Pandemic struggles shaped artist’s new album
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/09/2021 (556 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Behind everyone, even the most self-assured and energetic hip-hop performer, is a family.
Winnipeg rapper Anthony OKS touches on that fact in his upcoming sophomore EP, In the Garden, in which he shows his respect and appreciation for his father, Tony.
In the song Boy From Freetown, which along with In the Garden hits streaming services Sept. 24, OKS describes his father’s journey from west Africa to Manitoba and in so doing, reveals there is more to Anthony Sannie, the man behind the Anthony OKS persona, than stirring up an audience with his lyrics and stage presence.
“Him and my mom are two of my life heroes, what they did for me and my brothers and the struggles they went through,” he says of Tony and his mother, Suzette. “That’s part of the reason I wake up every day and I do what I can and strive for what I can.
“It’s also like this voice in my head that I don’t want to shake because I know what they went through.”
Tony was born and raised in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, but left when he was 17, eventually making his way to Winnipeg.
While Sierra Leone is sometimes thought of as a country riven by civil war and violence, his son says in an interview and in Boy From Freetown that struggles after leaving Africa, first going to Italy and the United States before coming to Winnipeg, shaped Tony and his family.
“The tension in the song really happens after he leaves (Sierra Leone) and that stuff happened to him because of his economic situation, as an immigrant without money, without any means to make it in a world where people in power don’t look like him,” OKS says.
“Children of immigrants have this deep, deep, deep-rooted connection and I think on this song I wanted to touch on that and bring that out.”
OKS is also part of the city rap group the Lytics, which was one of the acts chosen to be part of the Manitoba 150 concert at Shaw Park in August.
He began writing the songs for In the Garden in 2019 while touring with the Lytics in Europe, putting pen to paper while riding the tour van between gigs.
Like almost all music released in the past two years though, OKS’s songs are about relationships that have been altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The result is a soulful record with combinations of hip-hop and R&B that disrupt the rap stereotype at some points while embracing it during others.
“You’re hearing that soul because it was an emotional time for me,” he says. “Not sad, I wouldn’t say sad at all. I think there was a lot of positive and beautiful growth that was happening in my life a year and a half ago but it was pretty emotional.
“A lot of these feelings I think I’m touching were topics that were top of mind during the quarantine. I started working on the record before the lockdown and then during the lockdown it was pretty much my day job because we couldn’t go anywhere.”
OKS has released two songs from the EP already, including Clearly Now, which he calls an underground hip-hop type of track but also has a saxophone solo winding its way through the track that creates a chill tone.
Another song that will be unveiled along with In the Garden’s release is Fortified, a duet with Begonia, the stage name for Winnipeg singer-songwriter Alexa Dirks, and the two create a vocal contrast of a different sort on the love song.
“I kept thinking to myself that Alexa would sound really good singing this hook. But the song wasn’t done yet, and then COVID hit, and then I had time to finish it up,” he says. “Then I remembered, ‘Oh man, I should connect with Alexa because I think she would really make the song better, and she did. She listened to it and she liked it quite a bit. We got into the studio and it was pretty fun.”
When OKS performs with the Lytics, the vibe bounces and accelerates from one rapper to another and to the audience. He’s found performing solo creates a marked difference.
“There’s sometimes when I’m playing alone, where I’m just closing my eyes and escape within myself because there’s nowhere else to go or I escape within the energy of the crowd,” he says.
That escape returns Sept. 23, when OKS holds a release party for In the Garden at the Beer Can that will include city performers JayWood, Zuki, Gully and Kilusan. Tickets are $22.23, including fees, and will be available at eventbrite.ca beginning Sept. 14 at 10 a.m.
While OKS can’t wait to perform his songs for a crowd, he’s also is thinking about his next batch of songs and the story from a subject close to his heart that he wants to tell.
“There’s going to be another song about my mom at some point,” he says. “She needs her own song but I figured I’d start with this one.”
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Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.