How do you start an interview in this day and age? Well, maybe with the most obvious yet very essential question you can ask these these days. One that surely comes with a more substantial meaning these days – “How have you been doing?” It’s imposssible to have a conversation without it and maybe that’s now for the worst, right? So, yeah, Ghostpoet – how have you been doing?
Obaro: “My casual answer would be I’m alright. I’ve just been getting on with it really. The first couple of weeks have been very odd. On a psychological level, it was me trying to work out what was going on, everything seemed to be crumbling before my very eyes and my livelihood was being taken away or has been taken away. It’s a bit mad if you think about it from a dystopian film point of view – it’s like being in one of those films where it’s a global issue. Everyone is affected by it in some shape or form. I feel like the only way that I can handle it is one day at a time.”
Indeed, I haven’t had one conversation which did not start with the same concern and search for assurance in the past weeks so naturally it is how our phone call starts. As much as it is tiring to concern ourselves with the same worries each day, I have also noticed that every person has been answering truthfully and honestly to this. There is no shrugging things off or trivial ‘Yeah, I’m fine’-responses. It is one of the things that I’ve been celebrating to see in each interaction and it seems as if we are suddenly encouraged to open up about our struggles, big or small. I hope it sticks. There are many theories how life will change after the pandemic and I wonder which ones are ringing true to Ejimiwe.
Obaro: “I feel what could come out of it is that we hopefully value everybody that makes up a society. I hope that’s the case. I hope for an understanding that we don’t really need that much in life to function. I know for myself and for many people that I know, just the idea of being able to hug your friends or your loved ones is something that people are longing to do. It is something that we just took for granted and didn’t really think about that much in the past but even just the simplest act of being able to hug somebody or touch somebody is high up on the list – way more than the latest gadget or the new piece of clothing that is being pushed by a designer. I hope that we just take more pleasure in the simple things in life. Ultimately, right now, all we care about is staying healthy, being able to feed ourselves and our friends and our families and keeping a roof over our heads. It’s as simple as that.”
‘Value the simple things in life’ is one of those mantras that look nice on a postcard on your fridge, though often sound shallow when you say them to another person. But the pandemic is giving depth to exactly these postcard-slogans since we got way more time to reflect on everything that surrounds us. I Grow Tired… is packed with existential questions and contemplations of reality. To be very honest, after my first listen, I was quite wary if it was going to be as successful in the current climate as I thought it could be if the worldly circumstances were different. There have been many artists who postponed their release dates which I mostly did not quite understand but with the somber energy of Ghostpoet’s latest musings, it would be clear why.
Right time, right record
Obaro: “It was definitely mulled over by my label more than me. I feel my music is always going to be of a particular vein so I just felt like it just makes sense to put it out there. I was, I am, slightly worried that it is a bit raw, to the point that it’s very much topical of the times that we’re living in. Ultimately, I have to still continue to be who I am. This is my work, this is what I do and I think if I had pushed it back, maybe it would get lost amongst a sea of other releases which is something I didn’t really want. I feel it’s because it’s reflective of the time we’re living and I feel that it’s important to put it out. Even if it is nothing more than just that – reflecting the times we lived in. How people take it, is how people take it.”
Since then, the album has been released and welcomed into the world. People took it well. If you have a look at Ghostpoet’s Twitter account right now, you will find dozens of fans posting their praises of the newly-arrived vinyl and his retweets drunk on gratitude (and maybe whiskey). Social media is another topic that is featured heavily on the record and before I have even finished my question, he says with a laugh: “I’m getting a bad reputation, I need to stop talking about this.”
I’m asking about his relationship to social media anyway and how working on the album has influenced his consume.
Obaro: “I went through a stage, when I was making the record, I just deleted them all so I didn’t have any social media on my phone for a while. It felt really good actually. I was able to focus and not get distracted by the need to keep checking updates or post stuff. That was good. I feel like I want to do that more often. With all this technology and social media, it just takes away from the human experience and the sense of the everyday. I enjoy using it a lot but at the same time I understand and remember a time before any of this existed and I was able to function quite fine so I feel down the line I want to withdraw from it more but in the current situation it makes sense to have it around.”
The power to de-compartmentalise
One reason why more focus was a good thing to have during the creation period is because Ejimiwe produced the record by himself this time. He did so with his first album, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, and says that this time around he felt the need to push himself more and apply the technical knowledge he has gained over the years.
Another important choice the artist made is the album cover. It is a recreation of Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare.
Obaro: “I was definitely drawn to the original painting. It was my manager who led me to it and he was just like ‘When I’m listening to the record, this is the kind of thing that comes mind’. I enjoyed the the pose of the woman in question and the atmosphere that was being created by the different elements in the painting. It felt like a good representation of the music.”
As I’ve noted earlier, there’s a darkness to the record which some people are drawn to, other’s push away but which each of us carry around somewhere in ourselves. While preparing for this interview, I was desperately trying to find a glimpse of hope in the ten songs but I admitted during our chat that I did not find much of it. In my own creative expression, I’m keen to find the optimistic facet of whatever heavy emotion I am going through so I’m even more fascinated by artists that choose to exhibit more of their gloomy parts and how they balance it in their everyday life.
Obaro: “I have this ability to de-compartmentalise. I have music as an outlet and I’m able to pour out these things into my music so it doesn’t spill out into my everyday life. I’m a very observant person and I’m soaking up so much information so when I open that door I’m trying to put that into the music. It’s something I’ve done for a long time and it’s a positive and a negative. It’s something that I’m able to do with emotions overall and as a man, we’re prone to not being able to communicate our emotions very well. It’s a blessing to have music as a way to do that because I struggle in everyday life to do such things. I have many dusty boxes in my head that remain closed for a long time.”
I am a de-compartmentaliser myself and this quality as well as our shared problem of pronouncing this word makes me feel a lot lighter. I enjoy interviews that feel like conversations and not like interviews-interviews. I was a bit scared that my conversation with Obaro would evoke an energy that like the black goo in Concrete Pony would overpower me and highlight my own fears but the opposite happened. By talking about all these different aspects of life, I felt at peace with myself and with the work I am doing.
Lastly, it seemed like an obvious choice, I ask about Obaro’s favourite dystopian movie. It’s Alfonso Cuarón‘s Children of Men (which depicts a future that is only 7 years away from 2020), and what a gift it was to my future self who is writing this article and now being able to round it all up with the overlapping themes of hope, compassion, and faith in the younger generations to save our asses concerning the economic and societal changes through the pandemic and the environmental crisis.
In my review of the record, I describe it as a Tower moment implying that it observes and destroys old and hurtful patterns. The Tower card of the traditional tarot is followed by the Star and its meaning is hope and light for the future, that healing is happening after a time of darkness. This is how it felt talking to Obaro Ejimiwe and the passion he is projecting onto his own life, something that is beautiful to witness and which each of us, in their own time, will experience when we rejoice.
Ghostpoet‘s wonderful album I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep is out now via Play It Again Sam.