In crafting a complex, political and essential record in 'Honest Labour', Space Afrika are thoroughly deserving winners of our Album Of 2021 award. Kelsey caught up with the Manchester & Berlin based duo of Joshua Inyang and Joshua Reid for a very special interview about the making of 'Honest Labour'.
Kelsey: 'Honest Labour' has an overall sense of melancholy to it that is tempered by glimpses of hope and a kind of spiritual self-love. The closer and title track leaves you in a different place emotionally with every listen. How would you describe the emotional geography of this album?
Space Afrika: A rummage through an individual's internalised emotional experience. The response and remnants following an act of decompression. The album's emotional geography is scaled by the highs and lows of being human. Meditations on self-care and the feelings that come with realisation. Finding solace in letting go and indirectly voicing what has otherwise been compressed.
K.K: The album is layered with field recordings and spoken word passages. Did you have a clear narrative in mind when beginning this project or did these elements come together organically?
S.A: No, the story always builds itself as life happens. Project building is often non-linear, the narrative is built during the process. Field recordings and spoken word passages find their way in as a form of clarity for the message being delivered.
K.K: The more I listen to 'Honest Labour', the more affecting and enveloping it becomes with every spin. Do the ideas around discreet music/deep listening hold much sway in your creative philosophies?
S.A: Most definitely. Our whole process originates from the idea of deep listening and elements hidden under layers, requiring a heightened level of engagement. Emphasis always on minute elements until they carry a recognisable character in the music. The album, as is much if not all of our work, is extremely intimate and personal and so by nature it is discreet / deep, multilayered. There are things that we will come to learn from the album down the line, and this is a gift of the process which is not limited to our perception only.
K.K: Geographical and regional identity is something that artists often strive to establish within their music. 'Honest Labour' immediately struck me as something distinctly Mancunian, but translated to a cosmic scale. How has living in Manchester, a place so saturated with history and art, fed into your creative process?
S.A: Manchester has a deeply rooted history of industrialisation, music describing the reality of the city and a working class ethic which is found in the fabric of its pillars. Growing up in the city in the 90s and 00s means we have a story to tell from our own perspective adding onto the lineage before us, which is also a source of inspiration. The DIY ethos of the city really cemented our confidence to just create with whatever means we have access to. Seeing others do the same and the communal aspect only adds to the canon.
K.K: We were lucky enough to have caught you live recently and were struck by how much of your set sounded like new material. How do you approach your live sets? The set we heard felt like it had its own emotional narrative, do you find that the live environment allows you to take the audience deeper into your world?
S.A: Most definitely, and the observation is correct. We've cemented the challenge and will to prepare new or revised material for every show where possible. It feels more genuinely Live this way, and maybe even takes some pressure off our own expectations. The flexibility and development of pieces with a specific place in mind allows for both ourselves & the audience to share a more unique and catered experience. We always aim to create the correct environment for the listener relative to what they are about to consume. Not only this but it quite simply keeps things fresh for us, meaning we're always thinking about new music and testing out ideas, and as we've learnt from the recently accomplished tour, we've built a whole palette in this same time, the footprints of a new project perhaps.
K.K: How did your Metabolic Rift Concert come about? From what we saw online it looked incredible and a distillation of everything 'Honest Labour' sets out to do.
SA: MR was an incredible experience. It was a treat to be out there with the extended family and artists that inspire us. We built the whole performance over text and email conversations and everyone trusted the plan. Props to the gang on an exquisite execution. That was and is definitely a significant landmark performance wise.
K.K: 'Honest Labour' is peppered with collaboration, could you describe the process of bringing other people into what has become such a distinct sound?
S.A: With the collaborators, they are people who are close to us that we consider friends and have admiration for in their own creative endeavours. It was a natural process having established the same passions and understanding that the sum of its parts could contribute to a fuller potential. Some parts were recorded together, others sent via emails and voice notes etc. There's a confidence and trust in the raw approach we take with each collab piece that permeates the record and I think this energy can be heard and felt.
K.K: Tibyan Mahawah Sanoh is someone you have collaborated with extensively, both visually and sonically. How has this collaborative relationship developed across projects?
S.A: The collaborative relationship has developed as a natural product of our actual relationships and familyship with T. From the beginning we had some clear aspirations and we allowed for the time and opportunities to fall into place and thoughtlessly acted upon them. This has led to our assured and ever-growing dynamic. Now when we work, we work with each other in mind and push each other's boundaries so that every collaboration incorporates a new element.
K.K: Lastly, which have been your favourite records of 2021? Any artists that we should watch out for?
S.A: The last two years have affected everyone with the pandemic etc. You can really feel that in the output. 2021 gave us some special work. Progressive and intimate sound worlds.
Personal highlights have come from: Carti, Mica Levi, Tirzah, Aya, Kelman Duran, L'Rain, Ye, Tyler, the Creator, Pink Siifu, Summer Walker, HTRK, Moor Mother, Blackhaine, Rainy Miller, Klein, Baby Keem, Lancey Foux, Young Thug, Y$L, Ka, ULLA, MIKE, VA-Amapiano Now ++ as well as output from our watch list.
Artists To Watch: Fauzia, Isaiah Hull, Loraine James, Dawuna, Shapednoise, Nazar, Rainy Miller, Blackhaine, YOUTH, Thoom, Skiifall, John Glacier, Jake Muir, SocketHead, Psykhi, Michael J Blood, Rat Heart, JASSS, Renzniro, Vory, No Home and Abnormal Sleepz.
Purchase 'Honest Labour' here: https://www.jumborecords.co.uk/music-single.asp?product_id=DAIS181LPC5