On 30th October 2019, I published my debut novel, ‘The Escape: A Tale of Change and Revolution’ at 17 years old. The book is a fantasy novel about a young delinquent being led away from a life of youth violence through the aid of a mystical stranger. As described in an article written by Abbianca Makoni from the Press Association, my novel is a testament to the fact that a ‘lack of mentorship is partially to blame for a lot of the problems we have in our community’. Giving guidance and purpose to our young people is the answer to many of our problems. The novel is also shaped by the theme of revolution as it mentions different forms of activism on a journey towards systemic change.
Although I now use creative writing as a means to explore these social issues, I used to have an interest in using music to explore these themes. I’ve been playing the piano since I was 7 and my dream was to make music professionally. My debut album would’ve been a loose character-based concept that boldly fused genres of music that were known to be afro-centric and socially conscious such as jazz, hip hop and neo-soul. I thought about it often until I heard the Robert Glasper Experiment’s ‘Black Radio’ for the first time. Everything that I had in mind had been more than accomplished through that album. I was also astounded by the album’s value as an act of protest against the misappropriation of our culture. Robert Glasper and his band knew the history of black music as a mechanism of protest and in their own way, they had continued that protest by paying homage to their musical ancestors. Over time I thought about this deeply whilst my creative interests began to divert into writing and I relied on literature as my preferred medium of expression. The product of which was my debut novel.
These different mediums may seem quite different but as Glasper’s album proved to me, the idea of revolution, which is vital to the novel, is tied deeply to music. A fictional group of revolutionaries named ‘Uncensored Change’ fight against those in power by operating in clandestine fashions (i.e. hacking databases and obtaining key information) to uncover avenues of systemic freedom. The only time they appear publicly in the book, they do so in a rhapsody of music. They shout, march and play in time to a Fela Kuti-like orchestra of activism, whilst referencing Gil Scott Heron’s poem ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’. It is an unstoppable public protest against social injustice and the controlling dangers of the internet and social media.
I wrote my novel with music ceaselessly flowing through my ears. The tale’s ambience was formed by the music I was obsessed with at the time. In magical moments where I wrote about characters flying through the air, I had Miles Davis’ ‘Miles In The Sky’ playing on repeat. Whilst writing about a moment of isolation and introspection for the young delinquent, I played SZA’s ‘Z’ album. There were countless times during the album where particular artists or album’s shaped the way that I wrote and shaped the evolution of certain characters.
The music of Fela Kuti and Afrika ’70 heavily inspired the novel’s character of revolution. A speech that appears near the novel’s end was an adapted version of a speech I did when I was 16 concerning censorship in music. In my original speech, I spoke largely about the way in which repeated attempts were made to silence Fela Kuti purely because of the message of liberation that he held within his music. The novel’s adapted version doesn’t speak about the afrobeat originator. Rather, it refers to the way protest and rebellion has been altered by a culture of trends and celebrity influence. By placing so much power into these things, we risk forgetting that the idea of revolution is everlasting and not dependent on the concepts of internet popularity and likes. Fela, who was very critical of the ideas of vanity and trends especially ones that came from the West, most likely would’ve put a similar message into his music if he was alive today.
Elsewhere in the novel, music is used as a powerful tool to create calm and induce harmony in times of discord. Numerous times in the novel, one of the novel’s central figures, King Keys, the Perpetually Pensive Poet, wields a small wind instrument called a melodica (think Gorillaz’ ‘Clint Eastwood’) in order to draw the attention of others away from trouble. This is what led me to bring my melodica with me to my interviews on BBC Radio London and ITV News to play Fela Kuti’s ‘Colonial Mentality’ live on air. King Keys, The Perpetually Pensive Poet evolved through poetry and song lyrics as I transitioned to crafting more creative fiction. He also dons an iron mask which is an attribute that was inspired by my all-time favourite rapper, MF DOOM. Starting as the emblem of my music, King Keys, grew into the unifying force for my novel’s two underpinning themes: community activism and social rebellion (or in shorter words ‘change and revolution’, the book’s title).
As you uncover more and more about these inseparable themes, it is also evident to see the way UK jazz plays a massive role in the story. Acts like Zara McFarlane, Ezra Collective and Nubya Garcia, all of whom have shaped the current London jazz scene, are named throughout the novel as a tribute to the impact that this genre had on me as an author. Femi Koleoso, the bandleader for Ezra Collective was my music teacher in secondary school. Numerous teachings and proverbs about self-determination that he offered me as a student are included in the novel. In fact, it is no coincidence that Nubya Garcia, Ezra Collective and Joe Armon-Jones, all of whom were mentioned in the novel, all had tracks on Brownswood Recordings’ ‘We Out Here’ compilation album. I bought this album in 2017, which was the same year that I began to write my novel and I was intrigued by the album’s liner notes which included a written piece by Tej Adeleye. It spoke out against the Windrush Scandal, Brexit and other movements that impacted Britain’s intolerance of its immigrant communities. I felt the sense of protest that underpinned the music of one of my favourite genres.
Essentially, ‘The Escape: A Tale of Change and Revolution’ was born from a point of respect for the power of black music. I see it as the written form of my dream album- a work that amalgamates different musical traditions of protest and change. Through it you can find a world where music and activism intertwine into mystical rebellion against the institutions that obstruct progress.