Working with Words: Azekel

The acclaimed musician explores modern masculinity with Farfetch and Zegna

All clothing Ermenegildo Zegna

A wise man’s mother once told him to “give a person their roses while they’re alive”. For some men this remains a challenge, the fear of vulnerability shutting them off from others, their feelings languishing in the dark. What would the world look like if this rigid form of masculinity were shed? What qualities would we instil in our sons to make that happen? Together with Port, Farfetch and Zegna have partnered to create two short films with poet Seán Hewitt and musician Azekel, exploring the subject of modern masculinity as well as a recital something they’ve penned. 

Port talked to Azekel – the London-based progressive R&B artist who’s earned the admiration from the likes of Prince and collaborated with Massive Attack and Gorillaz – about his chosen text (taken from his upcoming body of work ‘Analyse Love’), hip hop sampling, and how men can spread more love.


How has your work impacted the way you navigate life and the way in which you communicate with others? What freedom has music given you?

It’s brought me to different worlds, allowed me to meet different people, understand different lives. I’m really into collaboration and community, and it has brought me to lots of different communities. From a young age growing up in east London, listening to different kinds of music and playing instruments, it allowed me kind of travel before I actually traveled. It opened my mind up from a very young age and it continues to still do that – brings me in different spaces. It allowed me to meet you, for example…

When I first fall in love with music as a child?

My mum was born in Balham, so even though I’m Nigerian I was exposed to British music early on, not just African music, or funk and hip hop. My mum bought me a guitar when I was a kid, she said I could become the next Jimmy Hendrix, which was cool. Simply her saying that made me inquisitive to who Jimmy Hendrix was. That’s an inspirational thing for a six year old to hear. I went on to smash and break the guitar over my brother’s head though! As I got older I carried on that thirst and desire to make music and bought my own guitar. I bought it from Argos – I’ve still got it actually, it plays really well.

The piece starts with a quote from Slum Village – do you often look to other musicians for inspiration?

I love hip hop and a big part of hip hop is sampling. I love to sample and I think I do that in all kinds of creative disciplines. Whether it’s prose, films, music…I like the idea of using life, other people’s lives, recycling, not letting anything go to waste.

Hip hop is definitely one of the most reciprocal genres in that it often cuts something up and creates something entirely new in the process. Why did you pen these words, where did they come from?

I love J Dilla first and foremost, he’s a big influence on my musical style. I’ve been working on a body of work called ‘Analyse Love’ and it talks about different aspects of love – parental love, sexual love, brotherly love – and as I was making the record I was listening to that Slum Village song, ‘The Look of Love’. The lyrics really spoke to me – what is love, you know, what does it look like? I liked the lyric that it’s got something to do with being a man and handling your biz…For me anyway, the idea of what love is was put on me rather than me understanding what it was my own self. So in the course of making this body of work, or this album or mix tape, as I was making the work, I was understanding what love meant to me, my own self.

How can we spread some more love, have men look after other men?

How can you spread love? I think loving yourself first, being comfortable in your own skin, then there’s less ego.

What does RuPaul say, “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

Yeah of course, self-love, 100%. I think men don’t really talk about that as well – self-love. Especially the Western ideology of what masculinity is, through things like cinema, is macho, strong and silent, 007. Aspects of strength are definitely needed, but I think it’s also okay for a man to say he’s scared or has fears. Maybe he doesn’t need to share that with everyone, but the people he’s close to.

Is love and faith interchangeable for you?

I think it’s instinctive. I believe love is the purest thing. So naturally you would think God, whatever that means to you, would be akin to something which is that pure.

What do you think masculinity means in today’s society? How would you like to see this develop and progress in the future? Or to put it another way, if you were raising your son, what qualities would you want to instill in them?

I think the idea of masculinity is so right or left, that it becomes too difficult to live. Just like certain concepts of love can become too difficult to live. If I were to raise a son I would want him to be himself. Ideals are obviously important to aim for, but I think self-acceptance, being yourself, being comfortable in your own skin, I think that’s what makes a man really, being comfortable, not feeling you have to put on a mask, or have to live up to an unworkable role. It’s a process, it’s a journey, but it’s also an individual thing. I don’t think it’s something that should be forced onto anyone. Masculinity should be whatever your definition is.

Nobody wants to live in narrow, predestined boundaries. For boys or men who struggle to articulate their love – whether it’s for family, a friend, or partner – what advice would you give to them? How can men better communicate in their own day-to-day lives?

I think men’s inhibitions are often rooted in a fear of how they’re perceived, how other people will see them. I tell my guys, my boys all the time, ‘I love you’. Men need to understand that love doesn’t always have to be a sexual thing. Love is an emotion. Again, it goes back to being comfortable with yourself in order to communicate openly and honestly. Part of that is understanding that we only have a fixed time on this earth. It’s therefore important to live in the present and tell our loved ones that we appreciate them, whenever we can.

Photography Benedict Brink

Styling Mitchell Belk

Grooming Roku Roppongi