KWAYE on Fate, Cultural Roots and Creating a Colorful Landscape
Our Rising Artist of the Week, KWAYE, has slowly built his name off the strength of his music that reflect his various cultural and sonic influences. As we await more music from KWAYE, he took some time to speak to TIDAL about his upbringing, fate and what is next.
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What were the days leading into your interaction with the former A&R executive you met driving in an Uber in Los Angeles?
I came to Los Angeles with music in mind, even though I was going there to study [African American Studies at UCLA]. I didn’t really know how, at first, but someway, somehow I want this to work out. It was always in the back of my mind.
Even before UCLA, I was making music with Leon the Professional. We met through friends and jammed together and “Cool Kids” came from that. I put the demo on Soundcloud and it start bubbling up. That’s where I was at when I got in that Uber. From the moment I landed in LA, music was always pulling me towards it and putting it out was that first motion towards it.
What was the driving force behind your sound that started with the release of “Cool Kids”?
I had been writing music and playing instruments for as long as a I can remember. When I learned guitar, though, is when I really started to write music for myself. It was mainly acoustic, it was this folky music with a sort of Zimbabwean backdrop from artists, like Oliver Mtukudzi.
Myself and my producer, Will, bonded over that era of music. That, combined with all of my previous influences, informed “Cool Kids,” and from there, it influenced my whole approach going forward.
Each of the songs you’ve released thus far, have a “moment,” whether it’s a vocal or tempo change, a new instrument layer. How do you find them?
I appreciate you noticing those “moments.” They come naturally, but my instinct tells me to take the song to a crescendo. That is my writing style. Like, for “Cool Kids,” the instruments and structure was there and I just wrote to it. “Little Ones” had the melody working in hand in hand with music to create a moment. “Sweetest Life” I wrote the song to the chords before the beat was even made. I can have a song that I arranged vocally and then I’ll go to a producer with that and break it out into a full song, with chord progressions and everything.
Each song has a different aesthetic and sound. Is it an active pursuit to capture all those moods?
I consciously want to make both, because I love both. I think if you know me, you know that I am moving in everything I do. I move while I eat, so that’s how I operate musically, as well. When I’d like to back on my career, I’d like to have pursued both of those directions equally. I think I have the ability to phrase things in different ways, so I want to explore that.
How do your British-Zimbabwean roots reveal themselves in your musical choices and fashion directions, which ultimately provide each of your songs with its own palette and look?
I think the more vocal delivery is innate and comes from cultural roots. Oliver Mtukudzi was played in my house all the time, he’s a legend. Same thing with Thomas Mapfumo, who is now a distant family member, he sings in Shona. I think it was a matter of having that be such an essential part of my life in my formative years, that when I began creating, that was a natural source of inspiration.
My style comes from Zimbabwe and my parents. When I look back at photos of my parents’ when they first arrived in the UK and so much of my wardrobe now comes from their style.
How do your parents react to everything so far?
I think they feel a certain amount of pride, because they’ve been there for me for the whole journey, which I am thankful for. I think them helping me stay active and learn and perform when I was a kid has resulted in these cohesive creative efforts that make them very proud. I have a good sense of my artistry and I don’t think I need to share it all with them. They are as much fans as they are parents. My mom has to beg me to play new music for them. You always tell your parents you want to be a singer, but I think seeing it make progress is validating for everyone.
How do the accompanying visual treatments given to them color your music?
I usually collaborate heavily with the directors on the videos and have a strong idea of what I want it look like. The idea for “Cool Kids” really came a lot from the director, Billy Boyd Cape, and I think after that video, making something really special, we had to keep the relationship in the process of developing and really grow it with all the visuals that came after it.
You’ve dropped clues as to the various sides of your personality and creativity, where could it go from here?
I’m just very excited about the music I am creating right now and I feel like I am sitting on a big bank of music that I am excited to put out. I think the main thing I am excited about most is showcasing the stories I have to tell. Whether it’s personal, or the people around me, I like being able to tell stories. I think there is an attachment to each of my songs and the world around me, so I look forward to finding more ways to experiment with telling my story.
There has been such a positive reception to everything thus far, that I feel comfortable with pushing the boundaries of the music and bringing more people on the journey. There’s not going to be cap to what I do, it’s just going to be KWAYE.
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