Akala is marking 10 years in the music industry, we caught with what his genre of music needs, and what the social conscience is well aware of, and why Akala; the rapper, the poet, the author and the social provocateur, after ten years in the industry remains as relevant, and revered for his talent as ever, in those ten years year in, year out. Mobo award-winning hip-hop artist and founder of the Hip-hop Shakespeare Company, Akala is on a mission to correct a few misconceptions, about lyrical content reflecting a social conscience, and tenacity and style unrivalled in the UK Hip-Hiop domain, and we celebrate him, and we salute him, with both hands.
Ten years of Akala, just how poignant an achievement is that for you?
To be an independent artist, and lasted ten years, six albums all self-released is for me a big achievement, more so to have done things my way, and to say the things that I wanted to say and to keep the integrity but also; grow, to reach more people, to do slightly bigger tours year upon year, needless to say I feel very proud of the last decade.
When you first started out, did envisage the longevity that you’ve had in the music business?
That was the aim, we kinda’ stated but that was never guaranteed, but that was the aim from the very beginning, to have a long-term vision, and it wasn’t easy starting out, with anything you have to work at it, there were times when we wanted to give up or felt that I’ve had enough, but in the end, with anything that’s worth doing is worth working hard at, and it’s never easy.
What keeps you focused, what kept you motivated?
The conviction is that I love this art, and it’s something I really want to do, and I felt I had something that needed to be said, just determination I guess.
Has your music changed in the last ten years?
My music has changed a lot, I mean, when I first came out my music was a lot more; quote-on-quote “road”, a lot more rough around the edges, a lot more aggressive, and I think as you grow, and as you travel and as you see more, and you listen to more music and you go to different shows, the more you do that the more you become a different person in many ways, and that’s reflective in your music.
What exactly is being reflected in your music?
I wouldn’t say I’m not those things anymore, what I would say my way of articulating myself, both musically and lyrically is more clear, the kind of things I would say are slightly different, my life experiences and such, what it is, is I try to express my life experiences in the music, so if you take the example that my life experiences up to nineteen are different from what they are now, and to reflect that evolution in my music.
You have ‘Doublethink, Knowledge Is Power, and beyond’, you have ‘The Thieves Banquet’, ‘Ruins of Empires’, ‘Behind Painted Smile’, ‘Final Enemy’, these are tiles of work attributed to yourself, what is it about your music that not only the title, but also the content of the lyrics that you are trying to convey?
A lot of thoughts goes into song titles, artwork, album titles, and hopefully that comes across in the quality of what we put out, there’s definitely an effort to make sure there’s meaning and thought behind what we’re doing, for example; ‘Ruins of the Empire’ is a book, ‘The Thieves Banquet’, my fifth album was also inspired by a book, generally speaking there’s a lot of thought that goes into what we’re trying to get across, and when I say ‘we’, I’m referring to management and of course The Hip-hop Shakespeare Company. For example when you look at The Thieves Banquet, which was my own version of a book that was originally written by a French scholar in the late 1700’s,originally I wrote it as a long poem, and then I decided it was going to be a graphic novel, in the end, it's a process of evolution for me.
Just how important is the music for you, and why?
Music is central to what I do, even though I do loads of other things music was the first love, I love rapping, the art of lyricism the art of writing; that’s the first love, and your first love will always be special, no matter how many loves you have after that because the first one is the first one.
What transformed Kingslee James Daley into Akala, what’s the significance behind the name?
I’ve discovered a range of different meanings since, originally I had an MC name and the name was MC Metric, and I was called Venom for a while, some dead MC names, some ‘bait’ MC names when I was at school, and I realised I want to take this seriously and I wanted a proper name, so I found the word Akala, and it was actually A, then c….ala which I didn’t like, so I changed the ‘C’ to a ‘K’ partly because my name is Kingslee, then I found out it meant immovable, something which can’t be moved, i.e. it sticks to its principles, then I found out different meanings, in Sanskrit it means ‘eternal’, in Filipino it means ‘I thought’, according to one of the Aboriginal languages it means….ummmhh parrot or kangaroo, I can’t actually remember which, according to Arabic it means ‘to eat’, it has so many different meanings which I think resonate with me, and meaning immovable, and sticking to principles was why I chose the name, it’s just that I found out the other meanings later on down the road in terms of along the progression of my career.
For you, what skills and personal attributes are important with regards to the business that you are in?
First of all I think we live in a world that is unequal, some people have a natural head start over others, whether they’re born into money, or the right community, or culture, or even gender, they’re loads of natural advantages that people are born with, or into, predominantly inherited wealth, so I don’t believe that if you just do the right things you’ll be successful, I don’t believe it’s that simple, I believe there are habits that you can develop that will give you the best chance, I think reliability, I think if you’re not a depressing person to be around, being able to inspire people, being able to motivate people to work hard, good attitude, all of these different things will help contribute to where you will end up.
What have you found, in terms of negative aspects or positive aspects that an artist might incur with regards to your time in the music business?
Humans are the way they are, there are some people who don’t like you just because you like yourself, so when you’re comfortable in your own skin, and you like who you are, naturally lots of people who feel that way are put off by that, so you’ll always get bad minded people, you’ll always get people who don’t want you to succeed, or do well, but at the same time, for me the love will always outweigh the hate in general, and I think that the word ‘hater’ is overused, like in Rap music that word has been used to silence any critique, or criticisms of rappers just because they make money, slave masters made money, and so what, making money doesn’t prove anything, if you’re not serving your community, if you’re not adding something positive to the world people have the right to criticise you.
Fundamentally what is the message of your music?
Self-knowledge and self-awareness, study really, being a student of the world, a student of the world and ebvrything that happens with it.
So what, if any, is the end game in terms of Akala’s career?
I don’t think there’s a particular end game, I just want to continue creating art that I like, that other people like, to keep learning, to keep teaching, to keep inspiring people keep working away, I feel very happy with the last ten years, and I’d like to do another ten.