Ian Kamau is a Toronto based artist performing in Montreal for the Suoni per il Popolo festival at a concert organized by Howl!. Kamau is a key underground hip-hop artist creating today in Canada. This interview focuses on Kamau’s approach and specifically on the Traffic, a soul track from his debut album One Day Soon.
Stefan Christoff: There are many different influences, like jazz, hip-hop, electronica and soul in your sound, can reflect on your sound and how you create your music?
Ian Kamau: I listen to all different kinds music and now increasingly we are living in a genreless era.
I am listening to so many different things, from Jay Electronica, to Bob Dylan, to John Coltrane and Philip Glass. Recently my creative process has become detached from any specific genre, I just work on what I feel is right.
Your music has a reflective quality, the lyrics talk about city life, can you talk about efforts you make to reflect in a universal way?
I am naturally introverted, not a party person, I love being at home, I love taking long walks.
Recently I have been trying to be very honest in my music, so if I am approaching a subject I want to approach it as honestly as possible. So the music becomes more reflective because as you tell the story, your both projecting your public and private thoughts.
In trying to make the music as honest as possible, you have to confront yourself and ask questions about how you are really feeling, the complexities and contradictions. I am not trying to project a specific feeling, you can have the desire for love, you have have the desire for lust or sex. I can be really into the spiritual quest that John Coltrane was on, while also appreciate the type of freedom that Kanye West exemplifies and also all the kind of shit that comes with that.
There is a track on your album One Day Soon, called Traffic, could describe that piece and what you are trying to say?
Traffic was ones of those things that includes real life experiences, as well as reflections on the state of the world more generally sense.
So literally I had the experience of two friends, who both were drivers and who both experienced great amounts of road rage on the streets. I worked with one of those friends, so we were together in the car all the time and I would keep saying slow down, we will get there, no need to rush.
But behind the wheel this other person emerged, so different from the more reflective, spiritual person that was my friend most of the time.
In Traffic I wanted to describe that feeling and that experience of being in a traffic jam and to also point out traffic has created in our minds, in our souls, and how that has impacted the environment.
In this world we’ve been separated from our spirits, from our minds, and swept up in this constant traffic. Things that are more calming to us, nature, water, sunshine, are often sacrificed for our lifestyles.
In Traffic I tried to question that reality, that dilemma. Traffic was about asking if we as a society really need to be going so fast, the piece questions if the way that we are moving is actually getting us anywhere in the long term. Is our way of life sustainable?