When dystopian realities come to mind, we often think of iconic films such as Mad Max or Alien. Rarely do we associate this genre with music, unless it’s Diamond Dogs. In this genre of art, we find that it’s often a reflection of what’s to come if society remains on its current trajectory.
With the world seemingly shifting further to the right, much of the art created in the next few years will reflect what life is like for ordinary citizens. Control and autonomy are concepts often taken for granted until you wake up one day and find that those are luxuries no longer afforded to you.
Shakka’s first project, the Lost Boys EP, saw him create a reality where music was outlawed – a world no one wants to be in. The forthcoming, follow up EP The Island sees the story picking up where it left off with the main protagonists eventually leaving the island in search of a new life. The first single from the EP, ‘Don’t Call Me’, is a stripped back, uptempo array of sounds. Displaying his falsetto range, Shakka explores the concept of switching off in a world where we’re plugged in 24/7.
Take a listen to the single, premiering below.
Having grown up in and around music all his life, Shakka sees his musical experience as a melting pot. Like many other artists around, no one sound defines him, but due to his black British background, he sees this as a platform to wave the flag for hip-hop and RnB. As we speak, he’s energetic, elated even when it comes to him speaking about the music he creates. The way he speaks about music is almost as though he’s discovered it for the first time in his life – much like the characters on his concept EP. When you listen to The Lost Boys, or even see him perform, you can hear that exuberance, making him one of the most captivating vocalists to come out of the UK for quite some time.
Coming fresh off a MOBO win for Best RnB/Soul Act, NOTION sat down with Shakka to discuss his follow up EP and the very relatable themes that birthed it.
Notion: How are things with you?
Shakka: Really good, man. Things are really good. I’m currently backstage at a venue that I’ve always wanted to perform at, real talk, this is one of my targets. I had Islington (O2) Academy as one, I’ve got the Superbowl as well and this obviously. I’m excited man, really excited. I’ve got good people around me, like Jay Prince.
What was the recent MOBO win like for you?
It was great, I couldn’t be happier. For me it was one of those unforgettable moments and I got a chance to see Craig David, who’s someone I grew up listening to.
Compared to last year’s win, how did this feel?
There were a few hiccups with other acts this year in terms of awards but overall it was a great moment for British music. To see all these artists coming up was inspiring.
What can we expect to hear on the new project?
Bass, a lot of bass. The previous EP was a lot more introspective, talking about things I was concerned with at the time, and freedom and what it means to be free. Also, talking about enjoying life whilst we’re here. This particular EP is a lot more of the body and a lot less about what people say and think. I’ve got a dialogue and a portrayal of characters in the same way that I had on Lost Boys, so hopefully it’ll be more compelling. Actually, it’ll be more compelling and sicker than the previous EP.
What inspired this approach to the second EP?
I just didn’t want to make bullshit. I didn’t want to make mediocre stuff or a compilation of songs. I feel like sometimes that is beautiful but other times people want to connect with something more. It’s something to talk about with your friends, joking about a particular scene or catchphrase like “okay, I’m reloaded” from Reasonable Doubt. These are all different sections from different scenes and cutaways, it’s important for me to do something like that.
What do the characters in the new EP represent and what do they mean to you?
That’s a good question. So we have Lost Boys, the first EP and women are banned, music is banned. We’ve got three characters; Slick, Jaw and Edge and these are my coworkers in the world of the Lost Boys. Slick is very confident in his approach and what he does, despite the fact that there are no women. Edge is very concerned about everything, he’s very fearful and on edge. Then we have Jaw, who’s a lot less talkative and just gets on with things. With these characters, I wanted to create the wingmen and an ecosystem where you’re with people who you would normally associate with in everyday settings. The beauty about the follow up EP is that the characters encounter music, women and substances for the first time.
What are the key things in reality that inspired the project?
It was this idea that there’s this whole world out there which people don’t see for whatever reason. We can get caught up in our lives for whatever reason that we forget that we can switch off and go to some next country and experience something we’ve never done before. We could eat some food we’ve never tried before or watch a completely different style of fighting in another country. So in this alternate world, we’ve been told that it’s okay to do the same thing everyday and live a repetitive life. At the end of the Lost Boys, they escape the island and end up in this new foreign land and ecosystem. They have to deal with living and surviving in a new environment.
It’s almost like a dystopian future then?
Where did this love and interest in music begin for you?
I was cocooned when I was younger. My dad was a reggae musician from the seventies up until now and I always went with him to rehearsals and the studio. I saw everyone writing and recording and I just wanted to do what they did, especially as there were so many lights and buttons and I just wanted to touch them all. He then sent me to music school and realised I liked the Casio keyboard he bought me for my birthday, so I studied classical music for a bit but that got expensive. So I went to a government funded school where I studied the piano, viola, orchestral percussion and some arrangements. At 16, I went to a youth centre and it kept me in the studio and I’ve been there ever since.
And that education stayed with you?
Yeah definitely, because I learnt the importance of melody and with that it connects with everybody. The strength of a melody is so important.
Talk about the creative process behind this EP.
I feel like most times, I don’t ever feel like, ‘I’m starting this project on this day’ or anything like that. The ideas come from voice notes and they come from me fucking around in life. I see songs as slices of life so if something happens that becomes a song, lyrically or melodically. I was listening to a song by Stromae, a song called Papaoutai and in my head I heard a melody which I then made into a loop. I then made it into a song which is now on the EP. I never know where the ideas come from and I never expect it to come from any particular place. What I do know is that my brain likes sound and it will let me know when something sounds good. I just keep the voice note ready for when I use it. The creative process for me is fluid. If a hook doesn’t come to me at any particular moment, I’m not going to stress it because it’s a work progress. I try not to force lyrics or choruses anymore.
I guess that makes it more natural as well.
Yeah, definitely. There have been times where I’ve forced it but I know that it never sounds as good.
Photo Assistant Charlene Joseph
Stylist Ayishat Akbani
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