Not content with being defined according to industry standards, B4mba channels his individuality into music that transcends any specific genre. On Ndox, his latest album, musical styles are blended owing to his multicultural heritage with influences ranging from Millennial hip-hop to the jazz, soul and flamenco that his parents enjoyed. It’s a collaborative project that goes beyond how it sounds, with a purpose to showcase the historical power and human value of the migrant. This is indicative of the artist himself; although occupying his own lane, B4mba is an artist for us all.
Congratulations on your new release! For our readers yet to delve into B4mba, how would you describe your sound?
Like me I guess, my sound is multicultural. Lots of influences, from France, Latin America, USA, and the UK, but above all, from West Indies and Africa, one of the cradles of music. When you listen to all the music from colonized countries, including the Caribbean or Latin America, you recognize the instruments, the way of singing. Music was then the rare possible medium to conserve and preserve their culture.
I'm also very much influenced by original soundtracks from video games and anime. I think this mix between these influences gives me a broad vision of music. I cross borders, visiting genres like countries, always seeking to blend a new culture with the one I already have.
Can you tell us a little bit more about what made you want to make music in the first place? What or who were your influences growing up?
I remember when I was young, we listened to a great variety of music at home. My father is from Dakar; he listened to traditional Senegalese music but also jazz, funk, soul and reggae. My mother, from Barcelona, ​​had a more flamenco fusion approach of the ‘80s and ‘90s and Afro-Cuban jazz, while my brother introduced me to electronic music. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Marley, Ketama and Daft Punk were played a lot at home at that time which, looking back today, helps me understand my influence for different musical trends.
As a young teenager, I started to listen to French and American hip-hop and rap. The influential groups then among others were NTM, IAM, Lunatic, A Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def, 50 Cent, etc. I then started to make music with my friends in Montpellier, my hometown, to spit bars on random rhythms in high school or at parties, and then I very quickly became interested in beat-making.
You’ve got quite a range of influences and genres you tap into, from grime to dancehall to Afrobeat. Is it important to you that you’re not boxed in as an artist?
Really important; I hate labels. When art is compartmentalized, it is the beginning of its decline. Today, the music industry considers this area as a product, so we’re able to understand why there’s this need to label everything: it will be easier to sell. It’s marketing.
For my part, I try to experiment, not to lock myself in a single defined genre. The best way to discover a city is to get lost in it, and I do the same with music. It can be confusing at times, but I try as much as possible to be curious and not to take easy ways. In my opinion, creation born out of error and the desire to push the boundaries that we already know is better.
In the studio, do you set out to explore and blend different music styles that have inspired you, or do you think this happens naturally?
I think both. I'm a sponge, so all the things I listen to could inspire me, not just the music but the sound in general. When we do sampling, we can be inspired by everything – that's the whole point of this art. When I produce, I sometimes fall in love with a song or a sound, whatever it is. I then enter into this creative process which involves assimilating and understanding in order to get as close as possible to the original concept. Like the painter who wants to reproduce the master’s style. It's about technique, but I think you have to adapt this technique to your deepest desires, to break down your barriers. If you don't, you are just a clone.
Afrobeat and dancehall are both enjoying a kind of radio renaissance right now, with contemporary artists like Burna Boy, Wizkid, and now yourself giving the genres a new lease of life for modern audiences. Why do you think they’re so appealing right now? Do you think the genres have evolved, or have mainstream Western audiences?
I’ve been listening to dancehall for ten years now, since my first nights in Afro-Caribbean clubs. This style of music has always been present in my life, so when Nigerian singers started doing Afrobeat, Afropop and Afrofusion with auto-tune like Jamaican singers, I finally felt like the diaspora was unified. The melodies are sometimes different but the atmosphere and the vibrations remain the same. For Afrobeat and dancehall, it's a good bpm to have rap flow, but in singing, there are melodies and rhythms that get you up to dance. People start to choreograph as if they were breathing.
I think the American industry is helping a lot in this process of popularizing the genres. When a great artist from there collaborates with an African artist, even if the latter is known in his own country, he is automatically propelled to the world level. The industry then gives it enormous visibility and makes it popular.
Ndox is a socially upbeat record that celebrates multicultural rhythms and sounds. Was it a personal choice for you to try and showcase varying cultural backgrounds through music?
Ndox means water in Wolof. There is no life without water; we are water. Water is a border, but above all, a bridge between people and their cultures, like music. We live in a time where we have access to a lot of different types of music, and that has to be a strength. I think the public is ready for this musical opening, so there’s an opportunity there. It is therefore quite logical for me to position myself in this multiculturalism.
It’s no secret that a lot of artists are struggling right now. How much of Ndox was made during the pandemic? Did the situation make it more challenging in terms of fine tuning tracks with producers and getting the record released?
In reality, the project was almost finished before we started the quarantine – the features and the vocals were already recorded. I produced most of the project and also took care of the mixing part. As you can imagine, the technical part, like mastering for example, was a little more complicated to set up, but this kind of situation forces us to find solutions, and we have the capacity to adapt. I fully trust the arrival of new formats that will facilitate this process in the near future.
How much of your DJ background for other artists do you think helps when creating an album like this? Is there a sense that you’ve paid your dues and feel equipped to tackle a record like this on your own?
My DJing experience brought me a lot in the process of creating Ndox. It allowed me to organize my tracklist, to manage the energy and the flow into the project. Obviously, a solo album is one thing, but having collaborated with more established artists like Laylow, Wit, or Nassím allowed me to have more perspective, to approach creation in a more efficient way and to put its complexity into perspective. When a project like Ndox seems ready to me, I now prefer to release it in order to devote myself to the next one.
The album itself feels like music you can enjoy either in the club or while driving your car. Is how listeners consume your music ever a factor when you’re recording, or do you make it for yourself and hope your energy and passion translate on each track?
Because of its format, I think an album is something quite introspective; it means including more of yourself. I think this album is made with more feelings than the previous ones. There is a real range of emotions. It is then quite understandable how this is transcribed into the songs – some are more colourful, others more nostalgic, and this is done very naturally.
When I create, I do it first for myself, and then I present it to a close circle in order to know their opinion. It’s better if other listeners like it. Recognition is important for the human being as it results in happiness and the strength not to give up, but I approach music in a solitary way most of the time because it is my antidote.
You’ve said before that for you, music is a “universal link between earth and humankind.” Can you expand on that a bit more for us? Is it a case of music uniting people and reminding us what matters?
Music is a very ancient art, as old as human beings, and the first instrument is our body. You can create a rhythm with applause, a tongue, a melody with your vocal cords. Our brain and body are receptive to these vibrations. It is chemical and spiritual. It's hard to resist music because it's magic, and it’s part of the invisible. This is also why the best way to learn something when you're young is through rhythm, like the alphabet and numbers on a melody. So whether you add a political message or not, love songs or something more jovial, people recognize themselves in them. They project themselves, and this allows for a symbiosis. Music is the soundtrack of our life.
One of the highlights of Ndox for me has to be Gasolina. Was it fun recording that with Melôo?
Melôô is my brother, we started rapping by doing beatbox in the street, and we travelled for shows. He's also my videographer. He helps me a lot to create universes. It’s always a good time shared in the studio. He brings a fresh and spontaneous energy, and we spend quality time while remaining focused. It's nice to share with someone who can understand and contribute to the project.
There are a few other artists featured on the album too. Is music often a collaborative endeavour for you? Are there any dream collaborations you’re hoping for in future?
I am more and more open to collaborating; I appreciate studio sessions with a lot of musicians. With the help of technology, machines and software, I think our generation is more selfish and egocentric. It’s cool if you can do it all by yourself, but nothing is more enjoyable than sharing those moments of creation. Different minds always think and feel more than one.
I am preparing a huge collaboration with artists from my new collective Jokkoo, composed of Mookie D, Baba Sy, Opoku, Mbodj and Ikram Bouloum. It is a friendly project made with fire and water, making the weapons of a revolution in club music. For the future, I hope to reconnect with my roots and collaborate with artists from Senegal and Spain.
Almoravide feels like the bridge of the album and a slight departure from what’s mostly a cohesive sound throughout. Can you tell us more about the process behind writing and recording this track?
It's funny that you mention Almoravide and Gasolina before. These are two tracks with features from my very close circle of friends. Almoravide is a UFO. When I was in school, I was in an international Spanish-speaking class. My mother wanted me to keep this part of my culture, so I studied literature, geography and the history of Spain. In history, they tell us that Spain was a territory of the Almoravids between the 11th and 12th centuries, a period when cultures mixed and when the peoples of North Africa from the Maghreb and Africa from the West – Mauritania, Mali, and Senegal – were united and lived in relative peace in Spain.
This was a time of progress; they brought science and art. I think we shouldn't forget all that today, especially when we see how the authorities and ordinary people treat migrants. It's sad and disgusting. They forget that the ancestors built this nation, and today they still do. This is a message for unity and strength between North African and West African migrants arriving in Spain.
How does it feel to have the new album out in such an unusual situation? Any plans to perform it live when this is all over?
It's a shame, but it's not only my case. To any artist, culture is blocked and stuck. It's hard for a musician to promote his project without live performances, but I think maybe now is the time to focus on production and distribution. You have to find the positive aspect in such a bad situation. It depends on how the situation will evolve, but I would obviously be happy to promote Ndox on stage. Either way, I think when this is all over, I'll have one or two new mixtapes (laughs).
Finally, what hopes do you have for Ndox? For yourself, are you at a stage where you’re able to enjoy what you’ve made, or are you the type to always be thinking about what you can do next?
I hope that Ndox will show part of my tastes, my personality, and give listeners good times and emotion, as well as it being a reflection on the migrant situation. I really enjoyed this project because a lot of people got involved and it was a pleasure working with them. It gives me an understanding of what it means to be a professional in the music industry. I am satisfied and proud to have made this album with my friends and family, but I am already thinking about the next project – no days off. I am always looking for new sounds and musical experimentation. Thanks for your time, and I hope you’ll enjoy Ndox.
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Rain poncho NO NAME, tank top EMINENCE, denim pants CALVIN KLEIN.
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Mask and trousers CARHARTT WIP, necklace ALOLÓ, t-shirt NIKE, sneakers SANDRO.
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Blanket SALEWA, mask CARHARTT WIP, necklace ALOLÓ.