When British writer-director Shola Amoo’s latest feature film, The Last Tree, came out earlier this year, it told a story of dual identity, focusing on Femi, a young British-Nigerian boy growing up in England but caught between two conflicting backgrounds. Inflicted with toxic ideas of manhood and a feeling of displacement, 16-year-old Femi secretly listens to The Cure making the excuse to his black peers it was Tupac instead. This battlefield of black identity resonates with multiform sonic expressionist Tony Njoku. When growing up in Lagos (Nigeria), Tony was mocked for having “more Aphex Twin than Afro-centric artists” on his iPod, and has since spoken about the confusing feeling of being denied some music genres because of his skin colour.
In 2013, Tony was called out by a Nigerian passenger on a plane for listening to Jon Hopkin’s Immunity: “He had a listen for a second and was like, ‘oh, isn't that white people music? Why are you listening to that?’ It’s very strange, why am I being judged?” Identity is at the heart of Tony’s work. His latest album, Your Psyche's Rainbow Panorama, released a few weeks ago, fuses hip-hop, electronica, and soul so diligently, he makes us question any attachment we may have to genre in the first place.
The album tackles humankind’s vista of emotion, from the redemptive flow of Glorious to the heated euphoria of Furious. The track Confident sways with emotional fragility caught up in the heat of the moment. The video accompanying it, based on Steve McQueen’s short film Bear, shows two semi-nude black male bodies grappling with each other in an erotic and venerable feud. The album is carefully crafted, that’s for sure, but the message is left for us to interpret.
My chat with Tony honed in on the kaleidoscopic scope of his latest project, the art inspiring him, and his mission to form new spaces for black art and expression. Our conversation deep-dives into matters of the self and our collective ongoing battle for belonging; as Tony grapples with his identity, he forces us to contemplate our own.