Photography: Jack Bridgland / Interview & Words: Tom Everest

“No one will be able to forget me, because my name is going to be right there in front of their eyes.”

It is difficult to determine the qualities which make an artist a true influencer in the multitudinous world of music in 2019. Whatever they are, Stonebwoy has good reason to believe he qualifies. The self-confessed founding father of Afro-Dancehall from Ashaiman, Ghana, has packed a lot into his 31-years in the world, both in and outside the realms of music. Just a few minutes in his company and you soon realise the power of his words, his vision and you understand how he’s managed to carve an unconventional path to the top. He’s decidedly reserved and maybe even spiritual. On the questions which we pose to him to know him on a more personal level, he’s surprisingly open to.

For instance, when we wrapped this interview, the last question we posed to Stonebwoy was; what is your personal mantra? Rather than a precise and concise response, which you would normally expect, he delivers a list of anecdotes which shows you just how erudite he is. ‘Blessings on blessings,’ is one. So, is ‘strength and hope.’ Not to mention, ‘no envy, no greed.’ And the last, and perhaps most empowering, ‘you are what you are for a reason,  make the best out of it.’

The rhythm in which he delivers his speech is the same beat which he has driven home throughout the entire interview. He speaks with a purpose and a slow, steady flow. His levelheadedness and his trademark gravelly laugh have been two percussion instruments which he uses throughout. So, keep on reading to find out what we learned when we caught up with Stonebwoy in London to discuss legacy making, dream chasing and personal challenges.

What is your first creative memory?

Way way back when I was in primary school I created a song that acted as a campaign to raise awareness for HIV. That was a time when HIV was a real big problem, when it really affected a lot of people’s lives, in the late 90s. So, I decided to do a creative rendition of a popular song in Ghana and I sang it in my own way to raise the awareness of an issue in my very own way. Then, moving on from that one my first writing piece was a poem, a short play, which was handed over to my class teacher and we all acted it out at the school’s anniversary. Which was a big thing, no matter your age. I was performing as early as that.

Do you think people you grew up with – even just associates at school – would acknowledge that you were always destined for this?

Absolutely. No one is surprised. 

Where do you think you get your drive from?

I think my drive and determination is in-born. The amount of drive I have can never be artificial. You have to realise its in you, then it’s about finding and nurturing that. It’s about finding the love for what you do. Some people have talent in-born but don’t have a love for it, they don’t want to pursue it or push it. I was lucky that I had that energy and wanted to push it as far as possible. As they say, talent only gets you so far. The hard work is what sets you apart. The talent has always been in-born, from way back when. Then, the hard work has got me to this point. It’s also knowing how I can use it to the benefit of my people. The benefit of myself, my family and the whole of Africa.

What has been the biggest obstacle that you’ve had to overcome either in your creative or personal life?

It definitely hasn’t been an easy journey. It’s been very, very tough. I am just so happy that I never gave up and I followed by gut instinct. It was very hard, not listening to any negative influences but listening and paying attention to the positive and well constructed criticism to get where I am. 

Personally, growing up I had to deal with a big challenge after suffering a big injury in a car accident. At the age of 13, I had to deal with that and I had to deal with that problem the whole time I was an underground artist. The whole time I was up and down the country trying to be an artist, an underground hit, I had a big challenge. A big mobility challenge. It was a big impediment to me but I never gave up. I was walking with a right leg stiff because of the multiple surgeries for years up until 2016 when I had the final surgery which gave me a total knee replacement. So, since 2003 I’ve been living with this problem with my leg.

But I was still walking from studio to studio, travelling the world. There was a lot of fight, a lot of struggles but I kept pushing and never looked back. Sometimes you hurt so much you have no option but to keep fighting. I’m still dealing with that fight as we speak. It’s actually been my inspiration. To keep pushing and to show people that anything is possible.

How would you describe the landscape of African music at the moment?

Glory to all the ancestors and predecessors, all those who have broke the odds. All of those who have been here before us. Because we’re nothing without them. People have been before us, people will always continue to be after us but this is our time to continue the legacy and continue the push. In 200 years time, I believe that people may not even realise the amount of work that the black community, the black nation, has done for African music and the culture. They won’t be able to remember my name, or other people names, but the foundations we’re setting will hopefully make an impact.

It’s a good time for us right now. But, I’m not jumping over the top because there still needs to be change. This right now is a musical revolution. But, we have to realise that glory still has to be sent to our ancestors.  People have made even bigger sacrifices than what we’re doing today. Music is how we can tell our stories, to share our message to the world. It’s a good time for the music scene right now but we need to build, we need to build on the sacrifices which have taken us to this moment. It’s our obligation to represent north, east, south and west. We have to keep pushing. It’s a real time for us to do that right now. 

“There was a lot of fight, a lot of struggles but I kept pushing and never looked back. Sometimes you hurt so much you have no option but to keep fighting.”

Do you consider yourself a leader of this musical revolution?

Of course, I consider myself leader. If I didn’t I’d be moving like a follower. When you move like a follower there are things that you don’t really care about because you’re waiting on the leader to dictate. You’re waiting on the leader to go through the struggles to carve the path. I love to carve paths. Make a move, make mistakes, lean and keep on moving. I’m a leader. If there is anything like Afro Dancehall in the world today then I will be happy to be the first one to introduce that word to the world. From 2009 I have been pushing that scene. I am inspired by Afrobeats, reggae and dancehall, so I thought how can we merge this? This special style is what has got here today. So, no matter how young I may be, I am grateful to be a leader of my generation.

So, how do you, Stonebwoy, make the global music scene more exciting? 

Because I realise where my inspirations come from; Afrobeats – proper music like dancehall and reggae, and realising that a combination of these sounds is possible is what has got me here. There would be no music without Africa. All the music we hear today which is mainstream is of African descent. When you check the history, you check the lineage, you check the levels. So, we have the rights to make more cocktails. My cocktail is the afro dancehall. Someone else’s may be something else, but most interestingly now, most of the sounds has ‘Afro’ on top of it so you know where it is coming from. You know the basis before the mixture. Today, we’re blending dancehall with local vibes, some African strings, which makes it really exciting for the people. Even as humans, you see different cultures coming together and creating new people of colour and culture. So, why not the music? Someone can be half African and half Asian. Which is beautiful. That’s the way the world is now. One love. So, why can’t we cocktail the music? 

When it comes to your musical career, how would you like to be remembered? 

That’s a big question. I just hope when that times comes I will be remembered as someone who didn’t give up. A boy from the ghetto who didn’t give up but inspired people. That one who had to struggle for a long time but still made it. That one who made an impact on people’s lives through the music, through the lifestyle and by representing them. This question is like 80 years ahead of me. Between then and now, I hope that God helps me along the way because I know I’m going to put in a lot of work and try to create significant moments and milestones. No one will be able to forget me, because my name is going to be right there in front of their eyes. That’s the mission. 

How does it feel to be in London, what does the city mean to you?

London has a history of black culture. It’s a special place. When you go to the British Museum you see the history of black people who have been coming here and settling here in this country by force or by will. We have always been a part of this place and we always will. This city gives me a lot of energy, it gives me a lot of joy and a desire to grow the music. Afrobeats started gaining considerable success on the international scene because of the UK. It’s the home to the blend. You always have to be here, you have to touch base. 

Is it still overwhelming when you travel half-way around the world and see the impact that your work and your sound is having on people from all walks of life and from countries across the globe, does that feeling ever escape you as an artist? 

Yeah, man. It amazes me and I am eternally grateful. We’re constantly putting in the work but you can only see the global impact when you feel it. So, when I travel and tour or log into social media, I see people expressing their love of the music it gives me this profound energy. It tells me I need to keep putting in the work to serve these people and to serve this global energy. 

What about your life outside of music; what creative escapes or interests do you have which give you a break from the studio? 

Genuinely that is still what I’m trying to find out! Either I’m working or I’m resting. Done. I’m with my family and my two kids, that’s it. Remember, I’m a leader. Leader’s have to sacrifice a lot of things to keep in that spot. 

“I’m a leader. Leader’s have to sacrifice a lot of things to keep in that spot.”

Looking down, you’re wearing the ’95 Barcelona jersey, what are your memories of the game growing up?

I used to play so much football growing up as a kid but after the accident, not being able to play was one of the things which hurt me more than anything else. My kid brother is pursuing to be a professional footballer right now, so he’s going to take up on a lot of the playing which I can’t do. Barcelona are a great team. When I love something I love it. When it comes to football I don’t have one team that I’m do or die. But I’d choose Barcelona. Football is the individuals, if anyone catches my eye I am fully behind them. 

It’s an amazing time right now for African music and African footballers, why do you think that is?

Twenty years ago people weren’t jumping on being African. Black people weren’t super proud to express themselves as African. I feel musically and in sport, we have been pushing the agenda so people cannot resist it any longer. They have to pay us attention. So, here we are now. The seed has been planted and its growing. Every year it’s going to grow, every generation is going to grow. 

What’s next for Stonebwoy, what can we expect from you in the near future? 

I’ve just dropped Ololo and that’s smashing the place. I will drop another single in December and then hopefully my 5th studio album in 2020.

Finally, what is the mantra which you live your life by?

Blessings on blessings. Principles. Struggles. Firm and strong. Strength and hope. Don’t give up. You are what you are for a reason, make the best out of it. Don’t look at nobody and try to be them. No envy, no greed. Stand and protect your own and you’ll find your own path. 

Catch Stonebwoy on tour this month in USA and Canada and be sure to follow him on Instagram, @StonebwoyB.

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Issue 02: Heart & Soul
Ada Hegerberg, Andre Gray, Maya Jama, Andreas Perreira, Christian Pulisic
GAFFER Issue 02: ‘Heart & Soul.’ Honouring the way football cultivates community spirit, empowers the next generation and gives fans, teams and players something bigger and more beautiful to believe in. Be prepared to meet the people who are driving the culture to new heights and those who are set to change the face of the game forever.
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