It’s a crisp October afternoon and I’m pumped to catch up with Ghana’s finest Kwesi Arthur. EarPods are fully charged, lighting is set and the wifi connection is strong! I’ve met the singer, rapper, songwriter and producer a few times before but never virtually, so I’m hoping the we’ll still pass the vibe check. Something must be in the air because we both apologise in advance for the sniffles that are about to ensue, and in a moment of jinks, we simultaneously clear our lungs in synch. Bonding already!
I’m eager to unpick Kwesi’s rags to riches story. The snippets I’ve heard are so endearing, it gives his lyrics more meaning. Not many people can say they lived in their mum’s hair salon before being made homeless because the government evicted them; and that’s just the hem on a garment woven with adversity, perseverance and triumph. With that all being said, let’s delve headfirst into the world of Kwesi Arthur!
Gracey Mae: Hi Kwesi Arthur. Welcome to F Word. How are you?
Kwesi Arthur: Hi Gracey. I'm doing good.
GM: Congratulations on your London headline show at XOYO. It was an absolute shut down. Talk us through that night.
KA: It was an amazing night. The turnout was crazy. I had a two hour set… the people sang everything word for word. I put Miss Banks on stage. S1mba pulled up, Ramz who made ‘Barking’ came too. [I sampled that track] for one of my biggest songs ‘Anthem’, and we did it together. I had an absolutely amazing time.
Kwesi wears Jacket LACOSTE; trousers AXEL ARIGATO; shoes CLARKS
GM: I love that. You performed a few songs from your last project, ‘Son of Jacob’. Before we get into the songs, let’s breakdown the inspiration behind the artwork.
KA: Jacob is the father of Israel and in certain cultures and tribes in Africa, we have oral traditions and practices that link us to the Jews in the Bible. If you're familiar with the Bible, or Abrahamic religions, you might come across Jacob, who had a son, Joseph. On the cover, you see me wearing these colourful pants which connects it to Joseph's coat of many colours. There's this lotto game in the back which depicts the decisions we take in life; people take the lotto with the intentions of winning, and sometimes they get the wins, sometimes they don't. That's how I feel like life is, sometimes you take a decision and it might end up not being what you thought it will be like, you might end up winning or you might end up learning or losing. You feel me? There’s fire in the back as well, with people dancing in front of it. To me that symbolises even in all the chaos, we'll still find happiness in it, we'll still find joy and be whoever you want to be. With the birds flying high we can do it all.
Kwesi wears jacket & trousers AAPE; top HIGH BOSS; shoes CLARKS; socks CARHARTT
GM: You've given us mixtapes and EPs before but ‘Son of Jacob’ is your debut album. Why was it important to give us this body of work now?
KA: I felt like it was time to delve deeper into myself and show people an aspect of me that they haven't really seen before. On ‘Son of Jacob’, I just decided to tell more of our story, what we go through, what we represent, what we do as people and who Kwesi Arthur is. If you listen to the album, you realise the range is wide. On certain songs, you hear me be introspective, on certain songs, I talk about pain – like on ‘Silver Spoon’, I talk about losing my grandma where I express myself through melody and poetry. On a song like ‘Baajo’, I just go out singing about a girl calling her to come so we can dance. On a song like ‘No Regrets’ I tapped into my rap bag. I rap about what's going on in my community, talking about this friend of mine, who is a preacher, but is switching from preaching to go do online fraud because he just got a girl pregnant. He's not really making it financially so he doesn't have any way of making financial income. These are things happening in our communities. On ‘Traumatized’ I talk about this girl being defiled in her home and telling adults in her home about it, but they don't really listen to her or pay attention - they just shut it down. These are real things that are happening in our community so I felt like on ‘Son of Jacob’ I had to shed light on all of this and show who we are: our struggles, joy, pain, everything.
GM: Circling back to ‘Silver Spoon’, tell us about your relationship with your grandma?
KA: My grandma, may her soul rest in perfect peace, she was born in the outskirts of Accra. Growing up, she had a really difficult upbringing. At that time, you know, females weren't really allowed to go to school but she wanted to learn and it was a turned into an issue between her, her mom and step father. They didn't really want her to go to school because they wanted her to trade. We did a whole recording where she spoke about all this. She traded and went to school, and convinced one of her siblings to go to school with her as well, because they would only let her go aline. While she was young, she decided to fight for a better life for her children and not make her children go through the same circumstances she grew up in. When she was old enough, she moved out of where she grew up to Tema, to find a better life for herself and her kids. She held the whole family together. She was a really strong woman. She took us in when things weren't really like going on well for us. At the time, we were staying in my mom's hair salon. The government was changing the whole area so we were chucked out of the place where the salon was and we had to move out there to find a place to stay, and my grandma took us in. Times where we didn't have money to go to school, we would go to her and she would give us [money to do so]. Growing up, I saw people do some weird stuff to her, come back later and she still forgives them; treats them like nothing ever happened. You know, she taught me a lot lessons so may her soul rest in perfect peace.
Kwesi wears shirt KING & TUCKFIELD; trousers ASOS; tank TOPMAN; shoes AXEL ARIGATO
GM: She sounds like an amazing woman. You mentioned that it was really important to showcase, who you are with ‘Son of Jacob’ so my question to you is, who are you?
KA: I'm a complex human being. I'm a man who was born in Tema, with the vision of creating a platform that helps me bring like positive change to myself and the people around me. I bring all my visions to life. I'm still learning about who I am as the days goes by. Feel me?
GM: With this project, I feel like a lot of people really woke up to the fact that you're not just a rapper, but you really have some pipes Mr Singer. Was this a newly discovered talent or were you hiding it from us?
KA: I feel like most people thought I was a rapper to begin with but I've always seen myself as an artist, you know? When I decided to follow music heavily, I started with rap. I would say even before that, I was singing. I was in a school choir. At one point, I was helping my uncle [by] singing in his church. Sometimes I played the keys though I didn't really know how to play. So singing has always been a part of it. At one point I was recording [for] people for money, I was producing for people, before people started knowing me. There were certain points in my career, I was doing covers of other people's songs and that's how the buzz started building. So I see myself as an artist and a creative. I just love to create and I don't like being put in a box. I just like to take it to different levels and any bag I want to enter you.
GM: Who wants to be predictable right? Nobody. As this all-rounder, what else are you involved in that we don’t know?
KA: Well for now it’s mostly a music; working with other artists, helping assist them to bring their visions to life. That's something I want to shed light on. Making clothes Mm hmm. For now, it's mostly music. Writing, producing…
GM: You’re a ghost writer?
KA: I be no ghost writer. I dey live. I’m a living writer [laughs] I produce, I rap, I sing, I executive produce, I creative direct, all that…
GM: Don’t think I’m going to skip passed you saying you’re moving into fashion. What’s that all about?
KA: I’m just designing clothes… designing a couple tees and stuff. My grandmother was a tailor. She was a designer herself, and I used to help her do all that. So as time goes on, I will tap deeply into that but for now, we're just doing merch with creative companies and doing modelling for them sometimes.
KA: My perspective keeps growing. I keep learning. As you get older, you start understanding certain things. I feel like right now, I'm more concerned about making music with like intentions and spreading a positive message… just serving others through my music. Right now, I create from that standpoint.
GM: A lot of people put emphasis on streaming counts and follower counts. How do you measure your success?
KA: I won't say the numbers don't matter to me, because sometimes it does. Seeing your songs, seeing the views and seeing the people who listen to it, gives you a certain feeling. It lets you know, your work is being recognised and that makes me feel nice. That makes me feel “Oh, I'm doing something right”. “People are actually paying attention to what I'm doing”. What I'm most grateful for in this music journey is, when I meet people, and they tell me about how much the music has influenced them and guided them through some hard times, or when they talk about how it's expressed something they've been really wanting to express but not known how to, or they felt alone and then hearing [my music] made them feel [like] “Oh, chale! It's not just me”. “Someone understands my pain”. Doing the show at XOYO, performing and hearing the people sing, looking at their faces you could tell - oh, chale - this means so much to them because they were singing with passion. Those are priceless moments. Those moments are priceless moments to me. I feel rewarded in those moments.
GM: It's real life; music is the soundtrack to what we go through. What would you say has been the most therapeutic song for you to write, record and release?
GM: “Nirvana” has a sick music video. When bringing a song to life, is it easy to find directors that see your vision, is it more of a collaboration, do you instruct them on what you like or do you give them complete creative freedom?
KA: So far, it's been more collaborative; we go back and forth on ideas. I feel like going into our next projects, we'll be more intentional with the messages we put out. Shout out to all the director we work with. Most of these people, they come from where we come from, as well so they understand what we go through and it's easy for them to connect and tell the story through videos.
GM: You’re right. Not everyone will be able to understand living in a salon or having to do yahoo just to make ends meet because you've gotten someone pregnant. It's not that we are cosigning any actions, it’s just survival mode sometimes creates opportunity where you have to do what you have to do.
Kwesi wears top + trousers AXEL ARIGATO; shoes G.H BASS; necklace PIECES
GM: What are your goals for the rest of 2023?
KA: I'm dropping more music, sharing my perspective on things more, building my businesses, bringing the family together, pushing the family, helping my people get on.
GM: It's sweeter when we win together. What's the last thing you'd like to leave us with before we wrap up?
KA: Thank you to everyone who's been supporting us. I pray whatever you're doing, that you’ll grow in it. I pray it goes on well for you. I pray goes great for you. Thank you so much. Keep supporting us. You can find me on all your socials. Keep listening to music. Keep supporting African music. Love, love, love, love. Bless up. Thank you.
GM: Kwesi Arthur, thank you so much for being on F Word. With all of that love and all of that gratitude, there's only one more thing for me to ask. What is your favourite F word?