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10 Questions for Musician Fuse ODG | reviews, news & interviews

10 Questions for Musician Fuse ODG

10 Questions for Musician Fuse ODG

Anglo-Ghanaian rising star of the Afrobeats scene on making a stand for Africa

Fuse ODG – bringing together British and Ghanaian music

Anglo-Ghanaian musician Fuse ODG – born Nana Richard Abiona – is a leading exponent of the new Afrobeats movement, which combines Western pop and rap with Nigerian and Ghanaian pop, and some stylistic elements from the Fela Kuti-inspired Afrobeat scene. Unlike many of his contemporaries on the scene, Fuse spent many years of his childhood in Ghana, returning to London for secondary school, and has detailed first-hand experience of both cultures. He retains a musical interest in both countries, and is the first British musician to be nominated for two Ghanaian music awards.

He’s built his career from the ground up with repeated YouTube hits: "Azonto", released in 2011, is claimed to have received 12 million views, and its dance moves have sparked an international craze which even David Cameron has joined. The following year’s “Antenna” was also doing well when it attracted the attention of Haitian hip hop artist Wyclef Jean, who promptly recorded a remix that spent spent 13 weeks in the UK Top 40, peaking at 7, while the video has over 7 million YouTube views.

Fuse combines an irresistibly light-hearted, fun-seeking manner with a commitment to presenting a more positive impression of Africa. His new album T.I.N.A., or “This Is the New Africa”, addresses this ambition directly, and he believes that he is part of a movement that can inspire other creative figures to work towards an improvement in Africa’s perception in Western media.  

MATTHEW WRIGHT: Your identity, both personally and musically, sounds perfectly divided between UK and Ghana, both in terms of residency, language, and music. Your performing name, “Fuse”, refers to your blend of musical cultures. Is that how you feel in yourself too?

FUSE ODG: 100 per cent. My music literally encapsulates the way I grew up, where I lived, my influences, my culture, from the British culture to the African culture. That’s definitely what Fuse ODG is about.

So was music a way of creating an identity you felt comfortable with?

Music definitely accommodated me as a kid. It was nice for me to be in the music world, because it helped me connect with other people. It made me cool in school actually. People would come to my house to make music, because I had a little music set-up there. It was a nice little refuge for me as a kid. Music was a world that was always nice to me, and it helped me be myself. For it to bring me to a stage where I can talk to the world through my music, and be accepted for who I am - and not just that, but to influence other people to be themselves - that’s an amazing progression for me as an artist.  

You’re at the vanguard of this new Afrobeats movement. Can you tell us how you see the relationship of Afrobeat, always associated with Fela Kuti, and this new style?

Fuse ODG is able to work with a Wyclef, then a Krept and Konan, and a Sean Paul, so I feel like I’m connecting with the world through music

Definitely, Afrobeats is the new African music we’re making now. The difference is, my music mixes British culture with African culture heavily. People like Fela Kuti definitely set the foundation for that authentic percussion and groove. That will always stay in Afrobeats, because in my head, I’ll always use African percussion. The progression really is using more modern sounds, but with the same groove and feeling as the old school. I definitely feel part of that progression towards the modern type of Afrobeats, mixing with different genres but using the traditional African groove. I feel like a pioneer in bringing that music to the world.

The involvement of Wyclef Jean in “Antenna” has had a huge impact, taking it to seven in the singles charts. How did he get involved? Will he be involved in future projects?

I met him in Ivory Coast. The promoter organised a show with him there. When I met him we got talking, and I was telling him what I’m doing with my music and how I’m representing Africa in and outside of Africa, and how I’m trying to promote Africa in a way that the media’s not. He said, that’s exactly what he was trying to do with Haiti, and he started sharing his journey with me. We connected on a social level straight away. Later on he heard my music: while we were having dinner the DJ played “Antenna”, and everyone went crazy. Wyclef went mad too, because he heard something so fresh that he’d never heard before, and he was really interested. He said he wanted to do the official remix. We acted on it the next day, and recorded it at our hotel. We shot the video the following day. I’m still talking to him. I’ve got another song, "T.I.N.A.", coming out on the next album I’m talking to him about, and some other projects as well.  

Your debut album is called TINA, or This Is New Africa, and the title song contains some very inspiring lyrics about the importance of presenting a positive impression of the continent. What do you mean by that?

I just feel like I’m making worldwide music, and I shouldn’t be restricted

Music is a universal language, you can open a lot more doors, and are can speak to people on some many platforms through music. We get to travel to so many different countries, and I’m able to learn about other cultures, and how I can improve my environment, my culture. Music is an amazing channel to be able to speak to the world and to learn, and create an awareness of the new Africa as I have seen it. You get to talk to people in so many different avenues: in a club, a church, a stadium, an office, on the radio – it’s endless, the places music takes you.

Music can counteract the negative stories about Africa. The media work hard when they’re doing something they feel will sell. As artists and influential people in different areas we can work hard to make the noise we want to make to the world. That’s what I’m trying to do, with my album, and when I do my interviews as well. There’s definitely support for the movement, but in terms of the UK, there’s definitely other artists pushing the culture through their music. Even artists who weren't pushing the culture are now doing so. People like Tinchy Stryder are now embracing the culture more, and supporting what I’m doing, it’s amazing to get so much support from them, in public and behind the scenes, it’s a blessing for them to re-connect.

If we compare your sound with other musicians of West African descent, for example the rapper Sway, theirs doesn’t have quite the same African sound. What gives your music its distinctive African sound? Is it something you learnt from Ghanaian music?  

Fuse ODGBig up Sway, he supports what I do so aggressively, says how proud he is. It’s really nice. Sway does represent African culture, but it wasn’t as blatant. I’m definitely influenced by the fact I grew up in Ghana and London. I just want to change lives through my music, and help people be proud of who they are, and their roots. Being in Ghana and seeing the culture and sense of community there was really inspiring. For example, when you come to my shows I want to make sure people are connecting and being free with themselves, and that there’s a sense of community. I always say, “Welcome to the new Africa,” and make sure people greet each other. We’re here for good vibes and we’re all one people. The Ghanaian culture has definitely influenced that. Production-wise there’s an influence too. On my new album T.I.N.A. you hear highlife guitar, that’s a proper old-school guitar from Ghana that’s infused in the music.  

You’re collaborating with a combination of UK artists, like Krept & Konan and G Frsh, as well as Caribbean musicians such as Wyclef Jean from Haiti and the Jamaican rapper Sean Paul. Is that a deliberate attempt to create an international balance?  

I just feel like I’m making worldwide music, and I shouldn’t be restricted. It’s really interesting – it feels like there’s a new breed of artist that through me is going to be born. Fuse ODG is able to work with a Wyclef, then a Krept and Konan, and a Sean Paul, so I feel like I’m connecting with the world through music. It’s nice that my music’s got a worldwide following, and that these guys can be part of it. It’s got a universal feeling to the movement. I can definitely see a new breed of artist doing the same. It’s just like Wyclef. Wyclef’s been doing that, that’s why when I met him we connected to well.  

Your career, like the careers of other young artists like Krept & Konan’s, has been developed through YouTube. You’ve had millions of YouTube views - over 7 million for “Antenna ft Wyclef Jean” - you’ve done well in the singles charts, and have broken through without much help from the usual record companies. Is this a new career model for young artists, or just how it’s worked out for you?

Hip hop is what keeps me lyrically sharp in my songs

I think that’s definitely the best way to come out as an artist, to be able to build your own foundation, and from there other people can jump on board. The foundation is nice when you build it yourself. If you start by yourself from the bottom, you definitely know what to do when you get back there. Definitely good to start for yourself. That would be my advice to people. Sometimes it’s unfortunate to get help from the bottom, because when you get back there, you don’t know what to do. When you start off yourself you know you don’t want to go back there, so you’re working even harder, because you know how hard it was.

I’ve read that Krept & Konan’s mixtape “Tsunami” sold 2000, but was downloaded illegally 60,000 times. There are illegal versions of your album T.I.N.A. out there even before its release. How can a young artist make a living in that musical environment?

It’s a problem for artists in general. You might be out there and everyone knows who you are, but it might not be matching your earnings, and you have to keep up a certain lifestyle. With us, we’ve been lucky, because when we first dropped “Azonto”, we started getting shows straight away, worldwide, going to Cyprus, Africa, Europe, just from “Azonto”, and we were getting revenue from the shows, so that’s how we sustain ourselves. Now we’re getting actual sales, but it takes a long time before it manifests as actual cash. For us it’s our shows and royalties keeping us going. It’s really tough. If you’re coming up as an artist, don’t expect to be making money straight away. Even when you start selling on iTunes, it takes time. You have to be careful.  

You’re also involved with a charity called Escape, that focuses young people’s creativity to keep them off the streets? Why do you do it, and how does creativity help?  

It all started from the fact that I enjoyed making music, and I wanted to help young people get constructive with their lives. The best way I could help was through music. It started with music workshops with young people. I was running the music workshops, helping to produce rap lyrics. Then we expanded to other activities: art, poetry, drama, dance. It’s always good to invest in other people. I’m really passionate about helping other people, and now I can do more because the platform is higher. We reach about 250 young people, with 30 volunteers. I’m sure it’s going to get a lot bigger. We’ve got new ideas we’re going to implement.

There’s a lot of intricate wordplay in your music, and also in collaborators like G Frsh. Is that purely from rap and hip-hop, or is there an African element too?

That definitely is highly influenced by hip hop: Tupac, Wyclef, Fabulous, 50 Cent. That’s what keeps me lyrically sharp in my songs. I love being creative lyrically. Sometimes some of my lines people might not understand, and I get excited to hear it back myself. I love hip hop for that.

Where did the Azonto dance [shown in the video below] come from? Did you make it up, or was it fans? Can David Cameron really do his Azonto?

When I went back to Ghana in 2011, I saw people doing it in the clubs and in the street, I was so fascinated by it, and I kept asking people how to do it. It was so addictive. I’m not even a dancer, but I just loved it so much. To me just I was just sharing experience of Ghana. Azonto was one of the main highlights of my trip. I wanted to showcase it to the world. That’s what the intro says: I’ve just come back from Ghana and want to share this with the world. David Cameron [who was photographed with Fuse’s manager doing the Azonto] has got one or two moves. I showed him the dance. He needs to work on it. It’s a fun dance, that’s the thing. That’s why it’s so addictive.

Some critics say Afrobeats is much more like like Western pop than the genuine tradition of Afrobeat. Would that be a compliment or an insult? Would it be true?

I’m telling people this is the new African music, this is coming from Africa. Whether you see that as authentic or not, it’s music that’s coming from Africa. It was made in Africa by African people. It’s going to be a lot bigger. There’s going to be a whole new generation take it on just like hip hop. It’s going to be a whole lifestyle. It comes with a dance, lifestyle, clothes, mentality. It’s an all-round genre that I can see sticking round, progressing.

  • Fuse ODG’s album T.I.N.A. will be released by 3Beat on November 2. He goes on a brief UK tour 25-28 October.
  •  Watch the videos for T.I.N.A. and "Antenna ft Wyclef Jean" overleaf

 

 

 

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