Kickback: With Kwame

22 year old Kwame, popped up on our radar after he was featured on Nkenten’s Decaf playlist. The Nairobi slash Boston native makes some of the most heart warming vocal infused and instrumentalised  music ever. The Berklee educated young man kicked it back as we talked about his most recent project, Mr Dreamer and future work.

Who or what are you listening to right now?
I’ve been listening to h.e.r. a lot lately – vibing out to “facts” and “focus”. Also everything J. Cole put out towards the end of last year.

You are Kenyan/you come from Kenya. Kwame is a distinctively Ghanaian name. How do you have that? Is that your real name?

My father is from Ghana and my mother’s from Kenya. And yes, it really is my name haha. Born on Saturday and everything.

What’s the biggest thing you learnt from Berklee?
That everyone’s still learning.

Since you’re out of uni, what do you do when you’re not making music?

Not much, to be honest. Read. Watch TV series (Community and one punch have my attention currently), take walks, chill with friends and family. used to skate at night time, but i need a new board now.

What do you find easiest to talk about with music? What comes naturally to you, if there’s anything that comes easy?
Not that it’s always easy, but I tend to write directly/indirectly about personal experiences, regardless of whether or not I’m fond of them… as well as things that I’m either afraid of or hope for.
And, having been around choirs my whole life, I’ve grown to love vocal harmony. So, I guess it’s not surprising that it plays a part in what I make. Again, not necessarily easy all the time, but I enjoy the process of finding what feels like it fits.

Tell us about your childhood and the choir influence.

I grew up in different churches, and there was always a choir involved in some way. I was a part of some of them as a child. I also grew up in a family that always sang when we gathered, and everyone went to their part when it was time to sing. Thanks to them, harmony was in my life long before English was.

What inspires your music?
In ways that I don’t always notice until later, everything inspires me. Conversations. Potato chips. Pain. Stained pavements. Hope over fear. And tea.
How would you describe your music?  What type of music do you make?
Honest. Sometimes experimental.
As far as genre titles go, I’ve used the term electro-alternative before, but I’m not married to it.
What informs your collaborations with others? Your music with Cehryl and then with Nauuda are very different.
I’m not completely sure.
With “writer’s block“, Nauuda had sent me the instrumental and asked me to write to it. With “does this make sense“, Cehryl and I met up over the summer and played around with ideas until we found something that we wanted to share. At least for me, genre becomes less important when an idea sparks curiosity; the focus at that point isn’t, “this is the sound that we need to stick to”, it’s, “this seems cool/feels right, where can we go with it?”
What led to mr. dreamer? What’s the story? What informed the storyline of the EP and the title?
I was just living life. I was in my final year of school and I wasn’t sure what things would look like afterwards. I was overwhelmed by projects, relationships, differing worldviews, a personal re-evaluation of how I see myself – the list goes on.
Somewhere in between dealing with everything, I wrote “hey, mr. dreamer.”
Two songs were class assignments, one was a late night/early morning stream of consciousness, and two were just because I had the time to breathe. Before I knew it, I had five songs that said what I needed to hear in light of all the things I was afraid of.
Apart from “hey (wake up)” and “mr. dreamer”, the EP is in the order that the songs were written. I kept them the way they are simply, because it felt right when I listened through the whole thing.
There wasn’t really a story I was going for. If anything, it was more thematic, lending itself to the idea of growth, and choosing hope over fear.
And as far as the title goes, again, it just felt right. and now it serves as a personal jolt any time I drift back into the state of mind that prompted writing it in the first place.


Which songs on the EP were your school assignments, which one was an early morning stream of consciousness, etc?

Mmm… I think I’ll keep that answer for myself, and the people who already know.

What is your creative process like? Take us into your mind when you’re making music. 
I’m just asking what happens if I make different aesthetic choices, and then seeing where the questions lead me. Sometimes it leads to a half-finished project in a folder on my laptop. Other times it leads to whatever the song is about. I never really know what I’m doing till I’m done, which I’ve grown to like. The not-knowing makes each piece I find more meaningful.

If you could pick any three people to work on the perfect music with, who would you pick and why?

Not sure about perfect, but I would love to see what would happen if I got Vanessa Carlton, Bon Iver, and Frank Ocean in a room together. Just to see if we could make something work.

Each have made aesthetic choices in their music that blended simplicity, honesty, imperfection, and experimentation that helped me embrace some of my own artistic quirks.

And if I could have a fourth person, (because only three?!) Lianne la Havas. For the same reasons as the others. and because she’s Lianne la Havas.

Is there another project coming up soon?
I’ve been guilty of saying, “Hell yeah, I’ve got another EP coming your way soon so be on the lookout,” when this question comes up, but I’m not sure yet. It’s cool. I’d rather not stress about it. I’ll keep writing, and if/when it feels right, I’ll let you hear some of it.
Hear more of Kwame’s sound:

Benewaah is the lead curator and editor at Harmattan Rain. Her love for music is closely rivaled by her love for plantain.