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Black man wearing denim, holding a gold ornament, surrounded by other accolades


It’s not every day you sit down with a legend in the making. When 14stroke16 sat down with Kwame KZ Kwei-Armah, we had the unmissable chance to be flies-on-the-wall in his North London studio. KZ is perhaps best known for his twofold nomination at last year’s Grammys under Best R&B Album for Babyface’s Girls Night Out, and Best Song Written for Visual Media with Lift Me Up from the Black Panther Wakanda Forever soundtrack. Couple those with his BAFTA under Best Original Score/ Music for the BBC’s hit mini-series Mood, and it’s clear that we’ve got a veritable virtuoso of musical storytelling on our hands. A storyteller who can spurn the spoken word cuts to something deeper, more visceral in the human condition. Relaying narrative and rousing emotion while transcending the confines of language is a feat most artists could only aspire to – and one Kwame makes look as easy as breathing.

Black Man in denim holding a gold ornament

Having grown up in such an artistic family, maybe it is. He tells us that “there was just always music going on in my house... there was just, noise”, and with inspiration abounding from his father, aunts, and uncles alike, his path was clear: “I guess I had the pick of the litter of what direction I wanted to go into musically.” He cites the likes of Pharrell, Quincy Jones, and Max Martin as his primary influences, and was drawn to production for its multi-faceted role in the creative process; allowing him to combine his love for writing, composition, and – most importantly, creative collaboration. He tells us:

“It’s being in service to the thing that you love. And everyone who I’ve looked at who’s super successful, they’ve always made sure there’s a humility to, you know, how they approach the game. And it always starts with, “I’m in service to this artist, I’m in service to this company, or to whatever.” Do you know what I mean? And I find that quite freeing in a sense."

Despite their cross-border and cross-genre variations, Kwame’s productions can each be identified by an intricate sonic tapestry – his own personal ‘Wall of Sound’, if you will. In tracks like ‘Angels in Tibet’ for Amaarae, and EXO’s ‘Cream Soda’, you can hear his delicate multi-track arrangements, rising and falling with crisp melodic tension, while maintaining their energy with contagious, driving rhythms. These features stamp his work distinctly as his, like an artist’s signature in the bottom right-hand corner, and it’s a testament to his craft that this personal touch can be found applied to such a broad breadth of genres. When we ask about his process, Kwame tells us that instead, he has processes.

Black man with dreads in denim shearling jacket
Black man with dreads in a denim shearling jacket

His foundation always starts with authenticity, but he allows himself “to be as open and receptive to whoever’s in the room with me.” Rather than any one personal ritual or tradition, he moulds his creative approach to the artist that he works with – “my process is more, ‘how do I connect with this human being?’” We find that this fluid creative approach also applies to the places he creates in. From London to Paris, LA, Accra, and Lagos, Kwame tells us that “the sound is still the same, but certain decisions I make around it might be different.” Always a traveller never a tourist, he looks to his hosts for “whatever’s either popping, or whatever feels good, I’ll latch on to that, and just add my sauce that way.” This adaptable approach to making music is also expressed in his personal style. Wearing a dark-wash contrast-stitch cowboy tux with oxblood leather boat shoes, Kwame tells us that his wardrobe strives “for uniqueness as much as possible” and would “rather thrift something or get something tailored. Like, with my music everything is bespoke, so my clothes also are a similar thing.” Drawn to comfort and practicality in design, he notes the influence of fashion on the music he makes:

“Everything from how I feel in an outfit can sometimes dictate what I make. Do you know what I mean? Like, there’s times when I’ve come from the club and I know I’m looking wavy and I’m just like, “Listen, let’s just go back and make something lit.”

Black man laying in a chair playing a guitar
Black man wearing a purple long sleeve t-shirt and a grey joggers sipping a drink

Listening to him, it’s apparent that the pursuit of self-expression and authenticity permeate so many of his decisions; the potential for creative endeavour to be found around every corner. One piece of advice he’d give his younger self? “Believe in your authenticity, believe in your uniqueness. Because that is the thing that’s gonna make you successful. All the different avenues you went down to try and be things that you’re not? Great learning experience. But it’s not you, stay the same.” Or ask he originally put it: “Big man? Trust your ting.”

A black man sat in front of a desk with music studio equipment played on the desk
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