Q&A: Real talk with Remi ahead of WOMADelaide

Interview by Isaac Selby

 Remi, Sensible J and Sampa The Great. Photo supplied.

Remi, Sensible J and Sampa The Great. Photo supplied.

Yewth recently spoke to Remi Kolawole (who, alongside producer/musician Sensible J make up Remi) ahead of his dual headline performance with Sampa The Great at WOMADelaide. He shared his thoughts on J Dilla, comedic integrity and jumping on bandwagons.

Yewth: So you’re playing at WOMADelaide this year, what can we expect?

Remi: I'm definitely looking forward to it, I guess because Sampa and myself are doing a collaborative set you can expect a lot of our songs, but also at the same time, we’re coming through with a full live band as well. I think it’s probably going to be one of the last joint sets, if not the last joint set that we do together. So we thought we’d do it as dope and as big as possible. It’s been close to almost a year of doing continual joint shows, so it’s going to be really fun, I’m really excited about the players that we’ve got, both bands are gonna be incredible.

Another act that are playing the festival are The Avalanches, who you covered a little while ago for Like a Version, what are the chances we’ll see another collaboration?

We actually did some stuff together recently for Fuji Rock Festival, it was kinda like a one-off thing, so I don’t know if we’ll be doing anything this year because we’re pretty in and out, so there might not be time... but we’ll see.

For anyone wondering about the origins, how did you and Sampa first start your friendship and begin collaborating

The first time we properly met was at Northside Records, on Smith Street which is an institution, and needs to heritage listed. I digress, we met there when she was doing an in-store, I think it was like her second live performance, at least doing rap, and she just shut it down from there and we were fans of what she did and we just clicked. It’s been an incredible couple of years of doing stuff together, you know what I mean, being able to unify and do something I guess that hasn’t been seen before in Australia with the co-headline tour. 

You reference Dave Chappelle in ‘Lose Sleep’ and that had me wondering if you are a big comedy fan? I know you have a pretty good sense of humour yourself, so I was wondering if you get around it?

I love comedy. However, a lot of the time the more that you grow the more that you see how problematic certain comedy is, especially when we’re talking about somebody like Dave Chappelle. When I was a lot younger I used to be a really huge fan, but after his most recent specials with a  lot of the transphobic things that he said, it’s meant that I can’t support where he stands now. When it comes to like the greats like Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, I’m a huge fan even though they’re some problematic cats too. 

I know you’re a big J Dilla fan, if you had to pick one J Dill beat or even a Dilla album, if that makes it easier, that speaks to you most, what would you pick?

If I’m just going to say right now, because if I dwell on this I’ll end up just hanging up the phone because it’s not fair. But if I was gonna say produced by JD, it would be Fantastic Vol II: Slum Village. If it was a solo joint, well not solo, but under his moniker I’d probably have to say Welcome to Detroit.

If I can explain my love for both of them, Fantastic Vol II was when I first heard Dilla rap and it was like something I’d known for my whole life, but never heard before and it just blew my mind to no end. As for Welcome to Detroit I feel like even from just reading the booklet on the inside that he just threw that together, it’s just something that he happened to do. The way that he kinda bounces through his interpretations of classics like 'Earth Wind and Fire', 'Think Twice' etc; having those joints next to these hard as fuck Detroit beats, that are definitely from the essence of those songs and showing the connection. You might think they’re worlds apart, but he manages to show you that they’re not. That they’re born from each other and influence each other in his bodies of work, so that’s where I’ll be at if anybody wants to contest that I’m with that, because on any given day it can be any record.

On your last album you go pretty deep into the personal side of song writing and I was just wondering if you’ve found it strange at all performing in an arena where quite often your shows are in these fun, party atmospheres? Has taking these intimate songs and sharing them with so many people been a challenge?

I think it was initially, but at this point in my life man I don’t give a fuck any more. It’s so much more important for us to be being real with each other in this very small amount of time we have with each other on this earth than it is for us to beat around the bush and worry about what someone thinks of your experiences, what somebody thinks about how you’re dealing with something that is quite regular and quite normal. When I first released 'Substance Therapy' with Jay, the amount of people that hit me up on the day they heard that song, was crazy. So if that’s the pay off, if that’s where people are coming from in relationship to that music, that’s so much more important than anything else.

You seem like a pretty conscientious guy, there seems almost to be a trend of musicians band wagoning hot topic political trends, so I wanted to ask you whether you think some bands are taking advantage of this to increase their popularity at all?

I think there’s definitely a history of every sort of topic/genre being appropriated. For me I’ve just got to take the positives out of it. Especially in a place like Australia, there’s not always a lot of awareness about identity and how to be. So a lot of artists that I know personally, for instance, this incredible singer by the name of Candor, who I just did a song with called 'Numb', she was talking to me about how she now feels comfortable to begin to unpackage the way that she has felt in Australia and her relationship to white Australia. That’s her journey and it’s truthful and it’s factual and it’s therapeutic and it’s healing to get that stuff out.

So if that’s where people are coming from and they’re coming from their own experience and they’re being real about it, I think that that’s positive. Because we need more experiences and we need more people to be sharing their experiences and letting us know. To be real anybody that’s jumping on a trend you can hear that. You can hear when somebody is being fake about anything. You know what I mean? You deal with that energy especially if we’re talking about people’s relationship through discrimination to vilification, or if it’s deeper than that and it’s oppressive. You can hear when somebody has actually gone through it, so I’m ALL for people speaking their truths and just being super aware of who their audience is and how their audience will relate to that. 

Thanks heaps for the talk today, I just wanted to finish by asking if you've always been confident that music was going to work out for you? When did you realise you wanted to commit full-time?

As soon as I decided that I didn’t want to go to uni anymore that’s when I decided I wanted to do music (laughs). I guess the key moment was coming to the reality that this is your job now, when we literally couldn’t work anymore because we didn’t have enough time. It meant that we weren’t around enough to actually work at our jobs which is kind of daunting when we first started because it wasn’t like we’ve been making a lot of money personally, but we knew at that point we had to make a decision. Are you gonna stay at your job? 

And for Jay?

The pivotal moment for Jay was when his boss said I don’t think you can work here, so it wasn’t even Jays choice he had to leave. Shoutout to Dandenong Hospital real talk, for 15 years Jay had to work there. So all you musicians out there talking about how you can’t have a job, talk to Jay, and he’ll dunk on you. And don’t ask him for free studios! Jay’s in the back doing adlibs, you need to do this on our next album (laughs). This MPC ain’t freee... I’m sorry we totally derailed this shit.

Remi x Sampa play WOMADelaide 2018 March 11 at 6:15pm on Stage 3.
Cop tix here.