Champion of the Afro Latin Genre talks passionately about his music, UK Drill and Bradrill in South America and what it’s like being a ‘Minority within a minority’.
Calling from his home in London, Anansi is laid back and open about his loves and passions. He laughs while speaking and is full of life and passion. He is simply dressed is a white shirt and jumps around out of frame when he talks. Anansi is a passionate man and through his music and his work this is clear.
Anansi is a man with heritage that stems from the UK, Guyana and Suriname and Brazil, he raps in both English, Spanish and Portuguese. ‘I’ll be honest. It’s actually not as hard as people make out, I mean, this should probably be where I make it sound more intricate than it is, but the Latin language in general, I think enables easier song writing.’ His album, Futuro, is a mix of languages and talks of the Latin cadence ‘It kind of bounces as you talk’.
He looks pensive as he continues ‘if I was better in terms of understanding the language to a more complete level it would be even easier because it’s the poetry of some of the words, it’s just so nice. Even the cadence within the ways things are expressed, I think sometimes with English it can be quite abrupt.’
Anansi is a truly international musician making music from a very specific diaspora ‘I think I’ve always been what I would consider myself a minority within a minority. First of all being Black, being South American, being Latino, then also not just being from Brazil, but also being from Guyana, Suriname which are like the two countries that don’t speak Spanish or Portuguese in South America.’
‘So it’s like you’re kind of Caribbean, but you’re not Caribbean, you’re Black, but you’re not African. So even when you are in Latin circles, which was more how I was raised, the stuff that I was doing when I was younger you are still the minority in that.’
Anansi is an advocate and pioneer of a genre called Afro Latin alongside his collective the Leng Section. Afro Latin is a blend of music from the Afro diaspora including Afrobeats and drill, as well as music from the Latin diaspora. ‘When I was younger, Sérgio Mendes, had an album called Timeless. And even though I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t call it Afro Latino in the same way I do, This was the first idea I had this idea to create this genre; after hearing this album. This has now been done by a few people in my team in Leng section, my cousin Jafro my missus, Mango La Mambo, DD, there are a few artists out there doing this style of music.’
It’s a specific and very personal style of music that he is cultivating. ‘So everything that comes through to Afro music, could be your jazz hip hop, rap and Latin music. For us, who’ve been born in Europe and lived in Europe and had family and friends and cousins in Europe. We’ve also grown up with Latin music and we’ve grown up with Afro music.’
‘I grew up in London, but I’m also Latin so I’m gonna put my fusion together. I’m not copying someone over there. This is quite similar to Pop Smokes in a sense, because I believe he’s from Panama and Jamaica. You could just hear it in his swagger, in his voice and that was a big inspiration for me as well.’
He’s taken his music further afield than just the UK, taking it to South America and talking of the music that comes out of modern Brazil ‘I think I’ve understood a lot more of how much Afrobeats has really influenced the culture. I would say Afro beats is huge out there, you know?’
‘But there’s a huge movement right now of like Afro beats and Afro culture. And to be fair, I believe Brazil has the second, no, the first, most Nigerians outside of Nigeria, I could be wrong but I think that’s right.’
Latin America is a huge music market, a report from February 2020 shows that between 2018-2019 Spotify’s third largest market, accounting for 22% of all of Spotify’s music streams in the world behind Europe and North America. For context, the rest of the world, takes up 16%.
When speaking to Anansi, the feeling I get about him and performing in Brazil is that it conveys this great sense of authenticity. Brazil has also picked up its own version of drill called Bradrill. ‘Brazil’s one of the only places where you’re gonna be singing that music and the fans, they get it. The crowd get it. No one’s living vicariously through anyone.’
‘What kind of makes me laugh is, I’m not saying that London doesn’t have its issues and problems. There are people that I’m sure are the most gangster people that you, could meet from Chicago or from London or whatever. But there’s Brazil, you know?’
‘So when you are singing all these drill songs, and you’re saying this, and you’re saying that, if you look through my lyrics and some of the stuff I say and the associations I’ve had, I’m talking about it from there. And it’s not like, this is the story that happened once, like 10 years ago and I’m holding onto it for the whole of my life. That’s a Monday to these guys.’
We got onto discussing his own work whilst Anansi doesn’t like opening up about his own work. ‘And again you’re making me break my rules. So you’re gonna be the only one I do this for. So you gotta now follow me through my career cause I can’t be doing this again!’ he laughs as he says this.
His own music as he explains comes from a place of obfuscating the truth, with each of his songs always having another layer of hidden meaning. ‘So if you actually listen to My Soul Cries, it’s kind of a gang song. If you actually listen to the chorus of it, my point was that if I do this song with some piano and it’s sad, everyone’s gonna be like, wow, you really opened up on that.’
‘If I do it with a bounce, then suddenly it’s not emotional and so I think it’s always worth giving my songs a second listen and try and listen to it without the mood and see where it is because I think that exemplifies the Latin struggle.’
‘Even capoeira, capoeira is a crazy dance that is considered really cool and flashy. It really came from the slaves having to hide the style of African combat that they had in a dance. So that slave owners wouldn’t know. The whole struggle as an Afro Latin person and a lot of what we had, there’s the smiles, there’s the football, there’s the skills, but behind it, there’s this crazy pain that no one really kind of knows about.’
‘And that was what I tried to exemplify from my music. So instead of explaining it, what I will say is always try to listen to my songs, but turn off the mood that you think I’m giving you. Almost see me as a footballer, like Neymar that’s me playing football, doing loads of skills and then listen to it again without the flashiness and the football skills, without the vuvuzelas and see what you hear.’
On the subject of his moniker of Anansi was because ‘Anansi for me is like Spiderman. Spiderman is not a very cool name so I went with Anansi, sorry spiderman’. He admits that this is ‘cause I’m a huge comic geek.’ After I mention that hearing Blastiose part way through a song surprised me he casually mentions that he has an ‘anime song coming’.
For him though the Spiderman he holds in highest regards is Miles Morales. ‘So going back to Spiderman, Miles Morales is the first Black Latin, for my knowledge, person that I’ve seen on the big screen’.
‘Like even like when Encanto came out my sister called me straight away and said you better have watched this. You better have watched this 10 times. When we were kids we were begging and hoping that something like this would come and, we know how much it would’ve meant to us.’
Anansi is also looking to the future, is ready to go, ‘We’ve got stuff for days for example Mango la Mambo, she’s got about 40 instrumentals and beats just sitting there on her SoundCloud, privately, just ready to go.’
‘The fans are not gonna hear this stuff unless people and magazines like yourself, journalists like yourself people in radio, people that have that reach listen and support.’ Anansi seems to always have something going on, his music is seeping in passion for every aspect in its construction’
‘And for us Leng section is for the Afro culture. I know what it was like being a young kid and I know how it has felt to not have anyone. I know what it felt like to pick up that comic and see Miles Morales and be like, yo, this guy, I do care.’
‘It means a lot for us to build that scene or build something that’s just, it’s not even us, it’s out, it’s Afro Latin, a complete fusion of the Afro music diaspora and Latin music diaspora coming together. What we’d be hearing in our houses. And I think you guys are gonna like it too.’
Anansi’s new single My Soul Cries Is out on Spotify alongside his album Futuro.
WORDS: Peter Wellman.