Obaro Ejimiwe, better known as Ghostpoet, is back with his conscious new album Dark Days and Canapés and a major UK and European tour, which stops in to Bristol’s Marble Factory this November.
Recently relocated to the burgeoning creative hub of Margate, Obaro took a break from helping with construction at the site of his new radio station, café and bar to have a chat with us on the phone about the new album and tour.
I have little doubt that this questioning nature is what inspires the challenging and moving music that’s, so far, earned him two Mercury Prize nominations
Throughout our conversation, Obaro resists me the whole way, from the notion of a title track (‘that sounds like a rule’), to the existence of trip hop. Though I have little doubt that this questioning nature is what inspires the challenging and moving music that’s, so far, earned him two Mercury Prize nominations.
Dark Days and Canapés straight away stirs up emotions on the ideas of privilege, unrest and bystander effect
Dark Days and Canapés straight away stirs up emotions on the ideas of privilege, unrest and bystander effect. This is compounded by tracks like Immigrant Boogie, which tells a first person account of a refugee, ‘my two kids and my lovely wife’ on an crowded, sinking boat.
Immigrant Boogie, released in April, was the comeback single after his Mercury Prize-nominated 2015 album Shedding Skin and set us up for some heavy listening.
However, Ghostpoet is not here to lead us to revolution. Musicians and artists have always commented on present-day society and there’s no question that these are dark days.
‘I don’t like spoon-feeding. I put it out there for people to interpret how they want. I don’t class the album as a socio-political album, it’s just a continuation of what I’ve always been doing, which is reflection on social matters.
Immigrant Boogie is a reflection of a crisis that we’re all affected by in some shape or form
‘Immigrant Boogie is a reflection of a crisis that we’re all affected by in some shape or form, be it through media exposure or through direct contact through family or friends, and it felt like something I needed to talk about. It’s not a political statement, it’s not me putting my flag in the ground or stating that this is what I’m doing. It was just one of many things I felt I wanted to talk about on the record.
‘In terms of it being the first single, I don’t care about stuff like that. It’s what the label – through discussions with me – thought would be a good one to put out first. That’s as far as it goes in terms of a statement.’
Like all of Ghostpoet’s output, there is an overarching impression of darkness. And, though it’s something that’s always been there, Dark Days and Canapés delves further into a flirtation with deep and dark, gloomy Southern blues.
I love the blues. I embrace the rawness of it
‘It’s definitely music I listen to a lot, I love the blues. I embrace the rawness of it. With any kind of music or artist that I listen to, I never sit down and try and create a carbon copy, I just allow it to soak into my consciousness. If it comes out in a particular way, it does. It’s definitely in the mix, blues is one of my favourite styles of music so I’m not surprised that it’s in there in some shape or form.’
However, when it comes to an association with the likes of Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead, Obaro wholly rejects the trip hop label he is so often branded with.
‘I’m influenced by all types of music, so I couldn’t pinpoint any of those acts as key influences, they’re in the mix for sure – it’s great music. I love dark music, hence me liking the blues. I like the music that they make because they’re able to create amazing, vast, sonic worlds that are experimental in nature but appeal to a large audience – which is what I’m trying to do long term. So I definitely take that on board and I respect that, but that’s as far as it goes.’
when it comes to an association with the likes of Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead, Obaro wholly rejects the trip hop label
Aside from Ghostpoet’s collaborations with Massive Attack – featuring on their 2016 The Spoils EP and getting Daddy G on his Dark Days and Canapés track Woe Is Meee – it’s the weighty, explorative soundscapes that parenthesize his music that sees him grouped together with these acts. However, Obaro is quick to point out that this is not an achievement limited to those artists falling under the trip hop umbrella.
‘You could say the same thing about Leonard Cohen, you could say PJ Harvey, you could say Nick Cave… I don’t care for genre, I never have and I never will.
‘Don’t get me wrong; being connected to people like Massive Attack and Portishead is an honour. They’re amazing acts that have proved themselves over a long period of time. That’s what I’m trying to do. But I’m trying to be me; I’m not trying to be anyone else.
being connected to people like Massive Attack and Portishead is an honour. They’re amazing acts that have proved themselves over a long period of time
‘I met Daddy G in a European city somewhere, we were on the same bill for something. He handed me a CD and said, “We’ve been wanting to work with you, here’s some music. Check it out and if anything takes your fancy, write to it.” So I did and the result was the track in question. It was such an honour to work with them because I’ve been a fan for a very long time, and it was great being able to get Daddy G on my record off the back of starting that relationship. Now thinking back to the trip hop thing – this doesn’t help my cause!’
Although the album was already written before Obaro made the move from London to Margate, during the recording process, he was travelling back and forth to the studio in London every day, which – like any significant change in an artist’s personal life – likely had an impact on the finished record.
‘It was the midst of winter, so I was going from an at-the-time quite violent and very moody atmosphere in Margate, to the bustling metropolis of London. Doing that every day was quite interesting. I guess everything you experience or are exposed to affects what you do, be it creatively or otherwise. So I guess it affected me in some shape or form – I can’t put my finger on how.’
It was the midst of winter, so I was going from an at-the-time quite violent and very moody atmosphere in Margate, to the bustling metropolis of London
Obaro says he made the move to Margate to escape towering house prices in London and find a slower pace within a different creative environment. Now there, he’s in the process of setting up his own cross-genre internet radio station, which will be home to a variety of talk shows as well as creating a new music platform for the area. He launched a crowd funder campaign to get the idea off the ground, and the project is now well underway.
‘There’s been a creative scene in Margate for a long time; it’s only now starting to get a bit more mainstream exposure.
I’ve loved radio for many years, partly because I’m this fan of music and also because I’ve always like the idea of exposing artists to people who listen to my music
‘I wanted to do a radio station, and one of the things when I was moving here was that if it wasn’t done by the time I moved down, I’d give it a go. I’ve loved radio for many years, partly because I’m this fan of music and also because I’ve always like the idea of exposing artists to people who listen to my music.
‘So I went about doing it and it’s become something a bit more than I expected. I just wanted a bit of space to start the online radio station, but now I’ve got a space where I can do a café during the day, a bar at night and a radio station within it.’
There will be a soft launch of the radio station before Obaro sets off on his Dark Days and Canapés tour, though he plans to open properly once he’s done touring mid-February and focus on growing the new cultural platform.
Bristol is one of the first dates on his tour, where he’ll be bringing a full live band to play with him at Marble Factory.
With everything I do creatively, I put in maximum effort, so we’ll all work as hard as possible and hopefully people enjoy the show
‘I’ll be coming to Bristol with a full band and we’ll be playing songs from this album and other albums. With everything I do creatively, I put in maximum effort, so we’ll all work as hard as possible and hopefully people enjoy the show.’
Photos: Steve Gullick