write it. When you write a song about yourself, those thoughts are precious, and I think you just perform it differently.
How did you first discover your love for music?
From a young age I was always into it, it was always around me. My grandad was an executive producer in Ghana and worked with Fela Kuti, Quincy Jones etc. My mum grew up in a musical environment and wanted us to be in one as well. I was playing piano and violin from a young age, I was in the choir. In my house there was a lot of gospel, a lot of religious music. Then I got the influence of my older brother who was listening to artists like Usher. I went down a rabbit hole, hearing these artists talk about D’Angelo, who talks about Marvin Gaye, and next thing you know I’m listening to Miles Davis. That’s when the love started to get deeper.
How did you construct those influences and experiences into the sound and style that you create now?
You have influences and bring it into the modern way. Those people are my foundation, but in the modern era there’s names like Frank Ocean and Sampha who are big influences. I wanted to find myself a pocket that reminds people of the past but is still something new that they haven’t heard before. For me it’s been about experimenting a lot and listening to a lot of artists you wouldn’t expect, people like Radiohead and Steely Dan. So yeah, a lot of studying of music and a lot of experimenting, a lot of taking directions that I wouldn’t normally take, which I made sure with this new project that I did. When it comes to writing, I sometimes feel like it’s a game of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, when you have four options, but with this none of the options are wrong, they just take the track in different directions. Autonomy is so important. My team, my manager always question and push me to be as intentional as possible. Excellence is demanding. Even now, I’m aware that yeah I’m good, but I can do things better, 100%. I’m going to always push myself.
Stylistically, you are difficult to pin down. How would you define the essence of your sound?
Soulful and sincere. One of my friends called me ’soul-ternative’. The reason that I want to make it hard for people to pinpoint is that I never want to play a set where it’s the same thing over and over again. The music is going to continue to evolve and change, no project will sound the same. I have no interest in remaining comfortable. As a person, I’m quite empathetic, I care a lot, and I just want that to come across in my music because it’s an extension of myself.
As someone who stands out as an individual and portrays themselves with authenticity, what do you think of the current state of the UK musical landscape and its reliance on social media and fast food consumerism?
It’s peak… well but it’s peak, it’s just… Tik Tok right, it’s a great medium to discover music, a great way to share music and to express ourselves. But I think that people are too obsessed with going viral. Of course, it would be amazing to go viral, but people don’t understand it isn’t everything. I feel like it’s taking away from the essence of songwriting and having a discography. People don’t understand the power of having a catalogue of music. Tik Tok is a fleeting thing, it’s not something as an artist or consumer that you shouldn’t rely on solely. When it stops being a tool for growth, what’s going to happen to all these artists? You need to be honing your craft because trends don’t last forever. Yes you should change and adapt, but at the nucleus of it is the music. You want people to be there for the journey, not just the viral moments and popular songs.
It’s a hard one, I think it’s really complex. I think it’s good because it’s giving a lot of kids with dreams a chance. The way we consume music is insane, it’s so demanding. I’ve released 3 EP’s in the last 12 months; if I have to release music more frequently, fine, until the point where I don’t have to. Peaks and troughs, positives and negatives.
Why is the new project Wanderlust an EP and not an album?
I’m a year behind schedule because of COVID. My album was meant to come out this year and Wanderlust was supposed to come out last year. This EP is an artist offering that I took a lot of risks with. There are certain production things that I wanted to experiment with. When I do my album, it’s going to be the next level. I feel like I’ve not been quite ready for an album yet, there’s more momentum I could get, more revenue. I knew that this EP would open a lot more doors - it’s only just come out and I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life.
What are the main themes that you touch on in the EP?
Nostalgia, negative reinforcement, learning from my mistakes. Learning how to be in both platonic and romantic relationships. Also the idea that I’d much rather be alone than be with the wrong person. The world is fucked, everything is so expensive, life is crazy, music brings enough stress. I just want my life outside of it to be fulfilling. Showing what you want and being outspoken emotionally is something that, as a man, is looked down on. But as I’ve grown up, I’ve found out that masculinity is just a social construct, it’s just nonsense. Why can’t we have things in our life that make us happy? Although on Wanderlust I’m saying that I haven’t quite found it, I’m saying that I have faith that I will.
It’s a really vulnerable body of work, how do you reach a point of comfort to express this in such an honest manner?
In lockdown. I’d just put out Honeycomb in 2019, I had my Omera show sound out, about to go on tour with Grace Carter… then Covid hit. I couldn’t make any music, didn’t really have any songs, and the tour was cancelled. I’d left uni, done the music thing which was going well, and then nothing really happened. I got to a point where I didn’t feel great about myself, but I thought about why that was and ended up at a point where I felt like I had nothing to lose. I was on a downward spiral of trying to seek acceptance and seeking comfort in women.. When it came to writing Wanderlust, I felt a weight lifted and wanted to put my best foot forward and try to heal. I had to realise that there were certain things that I was doing wrong. I really got to know myself.
Where do you want to take your artistry?
I want to show that black men from the UK can be mainstream vocalists. I don't have to rap. Blackness is not monolithic. With this artistry, I don’t just have to be a feature on a track, we can sell out our own tours, own arenas. I want to continue to develop, and show different sides of softness, passion, calm and warmth.