#7QUESTIONS – MUSA OKWONGA
Following from the syllable practise and vocal gymnastics that comes with being a member of a Poem in between People (PiP), Musa Okwonga has teamed up with Giles Hayter to form the Kings Will. Redshift was excited to hear the prospects of Poetronica hitting the venues, earphones and craggly streets of London so we caught up with Musa to discuss the new project and how the live shows have unfolded.
#1 Poetronica sounds marvelous, what is it and where was it born?
Thanks! There was a guy called Gianni Toti who pioneered it – the idea of putting spoken poetry over electronica. What we do with The King’s Will isn’t rap, or hip-hop; it isn’t trip-hop; it isn’t dance, or dubstep, although there are elements of all of these in our work. So I guess poetronica is as accurate a label as any.
#2 Listening to the lyrics of the new tracks, to me, the Kings Will has a strong sense of identity and purpose. How have you translated that to your live shows?
The story behind The King’s Will is that the ageing, despotic King has two servants – me, as The Fool, a sort of court jester figure – and Giles Hayter as The Vassal, the brooding scientist. We’re both trying to help the King see that the world he is creating is fast approaching ruin. In that sense, it’s an ongoing drama, and so in our live shows we’ve chosen outfits and visuals to match that drama.
For example, The Vassal wears a foreboding cloak, similar to that worn by Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars and Aragorn in the first Lord of The Rings film: so that you’re initially not sure if he’s good or evil. My uniform, as The Fool, is a type of Joker character. To build a sense of atmosphere for our live launch, we worked with Tom Sheppard of Bryte Design, lighting experts who have worked with Nero and Elbow, to give the show a theatrical feel. Meanwhile, Giles has built a fortress
#3 I remember the legendary Pip Vs P.I.P spoken word at the Macbeth. It will go down as my favourite London spoken word event. What did you feel after playing that show and have you seen any other performances recently that have knocked your socks off?
Pip Vs P.I.P was one of the greatest nights that I have been part of, and I have to give total credit to Phil Levine, whose brainchild that was. He managed to assemble pretty much all of the forward-thinking performance poets in London at that time under one roof – Kate Tempest, Ventriloquist, Inua Ellams and more – culminating in that epic battle between Dan and Scroobius, Joshua and I. I was elated after that gig because it showed that poetry and music could be truly entertaining to a wide audience: it showed me what was possible. In terms of amazing gigs I have seen recently, I saw Ed Sheeran perform a two-hour set at Brixton Academy, to an ecstatic sell-out crowd of 5000 people. That was remarkable. Scroobius Pip’s solo album launch, when he played pretty much the entire record through, was brilliant – and the high point was when he performed “Broken Promise”, as moving a piece of writing as anything he has produced. I would say those are the two best performances I saw in 2011.
#4 The new videos are very enjoying to watch, what made you produce them and who do we have to thank for them?
There is a timelessness and universality that animated videos can provide, so we thought that we would find the most talented animators that we could and then give them free rein to interpret the songs that moved them most. We tried to work with as wide a range of animators as possible. So you have Panagiota Chiadogiannou, from Greece, who did the video for climate change track “Extremes”; Jae Hwang, from South Korea, who produced “Love Against Homophobia”; our own Vassal, Giles Hayter, who animated the video for “Hundreds”; and so on. A real variety of artists; you can find them all listed and credited at www.youtube.com/thekingswilltv.
#5 Lightsabres featured in a show you played for us, and recently I heard the Kings Will’s drummer looked as if he was playing using a pair of them! If you were a Jedi what color lightsabre would you go for? I’m going for a white one – or maybe a Tron-style electric Blue!
Haha, a white one, why not? It would match my gloves.
#6 How have people engaged with the Kings Will, are there songs that receive greater responses from the crowd and did you expect those particular ones to?
We had absolutely no idea who would take to which songs, and why. What’s funny is that some songs already have their own audiences. For example, people who love Persevere seem to love Extremes and Self-Improvement too; maybe that’s due to the way they’re delivered, or their similar musical feel. Passport, about my late father, seems to connect with a range people on an emotional level; on a same tack, there’s Love Against Homophobia, which John Kennedy and then Mary Anne Hobbs played in the same week. Then there’s Pig City, which finds favour with those who like their satire. It’s a really great mix.
#7 So what’s next for you and the Kings Will? You’ve also written two critically acclaimed books on the subject of football (‘A Cultured Left Foot’ and ‘Will You Manage?’), any plans to do any more?
What’s next? We’re going to keep telling the story of the King and our attempts to rescue his kingdom from decline. Each album forms part of a series: the first, “As The Power Fails”, was our initial warning to him, and the second, “The Swords Are Coming”, shows his kingdom under attack. We’re releasing that album in April. In terms of my football writing, I’ll see what interesting ideas occur to me over the next few months – that’s the great thing about doing creative work, you never know where the next exciting project will appear from.