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June Freedom:on 7 Seas, touring and his heritage

by Maja Bebber

Across thirteen alt-Afropop productions, 7 SEAS hears the suave rising star authentically explore his Cape Verdean-American heritage, in a declaration of artistic freedom and a call to embrace the richness of cultural diversity with its inherent blend of American and Afro-Latin music forms.

7 SEAS has seen June expand his steadily-growing international audience and affirm his position as a leader of the alt-Afropop pack. Meanwhile the 7 SEAS EU tour comes off the back of appearances at major festivals like Primavera Sound and SXSW, as well as touring with Tiwa Savage as main support for her US tour, and will see him play cuts from both 7 SEAS and his breakout debut album Anchor Baby to audiences across London, Berlin, Paris, Rotterdam, Cologne, Hamburg, Madrid and Barcelona, as well as finales in Portugal (Porto and Lisbon).

An uninhibited and genre-bending artist, the Boston-born June spent the majority of his youth living abroad in his family’s native country, the storied Cape Verde Islands. This coming-of-age experience, augmented by raw live music and the vigour that comes from living on a volcanic island, helped shape the artist he is today.

June sits down with tmrw and dives into his heritage, his album 7 SEAS, what’s next for him and more.

June, why don’t you tell me about the story behind your latest album 7 SEAS?
I’m from the Cape Verde Islands. And I feel like the first album was curated for my people, my country. The kind of music I was putting on the album at the time was a mix of everything. It was English, Creole, Portuguese, a melting pot of different styles of genres. We took the first year to focus on Cape Vert as the marketing for the album tours there, but I feel like 7 SEAS naturally came about because the first album started streaming in Germany. It was one of my most streamed countries. I feel like this new album was a follow-up to where the music was reaching the demographic and how, even though we focused on my country and the marketing was from there, somehow, it just started spreading and I felt ‘7 Seas’ was the perfect image for how the music was spreading to the Seven Seas. And how many different people started receiving my music. It just opened new gateways, and I feel like 7 SEAS is the perfect look for the new album.

The languages that you sing on it are Spanish and Portuguese, right?
Portuguese. Four different languages are on there. Portuguese on some of the songs. Creole is my native tongue from back home. And then English of course, and a little bit of Spanish.

What drew you to use all of the languages?
Travelling and growing up in Cape Verde. I was born in America. But I moved back to Cape Verde when I was three. When I lived in Cape Verde, I would speak Creole at home, which is my native tongue but in school, it’s Portuguese because it was a Portuguese colony. They teach us Portuguese in school. At home we speak Creole which is the native tongue. At school we speak Portuguese, so those two languages were primarily, the first languages that I learned as a kid. When I was 14 and went to America it was English. I learned English in high school. And Spanish is because I grew up with a bunch of Spanish kids. It is always time someone speaks Spanish because I know Portuguese. I can feel like I could pick up on things. And growing up with so many Spanish from the Dominican Republic and a lot of kids in high school were Dominican, so I was always around them, and I just picked up the language, the culture, the food, and mixing all these cultures and languages and travelling so much. When I was younger, I picked up all these different tongues.

That’s so impressive. I always look up to people who speak so many different languages. I only speak English, German, and a little bit of French.

I spent three days in Germany and I always try to pick up languages.

It’s my native language, but it is it is difficult to learn for sure.
Languages are an interesting thing.

What would you say is your favourite song of the album and why?
God, you can’t do that to me! I can’t say a favourite. I just think of moods when I think of music and what headspace I wake up to or what mood I’m in whenever hear certain songs. But I do enjoy ‘Zanzi’ a lot because it was the last song I recorded. And I fought tooth and nail for that record and I’m like, no, we need something to balance things out and things honestly is one of my could-be top three favourites on the album. I do like ‘Messi’ a lot because that record came out and I grew to love it even more. What else do we have? The intro of the album. It’s different. I like the whole album, every song. I think ‘Say Salad’ is my second favourite.

Do you have a favourite lyrics of both songs?
On ‘Zanzi’? It starts with: I feel you now beyond my reach. Uniform men, don’t mean police. Money buy acres, it no buy peace. Make no man go disturb my peace.” That’s the opening verse on Zanzi which is one of my favourites.

You collaborated with a few people on the album. What do collaborations mean to you?
It’s an important part of my process. I feel like when I’m collaborating, you get to step into other people’s shoes, their experiences, and what they’re conveying. It’s interesting because I feel like I’m a great interpreter, especially when sometimes I’m writing with friends and come up with a top line. So, melodies that I have just been engaged do, and sometimes it’s like collaborations for me are so important because it lets us feel and see other worlds. To me, it’s about a song. I don’t know; everyone sometimes asks why I have to do it. It has to be 100% for me, which I feel is important for you to dig in, but I feel like when you can collaborate with others, there’s a window for so much more. That’s why I feel like my album has so many worlds, and that’s the feedback I’ve been getting. The process for both of my albums was very collaborative with different producers and songwriters.

And what is one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned from the people you’ve collaborated with?
I mean, collaborating with awesome people, with great people who have good intentions and just great stories, and who really can understand your world and be open to ideas. I’ve been really lucky to work with some amazing, amazing, amazing people.

What other genres would you like to explore in the future?
Well, in both of my albums, there are many different genres. I know that I’m considered an Afrobeat artist—that’s how they pitched me to the DSPS. But, growing up where I did in Africa, just in my country, we have so many different subgenres, different grooves, melodies, and things that pull you to different worlds. So, I always try to incorporate these different feelings and genres throughout my whole projects. But I do want to dive into even more traditional sounds later on. I feel like right now, I’m still very much exploring. I want to break out, you know. I even told my friend that I want to release an EP with things that have nothing to do with Afrobeat. I want to do stuff that meets Jimi Hendrix, Tame Impala, and Frank Ocean. Oh, yeah, singer-songwriter stuff. I play a little bit of guitar, so I’m diving into different roles as we speak. But I do want to go back to the genres I grew up with, which is called Magna. There are subgenres from Cape Verde that I enjoy. I enjoy the grooves and the feelings that these genres bring to me, so I’ll figure out how to incorporate them and try to make them digestible for the mainstream and just people in general.

And what would be your dream collaboration or maybe three of your dream collaborations?
It’s interesting. I want to work with, I’ve always said, Rihanna because I grew up listening to her, and I know she’s an island girl. So, I don’t know if she’s working on music right now. She needs to.

She needs to release new music. It’s been ages.
She’s always saying she’s about to release something but doesn’t. I think Frank Ocean is amazing. I think he’s one of my favorite writers. I also want to work with a Polish artist from back home. He’s incredible.

And other than working on new music, are there any other projects that you’d like to dive into that have nothing to do with music?
I cook, so I want to open a restaurant with the cuisine from back home. But my music started taking off, so I focused on that. I want to circle back and figure out how to dive into my culinary background.

What is the most famous dish from your cuisine that I need to try?
You need to try Cachupa. We also have very good tuna back home. If you ever go to Cape Verde, be on the lookout for amazing tuna. I don’t know if you fish or not.

I’m like a flexitarian. I normally don’t eat meat, but I do sometimes eat fish.
We have amazing fish back home because we’re islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. So, we have amazing fish they just catch, grill, and serve super fresh. Cachupa is the main traditional dish from back home, which is like a hominy corn stew. It’s a big stew with hominy corn, cabbage, assorted vegetables, collard greens, tomatoes, and you can choose meat or fish. It can be made with both or just vegetables, hominy corn, fava beans, and kidney beans. I recommend trying it first, and then you can judge the other dishes.

That sounds good. I will definitely try it if I’m around. Trying new things is always exciting.
Look up a Cape Verdean restaurant in Paris; you might find something.

Good idea. Do you have any recommendations?
I do not because I didn’t get a chance to see Paris. I was between one city and the next.

And for dream collaborations, how do other artists inspire you? And how did you first got into music?
I got into music because it was always playing in the house. That’s how I started. My mom. I think all kids listen to the music their parents play. For me, it was traditional Cape Verde music. But when my mom moved from one island to the next, I got to explore different islands. My mom opened a restaurant that’s been open for 22-23 years. I started singing with live musicians there at the age of 10. That’s where everything started for me. Traditional Cape Verde music was my beginning, and I’ve never stopped wanting to do music since then.

Did you ever have a moment where you thought to yourself, “Okay, I made it”?
I feel like I’m still working towards that moment. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in the last few years, and so many things are happening fast. I’m playing catch-up. From these to the first album, especially back home, I became the most-streamed Cape Verdean artist in the world. I went to the Grammys of my country. Back home, I’m a known artist, but our country is really small. There’s so much we can explore and bring our culture to the masses, and I feel like that’s my mission. We’ve now started the Grammys here.

Wow, that’s so cool. Where do you see yourself in five years?
I mean, just making good music, making good content, creating things that feel good and timeless. That’s the most important thing for me.

And what other goals do you have for your life in general? Other than music, what are some of the greatest things you still want to achieve?
Just doing community work, making this world a better place. My way of expressing it and helping out is through music. Reaching a level where I can do other things to help is the best mission.

What’s your favorite thing about touring?
Getting to see the people having a moment with the records you made in your bedroom. My whole album was pretty much done here with this little SM7B microphone. To see people sing these songs word for word is amazing. This was my first tour, so I didn’t know what to expect. Now I know. That’s my favorite part—seeing the people and sharing that moment. The road life is exhausting, but it’s worth it. The energy from the people makes it all worthwhile. I did three cities in Germany: Cologne, Berlin, and Hamburg.

What was the best show?
London was energetic, with a lot of energy. Berlin had a nice venue, but Paris was also amazing. Hamburg was special because the venue was like a bunker—gothy, dark, grungy. The energy was so condensed and warm. It felt so good. Cologne went crazy; they knew my music the most.

Yeah, I think that’s the best feeling as an artist but also as a fan—to see someone you love live. There’s no better feeling than live music.
Yeah, the vibe is important. It was a really good first tour with great feedback.

Do you have any favorite memory or feedback from a fan that you vividly remember?
I got feedback like “This is the best concert I’ve ever been to.” People flew in from other cities to see the shows. It made me realize where I want to take my live shows—expanding the band, adding more musicians, a horn section, an accordion section. I want to make it a real experience.

That’s amazing feedback to get on your first tour. Well done!

Follow June on INSTAGRAM

Mateo Wenzel, James Sunday, Benny Weiler, Elevoh Chidera Emmanuel, ANCLA, Erwan Bazin, Janeth Tavares
Margi Van Doren @margi_vandoren
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