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Dizraeli: Personally Political, Politically Personal

21 May 2016 Tom Faber

Bristol’s rapper and instrumentalist Dizraeli first drew interest for his unusual hip hop fusions which incorporated guitar, singing and even an eight-piece band. As his career has progressed his raw vocal delivery remains powerful alongside lyrics that veer from the personal to the political to the mythical in the space of a single verse.Dizraeli split from his band last year, and spent some of the intervening time in Senegal studying music and in Calais meeting refugees in the ‘jungle’. In the run-up to his new EP, we chatted to him about cultural contexts, artistic intimacy and political responsibility.

London Calling: Your new EP ‘Eat My Camera’ is about to come out, and a lot has changed between your last release and this one.

Dizraeli: My last release was with Dizraeli and the Small Gods, a band I was working with for six years. Now I’ve left the band and gone solo, and my first release is a very acoustic EP. Working with an eight-piece band, sometimes you can over-complicate things and have so many layers that you lose something. So I’m taking it right back down to basics. It feels very vulnerable, very exposed, but something very different. The feeling of the songs is still the same; the things that inspire me are the same. It’s just presented in a different way.

 

LC: Would you say the subject of your lyrics is the same? Has there been a turn towards more personal subjects?

D: My stuff has always been pretty all-encompassing subject-wise. In the last record I did with Dizraeli and the Small Gods, there was a song called ‘The Depths’which was a very personal record. It was from my own perspective as a bisexual man and about my experience of homophobia growing up. There’s always been a lot of personal and political stuff in there. But often if you present things in a more intimate way then people hear them as more personal songs.

 


 

LC: Do you feel like you have a persona onstage or is it just ‘you’?

D: I feel like I have less and less of a persona when I perform. There’s a degree of confidence and self-belief that you have to inhabit when you’re standing on a stage in front of x-hundred people. You have to believe that you deserve to be there and that you have something to offer. But my whole trajectory is towards being myself, being vulnerable and real and raw and unpretentious. I think that’s the thing I aspire to: to be as fully myself as possible. That’s something I want to try to help empower other people to do.

 

LC: It’s interesting that something about the place and the society we live in means that ‘being yourself’ is something we aspire to rather than something which is natural.

D: It’s like trying to not try, it’s a bit of a tightrope walk. You read books about acting and performing poetry and it’s this game to distract yourself from the fact you’re performing and just ‘be’ as much as possible. But it’s not just performers - the whole tradition of Buddhism is the idea of being present and mindful. Not living for the future and the past or material belongings, and that’s basically what I’m talking about. Just being present, not thinking ‘oh I’m doing a show, I’ve got to be impressive’. Just being real to you rather than selling some idea of yourself.

The shows I’m doing at the moment are so different. I get people coming up to me after the show and confessing their deepest secrets to me. Because they heard me do the same on stage. They come up to me after the show and share very personal things with me.

 

LC: How do you respond to that?

D: It’s a bit of a weird situation. These people have seen me stand up and present myself for the last hour and a half but I’m meeting them for the first time and they’re telling me all these things. Each person who comes up to me and does that, I want to give them hours of my time and hear what they have to say. It’s quite powerful, just to share yourself is empowering for other people.

 


 

LC: You recently spent six weeks in Senegal. Can you tell me about it?

D: I wanted to go somewhere completely different. I love the music of Senegal, I’ve heard it at WOMAD a couple of times, especially kora music. I ended up living in this fishing village and learning how to play an instrument called the balafon, which is a hard-wood xylophone. I really had my mind blown by the culture there. It’s very different, very communal, infused with music and dance at every point. It was a very beautiful experience and I’d like to go back.

 

LC: Is there some way that music plays a role in Senegalese community that you think we could learn from in Britain?

D: Absolutely. We live in a profoundly capitalist society. Everything’s commodified because everything’s for sale. The mentality is about making a living and paying your extortionate rent to your wealthy landlord. It means that culture and art and music and dance and all these natural expressions of being human are commodified, consumed for money. It seemed in Senegal this is less the case, it’s just something people do. If you get people together, music will happen. I wish that was the case here. I want to have a sense of where the music comes from and its context.

 

LC: In terms of the context of your music there’s a link to the English folk tradition.

D: I’m not from an English folk background whatsoever. I come from a hip hop and drum and bass background. At a certain point I got interested in English folk because when you travel to other countries where music is passed from one generation to the next you start wondering - ‘What songs would my dad have sung to me if he was brought up in a context where the community sang songs to each other?’

So I started looking into English folk and was amazed to find this whole tradition and the 60s revival. I don’t like all folk music - especially not the cutesy pastoral stuff that the Victorians liked but I think there’s a very strong thread of tales of everyday peoples’ lives, struggles and protests which really interest me. I’m inspired by music forms where the artists take responsibility and sing about the injustice they see around them.

 

LC: Do you think artists have a responsibility to do that?

D: No I don’t, but I feel a responsibility to do that. It’s always something I felt really strongly about. Partly because of my upbringing, my dad was a political and environmental activist. It’s a part of my context, if you see something wrong then you should do something about it. That’s definitely always been a part of the story for me. But not all my songs have an overt political message. I definitely don’t wanna be that guy preaching because I think in our culture, which is almost post-religious, people switch off to that. The most powerful thing to do is to tell a story that embodies the compassion and love that you hope other people might be inspired by.

 

Dizraeli’s new EP ‘Eat My Camera’ is out now.        

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