We speak to Alxndr London about the release of his new project ‘IV Merin’ and his count down to the year 2023
It’s gearing up to be an exciting but also very hot summers day in Tottenham, North London as the photographer, make-up artist and myself wait on Alxndr London to arrive at the studio. “We’ll be there by 10:30, there’s some traffic on the A13,” explains Joss, Alxndr’s manager on the phone - who was also craving McDonalds breakfast and asked where the nearest one was. I advised that the nearest would be Bruce Grove however, just round the corner was a Burger King, “that will do,” chimes in Alxndr expressively however, Joss wasn’t quite sold on this alternative option.
In no time at all, a smiley face popped his head through the door and said, “hello, be back up in a minute,” Alxndr London is now in the building. It’s been an extremely busy time for Alxndr, he was in the process of releasing his forthcoming project ‘IV Merin,’ along with his first ever music visual for the project’s debut single ‘Talking Drum.’ He’s been travelling and performing internationally, most recently participating in a live performance piece for Red Bull in Berlin, Germany (with producer Ben Esser) and also performing at POHODA Festival in Slovakia alongside the likes of Skepta, The Roots, Sudan Archives and Mura Masa.
As the team works to a tight schedule, Alxndr goes straight into make up, whilst Joss assists him with the prep of his wardrobe. With his unique identity and style, we requested that Alxndr styles himself for this particular shoot, as we wanted to capture him in his rawest form of self. Make up done, garments steamed and we are ready to shoot. Alxndr briefs our photographer to let her know that he doesn’t really like showing his face, she smiles and tells him, “don’t worry, I know exactly what you want.” Whether it’s performing live or simply posing for a photo, Alxndr is an exquisite artist. He takes his craft very seriously and you can hear/see this throughout his body of work. Our photographer finds shooting with Alxndr a breeze and she captures the shots in no time, “I think I’ve got it,” she shares with the team - just in time for Papa John’s Pizza, which we ordered for lunch. Perfect!
A few slices of pizza later, Alxndr and I begin with the interview. I ask if he enjoys being behind the camera? “No not really,” he admits calmly. “I’m never nervous however, I don’t enjoy it like that. It’s something indigenous from the Native Americans – every time you take a picture, it’s kind of taking a bit of your soul.” Knowing Alxndr, I’m not surprised by his response, as he’s a very humble and modest person. I am however impressed by the fact his dislike for cameras doesn’t show in his imagery, whatsoever. “I really have to remove me, Alexander and just accept that it is, what it is. It’s for the art, the moment, the archives,” explains Alxndr. He continues to share that when he first started out in music, he didn’t want to have any type of imagery out at all however, he was advised by industry friends not to do that. So Alxndr went about doing things in his own creative way.
As interest grew around his music, Alxndr realised very quickly that his unique image and aesthetics were grabbing people’s attention even more. Everybody wanted to know who he was and what he was all about however, he wasn’t keen on revealing his true-self to individuals he didn’t really know - especially those with no real genuine purpose. “Certain photographers would say ‘just lift your hat, I want to see your face.’ It was like they wanted my soul,” states Alxndr. “Also, you know when you are from ends (the hood), we didn’t do that (sing) back in the day.” It all makes clear sense why he chooses to keep his face covered. In the early days he didn’t want to be recognised so his image also acted as his disguise.
From Samarui hats inspired by Manga to capes, kimonos, Asian jewellery and Nigerian/Yuroba infused traditions, Alxndr explains that his style was not only part of hiding but also for protection. Spiritual aspects played a huge part as well with the intended masquerade aesthetic, along with the incorporation of dance and movement. “I just try and incorporate all of these. The Manga and the Anime, are definitely a part of the aesthetic,” shares Alxndr. Growing up, he was a big fan of Anime and tends to still watch it now and again. His favourite’s were Naruto, Bleach and Hunter x Hunter. “In Bleach, I liked the development of the characters and their aesthetic. They all had a similar aesthetic where they had a kimono rope situation but every time they leveled up, their kimono would change a little bit,” shares an excited Alxndr.
Born in Whittington Hospital, North London although, Alxndr has lived all over the capital. He went to primary school in Stoke Newington, secondary school in South-West and college in East. Growing up with all parts of London in his soul, led to Alxndr choosing his name ‘Alxndr London.’ “I love TFL, I love the tube. It’s allowed me not to spend thousands and thousands on other forms of transport, unnecessarily. I’ve got the year pass, casual. I’m loyal, I’ve got zones 1-5,” banters Alxndr. I shared that I too, have zones 1-5 and we laughed. Living in East London and following his mother to markets and seeing all the Asian jewellery shops, positively took Alxndr by surprise. This culture inspired his love for piercings however, it wasn’t until Alxndr moved to Manchester that he got his first one. “I went to Manchester Metropolitan to study Social Work, that’s where my life changed, that’s where a lot of my perspective changed,” says Alxndr. Being in Manchester opened his eyes to just how cool London actually was. It also gave him the confidence to exist freely as a true Londoner, he could shave his hair or colour it blonde, blue, green or red. He was away from the judgments and the stereotypes his community would usually impose on him. Speaking on how he experienced these types of situations when he returned back to London, Alxndr shared, “you really grow in yourself when you come back to London. People are like ‘yo bruv,’ trying to bring you down. I was now at an age where peer pressure isn’t really a thing.”
‘IV Merin’ is the title of Alxndr’s latest project, released last week Friday 9th August. The 8-track mixtape represents his countdown to the year 2023, a journey he’s been on since 2013. “In 2013, I said to myself ‘what would happen if I just focused on growing, creating, learning and submitting myself to the journey. Everything stopped being about what I am in the present and more about what I was trying to create,” explains Alxndr. With nothing yet released at this time and spending up to five hours in the studio, trying to record one line Alxndr decided to give himself 10 years, to develop and go through his processes. From here on, everything became about 2023, which will mark his 10 year dedication to music. His social handle MXIIIM is actually 2023 in roman numerals – did anyone else (like me) simply think this was just Mxiiim? LOL. It’s also the name of his previous project, which actually forms part of a trilogy of releases: ‘A Long Time Ago’ (past), ‘Today’ - The Only Day After Yesterday (present) and then ‘2023’ (future). “What I’m doing now is counting down. IV Merin… IV is four in roman numerals and Merin is four in Yuroba. I’ve got four years left until 2023 and this is also my fourth project,” states Alxndr. He also expresses that the focus on 2023 wasn’t just about the music but also about the awareness and growth of self, “there were a lot of things that happened that kept pushing me into being present and conscious of my actions. I was definitely aware that there was work to be done and I would like to track that work, write about it, sing about it and I just grew and created this fantastical world.”
‘Talking Drum,’ the debut release from the ‘IV Merin’ project was released back in May 2019. Produced by Sean Walker, the single has been supported by the likes of Beats 1 and Alxndr’s very first visual for this lead track, was released the same day as the overall project. “The talking drum is of West African origin,” Alxndr tells me. The squeezing and stretching of the sheets control the sound of the hour-glass shaped drum. “As you squeeze and stretch, the sound is higher, as you relax it, it gets deeper. It can mimic vocal intonations. I like the idea that music does that. You can inflect different messages and different things.” Speaking on the context of the song itself, Alxndr explains, “it was like a homage to where I’m from, it’s homage to where I’m trying to go back to as well.” The song’s opening line “wading in the water,” reminiscent of the slavery song ‘Wade In The Water,’ Alxndr details this as a call to “come into the water, immerse yourself in the water and the water is the blessings. Water is the A-Z that connects you back to homeland. So it’s kind of a call for the diaspora to immerse themselves back in culture, to remember where they came from.”
Directed by Almass Badat, the visuals depict Alxndr in battle with himself, fighting old flaws and habits, which are inhibiting his personal growth and his journey to the blessings (the water). Sistren’s very own Ayodeji Tiwo plays Alxndr’s younger reckless self.
The rest of the ‘IV Merin’ project holds weight on a lot of jazz and soulful influence, which differs slightly to Alxndr’s past projects, which cater to a lot more experimental and electronic sounding tones. “I’ve noticed that about a lot of the artists I’m really into, each of their projects look and sound so different and grow,” states Alxndr. He goes on to list the popular acts that are/were constantly evolving their sound; Janelle Monae, Kanye West, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Beyonce, George Clinton + Parliament Funkadelic, Justin Timberlake, Amy Winehouse and Rihanna. Featuring on the ‘IV Merin’ project are acts such as Dylema, who features on the first track which is also opened with a prayer by Alxndr’s mother. Michelle Tiwa features on the project, talking about returning back home to Lagos and how it’s been calling her back. This is the final song on the project, which also closes with another prayer from Alxndr’s mother. “It’s part of what’s in the ‘Talking Drum’ added segment in the video, where she’s saying, ‘you have to go on but I can’t follow you.’”
Performing to a crowd of 1000+ persons at POHODA festival was definitely a highlight for Alxndr but he’s really gearing up for his biggest headline show to date at Jazz Café. On September 11th 2019, Alxndr will be taking to the Camden Town stage with his live band, to perform an array of tracks from his catalogue of music since 2013. I’ve been privileged to see Alxndr perform live before and it’s definitely something to experience. Tickets are available from the Jazz Café website.
‘IV Merin’ by Alxndr London is available to stream on Spotify. Take a listen and prepare for 2023.
Photographer - Oana Ancuta
Make Up - Michelle Leandra
Styling - Alxndr London
Brands - Kimono made by Tribe Nine Studios
Special thanks to Smith Town Studios