So, I am going to start with something corny if that is ok? To anyone who doesn’t know Sophia how would you describe yourself in one word?
Compared to who you were when you first started your journey to now, what would you say has evolved with you?
Ooo, I am a lot more confident in challenging the craft before I might have wanted to stick more inside the box. This was the spoken word, slam poetry box but now I have seen poetry from a wider lens and my heart reflects that…I hope! (laughs)
You have had quite the creative journey, from performing at Glastonbury, BET, BBC, Sky, Nike, to name just a few and now you are here at the iconic Jazz Café. Can you describe what this journey has been like?
Man, it has been a river of ebbs and flows (laughs) I have gone through some funny poetry stages. I remember when I first started, I was doing events that were only centred around freeing Palestine. Then I did loads of really Afrocentric events, then just female empowered events, then domestic violence…I have gone through loops of events but now I think I should just put on events of my own (laughs) and then sort of loop everything back together. It’s been amazing because I met phenomenal people inside all of these spaces who champion different things, I think I have soaked in a lot to sort of tell my stories now. But again, it might be a phase I might stop doing my own shows who knows.
With most poetry it is done without a backing track and your poems are strong enough without them. Was it your inspiration from Hip-Hop and artists like Erykah Badu that made you decide to collaborate with musicians? Or is there more to this?
I think music adds another layer to words and I think any art form essentially translates words in its own way, and I think when you put four voices together it’s going to be more powerful. So, I think I found that and I come from a musical background my brother (Latir Thakur) is performing as well — he is doing soundcheck now. Yeah, I come from a very musical background, learnt instruments from very young and I think that has always stayed inside of my head and I have listened to more musicians than I have poets. So, I think that is why I am probably more inclined.
Kumasi is your latest track…correct me if I am wrong but was this track that was inspired by you close friend who you lost to cancer? If not, I apologise BUT what was the inspiration behind this masterpiece?
That track was Dance, Kumasi is about the story in Ghana where I made a mistake (laughs) as we all do, two things happened in Ghana I made a mistake and I heard more Afrobeats then I have ever heard in my life and I realised ahh ok that I am in Africa. Because you could be in like the Ghanaian version of Starbucks but the norm is Afrobeats because you are in Africa. So, I came back and I just had that hop in my system, so when I went in to studio I was like forget all this poetry that we have been recording I need something to this hop and it ended up being this song. I think what was really nice for me, I was able to tell the story in a more concise way, so that means that with me I don’t have to tell you all the details because I am not silent, and not just using words for 8 minutes because there is still a chorus and a bridge but I am still going to get my point across. So, I think it was a more subtle way of telling the same story which I quite liked.
Many creative people including myself come across the notorious “creative block” what do you do when you find yourself in this place?
Mannn, I just ride them out…yeah…I just think that if it doesn’t want to come just leave it for a bit, just let it brew for a little bit. If it gets to a point where I got a brief or a client that I need to write a poem for then I soak myself in inspiration. So, I listen back to old poems that inspired me sometimes, I may go to an exhibition, see a dance show. I really saturate myself with things that should trigger words at least, and If nothing is still coming then I may read a poem or a bunch of poems that really inspire me. And I may write a poem based off one of the lines in the poem, and let’s say the line is ‘he was a gap in ocean’ I will take that line and make it the title and then sort of free flow from there. So, the topics will give themselves to me then eventually something will just start vibrating, but if I’m not having to rush to catch a client or brief then I just ride it out. You can’t be fluid all the time that’s not how it works even rivers are like that (laughs).
Your TED Talks are amazing and very unique and I love the combination of mixing poetry with a strong message. Why did you decide to approach it this way?
I can give a talk; I public speak so I can give a talk and it doesn’t have to rhyme… but I just think that the beauty of poetry is that it’s the fine line in-between conversation and art. Which means it is understandable so everyone can be privy to what you want to get across, but the art side means that it penetrates and I think for me that is the only art form that really does that. So, I think when I do stages, such as TED Talks, or Glastonbury for example I just think if I want to get to the core of you, and I really believe in the message then I am going to combine that art and conversation, because you’re going to get the angle and you’re going to feel it.
‘My boyfriend isn’t allowed to cry’ unfortunately is a true and unforgiving tale of a struggle that many males go through. Since you gave the TED Talk what reactions have you got from it?
Ooo so, I did the bad thing, I checked my YouTube comments and I have never done this. I pretty much just use YouTube as a thing that I put my stuff on and left it. So, for years I haven’t looked at the comments and then…I looked at these TED Talk comments and it was a sea of men saying, ‘ahh it’s another women telling us how to behave’ or ‘that’s the problem with these feminists’. Remember I was 18 at the time as well and I mean I was not even that well versed in come back I was just hurt and I was just upset by it. But that being said now I do a lot of work in the space of toxic masculinity, because I think at a time like now where feminism is the loudest and strongest conversation, there is no such thing as levelling the playing field without talking to the men in that same breath. When people are getting more power than they have ever had at any given time, which is women at this point in time, a lot of the time it can almost become a reverse reaction and can become even more one sided. I think some of us can forget these statistics that men are the biggest committers of suicide, and men do experience mental illness, and I am more inclined to speak on my problems than you are. Because culturally it is the case across more cultures than any other culture with any other sort of conversation. So, I think I am really passionate about that as I think where, we have a forum at the moment to express and talk, its making or forcing men to be quieter and that is not healthy… it’s just not healthy.
You performed with the London Symphony Orchestra as part of UnFOLD’s collaboration with Jerwood composer+ Jasmin Kent Rodgman at LSO St Lukes. What was experience that like and how did the whole thing come together?
Man, it was so cool so I worked with UnFOLD prior to this and it was just like a string quartet and we went on a UK Tour, and strings are I would say the closest thing to an opera singer very, very emotive. I think the electric guitar sings like a human, the piano is like the base of someone’s voice but I think strings are almost like the cry of a person. So, what they asked me to do was a big composition, it was a shade show, put on by Jasmin who composed it and the whole talk was about shade or shadism in race. They heard this poem before and they were like we want to do this poem I worked actually with Kamila and a few other people sort of piecing it together. And I just remember the first rehearsal we went into you go in with an image of how you think it is going to sound, and I was very much like this needs to be like this, this, this. But then when you’re working with very intelligent musicians who understand the comprehension of the poem it takes it to a whole other level. And they did, they just got poetry, they got that we are not looking for beats and bars, you’re looking for like a line or verse that will sort of make the change. They got that and I think that took it to a level and it really pulled the emotion out of me as well because it changed the whole performance. The way I performed was very different to when I just perform to a Hip-Hop Beat to how I performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, was very, very different but it was amazing.
‘Just a friend’ with Chozen is a beautiful and raw emotional story about having a close male friend combined with the Biz Markie song. How did that collaboration and idea come about?
So, I saw Floetry’s song, I can’t remember what it is called but (starts singing the lyrics) …but yeah, they did that, and I thought why haven’t I done a collaboration with a poet this is so sick? I was doing the poetry circuit with Chozen at the time and we tried to write it…and it is weird suddenly writing with someone, and we knew we wanted to be so close-knit with the conversation. We were like 16⁄17 at the time as well so it was very weird trying to write together. I think we took a picture that we were working together and a show called Vocals & Verses contacted us to perform together, and we were like yes but we hadn’t written the poem at this point. So, we had two writing sessions, we got like pretty much nothing done, and then the writing session before the show we got the whole poem written. It was very fluid once we sort of stepped into it, it was very much like he was saying something, ‘but you said this and I said de, de, de, de, de ’ and it became a really fluid writing experience once you sink into that same rhythm, but before that it was just a mind block.
Your book Somebody Give This Heart a Pen (Paperback) a collection of your amazing poetry is out now. Like many artists who go through the process of selection and elimination how did you decide which ones to keep in and what ones that didn’t quite make the cut?
I think I set myself the target of writing a 120 to cut it down to 60. So, I wrote like a 110 then I cut it down to 70, and it was very much the poems I would go and read again like what poems if I picked up the book would I be happy to see. And I was very comfortable to throw poems away, I was like you don’t give me a strong feeling, you’re not even a true story, no, this didn’t actually happen, no, the rhyme structure is off, no, then I got the final 90 and that’s when it became hard. Then I made chapters and thought ok what fits in the sort of story line in the book and I think that was final cutting it down part.
You mention the contradictions of how people assume you to be and in the interview with Reform Funk you mention that the thing that was holding you back was not actually the expectations of others, but your guilt for not conforming to these stereotypes. What was the “ohh” or “aha” moment that bought you out of this thought process?
Wooo, I was at uni I started realising what people would laugh at, and what people wouldn’t laugh at, so I wrote according to them. And then I realised I am sad and I think it was the last day of the tour this was way back…I think it was Manchester to London when I was starting this whole journey I felt like I was a clown, I felt like a comedian and didn’t really feel like I was writing from the space I wanted to write. I didn’t think I was an artist, “ARTIST” I didn’t feel like I needed to be like honest I didn’t think I needed to be like that. I felt really, really sad and I just thought if I knew that if God has told me to speak, and channel him and the stories around me why am I making these people my God. Of course, I understand writing from grief and writing for certain mediums but right now I am writing for your laughs, and your approval if you know what I mean. I wasn’t letting God channel through me for the whole period, once I realised this is my purpose and this is my gift I am doing a disservice, making something else my God other than the writing process I just switched back and I was like yep this is for God.
Last but not least what is next? Any exclusives that you can give us with what maybe in the pipeline?
Ooo, I have another single coming out and you are the only person who knows that at the moment…but I won’t give you a name!
And finally, we would love to have you on the I Am Hip-Hop Podcast would you do us the honor and join us for one of our shows in the near future?
Absolutely, of course, of course, of course.
Sophia Thakur’s book ‘Somebody give this heart a pen’ Is out now. Get your copy here.