As Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff discovers, Young Fathers, an alternative hip-hop trio from Edinburgh, are not only recreating genres, but also what it means to be a performer.
Young Fathers is more than just a band name. It’s a name that belies their cause; of family, prejudice, and most obviously, controversy. Their sound is controversial because it is different. A Liberian, Nigerian, but ultimately Scottish fusion of words, moans and heart wrenching melodies.
The three band members, Graham ‘G’ Hastings, Alloysious ‘Ally’ Massaquoi and Kayus Bankole are all juniors, named after their fathers. And the importance of family resonates through their work. In their song ‘Sister’, the chant ‘Don’t let your sister go’ is emotionally charged and sincere. When probed on the subject, Ally says; ‘It means a lot if you’ve got family that loves you and looks out for you, but if you’ve not, then it’s not gonna mean much, is it?’
Although they all claim that their families are not particularly musical, they were brought up surrounded by music. Kayus describes how, when he was younger, his mum ‘made up a song to wake me up in the morning, and a song to get me to dance.’
Recently signed to Big Dada records, who also have the likes of grime MC Wiley and Roots Manuva on their books, 2014 looks set to be the year Young Fathers break through. They released their debut album, Dead, at the beginning of February, a follow up from two EPs ‘Tape One’ and ‘Tape Two’ released through their current record label, Anticon, in 2013. ‘Do you want to make it to the big time?’ I ask them, and surprisingly unabashed, the answer from G is simply; ‘Yeah, big time, that’s what we want. That’s what we’ve always wanted.’
But it is not desperation for fame or arrogance that causes them to have this mindset; it is simply dedication. Just 14, the boys first met in an underage ‘sweaty club’, filled with ‘girls in mini skirts’ and pumping hip-hop music. G describes how he invited the boys back to his house to record ‘in ma bedroom’. It has been a bumpy ride since then, but they have persevered. Originally signed to Black Sugar Records at the tender age of sixteen, they eventually came under the management of Tim London, formerly of fleetingly famous 90’s band, Soho.
Young Fathers have a beautifully constructed image of darkness that fits well with their alternative African inspired, rap and hip-hop music (not that these preconceived genres can even begin describe them).
The liveliest band I have ever seen perform, some online blogs have claimed that they look like they could be on speed – although this is not the case. It makes sense to hear that Kayus was encouraged to dance when he was a young boy, and that the trio met originally through their dance moves rather than their voices. ‘There was a space in the middle of the dance floor and everybody would go in and do their bit,’ G explains, ‘we never actually spoke, just shook hands.’ Onstage nowadays, they use their bodies simultaneously and separately: Kayus whips around a furry tail, G pushes his face out enigmatically into the audience, and Ally body-pops his way though their set.
Young Fathers only tip for aspiring artists is not to confine themselves to any particular type of musical training. ‘There’s no recipe,’ G says, ‘and it might be more interesting if you just pick it up.’ Although this might be bad news for our music students, there is no denying that a more traditional route into the industry could have hampered the Young Fathers’ originality of sound. The most often picked-up lyric by journalists is ‘white boy beat, black boy rhythm’, from their song ‘Rumbling’, but even this does not define them. At the moment Ally’s favourite lyric is ‘She’s sitting on my face, but I forgot tae say grace’, and they make clear that unconventionality is their forté.
Ultimately, it is not easy to put Young Fathers’ music into words, as their sound is so fresh and unqiue. My advice is to pick up your headphones, check out their Souncloud (soundcloud.com/youngfathers) and attempt to wangle your way into one of the gigs on their current tour. Young Fathers are definitely a band to be watched.