UK/ID Festival

Afrikan Boy Talks Spicy Food, Senyawa, and Life In 'the Land of Indomie'

We caught up with the UK grime artist to talk about his collab with some of the rising stars of Indonesian hip-hop.
October 30, 2017, 8:06am
All images courtesy the British Council

Afrikan Boy clearly remembers the first time he learned about Indonesia. The grime artist, whose real name is Olushola Ajose, was looking at a packet of Indomie—an instant noodle so popular in Nigeria that, for many, "Indomie" is just another word for noodles—when he realized that it wasn't actually from his home country.

"I always thought Indomie was made in Nigeria," Ajose told VICE. "So I was looking at the packet and I went 'Oh Indomie is Indone-OH Indo-nesia' and I was like, OK. I was happy to be going here, to the land of Indomie, man."

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But there was more to love about "the land of Indomie" than just the instant noodles. Ajose was in town to perform at the British Council's UK/ID festival, taking the stage at the Archipelago Festival and later at a party co-hosted by VICE's Indonesia office.

We caught up with him shortly before his performance at a VICE party at The Establishment in South Jakarta, to hear what it's like to tour Southeast Asia for the first time ever and why Jakarta reminds him of Nigeria's own mega-city, Lagos.

VICE: So what was going through your mind when the British Council invited you out to Indonesia?
Afrikan Boy: I think, coming here has been a real cultural shift, and I get it now, you know? Because if you said 'Indonesia' to me about a few years or a few months ago, I'd be like 'what is or where is Indonesia? Who are the people? What country is it in?' Coming here now, it's got a loads of different islands, different vibes, and it's a mixture of different parts of the world, so it's a quite interesting place for me.

I heard you already made a lot of friends.
Yup, I definitely made some friends like Laze (Havie Parkasya of Onar) and Fadhil aka Matter Moss. So we basically linked up—it was part of our project tables to link up musically with local artists. I did the same when I went to Nigeria, Algeria, Sudan and other places. So this time I linked up with UBC (Underground Business Club), Onar, and shout out to Ramengvrl—our first lady—and it's been amazing. I somehow ended up cooking up jollof rice for everyone last night in the studio. We already bonded. So it definitely makes it more of a lasting experience, 'cause I feel like next time I come here these people I can definitely call and it's not so foreign.

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And it was more than just hanging out and eating jollof rice, right? You also wrote remix of 'One Day I went to Lidl' but you changed some of the words to Indomaret and Alfamart?
Yes! It's the official Indomie remix. This track, 'Lidl,' you could say was my breakout song, my most famous song. To this date, I use this song in workshops that I do back in the UK and, of course, on the road. So it's just a song that still feels new—like we're still remixing this 10-year-old song.

How did the remix happen?
When I was performing the song, what happened in Indonesia—and this is the same thing in Nigeria or when I'm performing anywhere that's not in the UK—nobody knows Lidl (a supermarket chain). And apart from Germany, nobody knows Asda (another supermarket chain). So I stopped and I go 'yo yo yo, what's the supermarket here?' and Matter Moss shouted 'Indomaret!' I was like 'Indo what?' 'Indomaret!' So I did the song 'One day I went to Indomaret' and every girl smiled, everyone was smiling, and everyone now understood what it was about. And because I just did it right on the stage it just made it extra special. So we were in the studio and I just thought, 'Yo, why don't we just do a remix to it?'

But did you steal actually anything from Indomaret?
Hell no, man! I wanna go back to the UK man. Shit, I don't wanna be stuck in here.

Did you listen to any other Indonesian music while you were here?
I've been listening to Brava Radio a lot, and they play a lot of different music. It's quite a sick radio station actually. That's what Matter Moss has in his car. But music from Indonesia that really wowed me was the band Senyawa. I know that they're from East Java, am I right? I saw their performance from the Archipelago Festival just straight after me. Very different to what I do, but so sick.

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What grabbed your attention most about Senyawa?
What impressed me was the fact that they took a traditional Indonesian instrument and tweaked it. So it's like taking something traditional, and putting a USB drive on it. It's still traditional, but you just tweaked it. Just the rawness—there's something in their performance that I'm aiming towards.

They had that thing about where you walk to the stage to look and go, 'What the hell is going on here?' That was what it made me do. I was like eating my chicken in the back and I was like 'What are they doing? What's going on?' So unique, and ultra creative, and there's no limits. So kudos to Senyawa.

And I was in Taman Mini (a miniature park) because I felt like I needed to do something touristy. While we were there, we were seeing a group of girls, and they were synchronized, tapping…

Oh you mean Saman dancers?
Saman, yes. That was sick man. I wanted to make a sample of that. Laze showed me some of it a few days before we actually went to Taman Mini, and he was like 'Yo, this is Saman dance' and we were trying to sample it but the whole idea was to get something traditional and then to use it in the beat, but we couldn't get the right sample we're looking for. But yeah, I'm definitely gonna have some of that.

What do you think of the food? Was it spicy enough for you?
The first thing I learn about Indonesia, if you know me, you know I like [chili] pepper. I even have a song that goes, 'If you like pepper, you'd probably like my sound.'

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But in Indonesia, I ain't gotta worry about chili sauce, man. I have not got to worry. Lots of McDonald's food here have chili on it I was like 'What?' I love it, bruv. It's like, in London, I have to roll around with my chili. But something awesome happened. A brother in the studio, because he realized, 'this guy really likes pepper,' his grandma makes a special sambal from his original island. Man, I'm taking that back to London because I roll around with my chili.

What else did you eat?
I had sate, which really reminds me of suya in Nigeria—which we find on the streets. Our sate is prepared very similarly, but it uses various meats. And instead of the peanut sauce that you guys have here, we mainly have like ground dry spices, peanuts and than cut that over the meat, and you serve that with raw onion and raw tomato. I actually had a sate last night. A lot of nasi goreng.

Did you find any other common ground between Jakarta and Lagos?
The connection between Jakarta and Lagos would be like very similar climate. We got similar issue which is traffic—This is an issue here. How we build our house is also the same—high security, nice house. But I think the common factors that I realize in all my travel experience is that we're all just people trying to live out our lives. We're all human. All of the shades and stuff it just depending on the ancestry—who stepped in on this part of the land, who came in and invaded and mixed it up. At the end of the day, the core of us human is that we enjoy the same things. We are living in a 'world town.' There are subtle differences, but at the end of the day, everyone's just trying to make the most out of their situations.

What about the music?
Musically, I think it's all the same. If you're listening to Indonesian music, or if you're listening to anything from the mainstream. I heard grime the other night. Onar sampled a hot grime track from UK, they made it their own. Again, it's a 'world town.' I just want to see Indonesian music become so big that I could be inspired from it. I would love to be looking to the East, to kinda see the sound. It's a world town man, world town. The new world order is coming.

This interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.