Some people have a natural way for words, and Obaro Ejimiwe is certainly one of them. Having developed an enviable reputation as a lyricist thanks to three exquisite albums under his Ghostpoet alias, the London born and raised musician has been imparting working man’s philosophy since breaking through with the outstanding 2011 debut album Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, earning underground attention with his soulful and relatable musings, stripped down rhythms and poignant melodies. With two Mercury Prize nominations and plenty of other plaudits under his belt, Ghostpoet has made a decorated journey from humble beginnings, making the transition from making tunes in his bedroom in his downtime from working two jobs, to making the jump into full-time musicianship, somehow managing the feat with impressive humility and both feet planted firmly on the ground.
Ahead of an approaching UK tour that will see him stopping off at The Plug in Sheffield, The Marble Factory in Bristol and O2 Academy Oxford among other high profile venues, Obaro found time to talk to us about literary inspiration, the importance of recognition and why his new live set is the best it’s ever been.
“I wouldn’t say it’s overly political”, Obaro explains of new track ‘Immigrant Boogie’. “It’s a continuation of what I’ve been doing from the beginning, which is… social commentary really, trying to capture moments in time.”
For Ghostpoet, the goal of writing is simple: to express what’s on his mind: “I guess this song is a more concentrated effort than previous songs. It felt like the right thing to write at the right time. It felt like the thing to do, the right way to go on this particular song, and I just went with it.”
Perhaps though, he reflects, billing it as ‘social commentary’ is a little disingenuous. “I say social commentary, and it is that, but it’s also exploration in emotion; almost like a continuation from record to record of the question of what it is to be human and every aspect of that - be it in love, hate, lust…” He grapples with the idea, carefully choosing his words like a scholar forming his thesis. “I’m trying to work out my place in the world as a human and what’s happening… what is the human experience… and that’s what I’m trying to do with my music.”
Whilst communicating his own thoughts is the ultimate goal, that does not mean that Obaro is unambitious, nor oblivious of the world beyond his own gaze; “Immigrant Boogie” is itself a good example of this, with Ghostpoet’s everyday drawl applied to a story more distant from day to day British life.
“I can’t remember who it was, maybe Nina Simone, who said “the job of an artist is to reflect the times”, and I believe that’s the case. I feel personally that I want to reflect the times and keep my music very much in the realm of reality; I don’t feel pressure to be a role model or be intelligent or only put out music which is a message, or a call to arms or a political stance or whatever. I make music which I feel is wholesome and has something to say without it alienating anybody in particular. I think that’s important to me.”
Recognition, he admits, is also important, as he found when his first and third albums earned Mercury Prize nominations. “I wouldn’t release music professionally if it wasn’t; it’d be a lie to say that it’s not important. It is but it’s very much in the realms of wanting as many people as possible to be exposed to my music, and that’s it”, he elaborates, insisting that a lack of nominations for second album Shedding Skin “doesn’t make me any less proud” of his work. “It’s not a sense of recognition in terms of awards or plaudits, it’s just that I feel I have something to say and I want people to hear it, because that’s all I ever really feel when I’ve made a record - not during but definitely afterwards.
“It’s really nice to be nominated by your peers but I personally cannot make music with that in mind, as it instantly puts parameters or puts you down a path that isn’t a natural one. It’s being led by other opinions except for your own. I know that’s not something I can work with.”
Determined to progress at his own pace, Obaro has enjoyed the natural development of his live sound, seeming excited for the tour ahead after a little while out of the game. “I never performed solo - I’ve always had a band, it was just a much more stripped down affair; partly down to finances, partly down to experiences and being at the beginning of a journey and working out what’s the best way to put the music across in a live element. So I have just developed the live sound, and then on record I’ve just gone down a direction that feels natural to me really.
“I’ve had a guitar and I’ve played drums from the beginning, it’s just that I didn’t have access - partly because I’m not a classically trained musician. I’ve never had access to live instruments or musicians and it’s over the course of my career that I’ve been able to meet characters and amass musicians and do the music that I really want to do. Now I think the live show is at a really good place; musically I feel that naturally this is the way I’m supposed to be.”
Ghostpoet plays in Sheffield on Sunday 29th October, moving onto O2 Academy Oxford on Friday 3rd November before heading to Bristol on Tuesday 14th November.
Photo courtesy of Primary Talent