“It’s as if the media outlets are already geared towards indie bands” – Meet Afro-fusion innovators Franz Von & KOG
Words: Otis Mensah
Photo: Grit Multimedia
I’m aware that often genre barriers and categorising music is redundant when it comes to creating art, but if you were to encapsulate your sound how would you describe it?
FV: We work with multi-genre musicians so we don’t want to be boxed in. It’s hard to slot us into a category but the main influences are reggae, hip-hop, roots and rap.
KOG: It’s based on energy, free sound, world music and being eclectic. We believe everything is rhythm and it’s Afro-fusion because the fundamentals are taken from Africa. We take it back to basics, the building blocks – which is Afro – then we fuse it with lyrics, performance and music. It’s that kind of paradigm where we find ourselves, using music as a tool.
I feel that spirituality and integrity are concepts that permeate throughout your music and how you both function as artists. Tell me about the role these values play when creating and your art.
FV: It’s self-expression and everything we put in our music is who we are, it’s what’s happening every day. Being brought up in a third-world country, going to church there was a lot of spirituality, that’s where a lot of the music started. After growing up and having kids you always want to leave something positive and something that you’re not ashamed of, music that your kids can listen to. I think that permeates through to the audience.
KOG: I took the moral aspects from church, it pumps morality into you. I’m never ashamed that my mum made me go to church as a sort of punishment, I learnt music there. Like Franz said, fatherhood is everything to us, and the way we go about our music is all for the kids. We don’t have to pretend in our lyrics.
I feel that often faith gets pulled down in the shadow of systematic religion, people take away from faith what is actually important. I think it can teach values.
FV: Yeah! And we do believe in an indefinite energy created through music, performance and interactions with people. It does relate with religion and spirituality in a way, but it’s just pure energy from what you’re doing. Energy can’t just stay in one place: you’ve got to give it out to get it back.
Tell me about your vision for ZONGO MUSIC.
FV: It’s not a label, it’s not a booking agent, it’s a collective and cooperative – a platform for everyone to come together and push each other because together we can go further than as individuals.
KOG: Our main focus is to cut out cultural appropriation and misappropriation. I believe anybody can play any music they want, I don’t believe in racial lines – music has no colour, you can’t quantify. Most of the players in ZONGO MUSIC are from different ethnic backgrounds.
FV: It’s a true form, it’s freedom, and that’s one of the main messages in our music. We’re all artists, we’re on the same level, we’re going to come and put on a show for the audience – that’s the most important thing to us.
You’re both individually and collaboratively at the forefront of the scene, but do you ever feel left out of the conversation? Is there a bias towards guitar bands?
FV: Most definitely. I feel like we get left out a lot of the conversations.
KOG: The guitar bands outweigh us and it’s readily accessible. There are pubs that would rather have a three-piece, it’s easy, it’s simple. We’re in our home, Sheffield, but we’re not ‘home-grown’, so people associate the music and us to African music: “Because they’re hip-hop artists, they’re rap artists, so we can’t really…’ But I think there’s a bigger picture to it – even people like Mim Suleiman are left out! They all know and see what we do but why won’t they talk about it? But we’ll just do our thing to put food on the table and pump inspiration into our kids like, ‘Daddy plays the cowbell and travels all over the world!’ Full-time musicians!
FV: It’s as if the media outlets are already geared towards indie bands, like a wheel that’s already in motion and it’s not easy to get on that wheel. I think we deserve a mention in any publication who mentions music in Sheffield, the same as everyone else. But I do feel like it’s slowly shifting.
Playing with you both and witnessing your live show, which is so high-octane, energized and inclusive, I feel a real sense of love there. Tell me about the creative process behind it all.
FV: A lot of the time it’s actually freestyle because it’s a different audience every time. We establish a connection and work with that, but the music itself has levels and a dynamic to it, so I think that comes across. The message is to change a mindset rather than constantly addressing the problems.
KOG: We try to make the building blocks of the whole tune African, point it to our roots, and I think that brings a different kind of energy and connection to the audience; then we fuse it with mainstream reggae, grime and hip-hop.
You’ve just got back from playing live in Ghana, Malta and Australia. What else do you have coming up?
FV: My EP ‘Escapism’ is out and I’m writing the next project, we’ve got the ‘ZONGO BRIGADE’ album coming out, some videos shot already and plan on doing a listening party.
KOG: We’ve got a few European trips; we’re playing in France, Sweden, Holland and Spain. Just inspiring people to do what they want as long as they’re not infringing on anybody’s rights. If it’s positive, it’s cool, man, so do what makes you happy – freedom!