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Combating Stereotypes: Conversations with Young Fathers

By Vanessa Krystin Wong

It’s been almost exactly a year since Young Fathers has been to Vancouver, first opening up for Baths in 2014 at Fortune Sound Club, and a lot has changed. From winning the infamous Mercury Prize Award, to the release of their second studio album, White Men Are Black Men Too, Young Fathers have grown into a complex band of mixed emotions and contemporary influences – casting them into a larger pool of accelerating artists that stand for something other than just making music.

Through their strong choice in titles, Dead being the first and White Men Are Black Men Too being their second, you have to wonder what goes behind these calculated ideas where  their songs and lyrics playing with questions of racism, discrimination and stereotypes. When on the phone with G. Hastings of Young Fathers, he explains:

“It’s not just for one reason, and it’s not just like anarchy, a throw-away, annilistic or ironic statement that we just wanted to get a bit of controversy from. What we found with why we went with that arrangement was because it made people talk rather than shout at each other. Especially now, I think it would be a good thing for a lot of people, especially the people in power. The police or whoever might understand a bit more rather than just shooting people down. We try to combat the stereotypes. It’s quite carried away in the media that blacks and whole groups of people are put under one umbrella, saying that people are like this and that, subconsciously or consciously by the news. We can’t be denying the fact that the world is very multi-facetted and complex and we shouldn’t really be allowed to define a group of people into one thing.

The album uses situationalism. We want to outsmart talk and spark thinking, conversations and feuds. We’ve had a few conversation since the album has come out and it’s been good conversations, whether it’s been negative or positive. It allows you to think and talk about it which I think is better. A lot of the time people say they don’t like it and then they talk about it and then understand where you’re coming from. They might not start to like it, but they understand.

You want to be heard even though people hate you. Now people know what sounds like us exists. The powerful force behind the band is the fact that it’s three different people who make music together but they’re sound isn’t mangled together. We might not like the same things, we fight and argue all the time but it’s all about what you can make in the end.”

It is with that bravado, both musically and in performance, that has carried Young Fathers into what they are now. With a mixture noise rock and lo-fi aesthetics, their backgrounds have curbed their sounds into an alternative look at R&B and hip hop. Meeting at a local hip hop night 13 years ago, the three members Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and G. Hastings have come to realize that their different upbringings influence the way they approach Young Fathers – very different and particular but ultimately holding one common vision.

“You want to be in the same place as a huge act. and you want to be heard by the same amount of people that listen to these huge acts because it’s not just about being in a band anymore. On one hand, you want to make money because you need to survive and on the other, you want people who don’t love music to know who you are because it means that it’s a bigger idea. I believe that’s important – it’s not just us as a band but popular culture as a whole.”

And with these mentalities, Young Fathers has created an artistic direction that is both understanding and intimidating. These ideas can be seen in Shame, their first music video off White Men Are Black Men Too. Directed by Jeremy Cole, a supporter that chose to feature Young Fathers in his Four To The Floor E4 series, it shows a young man walking along a street.

“Up until now, we’ve done all our own videos. Jeremy has always been supportive and wanted to do something with us. We wanted the idea to be simple: a boy walking. And we were really happy with the result. The main character was someone I definitely identified with. He looked and dressed how I did when I was young and it was very comforting. We were nervous to release control to another person, especially when we’ve been doing something ourselves for so long but Jeremy did a great job.”

Even with all the heavy themes tackled in their lyrics and titles, there seems to be a happier outlook to life with Young Fathers, contrasting with the dissonant musicalities. It is a perspective that has stood out from many other artists that also stand to throw away stereotypes and discriminations.

“We try put two things against each other that don’t really belong because that’s kind of what life is like. It’s not positive or negative, dark or light. Young Fathers is not one thing, it’s different everytime. I think that’s what makes it interesting. Because you can dance to it and that’s makes it realistic and human. We always try to find a human elelment – rather than trying to artisticaly add too much, making it too fancy. We like things that are real and I think that goes right through to our music. It’s what makes it human and personal. You can have so much more with a smile behind your words.”

By Vanessa Krystin Wong

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