"Wearing shoes would be like blindfolding my feet"
Get to know the ridiculous, thoughtful, and always provocative Ghanaian-Romanian rapper Wanlov the Kubolor.
Ghanaian -Romanian rapper/vagabond Wanlov the Kubolor arrived at the Transamazoniennes Festival in French Guiana the same way he arrives everywhere: barefoot, wearing a sarong, and ready to throw down. Wanlov, whose many projects include hip-hop duo FOKN BOIS and creating the first-ever musical in pidgin English, was invited to this remote Amazonian outpost of France to perform with his “African Gypsy” ensemble. The band is made up of Ghanaian and French gypsy musicians and was put together for Wanlov’s third solo album, Brown Card. Except this time, the African half of the band didn’t make it, trapped in visa purgatory in some faraway European airport. With characteristic nonchalance, Wanlov took to the stage anyway, spitting post-modern raps while banging a traditional box drum over the sounds of violin and accordion. The crowd ate it up.
MTV Iggy reporter Marlon Bishop caught up with Wanlov after the show to talk about Kanye, the future of African music, and the joys of wearing a man-skirt.
To start off, tell us a little bit about who you are?
I’m Wanlov the Kubolor, African gypsy and FOKN BOI from Accra, Ghana and Ploiești, Romania. World traveler, musician, buttocks watcher, and Facebook girls-only friend request confirmer.
How did the African-Gypsy project come to be?
Well I grew up in Ghana always listening to highlife and African pop music, but always listened to Romanian music, gypsy music at home with my mother. I started seeing connections between them in the instruments and the cultures. I won an artistic residency in Paris, and I decided to use it to try and blend the two sides.
How do you see this album in the context of your previous solo albums?
Well Green Card and Yellow Card were studio projects mostly influenced by West Africa. With Brown Card-African Gypsy, I included a lot more of my Romanian background. The project is like some personal therapy thing. Because there was a time when I was listening to Immortal Technique and Dead Prez – these very serious guys, and I was not being pro-human, only pro-African.
People would ask me where I’m from and I’d say “My father is Ashanti” and then I’d be quiet and not say anything about my mother, who is European and Romanian. And I started feeling wrong about that. But by doing African Gypsy, I embrace both sides, and now I classify myself as just a human being.
You are often noted for your, um…unique fashion sense. When did you start wearing a sarong?
I’ve been wearing a sarong since 2006. I haven’t put on a pair of trousers except for capoeira, because in capoeira you do certain things that show people certain things that they might not want to see. I just started realizing that it was feeling good just to wear a cloth around me, so I went for it.
And why do you choose not to wear shoes?
Well I went barefoot a lot when I was little. And in Ghana I was going to the beach a lot, and after a while, I started finding it harder and harder to put on shoes. And now, everywhere I go, apart from the smells, the sights, the sounds of places, I also memorize in my mind how the ground feels. So wearing shoes would be like blindfolding my feet.
What would you say inspires you most?
Women, shapely women, and interesting women.
The FOKN BOIS have gotten a lot of attention online for the song “Thank God We’re Not A Nigerians.” Tell me about that song?
Ooo, that song caused a lot of trouble. But we just performed it at a 2Face event at the Indie GO in London. It was a Nigerian crowd, Nigerian artists and nobody did anything to us, they loved the song.
You and your music really represent a new generation of creativity in Africa. What do you think we’ll be seeing in the years to come?
I think right now the cost of doing videos has gone down, so I’m seeing nicer videos. I’m seeing more dance music from Ghana – the beats are speeding up. In general I feel a lot of focus is shifting to Africa, with people like Kanye signing D’Banj and Wyclef coming to do songs with Reggie Rockstone and 2Face.
In certain parts of the world, people are feeling that in order to remain relevant, they have to follow where the new wave is going and branching out to those places. As to what’s going to happen tomorrow, I really can’t tell. Somebody could be waking up tomorrow and have a toothbrush sticking out their ear and singing a song about toilet paper. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. But I know that the FOKN BOIS are going to have a fatwah put on their head once their album drops.
Feature photo credit: Marlon Bishop.