ShortList speaks to south Londoner Kwabs ahead of his global takeover
We’ve stunned Kwabena Adjepong, aka 25-year-old Kwabs, into silence. “I’m actually speechless,” he says down the phone, “I’m not entirely sure how to respond to that.” Not that we offended him or anything, quite the opposite. I’ve just told him my friend thinks his voice sounds like the love child of Luther Vandross and a Galaxy bar, which it does: “Well, I suppose those are two very good things.”
Good doesn’t begin to cover it. If you’re unfamiliar with the British-Ghanaian singer (pronounced ‘Kwobs’), let us introduce you: his soulful, gospel-tinged voice has gone from the realms of viral YouTube hit (covering James Blake’s The Wilhelm Scream) to selling out gigs at London’s Koko, being longlisted for the BBC Sound of 2015 and taking Europe by storm with single Walk. Atlantic, sensibly, signed him immediately. Bookies were taking bets on him winning the Mercury Prize (with a yet-to-be-released album). Oh, and everyone from Jessie Ware to Plan B have declared themselves a fan.
Two years in the making, his debut album, Love + War, is one of the most hotly anticipated of 2015. Working with Vienna-based producer SOHN on early tracks, Kwabs has crafted a heady mix of power ballads, piano hooks and chilly electronica. He also features on the upcoming Disclosure album (“It’s got a bounce to it”).
But if you can’t quite pin his music down, Kwabs isn’t surprised. “I didn’t really have musical role models growing up and it’s one of the reasons why my music is so hard to put a finger on. I listened to everything I could: soul, jazz, alternative rock, classical. Kind of like a magpie.”
So, as a singer “trying to be as emotive” as he can, what is Kwabs’ break-up song of choice?
“I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt,” he says. “You’ve gotta listen to the songs that’ll tear you apart so you can build yourself back up again. Find some candles, a quiet room and just weep yourself into the floor. Then reconstruct yourself afterwards.”
Like we said: Luther Vandross. Galaxy bar.
Kwabs’ single, Fight For Love, is out on 10 July and the album, Love + War, on 11 September. He plays Somerset House on 17 July