A shorter version of this interview was originally published in BE. CURIOUS — CULTURE MAG edition #01. Image of Remi Kolawole photographed by Nynno Bel-Air for BE. CURIOUS. Creative direction by Grace Dlabik.
How would you describe your connection with your culture?
I guess I’d have to say loose. My connection to language, the land, the people—it’s loose. I’m much more connected to family, like the Nigerian cats I grew up with through my pops. But as far as my connection to the birthplace of my dad, it’s very separated. I’ve only been there one time. I can’t speak Yoruba. I definitely feel it; there’s stuff you can’t explain, certain music that you may like, things you’re drawn to, ways you may act. All of a sudden, that’s something Nigerian that’s just buried. But that’s as close as I get.
It’s said that music influences culture and culture influences music. Do you think that your work as an artist plays into that dynamic?
It’s really hard to say. If it does play into that, I think it’s subconscious and intergenerational for sure. I definitely gravitate towards trying to find as much Yoruba music as possible, listening to that, hearing what people like Fela Kuti may have heard when they were coming up. But my family influences my music more than culture really does. Hopefully that’s something that will change as I grow. I hope to reconnect with it more for sure. But at this point in time I think it’s my immediate community, my family and my environment that inspires what comes out.
It sounds like there’s some longing and uncertainty there.
Definitely. At school I was the only black kid there until my little brother rocked up. My suburb wasn’t super white-washed or anything, but it definitely wasn’t African. So it wasn’t until real recent times—the last few years—that I started hanging out with more African fam who’ve been going through exactly the same shit as me and, on top of that, might even have answers. Having that family around you makes you want to be more involved in that ‘other’ part of you. I’m mixed race, so it’s definitely that ‘other’ part. I know plenty about the past 200 years of my mother’s ancestry, but I don’t know shit about my pops’.
Connecting with others seems like an important way of figuring that stuff out. How do you use your music and your platform to speak to those experiences?
I think anyone who’s given a voice outside of the confines of mainstream media has a duty to talk about that [experience]. But just as important, you need to create spaces where people feel comfortable. Sometimes you really just want to be yourself; you don’t want to be your colour. Being black is what we are, but not who we are. You don’t have to be good for a black rapper, good for a female rapper, good for a queer rapper. If I’m gonna see Missy Elliot, I want her to make me shake my ass. She’ll definitely sprinkle some really dope lines that go over everyone’s head, but at the same time, we’re there to enjoy ourselves. And that’s a celebration, just seeing this queen on stage doing her thing.
Your songs definitely let people enjoy themselves. At the same time, they’re very personal and very political. How do you find that contrast?
I think the main thing is that I’m an idiot. I don’t think a lot of these things through. I can talk about my lived experience or something I know a lot about, but the end of the day it’s on the audience how they take it. Like in Ode To Ignorance where the pre-chorus says ironically ‘fuck foreigners’, and then you see young white Australians yelling it back. I didn’t ever envisage that. But at the same time I’ve got a lot of kids coming up and that’s their favourite song for the right reasons. It’s always going to be complex, because you can’t ever decide who’s going to hear or listen or like your music.
Now that you’ve got a platform where so many different people are listening to your music, is there anything you aspire to do, or aspire to change?
If we really want anything to change, we need to come together. I want to create platforms for as many different people and have as many different voices and perspectives out there as possible. So many people feel like they don’t deserve to be heard.
We have a really predictable narrative in the media. We need more diversity. The more faces we have, the more colour, more vibrance, more knowledge, more everything—we need that. We’re too blissfully ignorant. We don’t feel like we need to educate ourselves. We need to learn more, that way we can make and take criticism. We have too many ignorant people saying things who can’t be told when they’re wrong. The more and more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know shit. Once we get to that point, maybe we’ll be able to grow as people and be able to celebrate our culture a little bit more.