OTW #524: Benin City

Brilliant whatever genre box they're in...
Benin City by Neil Bedford

“We’re genre-less,” says Joshua Idehen, firmly. “We don’t belong anywhere. Every step we take forward is a step into blindness.”

The erudite Idehen is one-third of Benin City, whose debut album ‘Fires In The Park’ (Clash review) was released in July. Though he thinks of himself principally as a rapper, Idehen is most comfortable being described as a spoken-word artist, imbuing the tracks on the album with a distinctive poetic realism, his musical influences ranging from hip-hop through to the classical minimalism of Philip Glass.

Tom Leaper, the trio’s principal arranger, confesses a strong love of jazz, while drummer Theo Buckingham brings a rhythmic sensibility derived from dubstep. The result of these seemingly incompatible interests is a body of work that hangs together surprisingly well, even if it defies easy classification: sonorous brass interacts with synths, inventive rhythms with carefully-wrought vocal lines, the whole thing filtered through an almost widescreen production prowess.

“It would be quite easy to just find a genre and adhere to expectations,” concedes Leaper. “We didn’t want to do that. We wanted it to be interesting to people.”

Interesting though it undoubtedly is, Idehen admits that the approach was not without its risks. “There was a real worry about whether we’d achieved what we wanted to achieve,” he says. “I worried about whether there was something holding this all together.”

One of the central, unifying themes that brings a sense of coherence to ‘Fires In The Park’ is London, for which the British/Nigerian Idehen reveals a deep love: this is the real London, the city that exists in the shadows of The Shard and Olympic stadia, the one not documented in any tourist guide. It acts as a backdrop for Idehen’s writing, which encompasses everything from tender romantic soulfulness to more embittered themes.

It’s easy to be sceptical about Benin City’s magpie-like intention to blend together inputs that make no sense together on paper, but ‘Fires In The Park’ reveals a band casually parking notions of what should and shouldn’t be compatible. “I’ve never been one for labels,” concludes Idehen with a quiet punkishness.

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Where: London

What: Brass, beats and poetry

Get 3 songs: ‘This Is London Part 2’, ‘Pencils’, ‘Baby’ (video above)

Fact: Tom Leaper studied at the Royal Academy of Music.

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Words: Mat Smith

Photo: Neil Bedford

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