We have managed to catch up with rapper, poet, journalist and activist Akala this week who was nice enough to give us time out of his busy schedule, as he is currently travelling around the UK on his ‘Thieves Banquet’ tour. He is one of the most interesting and inspiring artists working in Britain at the moment. We asked him about his latest album, ‘The Thieves Banquet’, his current huge UK tour, and what he thinks about the word ‘revolution’ and how change could be brought about in Britain. Check it out below.
Akala: Hey, how you doin’?
HTF: Yeah we’re good thanks, how about yourself?
Akala: All good mate.
HTF: You’re a strong believer in the fact that knowledge is power and of the importance of education.
HTF: Was education a strong influence when making this album?
Akala: Yeah, it was inspired by a book by NgÃ…©gÃ„© wa Thiong’o, so yeah, right there at the heart of the ideas of the album was defiantly knowledge.
HTF: Do you see hip-hop as an important way of communicating these messages?
Akala: Yeah 100%. Hip-hop is and always has been an effective tool for communicating, as all music is generally.
HTF: The album is diverse in the sense that it includes hip-hop, rock and roll, jazz and soul. What music influenced the album?
Akala: All of those music’s you just talked about. Everything from Miles Davis to The Mars Volta. And Dead Prez, you know all of these wide kinda’ musical influences I’ve been able exposed to.
HTF: Not many hip-hop artists use live instrumental bands. Why was it important for you to you use one?
Akala: For me, I just think having live musicians just takes to that next level. It means that you have four personas, five personas instead of one. You know, each musician brings their own personality to their instrument and ultimately what you get is that coming through in the song.
HTF: How did you go about picking collaborations on this album?
Akala: There are just four features, which are all vocal features. We have Mai Khalil who is on a song named ‘A Game Named Life’. We have Ayanna Witter-Johnson on a song called ‘Our Way, the Way’ where he sings and plays the Cello. We have Asheber from the African Revolution on a song called ‘Old Soul’ who is singing and he is playing trumpet. And we have Josh Osho singing on ‘Lose Myself’.
HTF: The self-titled track ‘The Thieves Banquet’ is sick; the structure of it is brilliant. How did you go about making this track?
Akala: It came directly from that concept, directly from the book ‘The Devil on a Cross’ by NgÃ…©gÃ„© wa Thiong’o. This idea of the Devil holding a feast for all of these international thieves and murderers. I just decided to expand with the voices and hopefully it worked out.
HTF: I think everyone would agree that it really did. Were you happy with the outcome of the album; was the final product like you first imagined it?
Akala: Yeah defiantly, it’s the most pleased I’ve been with any of the albums that I’ve made.
HTF: How hard is it to be able to stage a huge UK tour independently?
Akala: Yeah I mean it’s difficult, but we’ve been doing it for years so.
HTF: Your set list for your tour is really interesting. How did you go about putting it together?
Akala: We’ve got a lot of songs; we just decide what ones will work best the day before and the songs we just feel like playing that day. Its 80% the same songs and there’s 20% room for movement. But there are some songs that we have to do. And then we obviously change it around.
HTF: What’s next for you musically and non-musically?
Akala: Erm, next for me is I’m making an EP called the ‘Ruins of Empire’s’ which should come out middle to late summer, and then touring again this time next year. And in between that were doing some more hip-hop Shakespeare shows, of course Richard II.
HTF: How do you see the U.K. hip-hop scene at the moment? It has seemed to change over the last few years, for example rappers like Mic Righteous and Lunar C doing their thing.
Akala: I think it’s where it has always been. You know an underground that’s trying to do its thing. Tryna’ make itself sustaining opportunities; you’ve got a mainstream that is what it is. People always ask me that question and the answer is always the same; the struggle is always the same.
HTF: These last few questions are a bit separate from the music stuff. Of course you have a large following for you political and social based ideas, is alright to ask you a few questions on this?
Akala: Yeah go ahead.
HTF: I know this is a personal question, if you want to answer it or not is of course entirely up to you, but do you vote?
Akala: I don’t really want to get into that now to be honest.
HTF: Yeah that’s perfectly understandable. How do you see change being brought about in the British political system?
Akala: Well it depends if you mean positive or negative change. There are a lot of negative changes that come from our apathy and the people in power serving their own greed and interests but positive change only ever comes around from the pressure of organised people put on the people in power. You know so it depends on how we organize ourselves, what we do to organize ourselves and the ways in which we put pressure people in power. The nature of how power acts kinda thing. If people want change they have to enact that change and be that change or be part of that change and the radical alternatives. That can be the only way it works.
HTF: Because the word ‘revolution’ is thrown around a lot and is seen as almost a buzz word.
Akala: Yeah its get thrown around a lot and it’s an easy word to throw around but in reality when you’re in revolution there is nothing pretty about it. Revolution is change to an extent, but actual revolution tends not to be the pretty thing, but its easy for us to talk about it. It does get thrown around and misused a lot in my opinion. But change is important.
HTF: Well, that’s all I’ve got here. Any last comments you’d like to give for our readers?
Akala: Well, just check out the tour dates, follow me on twitter, and ‘The Thieves Banquet’ is out now.
HTF: It’s been a pleasure and thanks very much for your time.
Akala: Thanks very much. Good bye!