Peanut butter jamming with Obaro Ejimiwe: Ghostpoet gives The Mancunion a bell to chat about his life, career and his faves in the music industry
Obaro Ejimiwe, known to most of us as Ghostpoet, introduces himself via mobile phone at 6pm on a dark and unsurprisingly rainy autumn Friday: “Everyone calls me Obar.” His calm, southern tones tell me that my signal from a quiet hospital café in Wigan is currently connected to one in South London. He might be calm, but I’m not; he doesn’t have a clue that I’m sat shaking with pure excitement about speaking to him. (Hashtag huge fan.)
He’s taking another call at 20 past; apparently the start of the weekend is prime PR time for this musician. Musician, evidently, but not classically trained—although he’s been “listening, observing and analysing” music for years.
“I’m a self-taught producer. Well, I get by, you know.” As a student, Ghostpoet studied Media Production at Coventry University and loved it, but didn’t continue working in the industry. He worked for a few years on the phones in customer service, using his twilight hours to experiment with music and production.
Fast-forward to 2015: plus three albums, minus one day job in customer service, he finds himself with a second Mercury nomination, playing festivals all over the world and (pretty delightfully) returning to Manchester to support Alt-J and the Horrors at the end of November.
Incidentally, Obar is partial to this pretty city of clouds and rain: “Makes a nice change from London. I remember playing Parklife a few years back. Jessie Ware was on after me and, yeah, I remember thinking what a great gig it was.”
After giving Ghostpoet’s new Mercury-nominated album Shedding Skin a listen, you’ll probably be thinking to yourself, “more of where that came from please.” If you then decide to ask a well-known music streaming website to recommend similar artists, you are steered towards the sounds of Mount Kimbie, SBTRKT, James Blake, and Jamie xx.
All do bear resemblance; chilled, cool music with lots of electro influences, digital production and sampling. But asked who he himself admires in the industry, Obar references artists distinct from himself and one another stylistically and temporally, but pulled together by one thread in particular: each has never negotiated on their style and principles while moving with the music industry’s pressures. “Nick Cave is a great songwriter, he creates amazing atmosphere with his lyrics. He’s an interesting human being. Massive Attack have done great things in their time. I hear their show is really good, but have never caught them live myself. Wish I had. Oh and Patti Smith, she’s a
trailblazer. She’s uncompromising.”
Obar feels his own growth as an artist over the past five years has led him to “make better choices musically.” He cannot explain how or why, but adds that lyrically he strives to “reflect the zeitgeist of the time” (had to Google that one), with each album echoing the world as it changes: “I use my music to capture moments and talk about life.”
So yes, he does move with the times, but no, this does not mean compromising on his values and beliefs, he promises me after I pick him up on this potential contradiction. “It is easy to lose yourself. I’ve seen it happen to other bands,” he reflects.
Next we talk Mercurys, and Ghostpoet’s warm, modest approach radiates out through my battered Samsung speaker: “I am so happy to be nominated again! I’m not even thinking about winning. It’s just great to be part of the conversation. I try to stay humble. I love what I do, and am grateful to be able to do it. I’m happy to be here.”
Throughout the conversation Obaro remains himself. He’s calm and, as he says, humble, and the nicest (and only, to date) musician I have ever interviewed. He tells me before he goes that his mission statement is “Be happy and do what you want”, then thanks me for an interesting interview.
I put ‘Survive It’, a single from his first album Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, on whilst I’m typing up this interview: “I’m naturally buzzing / So allow pessimism / To burn in the flames like a phoenix has risen.” I get the impression that is exactly what he does.