Kobi Onyame Loves The Highlife

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Glasgow based rapper Kobi Onyame's latest album 'Gold' was nominated for Scottish Album of the Year and he's opened for legends of hip-hop including The Wu-Tang Clan and Kanye West.  'Gold' kept the hip-hop undertones that his fans are familiar with but also drew heavily on Onyame's African roots, incorporating traditional percussion and infusing the songs with a Ghanian highlife feel.  
Over the last couple of years, Kobi Onyame's upward trajectory has been so steep that it is difficult to believe that he is only now playing his first festival headline slot at this years Solas.  The Solas Festival is a perfect fit for Kobi and his amazing band of musicians.  Of all the festivals I've ever attended it has the best vibes and is the most laid back, with a varied and diverse program featuring the best music, art and literature from all over the world.  Part of its ethos is a commitment to equality, justice, beauty and hospitality in a way that feels totally organic.  It's something that permeates the whole feeling of the festival weekend, making the music sound that bit more soulful and the beer taste that little bit more delicious.
I caught up with Kobi ahead of the festival in a conversation that took in Kanye West, the Glasgow music scene and, of course, highlife and afrobeat music.  Check it out.

Are you excited about this year's Solas Festival?

I’m very much looking forward to it. It will be a great show and it’s actually my first ever festival headline slot so I’m very grateful. I can’t wait!

Will you be playing with a band at Solas?
Yes.  I play with an amazing group of musicians and it just adds to the whole vibe of the show.  You can expect a lot of energy and crowd participation.
DMCRZY – is my favourite track from Gold where did you get the sample of speech that you hear on the song?
The sample is from an old interview Fela Kuti (a pioneering Nigerian Afrobeat star and human rights activist) in which he was asked about his thoughts on democracy.  It's very profound.  The full clip is available on YouTube and after listening to it I had to make it part of the song.
You have said in interviews that you wanted to bring the spirit of traditional highlife music to Gold.  Can you tell me a little bit about highlife music?
Highlife music is the sound of West Africa.  It was the commercial sound of Afrobeat in the 1960s and 70s, pioneered by bands including Osibisa, Kiki Gyan.  It incorporated the traditional percussion and brass feel of the music.  It's feel-good music.
There are 5 collaborations on the album, do you prefer making music with others?
I love collaborating with people.  I work on my music alone for the most part.  A lot of times collaboration is the last step when I'm recording music.  Most of the songs were already written and recorded before I approached guest artists to feature.  I love the different vibes guest artists bring to the music.
If you could record a track with an artist living or dead who would it be?
Kanye West.
When Gold was released in 2017 there was an exhibition at Many Studios in Glasgow were 6 different artists responded to tracks from the album.  What did it feel like to see your music interpreted in such a visual way?
It felt great!  It was quite overwhelming to see the interpretations that other creators brought with their work.  I saw it as a continuation of the concepts and sound of my music.  It was so great to see.  I think the most beautiful part of it was hearing how my music inspired other ideas.
You are based in Glasgow, what do you think of the cities music scene?
What I love most about the Glasgow scene is the budding DIY culture that exists.  There is much diversity at the moment and I feel everyone is embracing the DIY ethic getting their music out and heard.  It is beautiful.
You have shared a bill with some of the biggest stars in hip-hop: Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Akon and you opened for Kanye West on the Edinburgh leg of his tour.  Did you get to spend any time with Kanye?  What was he like?
I did get to very briefly meet him.  I was in the catering room when I spotted him coming out of his green room.  I went up to him and introduced myself and said I was his support act that night.  He apologised for missing my set and asked how my show went.  We then took a picture and I gave him a copy of my mixtape that I had out at the time.  It was all very surreal.  He was chilled and very friendly.
You changed your stage name after the release of your debut album ‘Unsigned and Hungry’.  How did you settle on the name Kobi Onyame?
Haha! Yes!  Not a lot of people know that I released 'Unsigned and Hungry' under the name Jae P.  I changed my name in 2008 after my mum passed away.  I think it was a fresh start for me to be honest.  The name Kobi is an acronym for my real name and Onyame is an Akan word meaning God.  The name is a constant reminder for myself and my identity in my faith.  I am a Christian and my faith plays a strong role in everything I do.  It's a reminder to always remember that part of me.
Are you working on any new music at the moment?
I am working on a new album which I hope to release early next year and also some new music that I may release before that.  I enjoy the creative part of making an album and like to take my time with it.
Picture Credit: Michael Hunter
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