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"I feel that, day by day, my dream of wanting the world to know what London is really
like is finally being achieved," grins Shakka. "I can go to all these places overseas
and people will listen to more than just the beat - they'll listen to the story, to my
identity and where it comes from. It feels sick!"
It's undeniable that the most exciting story in British music in recent years has been
the renaissance of the country's urban scene. More than just a few chart hits, it's a
genuine social, musical and business movement - and the Notting Hill singer,
songwriter, producer and all-round renaissance man is about to be at the forefront of

You could never accuse Shakka, now with two consecutive Best R&B/Soul Act
MOBO Awards under his belt, of lacking ambition: he's overflowing with creativity
when it comes to his music, bringing futuristic concepts together with timely social
commentary and presenting them with the irresistible panache of a natural pop star.
The son of Dominican parents - his father was the guitarist and producer for West
London reggae group The Foreigners Crew - who has already toured with Basement
Jaxx and Wretch 32, Shakka first made a name for himself in 2012 with his YouTube
"Shakkapellas", beatboxed covers of hits from Azealia Banks' "212" to Gotye's
"Somebody That I Used To Know". His big breakthrough came the following year,
when "Blackout", a song he'd penned for Wretch 32 about craving oblivion, ended up
adding some uncharacteristic bleakness to the Top 10. The same year, his Tribe EP
encompassed dub reggae, acoustic ballads and chugging rock to make a statement
about not belonging to any social tribe.

"That definitely stems from growing up Caribbean in Notting Hill," he reflects now.
"There's a cosmopolitan nature there - the Greek restaurant next to the mosque next
to the Caribbean store next to the chippy - so there's a sense of people coming from
all sorts of places and converging. That was my form of expressing the need to be a
proud mutt." Identity and how it's constructed socially is a theme Shakka returns to
repeatedly. From his childhood, he remembers thinking of fellow schoolkids in terms
of their abilities and personalities, not just where they came from - but later, realising
"a sense of clusters among society, and clusters I wasn't made to feel part of". As he
puts it, "social questions came up - what songs you're allowed to sing, who you're
allowed to date".

Meanwhile, at home Shakka's dad would sing calypso songs every morning before
he went to work and was in the habit of playing dub reggae at the highest volume
possible. "My culture was fed to me through a loudspeaker," grins Shakka. The result
was, he says, that "when I left my house I knew what flag I was wearing on my back
- the flag of the hybrid". It's what has fed his experimental tendencies - or, as he puts
it, "the hunger to make music I wasn't accustomed to - I thought, let me take an
active step into discovering it, let me try my hand at writing guitar solos and
producing rock songs".

So while at home Shakka heard greats such as Nas, Biggie and Aretha while Blur
and Oasis would get the TV turned off, these days he draws from Coldplay and
Carole King ("spacious rock music, where the snare drums are reverberating and
heavy and the toms are prominent and weighty") as much as his beloved dub
reggae, such as Mad Scientist and Dennis Brown remixes. But he's also drawing on
the formidable lineage of afrofuturism, fro Sun Ra to Janelle Monáe - as well as
albums that tell a story through their songs, from Fugees' The Score to Kendrick
Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city.

Shakka's first release following his 2015 MOBO win was to release The Lost Boys, a
concept EP that imagined a world without dreams or women, where the male
population is kept docile in a city of "peace, love and harmony" thanks to a daily
serum. He takes the story up at the start of the narrator's awakening, when an
escaped woman passes through his room at night; it ends with his own escape, and
arrival on the shores of a mysterious island. This location gives its name to 2016's
follow-up EP, The Island, which loosely tells the story of what ensues once the lost
boys have been liberated - the feelings of "adolescence, discovery and adventure",
as Shakka puts it. It's a sci-fi universe as carefully thought through as any TV show,
and Shakka speaks about the characters as if they're people he knows.

Of course, like any imaginary dystopia, it's really about present-day reality. The
serum, Shakka says, is analogous to "everyone's ignorance to constant connection -
it's a beautiful thing but also a dangerous thing, because you're taking away attention
from the rest of the world". He's also seen increased division between the sexes: "I
don't know what's happened with the way men treat women - the idea of
understanding women has been kind of lost." Meanwhile, the flirting and partying on
The Island is interrupted by the depiction of a different sort of dystopia on "Inner
London", a sharply observed dissection of gentrification's effects on the British
capital in partnership with Giggs. "It's centred around the disenfranchisement of
working class people," explains Shakka. "That feeling of 'what's happening to my
neighbourhood?' is unanimous with everybody."

Unsurprisingly, Shakka is an immersive artist: while making The Lost Boys, he
devoured books such as Fahrenheit 451 and films such as The Matrix trilogy. When
he wants to write a reggae song, it's not enough to listen to a radio mix; "I have to go
to a place where people are sneaking in marijuana and they give you coke and rum,"
he says.

This means that his ambition isn't just about high-flown concepts and social analysis.
Each new release finds Shakka expanding his sonic palette further: The Lost Boys
contained space-age electro and distorted echoes of "You Don't Know What You Do
To Me", a Spandau Ballet sample repurposed for a lust-in-the-club anthem on "Say
Nada" and the gorgeous, deluxe synthscape of "Read My Mind". On The Island,
Shakka teams up with dancehall legend Mr Vegas for the island flavour of "I Love
The Way" and explores his falsetto range over a sparse house beat on "Don't Call
Me" - which has become one of his most significant international successes to date,
with Young Thug hopping on DJ Carnage's version of it.

"With black British music, we have a massive melting pot of influences," says
Shakka. "From Massive Attack, Soul II Soul to Shola Ama to UK garage and grime."
It's a rich lineage that hasn't always received its due globally - but that's about to
change if Shakka has his way. "People always ask what genre I am and what
platform I represent," he muses. "I always tell them I stem from hip-hop and R&B but
I stand for everything. That's what we do as black British artists, and I love waving
that flag."