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Space Afrika on the future, Cosmic Awakening and how to “keep the rawness”

As we await their performance at Cosmic Awakening at HKW, we catch up with Mancunian duo Space Afrika about the future, the creative potential of vulnerability and the way your surroundings shape your art.

Joshua Reid and Josh Inyang. Photo: Frankie Casillo

Cosmic Awakening Festival is all about how our imaginaries of the future impact our music. What does the future look like for you?

Josh Inyang: The immediate future looks like trust in everything we’ve built. I’m ready to leave my long-term work and really jump into the music and give it the time and dedication it needs. We’ve realised what we believed in from the very start. So, the future looks like following up on our intentions and being practical about them. It means taking the risk and putting things in place for a better future. Expounding on the art forms. If anything, it’s giving ourselves the opportunities, the time, to bring more of what we’ve had in mind behind the scenes into the world.

I’m ready to leave my long-term work and really jump into the music

Joshua Reid: To see a lot of our dreams come to life is great from a personal perspective. But it’s also important not to forget about the art. It’s not always driven by positive things, but negative experiences too. So, when we change things not just in relation to ourselves but also the immediate community, we tend to address those themes through hardship as well.

In terms of what we can self-actualise, it’s not just music and sound, we’re looking at other ways we can convey the message. As much as the world’s changing, the outlook remains positive. But during that journey, there will be times when the emotions might not be easygoing.

There’s a vulnerability to your work. Can you expound on the moments in which this has been a positive influence on your artistic practice?

JI: Vulnerability has always been the most important factor. Those situations can be anything from a breakup to the loss of a family member or any time you’re left without choice. When you’re in a difficult situation, you can react to it. One of our outlets is making music, sounds or however you want to describe it. It doesn’t always have to be related to something purely negative or purely within ourselves.

JR: It’s about the experiences you’ve had, whether they be negative or positive. It’s what you take from that, whether you are pulled down or whether you pull yourself up with it. It’s different for everybody. In our favour, most of what we’ve been inspired by comes from those places. A lot of our coverage from the press identifies that vulnerability as related to a sort of heavier emotion, like loss or grief.

But look at the album we just dropped. It’s been extremely successful on many levels. We’ve been on tour for a year now, and the confidence we got from playing these shows, travelling to these countries and realising that our art is respected is a completely positive, heartwarming emotion. That’s what vulnerability has done to us, mentally, in terms of believing in our art.

There also seems to be a certain amount of playful energy to your music. Is that fair?

JR: I think that makes sense. In our formative years, we spent a lot of time together. Growing up, we shared the same experiences and got inspired by tapping into energy at the same time. There’s a playful element to it: we’re having banter on the phone, talking about stuff that’s happened in the past. Some of those experiences are positive and funny and that does seep into the music.

We know how to make songs, we know how to get where we want, but what we want to do is constantly changing.

We’ve spent a lot of time together and, unlike some other bands, the relationship is not just formed around a musical identity. It comes from both being inspired by the same things and building on each of ourselves at the same time. Sometimes, it could be that Josh is just sharing memes and we’re laughing. But sometimes it’s got some deeper meaning, so we’ll try to read into that and use it as inspiration.

JI: We’re still working out how to make the sounds we’ve always wanted or use a programme that we just randomly downloaded. At this point, we know how to make songs, we know how to get where we want, but what we want to do is constantly changing. It’s almost like kids in the playground, we’re still playing around, still getting to know the new tools and toys. We’re still trying to fuck around with all sorts of stuff. We’re still learning and that’s why there is a childlike energy, because there’s room to grow.

Cities offer visions of hope and history from different times, social relations in different forms. How did the urban environments you grew up in impact your music?

Sunset over Manchester. Photo: IMAGO / Arcaid Images

JR: You’re told that modernity has been destined for hope – that’s been our experience in Manchester. We grew up there as children, teenagers, off the back of this strong musical legacy. But before we had things like NTS Radio, there was actually no room for that creativity to happen.

The city changes very quickly and there are a lot of us in the same situation. The good thing to come from that was that we were able to form communities, groups of people that could start to address things specifically in the location we were based in. We took inspiration from the architecture and the journeys we’ve travelled and put that into some sort of art form. That’s what makes music from there quite interesting.

The stories we tell come from this place of sometimes feeling left out from some of the big guns elsewhere in the UK. Maybe Manchester had that limelight in the 1990s, but then none of the things we were promised ever came. So, it forces people into boxes, into places to start creating something. Having these hopes and dreams and trying to actualise them in confined spaces can have interesting results.

First and foremost, we’ve been making it for ourselves.

JI: We’ve built our confidence in the situation that Josh just described. That environment, being around other super-talented people but not having anywhere to go and really having to work our way to break through was important. Realising that your work is worthy of being received in a bigger picture and on a bigger perspective means a lot. But also, we’ve come to know that the work we do is good because we enjoy it. First and foremost, we’ve been making it for ourselves.

Sometimes it’s the complete journey of trying to work out how to make a sound that can produce the type of song that you want. Sometimes it’s a reaction to something that’s happened and the emotional process of working through that moment. We’ve really started to connect all the dots. We are confident with that and it’s almost like we know what our thing is. We love to keep the rawness – we need it to have a bigger impact on the sound and the life story of a whole record.

Joshua Reid and Josh Inyang are Space Afrika. Among the most innovative and interesting acts across any genre, their second album Honest Labour was Exberliner’s record of the year for 2021. Now performing at Cosmic Awakening at HKW, their music is raw, expansive, emotive and, above all, real.