3 July 2023

Photography Michelle Marshall
Fashion Cynthia Lawrence-John
Interview Maja Bebber
Grooming Karla Q Léon of Saint Luke Artists using Tatcha
Fashion Assistant Manuela Leiva
Grooming Assistant Vicky Q Léon
Production Nathan Henry

Talking to Sekou is like talking to a younger version of yourself, filled with endless dreams. His burning passion to succeed can be felt in his debut single, “Better Man.” It's a passion that drives him to work tirelessly toward his goals; to take over the world and to be remembered. When I sit down with him on a June afternoon in London, Sekou's excitement and eagerness is palpable. We're surrounded by clothing rails, geometric shapes and all sorts of keepsakes, which only add to the atmosphere of possibility and creativity that surrounds him.

It's not just Sekou's style that sets him apart. He exudes a certain coolness that can immediately be sensed - in his attitude, his words and his presence. When we meet, he pulls me into an enthusiastic, warm hug and we settle in for what promises to be an inspiring conversation. Over the course of our chat, Sekou shares his aspirations, wildest dreams and why he is so drawn to the past. But more than that, I am struck by his unwavering optimism and unshakable belief in himself and his abilities. He possesses a spirit that is youthful and incredibly enchanting. It's impossible not to be inspired by him.

Sekou isn’t afraid to say what he wants - what he really wants. He sees Super Bowl stages, hits, longevity. He talks about the songs that didn’t make it to his recently released EP, OUT OF MIND, calling them “too big, too soon.” As I make my way back home from Hackney, I find myself filled with hope for the future, like I just talked to an icon as the world waits. All I can do is wait with them eagerly as his vault (otherwise known as his green iPod Nano) filled with voice notes and demos, gains value by the second.

Sekou’s EP ‘OUT OF MIND’ is out now.

Sekou, if you could describe how you’re feeling today with a song, what would it be?
To keep it simple I’d just say “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. [laughs]

That's a good thing - to be happy. That's a good start [laughs]. You’re only 18 and already played the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury last year which is major! Congratulations. I’d like you to sort of narrate your internal monologue when getting up on the stage and performing. How did you feel?
I was feeling very nervous. Very excited. It was my first time ever performing live so I didn't know how it was going to go. I had heard that that stage only has a few people come out every time because there are a lot of artists that people really don't know. Then when I went out, there were so many people. It was such a great time.

What is one of your first vivid music related memories?
My first memory about music was when I was in my room and my mum gave me her Whitney [Houston] vinyl and played it to me for the first time. My mum and I are two of her biggest fans.

How did that feel?
Incredible, because I didn't have any idea who she was but she’s an icon and she’s my queen.

You were discovered on TikTok and SoundCloud. What initially drew you to start posting your work?
I think the best way to get discovered is social media. I'm from such a small town where it’s really hard for people outside to kind of get to know you and hear of you, so the only way I thought about it was if I just posted on social media and that’s how it all started.

I had a chance to listen to “Better Man”, your debut single that was released in May. It's a soft and delicate portrayal of someone trying to be better than they used to be. You start off the song with lyrics, “I find it hard to talk to myself,” so did you find creating it to be a difficult conversation to have with yourself in a way?
That’s a good question. It’s always been hard to, maybe for anyone, but for myself I always struggled with how to speak to people. And with loving music and loving songwriting, it's easier for me to just write something and then show people how the song came out. I was at the piano playing chords and I'd been feeling a bit down for the past few days and that was the first thing that came out of my mouth. With the melodies, it all made sense.

What is one of the greatest pieces of advice you have ever been given?
To always be nice and to always try your best at anything, no matter what. If you're not at the place that you want to be at yet, just keep going and you’ll get there.

Good advice. I hear the same thing everyday! I saw on your Instagram that you saw Beyoncé on tour a few days ago! When you see another artist, and one as powerful as Beyoncé at that, does it inspire you in what you might want for your own future and presence in music?
I was thinking about it after the show. I was very heavily inspired by her performance and the atmosphere. So yes, absolutely. That was the first time I'd ever seen her live and obviously she’s such a big and respected icon. I was very inspired by that show.

Who knows, maybe you’ll have a song with her one day! We’ll manifest it.
I’d love to!

I had the chance to listen to your EP and it sounds incredible. I saw that you teased some songs on TikTok as well. Let’s talk a little bit about the songs. “Forgiving Myself” is about going back to a person that’s not good for you and loving them again. What inspired this song?
It’s so important for me to be around my culture and I really wanted to work with people who are different. I kind of just wanted to have fun and be a bit sassy and have attitude and hear myself on a tempo like that. And I had a situationship that I just wanted to speak about.

“Be With You” is about only wanting to be with one specific person. Is there a person that you would love to spend all your time with if you could?
No. [laughs] Not really, it's always good to keep space from people sometimes. That song is just about being obsessed with someone that you shouldn't really be with.

I can relate. [laughs]
Same. [laughs] It’s very important to have space. You don’t want to be around everyone for a long period of time.

“You and I” is about going to all kinds of places with someone you love - to LA, to Paris...the list goes on. What are some of the places you dream of visiting?
Tokyo. America was one of the main places that I wanted to go and I've only been to two places in America. Mexico. I'd love to go to Brazil. The whole of Europe. Everywhere really.

Is there a place that you’ve been to recently that you love? Maybe somewhere you’re going?
Oh, I’m going to Milan! I’ve never been to Milan. I just recently went to Berlin. It was incredible. The food was amazing. The atmosphere! I went there and that’s one of the places I really wanted to go.

So lots of exciting places to visit!Too Young” is about the feeling of being in love when you’re too young and it not working out. We’ve all been there. First loves, first heartbreaks and everything in between. How do you personally deal with heartbreak?
It’s really important for me to try and have a conversation with that person. But if it’s so toxic and you can't, I just step away and kind of have to deal with it by myself or surround myself with people that care about me. When I feel like that, I just write music and that's easy for me. It’s like [there are] two people inside of me. One person that shines, a very kind of big, loud person. Sometimes I just put that [part of myself] in and then write music. That's how all of the songs come around really. Just from an idea, an emotional feeling. I can’t write if there’s no proper feeling, it’s just fake. “Too Young” is definitely about being lost and trying to figure your way out and just knowing you don't have to rush everything.

Tell me more about the process of putting your EP together. Who was always on your side?
Well, it was definitely difficult because I had written “Better Man” before any of those tracks came around along with the people I worked with on them. And I thought to myself, who can I get in a room with and how can I get in a room with them? I really wanted to work with Hip Hop producers not just balladeers. I thought of Sounwave, Kendrick Lamar’s best friend and producer. I'm a big fan of his style. So I went there and then got introduced to Sam Dew, Labrinth and everyone through him and it all came together and kind of just created this weird vibe. There are so many great people that I worked with but it was very important for me to work in America. I wrote some of the songs here (in London) but then recorded or wrote the rest in America. The amount of talent out there is just incredible.

Are there any songs that didn't make it on the EP?
Yes, I did a big writing trip over in America for over six weeks and I think maybe 60 or 65 songs came in that time. So quite a lot of songs were coming in. And there were songs that sounded too…I think, in a nice way, too big too soon. Some are more pop leaning that are definitely going to be on an album or that are big songs for the upcoming singles. So I have a lot of songs that didn’t make it on there but I think it's the right amount and the right kind of songs this time. It all fits together.

Perfect. It all feels right at this time. Tell me about what a perfect day for you looks like. Where would you be and who would you be with?
Just like an ordinary day? Oh, my friends. I love my friends and I'm really grateful for them. As things are starting to get busy, I still have time to see my friends. I also have friends who are artists as well. So it's always nice to be around people that know what it's like to be doing all this stuff. But it's also good to be friends with people who are not in the music industry or anything - so it's real. All my friends are so normal and so grounded. I'm never going to lose any happiness, if that makes sense.

Do you have a lot of international friends?
I just started to make friends in America. I’m gonna meet them when I’m out there again. So yes, it's all learning and you get to meet so many people, so it’s really nice.

I know you are still living sort of in the analog age - I was told you use a film camera and an iPod Nano. Does this analog preference translate to your music at all or your interests in the future? Would you ever consider recording on tape?
Yes, I’d love to. A lot of my icons have recorded on tape. It has such an unusual and clean sound that I’d absolutely love to use for an album or something.

And can you even still use your iPod Nano?
I can use it, I have a few. I have all my playlists on them. Voice notes…and I have a few of my demos on there. And everyone's like: Is that fake? But it isn't.

So cool, what colour?
It’s green. I also have a pink one but it's more of a shuffle, that one. The green one I have is a proper screen touch. It’s quite a vintage feeling.

If you could take a time machine to a moment in music history, where would you want to be? What do you imagine yourself doing there?
The eighties. The soul era. I imagine myself doing music, being around the icons that were there at that age. It was such a great time, the music was getting more creative. I'd love to be surrounded by it.

The Eighties seemed like a great time, the fashion as well. What are some of your most prized possessions? I saw that you create a sort of polaroid scrapbook with keepsakes.
Yes, I always take pictures with everybody. I've been doing that for about a year. [I take pictures with] everyone I meet or everyone that inspires me. My most prized possession would be that but also my family and my mum, especially my mum.

I really wanted to talk a bit about your fashion sense and personal style because you really give off a vibe of knowing who you are. Can you tell us a bit about how you feel your fashion expression correlates with your personality?
I feel like everyone can tell what I am and what I wear makes it very clear. Geeky, very strong and very powerful, very camp in some aspects but I like to keep it simple and classic. It definitely matches my personality. Especially the loafers and white socks.

It's funny because we're kind of matching today. [laughs]
I noticed that. [laughs] The shoes. You're kinda cowboy-ish. I like them.

Do you go to a lot of thrift shops?
I go to a lot of thrift shops. I also do a lot online shopping. I use eBay a lot and Vinted. There are lots of charity shops I really like to go to but yeah, I always mix and match things and try things on. I always have fun with that.

Do you have any style inspirations?
I don't have that many fashion people that I look up to. I like artists like Tyler the Creator, Steve Lacey - I like their images. But I'm starting to learn creative director’s images and names. I always look at artists too and just think oh, that's something that I would wear, how do I find that?

Do you use Pinterest?
I love Pinterest. I have mood boards in my room. I always see pictures on Pinterest and just save them. It's such a great imaginary space.

It's also good for manifesting.

Tell me an interesting fact about you that you would like our audience to know?
Oh, this is not interesting, but it's weird - I could probably eat five full plates from Wetherspoons. I’ll always eat at Wetherspoons no matter how successful I’ll get. It's just a great place. Not many people know that.

Would you say you feel the most at home in London or is there any other city that has your heart?
I love going home, it’s very important for me. But when I went last time, It just felt like starting back at zero. It's an area that's so quiet. Everyone knows everyone. I love going there but I love London too and LA as well, it's a great place.

What are your favourite spots in LA and in London?
My favourite spots would be all the thrift stores. I think the street is called Melrose. And then in New York they have these fire escapes with the rooftops. I went there before and it’s just incredible.

Yeah, you can just sit there, read a book and play music. Tell me more about where you see yourself in 5 years? You’ll be 23. What kind of person do you want to become?
That seems like ages away, I’m still so young. [laughs] Where I see myself in five years is making sure that I'm still very hardworking and hopefully I’ll be one of the biggest artists in the world and playing to thousands of people. I feel like no one can ever answer that question in an honest way because you never really know. I’m going to make sure I work as hard to get where I want to be.

Do you find yourself comparing yourself a lot to other people?
I don't compare myself to anyone. I think everyone's in their own lane, but I don’t actually get as many comparisons as I thought I was going to. I get one here and there but, you know, if you're getting compared to someone successful, that’s always a great sign. It means you're doing something good.

What would you say is the greatest feedback you've ever gotten so far?
I think the nicest thing that anyone has ever said to me was when an artist I really admire reached out to me. They just loved everything that I was doing. That would probably be my greatest moment.

Do you want to share who it was?
Oh, it was Sam Smith.

And what did they say?
They said that they loved everything that I was doing and that I was very special and they want to meet me and sing with me. So it was important for me - they lead the way for singers in the UK. So it was really important for me to have that message this early on in my career that they know who I am.

Let’s dive deeper into more of your wildest dreams - what are you manifesting for yourself?
I want to play the Super Bowl in maybe ten years' time. One of my goals is [to play] on the biggest stage of all time. You've got to have so many hits and you have to be a very respected artist and it's just good because no one from the UK, except for Coldplay, has ever played there. A solo artist from here has never played there. And that's what I'd love to do. [I want to play] everything else too like Coachella and I just want to have so many hit records. I want to be happy and be very legendary.

And lastly, what do you want people to think of when they hear your name?
Being a legend. I want to have a legacy - I want to have great songs and just be a great person. I want to have my own image and be remembered as an icon. I think one thing that's really important is to be remembered.

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Above: Sekou wears Jumper by PRONOUNCE, Shirt from Stylist's Archive and Tie is Sekou's own

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Above Left: Sekou wears Top by VIVIENNE WESTWOOD, Shirt from Stylists Archive, Socks by JOLLIES, Shorts & Shoes are Sekou's own
Above Right: Sekou wears Jacket by PER GOTESSON, Sunglasses and Shirt from Stylist's Archive

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Above Left: Sekou wears Jacket by A.A. SPECTRUM , Shirt from Stylist's Archive, Socks from JOLLIES, Tie, Shorts and Shoes are Sekou's own
Above Right: outfit as before

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Above: Sekou wears Jacket by AA. SPECTRUM, Shirt from Stylist's Archive, Socks by JOLLIES, Tie, Shorts and Shoes are Sekou's own

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Above Left: outfit as above
Above Right: Sekou wears Jacket by A.A. Spectrum, Shirt from Stylists Archive, Socks by Jollies, Tie, Shorts and Shoes are Sekou's own

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