‘I can’t take the easy or quiet road’: GAIKA on power, authenticity and collaboration
Brixton musician GAIKA operates on his own terms. “I’m just built a certain way”, he explains, “so I can’t take the easy or quiet road”.
GAIKA has always chosen this path. It’s never been about gaining commercial recognition or satisfying his own ego. For him, music is a vehicle to challenge and subvert the narrative, to address subjects like Black identity, populism and the perpetual nature of racism, and to paint a picture of the world as he sees it.
This authenticity translates through more than just his musical output. It’s related to everything he does, from his investment in politics and the decisions he makes, to the artists he works with and the connections he maintains.
His latest release is testament to that. Seguridad is a 9-track album made in collaboration with Mexico City-based collective and label NAAFI, that features songs produced with core members of the family: the likes of TAYHANA, Lao, Zutzut, Wasted Fates, OMAAR, Lechuga Zafiro & Debit.
Geographically the crew might be far away from GAIKA’s home base of London, but in ethos and outlook they are undeniably on the same page. “We were friends before so it all happened naturally and pretty much on a whim. No middle men, no drama,” he explains on the subject of the album process. “I recorded with them there at their studio. I am not very big on working remotely.”
This person to person approach manifests itself in the finished product. It’s natural, coherent, and resonates in a way that may not have been achieved over the Internet. Moreover, it has solidified an even stronger relationship between GAIKA and NAAFI; one that will continue into the future.
“We have some events planned in Mexico and globally. I was there in January for a mini festival on the beach, all put together amongst friends, the way things should be. I think the future is mutual aid within small underground organisations, scene interdependence vs big “Independents” if you will.”
On a wider scale, the connection with NAAFI has set a precedent for GAIKA’s subsequent collaborations. “This is something I’m really trying to foster with any project I work on moving forward. Connecting with entities that share my world view and are actually engaged in the communities they purport to represent rather than simply exploit them for profit. It’s important for me to consider that the wealth and power my labour generates is focused towards things I believe in.”
Ultimately it’s about staying true to himself, an attitude that correlates with the subjects he tackles through his music and his art. Yes, it feels poignant that Seguridad was released in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the following Black Lives Matter protests, but GAIKA has been shouting about this for years. These are realities he wouldn’t choose to ignore, rather he prefers to embrace them.
More often than not, be it on social media or in our social circles, we uphold similar values and beliefs as our peers. GAIKA notes a similar sentiment in reference to his creative output; generally he feels as if he’s “speaking to the converted most of the time”.
“There’s this limit to how loud I can shout, when ultimately the people holding the biggest mic fundamentally don’t agree with me. This has been the situation for 100 years or more.”
Over the last two months, within our own echo chambers we might have believed we’d seen white people engaging and listening more than before, but this is a naive view to hold when those with the power to affect actual change are publicly voicing the antithesis.
“I think ultimately the murder on camera of George Floyd activated a lot of people to talk up but I’m yet to see meaningful action from those who hold and wield power, in fact when you look at it we have seen the opposite. Anti Blackness isn’t a mystery, it’s in plain sight yet there is still massive resistance to change it, why?”
In June, Black Lives Matters protests took place across London, and although many protesters took to the streets in support of the movement, the rhetoric from the government was very different. Boris Johnson urged the UK to not support the protests, stating publicly that they were ‘in all probability going to end in violence’. But sentiments like these aren’t just shared amongst the hierarchy, they’re echoed by many across the UK, most of whom choose to bury their heads in the sand and remain ignorant.
As GAIKA rode home through Hyde Park after the Vauxhall protests, the sights that greeted him proved exactly that.
“It was like going from one reality to another. It was full of well heeled white people sunning themselves like nothing untoward was happening. This is the majority. I think this antipathy is gross and I’m tired of so called progress coming in tiny increments and everybody clapping for a hot sec and then it’s back to business as usual. The exaltation of slightly less toxic behaviour, when we are talking about the basic value of a person’s life is useless to me.
The leaders now publicly pandering to the far right do so to save their own political skins. What does that say about the state of affairs? They were voted for by white people largely on platforms that reeked of blatant xenophobia and thinly veiled racism. They still have jobs and now want to save those jobs by being more visibly racist. When those at the levers of power begin to move them towards an actual solution and away from anti-blackness, then I’ll believe anyone has actually received that wakeup call.”
With the initial wave of support for Black Lives Matters beginning to subside, we’ve seen the media and the public start to distance themselves from the movement as the reality of the hard work to come sets in. But this privilege to withdraw into comfort is one not afforded to Black people, an actuality that GAIKA is all too familiar with. Dissecting these truths through his music and art has always been central to his work, so would he incentivise other artists, or anyone with a platform for that matter, to follow suit?
“I can’t encourage artists to do any specific action as I know from personal experience that it’s a bumpy ride into relative obscurity. I guess I would simply ask artists to examine their consciences and the real world before they speak. I would encourage them to think brutally about what matters more, personal wealth or collective gain and make authentic decisions.”
But the responsibility doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of those with a platform. As GAIKA rightly proclaims; the onus is now on everyone to do something.
“To me it’s now on the people who connect with such art, the audience at large, to go and make the changes with the people who don’t get exposed to it – that racist uncle, that bigoted guy down the pub or whatever. It’s on you.”