King George VIII. Picture by Mansah Hakeem.
Tell us a bit about your life journey so we can understand why a Norwegian is making such good, warm beats.
I was born in Trondheim, and my family moved back to Accra, Ghana in 2000, when I was six. I went to primary school there and I think a lot of my world view, taste and preferences were formed in those years. Then I came back to Norway when I was thirteen and continued my schooling there. It was in this period that I met my friends who I started playing in a band with.
We were called LDE. We played shameless electropop. It was brilliant. In that period I was an indie boy, finding indie bands all over the place. Then we began to play more electronic stuff; I was really enjoying bringing the electronic into my playing of drums. Then I bought my first drum pad, and that was the kickstart to producing music, because on the pad I could create every sound that I wanted. My little brother Gilbert was already producing music at that time and he showed me the basics. That was 2011 and since then I have spent my ten thousand hours, just producing music. I began with electronic, of course, because back then we were all EDM people.
In 2015 I started thinking that I could produce. I wasn’t any good, I was okay. I wanted to make music that sounded like home to me, so I went all the way back to the music I used to listen in Ghana when I was growing up, and I used to listen to a bunch of hiplife [hip hop mixed with afropop] and highlife music [R&B mixed with afrobeats, with Akan roots]. I listened to so much highlife music when I was growing up; I used to stand in the corridor with a remote control, having it as a microphone and singing to the songs, and I used to think, “if my dream of becoming a psychologist doesn’t work out it would be really dope to make music”. So I went back to the songs of my childhood, the songs of my parents, and I tried to recreate the storytelling and the emotions using my electronic approach to song-making, and that’s where I am at right now, re-imagining music from both mine and my parents’ childhood using quite-modern production techniques.
True, you studied psychology. What happened to that?
Yes, I already wanted to be a psychologist when I was eight, and it’s still very relevant in my daily life, but I like having two paths to pursue, and it’s really nice when they mix together.
“When I started producing I went all the way back to the songs of my childhood, the songs of my parents”
How often do you travel to Ghana?
About once a year. Sometimes I really miss home, and every time I go back I get some more added vitamins into my life. More stories, more sounds… There is always something new that I bring back with me; it’s a really important part of my life.
It’s easy to meet artists in Scandinavia who don’t find this culture so inspiring, and yet at the same time certain influences can only happen here. What is it that you find here that contributes to your music?
There are many artists who are able to find a lot from here, but there’s a reason why maybe their art is very minimal and sort of stripped to the bare minimum, both in music-making, arts, literature… You can say a lot with little, and that itself is an art form. When I’m going back into this afrobeats music, afrojazz… there is nothing minimal about that – it’s maximal, trying to fit in as many sounds as you possibly can. It’s really nice to balance it, to have the maximal approach to putting in as many expressions as possible with a much more minimal, systematic way of doing things.
Your latest single, “Out Of My League”, came out last January. When did you write it?
I wrote it in 2017 while I was living in Tromsø, all the way north, and I had made the production for it the previous year in Ghana; the contrast could not be bigger, and that is what makes the song so interesting for me. The song is part of an album based on events that I experienced once growing up in Ghana. In primary school I was super thin, I had this huge head and I was so shy. One of the scariest things was talking to girls; I grew up with four brothers and mostly my mom, so I had no references for when it came to that. The feeling was so real back then that I thought of making it into a song. The lyrics are loosely based on a passage from my favorite book in the Bible, Psalms of Solomon, which has some really beautiful texts.
The video for this song was shot in between Accra and Trondheim. I loved the shirt, by the way; it’s exquisite.
I own a lot of shirts. My dad used to live in Italy in the nineties and have a ton of shirts from there; he never used them and a couple of years ago he gave them to me… I chose one for the shooting, which we did in Lokal Bar, in Trondheim, and Tripp Nie shot his part in Ghana.
What’s your opinion about the way women are usually portrayed in music videos? I always wonder why a man needs so many women around to sing a song.
It sounds very hypocritical after this video has come out, but I am actually against it because I don’t really pick up enough queues and it makes no sense to me. But it was my manager's vision and I trust him completely. Anyways, you're right, there are thousands of videos of one guy with eight girls around. It took a while to get the courage to film it and I don’t think there are going to be many more videos of me like that; ironically that is the exact kind of situation the song is about. But there I was... I suppose in a way it’s a very interesting irony.
Last year you released “Silence (Things Fall Apart)”, the first single off your upcoming album Queensland, in collaboration with Adomaa and M.anifest. How did you meet them?
Back in 2016 M.anifest was just about to release Nowhere Cool, which is one of my favorite albums ever, it’s majestic. I sent his manager an email while I was thinking, “there’s no chance that M.anifest is going to even see this”. But then three days later I got a reply from his manager: “hey, we heard the song. M.anifest likes it, he’s gonna put a verse on it”. A month later he was in the studio, recorded a couple of verses and the hook as well. “Here you go”. It was dope and it sounded amazing.
I sent the song around to some friends in the music industry to get some feedback; a friend of mine from Denmark said, “the song is great, the rap verses are fantastic, but you need a female vocalist”. At the time I was speaking to a bunch of artists from Ghana; I had heard about Adomaa and I reached out to her manager. “If M.anifest is on the song, we definitely want to be on the song” – that’s how M.anifest has helped me so much with this album. Adomaa recorded the hook and it all came together really nicely. Then I spent so much time mixing it, as I wanted it to sound afro poppy, but not too commercial; I wanted it to sound organic. That’s the word. Finally I met the right mixing engineer, Poppa Lars, a god. He mixed it, it sounded perfect and then I knew we were done.
Queensland will be your debut album, named after your school back in Accra. When is it coming out?
There are two versions of the plan. In the first one it comes out next April; the album is already uploaded, we are just one button away. However, a second plan surfed some weeks ago of perhaps making a third single with a huge artist from Ghana, and we are now in the negotiation process… We’ve been working on the album for so many years and it’s so good to release music again. The secret to the music industry, I found out, is that when you begin to release stuff that isn’t bad, good things happen. I think sometimes artists fear that and they don’t want to release music too soon because they don’t want it to die and not live to what it can be. That is a real fear that I’ve had for many years, but at the same time I was beginning to accept that even if a releasing dies quick, it will still live in a collection of other songs. If you googled my name now you would see “Out Of My League” and “Silence”, and suddenly you get much more of an idea of who I am and what I’m trying to do.
Your brother, Gerald Ofori, is also an artist. Are there any other Oforis we must be aware of?
Gerald is two times cooler than I am, and he does really amazing quite hard-hitting but also really textured R&B and hip hop music. He is only eighteen, he’s been producing since he was eleven, and he began releasing his music when he was fifteen. We have played together before at Trondheim Calling Festival. You can be aware of every Ofori! My brother Gilbert was actually the first one to produce music in the family and he opened the door for both Gerald and me.
Right now you live in Oslo, but do you see yourself moving to any other city that you find inspiring for your music?
I think I could. I’m really happy at Oslo right now and I will probably stay here for a while, but it would be good to have a year in Copenhagen or London, or to spend some months in the States, living down south or by the coast, having fresh air and the chance to walk and write. But all of those would be short, project-based periods because the first album is done, the second album is in my head and in the computer, and the third album is also already happening. It would be cool to have a period of four months to work exclusively on the third album.
”The secret to the music industry, I found out, is that when you begin to release stuff that isn’t bad, good things happen”
Besides your own music you have also produced for other artists, like Kwesi Arthur or M.anifest. Who will you be working with next?
The biggest compliment I can get is that others want my production under their work. It’s dope. Now I’m working on an EP for Tripp Nie, and I’m trying to set up a working relationship with British-Ghanaian rapper Bryte. I’ve produced some stuff for an EP that he’s making and I think we can do something really cool together. I’m mostly trying to look out for new artists from West Africa who are coming with different inputs and have a good plan.
Last January, you participated in the 10th edition of Trondheim Calling Festival. In which other events will we see you this year?
I definitely have many plans for this year. We will play at Blå in Oslo, and I’m trying to set up a residence in Khartoum, also in Oslo. I’m angling for two festivals after the summer that I’m hoping to play. I’m hoping that Trondheim Calling has unlocked the door to many more gigs; we are now a more or less functioning band, who would’ve thought that would ever happen? But it’s actually happening, and my manager is working his socks off trying to put more stuff together.
A last piece of advice from George?
If anyone is out there making music or trying to figure out what they want to sound like, sounding like yourself is the best possible thing. I spent a lot of years trying to find out what I wanted to sound like, and it was so nice to realize that sounding like me meant sounding like a Ghanaian. Not just a person from West Africa, but also someone who has been influenced by all those different experiences and contrasts. Finding out who I am and what is important to me, and then making music that sounds like that has been the key.
2013. Panafricano (We Will Do Great Things) (EP)