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May Digital Cover: Gabzy

Meet Gabzy. Your favourite girl’s, favourite artist. From selling out Somerset House, to touring East Africa- Gabzy has taken his global sound around the world. 

Gabzy’s cult-like following, which mainly consists of women, has enabled him to perform at venues that artists way beyond his years typically headline. We sat down with Gabzy to discuss being pigeonholed as an artist, how his Yoruba-Peckham upbringing has influenced his sound and identity, and how he finds dating whilst being your favourite girl’s, favourite artist.

Photography by Paula 'Narcography' Abu. Design by Tola Salau.

Recently artists such as Wizkid and Fireboy have said that they’re not Afrobeats artists. What do you think of this? How would you define your sound and have you ever felt you were being pigeonholed as an artist? 

For me, like I’ve always described my sound as global. I make music for the world - for everyone. I wouldn’t feel a type of way if someone said I make Afrobeats or R&B because my music bounces between all those different types of sounds. Someone might have heard an Afrobeats sound from me, and another might have heard R&B Gabzy and that's what they know me for. I just feel like people know me for different things and I can’t be boxed in.

Is there a particular Gabzy that you prefer?

I feel like what comes easy to me is R&B. All the slower stuff? That’s my bag. But there are days where the uptempo stuff suits me as well. But if I had to say, it would be R&B. 

I read in an interview that you would consider your alter ego to be cautious, hard and fly. Would you still describe Mr Malone as that? How similar or different would you say you are to Mr Malone? 

100%. Mr Malone is all of those things. He’s sharp, doesn’t sugarcoat, says it as he is. Gabzy sugarcoats things, beats around the bush, but Malone is just direct. I’m closer to Malone- not that I’m Malone to a T-, but I’m closer to Malone than I am to Gabzy. I’m not as bad as he is though. This new tape is definitely going to show the two sides of me. 

You’re Yoruba and grew up in Peckham which is often described as “Little Lagos”. How would you say your culture and where you grew up has shaped your identity and influenced your music? 

Peckham has impacted me significantly. It’s given me this ability to just relate to anyone and everyone, and I think my music reflects that. If you walked through Peckham Rye, you’d hear someone singing Reggae; you might hear some Fuji, R&B - so many different sounds, and that’s what I grew up around. So you can definitely hear all the different influences in my music. 

What’s your favourite thing about growing up in Peckham?

Even though we lived in what people see and think of as ghetto, we were just happy. 

What’s your Peckham starter pack? (Pre-gentrification)

The heart of Peckham is the library, so that’s where you need to start and just go from there. Walk down Rye Lane and the spirit of Peckham will just take you where you need to go. 

Speaking of growing up, what was your upbringing like? I know you pursued football before you pivoted to music. Were your parents always supportive of your dreams? 

Growing up I always had big dreams, I’ve always felt like I was going to be “someone”. That’s part of the reason why I didn’t really take school too seriously, I was just waiting for the day I “blew”. I knew education wasn’t going to be my path. A lot of young boys think they’re gonna be a footballer - until the knee injury - but I knew I was going to make it somehow. My Mum was so supportive, she really believed in me. My Dad on the other hand, hmmm- I remember my Dad sat my brother and I down. At this point he had never seen either of us play football and he basically said we had no chance of getting to the Coca Cola League, as it was called back then (League 2). My Dad was being very realistic and like a typical West African Dad, he wanted us to focus on school. But that chat with my Dad just lit a fire within me to prove to him that there were more paths to success. 

What’s your advice to young people who may have had similar conversations with their parents or those around them?

You know what you’re capable of. Remember that and hold onto your dream. And when you do make it, anyone who doubted you is  going to say sorry. So Just keep pushing. Even if you have to hide your dreams from your parents, if you believe in yourself then just keep pushing. Because like I said, when you make it then you’re going to hear that sorry.  

I mean, these are songs that I made in my bedroom in Peckham and now people are singing them halfway around the world- it’s crazy. 

What was your parent’s reaction to all your sold out shows, doing Somerset house last year?

For them, and me, it’s surreal. Their friends are bragging to them like ‘see your son is doing this and that.’ They’re just so proud and I’m just glad that I was able to prove to my dad that there are other ways to make it you know. 

If I say the word TikTok, what comes to mind and how does it make you feel? Have you felt pressure to make music that is viral/catchy or does well on TikTok? 

TikTok is just fun for me. I feel like I can be free on the app, but I’ve never gone into the studio and said I want to make a song for TikTok. I might preview the song on TikTok, but that’s as far as it goes really. What I really use TikTok for is connecting with my fans. I just appreciate all the support man, so I might send a little video for someone’s birthday, respond to a DM - just so they know I appreciate them. 

I was reading you weren’t moved about charting on the official Afrobeats charts, do you still have the same feeling? 

I wouldn’t say I wasn’t moved, but it doesn’t really change how I feel about the song whether it charted or not. I’ve got songs that didn’t chart, but when I perform it at my shows I see what it means to my fans and how they know every song and lyric. I mean, these are songs that I made in my bedroom in Peckham and now people are singing them halfway around the world - it’s crazy. 

Photography by Paula 'Narcography' Abu

Speaking of shows, what was your time in Africa like, specifically Kampala and Nairobi?

Hectic still. But I loved it. Both were supposed to be a specific capacity but we ended up going like 5 times over, it was crazy. Just seeing all the love I got out there, hearing them hear songs word for word that I made in my room in Peckham, it was just so special. 

I can imagine as someone who is not from that region, how great it felt to hear East Africans sing along to your music.

Yeah, it was such a unifying experience given that I’m from the other side of Africa. It just shows you how much music brings people together.

On a more personal level, what is dating like for you? I’ve seen the queues of women outside of your shows and how they sing every word. How do you contend with all the attention?

Chai. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t options. More of the time I just stay in my own bubble. I enjoy going out to eat, like I’ll go on dates from time to time. It’s very interesting, but that’s all I’ll say. 


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