Franz Von on new EP: “As a community, getting together as one person, we have so much more power”
Combining tribal hip-hop with energetic elements of jazz, dub and afrobeat, People Di Powa is the latest project from Jamaican-born, Sheffield-based artist Franz Von – a reminder, he tells us, that “we are powerful as individuals and even more so as autonomous communities.”
An influential presence on the city’s music scene and one of the finest partystarters up north, Exposed’s Iago Castro caught up with Franz last month to discuss his new EP and the key messages behind it.
Tell us a little bit about this EP: what are the first words that cross your mind when thinking about it?
Power. Power is what’s all about; mostly the power of the people, but also other different aspects of power.
I can hear a lot of different musical influences throughout the album. Which music genre took the biggest role and why?
It’s mainly a hip-hop project. Hip-hop and afro-fusion, but mostly hip-hop, so we tried to use that hip-hop 90s boom-bap fused with more contemporary sounds and African influences.
Moving from genres to artists, which old-school and contemporary artists have influenced you and this EP in particular?
Old-school influences would be Nas, KRS-One… It’s really hard to come up with some names right now! In terms of more modern sounds, it will be Little Simz, I’d say, and also maybe Roots Manuva. There’s more of an old-school US influence because when I first started out in music, I used to listen to a lot of US hip-hop, and now I listen to a lot more UK music.
We’ve been experiencing, for a few years now, very unstable social and political situations across the globe. Did this influence the call on the album for communities and individuals to come together?
My releases before have had a bit of political influence behind them, mostly political events going on back at the time, but the earlier EP itself was called Escapism, and it was sort of deliberately not focused on that. It was much more about looking at positive things and getting away from it all. But with this one, I tried to put my head on and address some issues a bit more. I tried to not be too political or preachy, you know? But some of the things had to be mentioned, especially things that have gone on in the last few years: the lockdown situation and what that meant, the racial tensions going on in the UK and America, George Floyd, the BLM movement… So, there might be some aspects of influence from that. I definitely try not to be overly political, but it’s really hard to avoid set limits around this.
In terms of Sheffield being the city you make your music in, how important is the place as an influence?
Sheffield is very important. I work with a lot of artists in Sheffield. One of the things I’ve learned is to sort of be aware that you have to be known in your city and have some sort of impact there before you stretch it out, if you know what I mean? I do a lot of live shows in Sheffield, so yeah, it’s definitely a big influence. Sheffield is part of my journey and this is where I live, so it’s massive.
What does the future hold for you? Are you planning on new projects? A tour? Or are you going to relax for a bit?
Oh, no, there’s no relaxing in here, there’s no rest! (Laughs) Now this album’s out, I’m desperately looking to plan a tour for it. I’ve got merch to sell and I want people to hear this album, so I’ve pushed myself a lot to try to tour it. Also, maybe there’ll be a couple of new music videos to push some of the songs on the album. I’ve also started to write a live album already, that’s on my plan. Some of the songs from the new album are already being played on my live shows, so if you come to see me you’ll be able to hear the tracks from People Di Powa and you’ll also be able to hear some new stuff that has not been released yet. Basically, it never stops; it continues as my mind keeps going.
To finish off, what would you say is the key message or ethos running through the record?
I would like to reinforce the message from People Di Powa, which is this: as people, as individuals, we have power, we have a lot of power within us. But, as a community, getting together as one person, we have so much more power – together we can influence world events, we can influence local events, we can positively influence relationships between our family and friends, just by remembering we also have power as a people. That’s the message.