30 October 2019

Citizen Kay weaponises music to defend the soul with 'Ego'


Citizen Kay has been quiet for a couple of years. On the other hand, the man behind the music, Kojo Ansah, has been hard at work.

“I’ve been hiding away Citizen Kay, but I have been pretty hectic with music, working for other people, just filming, mixing and producing. I’ve been heavily working on music, I’ve just been behind the scenes.”

Part of this is because he’s embraced the full-time muso life, finally quitting his job at Canberra’s favourite fried chicken haunt, Kingsley’s, after almost a decade. It was a “bittersweet” moment, he says, because so many of his song ideas materialised during his time there. However, quitting has allowed him to really pursue his passion of mixing and producing and writing for other people.

Now, ‘Ego’. The rich, soulful new track took the internet by surprise and by storm, with a video to match. The mission? Weaponise music to defend the soul.

The concept is compelling, with a video to match. Ansah walking into a warehouse, delighted at the sight of a military truck to be turned into a colourful moving stage. Ansah performing on the half-finished truck, between the sparks and pink spray paint and rigging. Citizen Kay grooving on the Soul Defender, a truck made to be performed on, lights, smoke and bubbles swirling round.

‘Ego’ is about a lot of things, but primarily about Ansah’s love-hate relationship with money. There’s a lot there to unpack, but that ambiguity is something that Ansah has tried to put into all his new music, “that similar vein of interpreting the same lyrics many different ways.” Ansah leaves the interpretation up to the audience, perhaps keen to make them consider their own egos.

With the new track, Ansah admits, “it’s a weird feeling to be pushing forward my own music again.” The Canberra hip hop artist released Belly of the Beast in 2017 to wide acclaim. For that debut album, Ansah wrote around 40 songs that were eventually whittled down into the final record. Now, in a post-Kingsley’s era, Ansah has had to rediscover his process.

“I was trying to write an album,” he says. “It turns out writing an album is harder than I remember.” Maybe it was the change from Kingsley’s to full-time music, or something else. Whatever it was, he says, “I must have drained myself at some point and not realised, of just creativity.”

“I don’t know what happened,” he laughs. “At some point, I wrote all the songs I could possibly write in the world, for my last album.”

On top of that, none of the songs he was writing made sense to him as a whole, so he trashed them all. “I was like, I’m just gonna write one song. Just one song at a time – and that’s what I’m doing now. Not thinking too much about it, if it evolves into an album, sure, awesome. But I think for now, just doing the one song at a time, it’s really helping me enjoy the process.”

“This process of making ‘Ego’ and a couple other tracks I’m working on right now reminds me of when I first started making music and releasing. It’s less about hey, what’s the right song to put forward, and is radio going to play it and is industry going to like it, it wasn’t about that at all, it was just, ‘here’s a song I made and I like it’. Here it is. It’s just that real childish love of making music that I’m glad I’m back in that zone now.”

In the end, ‘Ego’ itself was easy to write, Ansah says. “I don’t wanna say I didn’t think about it, but I didn’t really think about it too much. It was like, what in this moment do I wanna say? What’s the first thing that comes out? And then sort of rolling with it.”

“In the past, I’d sit with a song and I’d write it and kind of obsess about it for ages, come back to it, and be like, it’s not quite right. Whereas with ‘Ego’ and the kind of songs I’m working on at the moment, it’s like hey, let’s just enjoy making music in this moment, and after I just kind of forgot about it.”

Still, he’s on the lookout for a new Kingsley’s: something he can do that is completely disconnected from music, something to let his creative mind breathe. Maybe rock climbing – he hasn’t climbed since he was about 14.

In the meantime, he’s got a few songs up his sleeve, and plenty more on the horizon. He helped handpick rising talent for Groovin’ The Moo’s 2019 ‘Fresh Produce’ programming (“bittersweet”, he says, because of all the amazing up-and-comers who didn’t make the final list), and is working on music with other Canberra artists.

Because if you know one fact about Kojo Ansah, it’s that he sincerely loves Canberra and believes in its potential. “I think we’re becoming and going to become real leaders in creativity and music and arts, in the world I reckon. I reckon Canberra’s going to become one of those places that’s just like, if you wanna make dope art, you gotta be in Canberra. And it sounds crazy to some people now, but I can see it! It’s happening.”

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