L.A. Salami aka Lookman Adekunle Salami releases his new album The Cause of Doubt & A Reason To Have Faith this week, a melting pot of his musical influences with songs stretched beyond the natural limits. Its a sprawling, affecting and witty, genre blurring sound that grapples with an increasingly confusing and unequal society.
Recent single ‘The Cage’ is typical; a prescient and powerful stew of groove-laden blues, old school hip hop, and soul. The rolling live drum beats, floating textures of melody and instrumentals house Lookman’s clear eyed poetic vocals punctuated by soulful hooks, as he struggles to make sense of the tidal wave of bad news and lockdown. It is searingly personal yet also speaks to deeper endemic issues of racism and inequality, as he details his personal experiences as a black man in society, and delves into issues of prejudice which are all so painfully relevant now, as #BlackLivesMatter protests sweep across the world(“as our star does backflips across space-time/we are seeing race wars rage live on facetime“). We sent him some questions to find out more.
Hey how are you today?
I’m okay thank you! Hope you’re well!
How have you been coping with lockdown?
It’s not too far off from how I live my life when I’m not touring, so hasn’t been that out of the ordinary. The lack of potential income is beginning to sink in though.
What positive changes do you want to see come from the Black Lives matter movement?
Well, hopefully it simply leads to much needed systemic change – The areas that recent events have highlighted are the corrupted elements of authority, and how seemingly pedantic areas such as the descriptions of black people that police here in the UK use as a basis for a lot of their stop and searches need to be addressed and changed, the educational curriculum needs serious reconsideration, as well as tackling issues such as the Windrush scandal with new vigour. I’m hoping that the more ridiculously short sighted elements of the movement die out and don’t lead us in a fruitless direction that causes more problems than it hopes to solve. In the few short weeks since George Floyd’s death we’ve already seen the issue go from focusing on the difficult conversations of systemic problems and the practical pragmatic changes that can be made, which was good, to really empty, and what I can only describe as stupid gestures such as threatening to pull down Churchill’s statue and cancelling classic British comedies that many of us grew up on and, in my opinion, any British black person with an open mind and decent sense of humour couldn’t possibly be offended by – It’s at this point where the movement loses me. It’s at this point where it just becomes another bout of institutional virtue signalling – Which only leads to antagonising the very sorts of people that you want to convince to join the cause, or highlight the problems for, because they might otherwise be oblivious to them. Institutions built on systemic classism and racism usually hide behind these empty gestures whilst doing absolutely nothing to change things for the better, and people usually fall for it. Labelling everyone who felt like defending Churchill’s statue “Far Right” really isn’t helpful, and is so far removed from reality, and only serves to create intense warring factions – when in reality, there are just quite non-racist, very patriotic people who you’ve failed to relay your message to clearly, who only hear that you’re going to tear down the statue of one of our most prominent national heroes, who, by the way, was born in 1874, and inherited the British Empire when it was pretty much at the height of its organised power, so of course held some outdated views… There are also factions of the movement that have disowned Imran Ayton, the woman who actually started BLM in the UK simply because she asked the protestors to refrain from directing profanities towards the government who she hopes to work with to actually change things. This suggests to me that the loudest, mostly internet occupying, voices of the movement, are much more interested in aimless anarchy than actually solving the issues. The thing that people don’t seem to want to address, especially here in the UK, is that the discrimination that we see from authority towards the black community is really just a visible symptom of the real problem, which is the underclass is always dealt a bad hand – that’s the eternal problem – a problem that hasn’t really changed for centuries. The problem that hasn’t changed since before Charles Dickens was writing about it. The problem the powerful have constantly cast aside until it erupts in violent emotional revolutions. The problem we had with the aftermath of the 2008 bank crisis. The problem we have with austerity. The problem that led to Brexit. The problem that got Trump elected… The modern underclass in the Western World just happens to be made up a lot by a darker skin colour now. A few centuries ago, here in the UK, the Irish and Jewish were the underclass, they tended to be looked down upon – considered guilty on the basis of their background, but they shared their colour with the upperclass, so the discrimination was less potent, and much more obviously a class issue. But the British empire did what empires tend to do, and conquered new lands, making the world smaller, and the Western World underclass darker. We’ve long had a problem here in the UK that the same rules don’t apply to the upperclass that are enforced on the underclass. Grenfell Tower is a class issue, higher numbers of black people dying of Covid complications is a class issue. Black Lives Matter should be left as a mantra, a phrase we can invoke when needed to remind each other of the issues at hand whilst dealing with them seriously and realistically, rather than a movement and organisation that finds its power in being a group of victims seeking retribution. Traditionally, that retribution is never found and only creates a new hateful power dynamic – Modern Israel, the Soviet Union, Maoist China, The Nazi party…. The list of human events to learn from are far too long and obvious at this point to fall down the rabbit hole of hatred rather than realistic recompense that works towards unity, empathy and understanding. Hopefully we can keep our heads and make a real difference.
You say the music industry “is a slave masters house, full of racists who are just subtle about it, and served by slaves begging to be fed.” How does this manifest itself? And do you think black music had been used by a industry that hasn’t paid artists properly?
Yes, this is something I wrote out of frustration at the hypocrisy of what “Black Out Tuesday” eventually became. I tend to be an optimist who likes to see the good in things, but the black out Tuesday gestures I was seeing from the “music industry” really did rub me the wrong way. I feel it a lot more here in the UK than I do in others places actually – And it hurts more because this is my home, and I am actually quite patriotic in my own way, and whatever form of art I attempt to do, I’ve always consciously tried to stay true to this island, my experiences on it, and represent it sincerely. But you tend to run into a lot of powerful people behind the scenes that put you in a category, and if you don’t fit in that category, they close the door on you. This manifests itself in what features you miss out on, where they slot you in, if at all, in festivals, whether they are gonna let you on TV over a blond blue eyed white girl who happens to tick all the current woke-quota boxes. This is all to be expected in an industry such as this, so I always try to never really take it personally, but it does wear you down a bit, especially when you know you’re bringing something interesting to the table. The artist getting screwed money wise is as old as the industry itself, and isn’t really that much of a secret – That’s where the new wave slaves begging to be fed come in. I am but one of these slaves.
Your new record ‘The Cause of Doubt & A Reason To Have Faith’ is a really sprawling melting pot of sounds and influences. How do the songs begin and evolve?
In the case of this record, it was all very organic and instinctual – it’s the first record since I’ve been on a label where I was able to just create a record and it stayed exactly how I intended it. I’ve always been interested in exploring the sonic environments of the different types of music I enjoy listening to and filtering them coherently and authentically through the specific avenues of my particular being. My favourite type of songs are ones that can take many forms depending on the period of one’s life. More often than not they start simply with voice and single instrument.
Would you say it’s a departure from your previous records?
Personally, I wouldn’t say so because this is the direction I’ve always intended to go in – Sounds I’ve always intended to actualise. I’m not sure how it translates to other people, but to me it follows very consistently from what I’ve been able to put out so far. Output should grow and expand as the creator grows and rediscovers themselves, in my opinion. And I think to live life is to constantly rediscover yourself.
You mention old school hip hop as an influence. What is it about that era and sound that interests you?
There is something effortlessly beautiful about old school hip hop – Maybe because the 90s era that I grew up on was the era where it was becoming fully formed but had not yet become fully commodified. Souls of Mischief and Outkast are the sorts of groups that embody the era for me personally. And also it came from the same angst that American blues did – the same social grievances. ‘Police Station Blues‘ became ‘Fuck The Police‘. Words and flow really mattered.
‘The Cage’ is brilliant. I love the social consciousness and humour… are you trying to make sense of an unequal world here?
The Cage is a song about going crazy as an individual in a world where you can’t help but acknowledge the collective. So, yes, it is definitely trying to make sense of things… Something that could drive one crazy…
When you say the album is a love letter to Lou Reed and the Velvets do you mean musically?
You also mentioned Captain Beefheart. What’s your favourite record?
In terms of the recklessness and looseness of sound I’d be referring to Trout Mask Replica, which is simply beautifully chaotic.
If your home was on fire which five records would you save?
If I’m truly honest, and if I could only rescue five records, I’d grab all of Bob Dylan‘s records between 1964 and 1966, and one from 1975. That’s Time’s They Are a-Changin’, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited to Blonde on Blonde, having to sacrifice Times Are A-Changin’ to the fire, and swapping Freewheelin‘ for Blood On The Tracks. I’d also grab my record player so I can listen to them whilst I’m at the hospital. I can always buy other records by other people later when I find a new place. These records would tide me over, ease my pain and sorrow in the meantime. A tactical decision.
Are you planning on performing any streamed sets from home?
But I will be doing an exclusive live stream from Premises Studios on the 20th July first!
What are your views on unlocking during a pandemic?
I’m not sure to be honest – There’s so much new information about Covid-19 to absorb every day it’s all a bit overwhelming. The biggest risk we face here in the UK is the NHS being overwhelmed, but that’s because the government has been cutting funds to it for over a decade. I don’t understand why I, as an individual, can’t just go somewhere to get tested. Celebrities and powerful people are getting tests that tell you results in a few hours or days. If we discover that most people who test positive get mild symptoms or are asymptomatic, then that would change our perspective of the situation a lot. Since everyone’s been going to the beach, having parties, protesting, we’ll see in a few weeks time if there is a spike or not… We have to take this seriously, but we also can’t live in fear of a virus to the point where we allow civilisation to collapse.
The live music industry is under clear threat if the Government doesn’t step up, does that worry you?
Yes! It’s slowly becoming the main source of stress…
Will you be releasing any other singles from this record?
I don’t think so! If I had it completely my way I would have just released the record with no singles – It’s a record that’s listened to best the whole way through with every song being new to you! But failing them being new to you, it’s best listened to the whole way through.
Cheers for your time