A breathtaking voice, heart-warming sound and lyrics that give you goose bumps: Jacob Banks. The British/Nigerian singer-songwriter already stole many hearts with Chainsmoking and Unknown (To You) and if we are to believe the rave reviews of international critics, this star is rising.

Banks is an artist who reminded me what the genre ‘soul’ owes its name to. His music hits home, before leaving a deep meaning and powerful message. At the beginning of this year, I had an unforgettable heart-to-heart with him about his mother’s sacrifice for him, his frustration about racial inequality and the difference he wants to make with his music.

What does music mean to you?

Jacob Banks: “Music is like my soundtrack, it brings meaning to my life. And I do not say that as a music maker, but as a listener.
Music is always there. If your heart is broken, you listen to music. When you are hungry, you listen to music. Before you go out, you listen to music. It’s like a 24-hour soundtrack. ”

Is there one artist in particular whose music you can really relate to?

“One artist who describes all my moods is Kanye West. Most artists create music that only matches one mood. No one listens to Adele at a club. Her music suits one mood and if you need her, she is there. Kanye,on the other hand, has described many different moods over the years. ”

What kind of music do you listen to?

“I like many different types of music, I listen to whatever I feel like. Jazz, hip-hop, blues, punk rock, American rappers, I do not really let myself be led by genres.

I listen to music as a student, to what artists can teach me. Amy Winehouse for example taught me that you can swear in a very emotional song. D’Angelo taught me about vibe, Kanye West taught me that you can push boundaries and John Mayer taught me about lyrics. I listen to various artists so I can learn to bring variation into my own music. ”

Where do you find the inspiration for your music?

“Just in life. Who I am when I listen to music or when I make music are two completely different people. When I make music, I try to forget everything I know.

For example, if I want to tell a story about this chair, I would have to find a genre, tempo and mood that best describes this chair. I serve this chair. I describe the story of the chair without compromising, without feeling the pressure to make a soulful song. If I think rap can tell the story the best, then I rap. The only thing that matters is; how do I tell the story? I would describe myself as a storyteller rather than as an artist. “

To what extent is your music autobiographical?

“100%. All my music has an interface with something that I have experienced. But sometimes I let it sound like it is not.

Music can be interpreted in so many different ways. I can write a song for a reason and when a thousand people hear it, they will give a thousand different meanings to it. ”

I thought a lot of your EP The Boy Who Cried Freedom was about love, but I may have misinterpreted that?

“It is what you want it to be. I think the heart will always find its own meaning in a song. I am just an intermediary, I am here only to give you a frame of thought or whatever you are looking for.

Two songs from the EP that are definitely about love are Part Time Love and Photograph. The rest may sound like that, but those are not love songs.”

Is there one song that has a special meaning to you?

“All my songs are my children, they are all special in different ways. But I’d like to tell you something about Chainsmoking. It is a common misconception that it is about ‘boy meets girl‘, but one of the biggest inspirations for the song is my mother.

She has been a nurse since she was 18 and has raised 4 children. My mother chose to run night shifts just so that she could spend time with us during the day. She’d start working at 8pm, came home around 8am and slept until noon, so when we came home, she’d be there for us.

Fast forward to 32 years later. She is now 50 years old and having her knees replaced, that is the sacrifice she made for love. She chose to stay up every night because love is expensive. Not literally, but you have to give something.

It’s getting harder to breathe
Chainsmoking your love
Can’t be good for my sanity
Can’t be good for my lungs
Chainsmoking your love
Chainsmoking your love
Chainsmoking – Jacob Banks

For me, Chainsmoking is about people who have to make sacrifices for love. They chainsmoke love, knowing that one day they will be confronted with the bill.”

When I read your lyrics, I get the idea that you want to wake people up with your music. Is there anything that you object to?

“Against people who treat others like sh*t. The day you were born, you were white. When I was born, I was black. If I had been born in a Muslim family, I would have practiced Islam. Do we have the right to let each other feel bad about that?

I cannot stand the superiority complex that is based on nothing. In pure coincidence, you were born the way you are. I am no better than you are, you are no better than me. That’s how I see it. And that really gets under my skin. ”

In which song do we hear this?

“On the EP is a song named Mercy. It sounds like a love story, but it’s not. In Mercy I write from the perspective of a black man. The lyrics go like this:

Followed your name, into the wild, yeah, yeah
Sold you my shame, I ran a mile
Mercy – Jacob Banks

Four years ago, a lot of black athletes played for America who won gold medals in running. We were very happy about that, but when they came home, they were treated as second-class citizens.

Others have fought in the American army. They were seen as real Americans by the people who fought with them, but when they came home, racism was the order of the day.

This song is about everything that I’ve seen black people and other underrepresented groups give to their country. Wherever they came from. I have seen people give, give, give and they asked the smallest things in return: mercy, freedom and equal rights.

They only say: ‘I want to have the same thing as you and then it’s ok’. But apparently that is too much to ask. I often talk about that in my music. Nina Simone once said: ‘It’s an artist’s job to reflect at times’. I am just a commentator, I just say what I see. ”

What do you hope people take away from your music?

That freedom is fragile, there is still so much work to do. I often think that if our life is good, we have the idea that the world is good. But that is not necessarily true. You may be right, but there are many people who have to learn from your mistakes and from what you have done to get it right.

I believe that the only reason that God has made so many of us is that we should help each other. Otherwise he would only have made a few people and had fun with them. Because there are billions of us, we have to hold hands and ensure that we are safe.

I want my music to keep people company, but also to bring world problems to attention and hopefully to start a conversation. I think that’s more important than anything else. That you sit down with your friends and talk about racism, sexism, prejudice against groups of people, about how women are treated, whatever. As long as you keep talking, just say something about it to your friends. ”

What is your ambition for the future? If you were in full control, what would your life look like in 10 years?

“I would be happy. That’s it. Really, the rest is superficial. Time is the only currency that is really important. Just be happy and be good for others. ”

The expectation is that Jacob Banks’ debut album will be released this fall, so please be patient! But next Saturday he will be at Lowlands and if that performance is as good as the show in the Melkweg last March, then you are in for a treat. Enjoy!

Want to read more?

Kendrick LamarChildish Gambino and Beyoncé & Jay-Z also have powerful messages! Check the links if you are curious about what they have to say!

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– Chainsmoking is written by Ajay Bhattacharyya / Jacob Banks / Jp Saxe © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, 2017.
– Mercy is written by Jacob Akintayo Akinoso / Yonathan Ayal / Jonathan Percy Starker © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, 2017.
📸: Edward Cooke