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JACOB BANKS
IS BEYOND BOUNDARIES

“Music is music and if I like it, I like it.”

“LOW-luh or Law-LAH?”, Jacob asks me over our call, confirming if I want my name pronounced like a Brit would or the Nigerian way. Jacob and I are both Nigerian, and he spent most of his formative years there. 13 years to be exact. “It means I have a lot more to draw from than the average person when I’m writing, I can pull up so many different cultural references,” he tells me, reflecting on how his upbringing informs his genre-defying style of music. “If I wanted to do an Afrobeats sound, no one could say anything because I’m entitled to do that. If I wanted to make a Blue-eyed soul album, no one could say anything. If I wanted to make a hip hop album, I’m allowed to.”

It’s a few weeks before the release of his new EP, For My Friends. He previously released a string of emotionally-rich songs such as ‘Devil That I Know’. In fact, I first became aware of Jacob’s music and soulful voice when he performed it on Sunday Brunch last year.

Born in Nigeria and later moving to Birmingham, Jacob’s cultural duality is embodied through his sound. So it makes a lot of sense that his music is a melting pot of different genres. Ironically, Jacob didn’t come from a particularly musical household, though his siblings are a lot more musical now that Jacob is in the industry.

“I think my first introduction to music was like, Disney soundtracks”, singer-songwriter Jacob tells me on a call, pausing to reflect on where his love for music really began. “It was the first thing I heard that made me feel something outside of songs at church. Because for the most part, African music is synonymous with just parties and fun, it’s not really gonna take you on a journey.” Jacob grew up loving Westlife, too – and he tells me ‘All My Life’ by Casey and Jojo was one of his favourite songs. He later found different genres of music as he got older, coming across Bob Dylan and Bob Marley. “I didn’t know about genres or whatever. I was just like, this sounds good. I like it,” Jacob tells me, nonchalantly. “That was just my thing. And then as I got older, I found out that people have genres, and they were exclusive to their genres and it just felt weird to me. Music is music and if I like it, I like it.”

Believe it or not, Jacob doesn’t actually like the limelight that much, mostly preferring to be behind the scenes: “Weirdly enough as a musician, I don’t enjoy attention.” It’s not something that sets him back though. The video for ‘Parade’, starring Kojey Radical (someone Jacob has known for a while) is beautifully juxtaposed between bleak uninviting surroundings and Kojey’s expressive, fluid movements. Kojey sports a blush pink suit and effortlessly floats around to the sounds with radiant energy. When I ask Jacob about his decision to cast Kojey for the video, he says “he was just the best man for the job” in a very self-assured tone. Jacob saw the vision for ‘Parade’ at a very early stage: “Cause Kojey’s an exceptional performer in that space, way better than I could ever be, and more than that: he’s comfortable,” he continues. “I said to my production teams that it has to be Kojey. He was able to give the energy I needed.” They had known each other for a while, and started out around the same time. They met doing gigs in Shoreditch.

Jacob takes the opportunity to weave topics close to his heart into his art. Take the lyrics in ‘Parade’, inspired by the protests in the UK: “Is it the way I move? / That’s why you think I’m bulletproof / Or is it in my cool? / You think I’ll put a spell on you”, a comment on police brutality – the brutal murder of George Floyd and #EndSars movement specifically. Jacob is quick to go into more detail when I ask him, but he speaks with a sadness and exhaustion that many Black people can sadly relate to. “I was just sad about the fact that we have to keep doing this,” he tells me. “Like, during a pandemic this is how we have to spend our days, begging to be seen across the board. What also makes me sad about this is we still have regular life to deal with. Cancer is still out here. Corona is still out here. Poverty is still out here. Gender pay gap is still out here. There’s still other battles that we need to fight. But we can’t even get to that.” Jacob’s music also tackles other tough subjects such as toxic masculinity, and on ‘Rizla’, he speaks to the idea that men feel as though they have to be “something else” to get their point across: “You know I like to speak up and act tough.” At six foot four, Jacob is not exactly small in stature, and feels he doesn’t have to announce his presence as much as maybe the average person would, but he also explains that “you can’t be the man in every room.”

“Like, as big as bad as you may feel, there’s someone who’s bigger and badder,” he tells me.

Jacob doesn’t usually write about people, preferring to instead write about situations and feelings people give him. “I collect all the similar feelings I’ve had and I will find a story there”. But ‘Found’ was an opportunity for Jacob to express his love for his grandma, who he lost around this time last year. “Writing ‘Found’ was interesting, because I was really struggling to find where to put all this love that I had for my grandma,” he explains.

He also speaks on a different type of love, unrequited. We talk for a while about not having a “spark” for someone, a sometimes unexplainable feeling that a lot of us know exists and equally a feeling that none of us really have control over. Jacob reflects on a time in LA when he ran into someone he used to date, but in that moment what was very clear to him was that he didn’t feel the same way. “And I just thought about how unfortunate it is for you to want to like someone and you just can’t find the feelings.” He tells me about this experience in a way that isn’t insensitive or blunt at all, pausing every so often as he speaks. “It’s like, you want to be present and you just can’t conjure up the feelings,” he continues.

“Sometimes I feel sorry about the fact that I don’t feel sorry. But I spent so much time trying to find the feeling.”

Jacob has been spending lockdown in his North London apartment with his cats, who during our chat made themselves known every so often with a few meows. “I also got my motorcycle license. I’ve always wanted to get one of those. I’ve developed my own film. I’ve been busy!” he reveals.

After we chat about lockdown for a while, it’s not long before Jacob’s dinner (jerk chicken, if you were wondering) arrives at the door, and our conversation is almost at an end. There’s no doubt that the future looks bright for Jacob, being on tour for three years straight means that he is now able to reap the rewards of his work – and has been able to spend this time during lockdown finding his identity outside of being a musician.

For My Friends is out now.

Words by Lola Christina Alao

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