It’s one thing to listen to Kwabs, it’s another entirely to see him play live. At a show at London’s Wilton Music Hall last year, the 23 year-old hushed a record industry heavy room with a performance full of pathos, passion and melancholia.
“I want people to engage when they see me perform,” says Kwabena 'Kwabs' Adjepong, whose name means ‘boy born on Tuesday’ in Ghanaian. “If people don’t leave my show wondering what just happened to them, even if they don’t know what it is exactly, then I haven’t done my job. It’s all about affecting people.” Currently writing with the likes of Plan B and Dave Okumu (Jessie Ware), it was thanks to his 2012 cover of James Blake’s Wilhelm Scream that Atlantic signed 23-year-old, Bermondsey boy Kwabs. “I’m trying to make authentic, classic songs but with a forward looking sound, which is why I’m working with people like SOHN and Dave Akumru, whose productions and aesthetics are really forward looking but they have real, proper songwriting chops. I want to balance those two things. The sound really comes from a soul and gospel place and the vocal is of that world, but it just has a bit of a twist on it.”
I make music that connects with people. Well, that’s the idea.
How did you meet Plan B?
I first connected with Ben when he heard some of my music early on in 2011, and he subsequently asked me to support him on his Forestry tour, that year. We did some writing together and he’s really championed me ever since, which I’m hugely grateful for.
Who are some of your influences?
Donny Hathaway, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald. I’m a guy trying to champion a baritone voice in this industry, so I also appreciate people like Frank Ocean who represent that forward looking sound but that have a sound and a look about them that feels like true artistry.
Which song sums you up best?
I reckon the best representation is Wrong Or Right, which just came out. It’s different from everything else I’ve done. It draws massively from the 90s R&B I liked growing up. It’s a bit more… peppy. Lyrically, it’s still quite dark but the sentiment of the chorus is about a refuge; if you need help, I’m here. I write a lot about situations that come out of experiences that I think aren’t ones that everyone has had. They’re usually quite deep sentiments.
Are you any good?
I think I’m good but I don’t think I’m the best. If I thought I’d be the best then there would be no room to improve.
What’s the most shocking thing you’ve seen or done?
I’m not easily shocked but I had my eyes opened when I did the Plan B tour and I noticed that a lot of the female punters in the crowd liked to get their… front bits out. That was… different.
What are your ambitions?
I’d like to have influence. I’d like to think that if I talk about certain things that are important to me, then I might be able to make an impact. If you’re going to put yourself out there, what you stand for has to be connectable, clear and you have a responsibility really. There are a lot of things that I care about that I’d like to have a hand in changing, or making better. Things like mental health and the foster care system. They matter to me. I’m from the care system. I’d need to talk to young people in the system currently to gauge their feelings, but my own experience was very positive. Ultimately, being taken out of a situation as a young teenager that wasn’t so good for me and being put into a situation where people had their eye on my success benefitted me. I was nurtured. It was the best thing that could have happened.
Kwabs plays Village Underground on 10th April with Pray For Love due to drop 6 May.