It all started with a want to learn the guitar solo from ‘U Got It Bad’ that sparked British-Congolese Jordan Mackampa's musical journey, and it was only going to go up from there. From reaching a million streams back in 2017 for his beautiful single 'Yours to Keep' (a mammoth 36 million streams today) to sold-out European shows, we can't wait to see the heights this sensational singer-songwriter will reach with his much anticipated second album.
F Word delves into deep conversation with Jordan Mackampa on imposter syndrome and challenging male stereotypes before his new tour dates, EP and Fender collaboration are released.
Charlie Newman: You moved from The Democratic Republic Of Congo aged one with your Mum to England and have lived here ever since. Please can you give us a glimpse of what young Jordan was like.
Jordan Mackampa: I personally wouldn’t say I was a naughty child but my Mum might disagree! It wasn’t even the fact that I was naughty - I used to be one of the kids on a leash because I just used to run, I wanted to explore anything and everything. I think I expended a lot of that energy into music because it was the one thing that really, really clicked with me. I wasn’t the most academically gifted in school. I remember there was a report card I got in year 5 from school where I got B's in everything except music where I got an A*, and my Mum thought ‘There’s something there.’ Of course that was the one lesson I pay attention to! It’s kind of been peace and harmony, love and matrimony ever since, I’m very grateful.
C.N: What kind of music were you listening to growing up?
J.M: My Mum played a lot of soul, disco and Motown. I was very lucky to have older cousins and friends with older brothers and sisters who would let me listen to hip hop which I definitely was not allowed to listen to at home. I was obsessed with garage and grime, all those really explicit RnB’s videos on MTV base. When my Mum was in the kitchen I remember sneaking into the living room and going onto MTV base and The Box and just being obsessed with all these music videos thinking, ‘I would love to shoot a music video like this’, thinking I was some sort of rapper when I definitely wasn’t, I would never shoot a video like that but they were really cool. My Mum was very big on her gospel, her soul singers and divas, so there was a lot of Whitney, Aretha, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross. She obviously introduced me to acts like James Brown and Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder who’s always had a place in my heart ever since I was little.
C.N: At what point did you decide to start writing your own music?
J.M: I was roughly aged 12 or 13 when I picked up the guitar. I wanted to learn the guitar solo from Usher's ‘You Got It Bad’, that was the reason why I picked up the guitar. I’m left handed and I didn’t know you could get left handed guitars, so when I pulled the guitar out the box I automatically had to put it the other way round and I’ve played that way ever since. I feel like if I tried to pick up a left handed guitar now I wouldn’t know what to do.
C.N: That only proves you dedication and your drive for music. Post school you pursued this further studied music at the University of Northamptonshire. What was this experience like for you?
J.M: I was at a crossroads where I had to pick between going to culinary school or going to sixth form or college to study Performing Arts which would eventually lead me onto music. I chose music but for me, studying full time meant earning money—I was working in cafes and kitchens. Even though I chose to pursue music, there was still a love for cooking and all things creative which I found I could express in the kitchen when I wasn’t creating music. I was fortunate enough to have employers who were super understanding about the fact that music was always going to be my number one. As long as I gave enough notice and could find cover then I could go and do as many gigs as I wanted. As long as when I came back my focus and energy was in the kitchen then I was ok. I would do 60 hours a week in the kitchen and then go and do a gig on Sunday somewhere in London, come back on the last train home and then be in the kitchen by 5am cooking, baking, prepping. I loved it, I wouldn’t change that for the world.
In terms of studying music at university, it was a very different experience. I had a very linear opinion of what university was going to be like. Because I had seen it so much on TV, I expected it to be the whole American college campus thing, kind of a bit like Skins as well, I was like ‘Oh shit this is what I’m in for!’ It was kind of like that but not to a crazy extent. It taught me that rather than trying to constantly work with people that are ahead of you in terms of your field, look at who’s across from you. Instead of constantly looking up, look at who’s to your left and to your right and gather a network between your peers because they’re probably trying to do the same thing as you. So rather than you trying to step up on your own, you can all step up that ladder together and support each other and create a really strong network.
C.N: One persistent theme in all of your lyrics is your profound sense of compassion for others, sentience and empathy. Perhaps this ties in with your desire to surround yourself with a community instead of isolating yourself. When you’re writing, do you find that you need to be surrounded by others? Is there an environment you prefer when writing?
J.M: I’m someone who can write anywhere and everywhere really, I don’t need to be in one certain space at a certain time to write. If I know I’m in the mood to write, I always have a pen and pad close by just because I feel there’s something about seeing it written in front of you that makes it kind of concrete, and forces me to stick to what I’m writing. If I don’t like it I try again, but at least I can see my process, where I started and where it’s eventually going to end up. I know I’m a big picture person. I don't pay attention to many of the little details because I’m so concentrated on getting to what the end goal is going to look like and I know what that’s going to look like. I don’t concentrate on the difficulties of how to get there, my aim is just to get there, no matter what road I take. I have that same approach to writing. I will write random sentences, words and quotes that I’ve heard from people throughout the week, or month, or that I’ve just heard throughout my life and put them on paper and see where they can resonate in terms of what I’m playing on the piano or the guitar.
C.N: Have you ever gone back and read your lyrics you wrote as a child?
J.M: They were horrendous! My Mum has some old school VHS tapes of me thinking I was a rapper/poet/singer and they are god awful! Some of lyrics I used to write, who did I think I was? Every week on a Sunday I would host some sort of talent show and my Mum would get the VHS out. That was sort of where it started and then once I picked up a guitar I thought I should probably do something a bit more profound.
Jordan wears hat ARTIST'S OWN; scarf VINTAGE; hoodie LORENZ; trousers STYLIST'S OWN; shoes CLARKS ORIGINALS; jewellery JORDAN'S OWN
C.N: Indeed you’ve done just that. You’ve achieved so much in quite a relatively small amount of time on the big stage. Can you pick out any specific highlights from your career thus far?
J.M: The first time I ever reached a million streams which happened back in 2017, I remember exactly where I was actually. It was so funny because I was on my way to a cash converters to sell my guitar, and then I got an email from Charlie [Jordan’s manager] congratulating me on reaching a million streams. I remember looking at that email and the guitar and thinking ‘This makes no sense whatsoever.’ But that moment has always resonated with me because that was kind of the beginning stage to where I am now. That one song now has almost 36 million streams in just under four years, is insane. There was also a gig I played in Berlin back in 2019 which for me was one of my favourite gigs in Germany. The crowd were just on it from start to finish. It was a sold out show, they sang every word, the energy in the room was just electric and that for me was a highlight. The tour I just did in October after almost 20 months of not being able to play any gigs whatsoever, that was great.
There have been so many moments I’ve been lucky to have. I say luck but I know that I deserve them because I’ve worked hard for the things I’ve been given. But I guess I can say that I’m really fortunate to be in this position, to say that I’ve had so many opportunities come my way and have been able to say yes to all of them. It’s been wild, to be able to work with Levis and JCrew and hear my songs on TV shows that I’ve been watching for years and suddenly it’s me. When I first heard my song on the last Boots ad, I was like, I’ve just been in your store looking for face wash and now I’m in the adverts! 36 million streams still baffles me to this day, and the fact that more people discover me every single day I feel very humbled by. It makes me even more excited for what the second album is going to do and how even more people are going to be introduced to my sound.
C.N: You had a lot of different projects lined up for 2020 but the pandemic put a stop to them. How did you find this period of time?
J.M: I found lockdown and just the whole pandemic quite healing in a way because I had to do a lot of inner work with myself and figure out what it is that truly makes me happy outside of music. I started to address things that I’d ignored for a long time because I would say to myself, ‘Oh I’m busy, I can’t deal with that right now’. The pandemic was a time to address things going on in my personal life because everyone was home and everyone was longing for a connection, to see friends, family and partners. There was no better time than lockdown to reach out to people that you missed, or that you have drifted apart from and see if you can try and rebuild those connections again.
C.N: And on a creative level, how did you find the various lockdowns?
J.M: I didn’t realise how burnt out I was until I had a whole year off of music. As much as I missed performing live, I was very grateful to not have to do a Zoom session if I didn’t want to, and write as little or as much as I wanted to. If I wanted to spend three days in bed I could and not feel any guilt about that. I know it’s very common amongst musicians or just creatives in general to have this sense of imposter syndrome. I feel it on a very large scale, especially in this industry where I know I’m one of a handful of black male musicians who are doing this well in the kind of music I make. I still feel like I’m nowhere near where I want to be and that feeling of ‘Oh this person is doing this, why am I not doing this thing?’ is a tough voice to quiet in your head sometimes, but you have to realise that your journey isn’t the same as everybody else's. Last year made me realise that I really do have the choice to say yes or no because where I spend my time and my energy is far more important than any kind of exposure someone can give me, or monetary feed for my time and energy. If it’s not something that feels right from the word go, then it’s going to be a no, because I’ve spent far too much time, energy and hard work to get to where I am now to not be 100% satisfied with the quality of work I put out every single time.
C.N: You’re right, it would be so much easier if we could switch off the self doubt in our heads and solely focus on what makes us happy. Social media certainly doesn’t help that constant comparison you were talking about earlier. However, your social media is fun and feels likes a safe space for all. I actually have a couple of questions from your social! Firstly, can you beatbox?
J.M: Yes I’ve been beatboxing since I was a kid. In fact it was one of the things that I used to get told off for in school because I was always tapping on tables and beatboxing in class.
C.N: And secondly, you have such a strong sense of style. Where does this come from? Who or what inspires you?
J.M: My Mum has always been a very glamorous woman. She wouldn’t leave the house without some really nice earrings, her favourite necklace, some kind of beret and her favourite shawl on. I get a lot of my confidence in style from her. I’d say the inspiration for my style really has come from growing up in a working class home and thinking, one day I’m going to be able to buy the things I want to buy and wear exactly what I want to wear. Now I am and that’s a great feeling to know that if there is a really luxury piece that I want, I can go out and get it and not feel guilt towards it because I know that it’s something that I’ve earned, and more it’s something that I deserve because I’ve worked so much to be able to be in this position and enjoy it. I get a lot of inspiration from my Mums style but I also draw a lot of style inspiration from the people that I listen to and the people that are around me. Just life and day to day things, whatever I see I’m like 'Oh I’ll try that’. Recently I’ve been trying to dress more androgynously because presenting like a male all the time is really exhausting and there are days where I just want to wear a leopard print skirt and a T-shirt and not have any doubts about it. I just leave the house and feel fine.
C.N: You have so many exciting projects coming up including a collaboration with the Fender acoustasonic series out on the 7th of December. What do we have in store here?
J.M: In terms of the guitar stuff that came around with 5 days notice when I got a message from my friend Mikey who works for Fender as the showroom coordinator in charge of artist relations. Mikey reached out and said, ‘Hey Fender are doing this really cool thing where they’re launching a brand new telecaster and it’s a global campaign where you get to play a cover and play one of your originals, would you want to do it?’ And I was like ‘Yes of course!’ I had three days of practising on my own and then a day of rehearsal with my two backing singers Tahn and Layla, and then we went to film it the day after. We did it all in three takes and then we were done. What’s really nice is that the Fender team were very excited about the episode and interviews and that’s encouraging because I was super nervous to see the names of artists I was alongside and then there’s little old me who’s just come from Edmonton Green. Every time I go out on stage I still feel like no one knows who I am and I still have that urge that I have to impress you within the next three songs, that urge is never going to leave. I still feel like the underdog everywhere I play and every gig I do. You’ve given me the opportunity, this is what I’ve done with the opportunity. This is me proving to you that you were right to pick me in a way.
C.N: You’re always driving yourself forward and the music industry too. What makes your exclusive ‘Live From Studio2’ vinyl so special?
J.M: The vinyl is coming out for the Ep which we released in January that was recorded live at Abbey Road which was really cool. I’m not a massive Beatles fan, what I found most impressive is finding out that Stevie Wonder, Coldplay and Radiohead have gone to Abbey Road. I’m really happy with the quality of vinyl we’re going to release because they’re eco friendly—all the vinyls have been made from recycled pressed vinyls so they’re a limited run. The vinyl copy you have, no one else will have that exact design except for you. I’m really happy we went with that because I try and tour as eco friendly as I can. It’s tough in some places, especially at the level where I am, you know I don’t have the same budget as U2 for example, but I try and make things as sustainable as possible, especially with things like vinyl, packaging and merchandise, I will always aim for the more eco friendly option.
C.N: You’re the first ever artist I’ve interviewed who’s been conscious of their carbon footprint when on tour. Whilst travelling, do you have any rituals?
J.M: I am someone that is big on how you start the day is how you finish. So the minute that I’m awake I am already in, thinking where I need to be and what I need to do. From 7.30 until 9, I am only doing vocal warm ups, I’m not doing anything else other than making sure I’m getting my mind and body right for a show because I would hate to go out on stage and feel like I am underprepared because I’m about to give the show [the audience] have been waiting for, for just as long as I have. I need to do them justice just as much as myself. There’s a ritual in that sense and then once that’s done I’ll go to the merchandise station and say hi to fans, pack up, and then as soon as we’re done we’ll go back to the Airbnb or hotel. The first thing I do is light a candle, plug my phone in, take a shower and then eat and just decompress and rest. I was able to take candles, incense and my favourite scents with me that I spray on pillows which make me feel more at home. When you’re away from home for so long it really does a lot to ground you when you’re surrounded by home comforts.
C.N: Who are you listening to now and who would recommend to our readers?
J.M: Pip Millett, Tyler The Creator, Masego, I’m still listening to Big Thief their last album has a very big place in my heart. I’m listening to Flyte like nobodies business, I really love their latest album, I’m a big fan of those boys. Tahn Solo, his latest EP I think is incredible. A real eclectic mix. I’ve definitely been leaning towards more soul and RnB and alternative RnB. I always go back to home favourites like Bombay Bicycle Club, Nick Mulvey, Ben Howard because I find their sound really comforting and I’m familiar with their sound.
C.N: Lastly, what is your favourite F Word?
J.M: Can I pick a French word? Formidable - a word meaning amazing.
Purchase Jordan's Tour Tickets Here: www.jordanmackampa.com/tour Live from Studios 2 vinyl: https://www.musicglue.com/jordan-mackampa/browse/jordan-mackampa-vs/products/live-from-studio-2-signed-lp March 2022 Tour dates: 01 - Hebden Bridge - Trades Club 02 - Glasgow - Cottiers 04 - Brighton - Unitarian Church 05 - London - Queen Elizabeth Hall 06 - Bristol - The Louisiana 08 - Dublin - The Sugar Club