WORKRegular price $24.99 Save $-24.99
“Music is soft power, it’s a form of diplomacy, it’s a way to unite.” For RarelyAlways a sense of purpose is rarely far from the surface. That’s been true in everything he’s done, as a musician across a huge range of scenes and sounds, as a writer, as an entrepreneur and youth worker – but now, with his debut solo album Work on the horizon, it’s really coming into focus. He may have “always been a shapeshifter” as he puts it, and Work be full of a dazzling array of sounds, but at the same time he has always retained a creative and ethical core to all he does. And as he steps up to take the microphone, on stage as much as in the studio, that is coming to the fore. With his already deep and broad musical and life experience, he’s in a unique position to offer something entirely new to UK music – and you’d better believe he has something to say.
From the youngest age, RarelyAlways knew that music had functions beyond just entertainment. London born to a West African family, he was raised by his single father who was a drummer, playing mainly gospel. As well as this showing him the ecstatic communal experience of hours-long services, he got to learn the power of playing for playing’s sake: his dad would regularly hire practice spaces for the pair of them to “beat the hell out of the drums” for an afternoon.
Musically he absorbed everything around him as a kid. Motown, reggae and Afrobeat from his family; Gorillaz, The Streets, Estelle and grime from his peers; and a personal fascination with the function of music in films that started young “and got me open minded, got me into orchestra stuff.” Though it was a different sort of film music that set him on the path he’s on now: the classic sounds in School of Rock. "Not going to lie, that film got me playing bass," he says, "and it set my tastes: I'm an old head." Led Zeppelin and Bob James led him into old funk like Brothers Johnson – and he gravitated to modern acts with that classic feel, notably Black Keys and Gnarls Barkley.
His talents took him to The Brit School, and thence to the South London gig circuit. He played trip hop and heavy rock, and found himself in the orbit of artists like King Krule, Henry Wu and the Tomorrow’s Warriors jazz collective. Very quickly he got a sense of interconnectivity and the opportunities that present when you’re open to other voices. “I learned there’s good people everywhere, not everyone of course but enough that you can find who’s worth listening to, who’s worth having as your running mate.”
But that constant openness to new ideas and new culture was always counterbalanced by a strong sense of self - shored up further by his work helping at-risk youth. “You've got to have that inner self that you can never let burn out. I think you've got to call to a place that is together and use that as an anchor. It's not possible to help other people become stronger or better if you're not trying to become stronger or better. They're going to believe you if you're authentic, so you've got to call from a place that's firm and upright and happy, it's the only way.”
With each successive RarelyAlways release that’s become more and more evident. A solo EP and one with Black Keys collaborator Hanni El Khatib, as well as collaborative tracks with the likes of Shabaka Hutchings, showed a fully developed rapping and singing voice. The tone was often dark, often mysterious, but crucially was able to roam freely outside the prescribed structures of hip hop, jazz or anything else, becoming conversational or abstract as the song’s message demanded it. And with the latest tracks, that personality is being futther revealed: “It’s about taking off the armour. It's about not being scared to show my vulnerabilities. A lot of tracks are quite soft, quite innocent and really not what you might expect.”
That emergence is built around increased confidence in standing centre stage. “I play every chance I get,” he says, “and in the studio, I’m always thinking of that too. The most important thing is I have to be able to project it on stage or I don't see the point.” But it’s also about confidence in his place within the wider network. As he says in Work’s title track “I’m directing this, new show, new cast.” There are some established names that show RarelyAlways as plugged into the endlessly fertile UK underground, but just as importantly he’s nurturing “new monsters” – young instrumental talent from jazz and beyond – making this album truly a communal creation. But make no mistake: it is also the arrival of a truly singular voice, one which is fast becoming an unmistakeable presence in UK music.