But I don’t like poetry. Well, I don’t mind poetry. I just don’t know anything about it!
Don’t call him a poet. And certainly don’t call him a rapper. Welcome to the bizarre world of Tooting-born singer and producer Obaro Ejimiwe. When he’s making music, he’s Ghostpoet. And yeah, there’s that dreaded word ‘poet’ again.
“I know it’s my own fault for calling myself Ghostpoet,” he laughs. “But I don’t like poetry. Well, I don’t mind poetry. I just don’t know anything about it!”
Speaking to Obaro at departures in Heathrow before he jumps off to Australia for wee tour Down Under, I reluctantly get him to explain the origins of his moniker.
“The ‘ghost’ part of the name comes from the idea of just trying to disappear from things and allow the music to come to the fore,” Obaro explains. “I didn’t want it to be about me as a person. And the ‘poet’ part was just to not to be seen as a rapper – that’s never been my interest and never will be!”
Got that? Anyway, call him and his music what you like, but the wordsmith is sharpening his pencil for his final tour date of the year at Hackney Empire on Thursday, October 24th. And if you’ve never seen him perform you are in for a treat. On record, he sounds subdued and the music sounds endlessly nocturnal and claustrophobic, like the soundtrack to a rainy episode of Skins as trouble and strife run riot and he tries to escape the madness.
His debut, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, triggered a surprise Mercury music prize nomination in 2011 for his unusual combination of beats, wordy chat and atmospheric vibe. He dropped his second album, Some Say I So I Say Light, this year and he certainly upped the ante on his wordplay. Just take his duet with fellow South Londoner Charles Hayward (of This Heat fame) on Sloth Trot where Obaro rattles off: “And I can’t see, breathe, chase steps, move left, make moves I want to please, please/ And this tube stop life I can’t keep up, pack bags, look man I have to leave, leave” with an uncomfortable ease.
“I’m not going for a type of music or a genre,” the 30-year-old remarks. “I don’t think of it like that. It’s just me vocalising a composition that I’ve made. Very much about taking a song on a case by case basis – how should I put some lyrics on this track? From there, I just experiment with my vocals and the music.”
But while the albums have served as a crucial calling card for the largely bedroom-based musician, it’s on stage where he calls in the band, turns up the heat and lets himself loose.
Just check out his performance at this summer’s Reading Festival where he jumped into a BBC Three studio with a French horn player and knocked out a super-tweaked version of Cold Win. The brass gives it an extra kick – but it’s not an experiment that he will be trying again anytime soon.
“That was just a one-off,” Obaro says. “We just felt like doing it. I’d love to add a few extra members to the band. But it’s not just about what I want – there are a lot of factors involved, especially financially. Maybe in the future! At the moment, I’m really happy with the band I’ve got now.”
And so he should be. Away from the confines of the studio, the band features a live drummer and two knob-twiddling keyboard players, while Obaro also mans the electronics. The tunes sound infinitely funkier, the groove sounds looser and he seems more upbeat and energised, making for one infectious show.
“Playing live is a much different environment than a recording studio. I never want to just replicate the album when I play live. I want it to be its own experience,” Obaro says.
Amen to that. Now come see and hear for yourself.