Paying homage to eras of the past, while still forming a distinct musical identity can be challenging to say the least. For north-west London’s Kwaku Asante however, this task seems to be being fulfilled with ease. Effortlessly nodding to the depths of neo-soul, Asante yields a modern-day perspective which is quickly magnetic, creating an easy on the ear listening experience.
Predominantly focusing on romance, the singer is able to stand out, often opting for live instrumentals to guide his narratives. Late-last year, Kwaku Asante formally released his debut EP Honeycomb which laid-bare his appreciation for Black women, as well as his deepest desires and fears.
With multiple sold-out shows at The Servant Jazz Quarters, slated for mid-September, as well as a quickly-growing cult following, Kwaku Asante joins GUAP to unpack his career to date, sonic-direction and, aspirations.
Early on in your career, you had the experience of opening for Amber Mark. How was that experience?
GUAP: It was such a good time. I got to travel to different countries and really experience life on the road with an artist who I’ve been a fan of. It was beautiful to see the different demographics and audiences. I have to say that Berlin was a particular standout; we got to play at the Berghain, which is an iconic venue over there. The sound system was incredible and the crowd was super responsive over there.
Your first single “The Way That You Move” debuted in 2018 and was produced, in part, by Tom Misch. How did this collaboration come to fruition?
The other producer of this song is Jan. We actually saw [Tom Misch] in Shoreditch and after talking he suggested we work together. As we were trying to make it happen, it kept falling through as I was in university at the time. Finally, I got to chill and have a session with Jan and then all of us were able to make it happen. It spontaneously came together. It actually got released around my graduation. Tom’s influence is on there a lot, the upbeat house-y sounds are him for sure.
What inspired your decision to delve into music?
I actually grew up in the Christian church. My mum would help out in the church and I’d hear the choir and their runs that definitely inspired me. Then when I was at home, we were limited in terms of what was played. However, I will always remember the Kirk Franklin’s and Marvin Sapp’s being played. I used to watch their videos and love the outfits and aesthetics of that time. My Grandad was a huge executive producer in Ghana, he got to work with [Fela Kuti], so this largely inspired my direction too. And I played the piano and violin growing up, which always kept me focused.
You tend to focus on the themes of love, emotions, and relationships. What is the reasoning behind this?
Pouring out my feelings towards someone allows me to be as honest as possible and relate with my listeners. The themes of love, for example, are so pure, people should hear that spoken about and be able to access that. I like being vulnerable. People need to know how I felt about that particular person or a particular situation. Emotions and talking about them allow the truth to come out.
Name some quintessential influences on your sound[pauses] I have to say, D’Angelo. His arrangement and lyricism are unmatched. I love his falsetto, he’s all around just amazing with his attention to detail, what he did on “Voodoo” and “Black Messiah” is incredible. I’m gonna say Lauryn Hill too; I feel like she made a classic first album. She’s so gifted with her ability to rap, do the melodies, and story tells so vividly. I really understood the woman’s perspective after listening to her. Marvin Gaye is on my list too because some of those lyrics are raw. There’s one of his songs, and he’s talking pure filth in the beginning [laughs]. He’s able to do it all, even the poppy hits too.
What are some of your favourite R&B albums?
Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dreams for sure. I remember it coming out when I was in year 13. It was the first time I had a girlfriend, so it resonates with me in a way that I can’t describe. It was essential in my college years. Voodoo is my favourite album ever. It inspires me musically, in the way that I talk about love and unpack it.
Your voice sounds quite disciplined. Do you actively train your voice
My voice is quite high, I can do a lot with it because of my experiences in the choir. I did train before I went on tour with Amber Mark, but I don’t really train it professionally on a regular basis.
Your songs dabble with a lot of live instrumentals. What are some of your favourite musical instruments and why?
Definitely the bass guitar. It holds together the groove of the song and I really like how the lower ends of it in songs. It’s quite a warm instrument. I also have to say the piano, because it helped me in exploring and falling in love with music. It showed me what goes into making a good song and the importance of chords. The regular guitar too. I love Jimmy Hendrix and Prince guitar solos and I also like the blues-y influences in the guitar.
You released your debut EP Honeycomb last year. What’s your favourite song from it and why?
I think I’m gonna go with “Sunday”. It references blackness and it references society and their perceptions towards Black women. I reference braids and the nuances with that which lead back to slavery. I only want to fall in love with someone who understands the complexities of blackness in a white-dominated society. I wanted this song to highlight the beauty of our women.
As a writer, how much of the EP did you have a hand in?
I wrote about 90 percent of it. Song number two on the EP [Primrose]. I wanted to really make sure this was my perspective.
What’s the most challenging aspect of musical creation for you?
It’s making sure the lyrics and chords all make sense in the end. It’s like making an essay, all the points of reference have to come to a conclusion and your overall point has to come across too. Doing that in four minutes or so is tricky.