‘I Was Born To Do This’: In Talks With L.A.X Following The Release Of His Latest Album, ‘No Bad Vibes’
17 May 2023
Lagos-born singer-songwriter Damilola Afolabi, known professionally as L.A.X, is sending shockwaves across the globe with his sensational Afrobeats sound, quickly becoming one of the leading faces of the genre. His highly anticipated E.P., “No Bad Vibes”, comes after an almost three-year hiatus that features high-profile, exciting artists, such as Black Sherif, Ayra Starr, Konshens, Loui and Ronnie Flex.
We sat down with him over Zoom to discuss his musical journey, secondary school, parents and of course, “No Bad Vibes”.
Your name, L.A.X, where did that come from?
It came from high school. When I was at school, my nickname was LA like Lacoste, as I’d wear the shoes. I would wear them to school every day, and get in trouble because I wasn’t supposed to, they were banned. I got into big trouble, and I spoke to the principle, and I was like ‘I don’t think shoes define our character, so I feel like we should be allowed to wear whatever we want’. The principle was like ‘You know what, that’s right’, and he was like ‘You guys can wear any shoes you like, as long as they’re black’. My whole school started cheering, screaming Lacoste, LA, and from there my nickname was born, I had a name.
When I wanted to do music, I decided to put an X after it, L.A.X sounds good. Then I formed a name, and I said leave and excel, and that’s how I coined it. When I went to America, everyone was gassing about it, but I was like no, I didn’t even know about the airport when I made the name.
When did your musical journey begin, when did you first start getting into music?
Music found me, I never thought that I was going to do it. I used to go to the studio with my friends when I was about fourteen, or fifteen and I liked the fact that you can create something out of nothing, and I liked the vibe of being in a studio. One day, the producer looked at me and he was like, ‘You’re always in the studio, but what do you do? Why are you always here?’.
I told him that I just like the vibes, but he told me I should try something on the mic. I did a freestyle, and I just left it. The next day, I went into the studio and everyone was excited, and shouting, and saying ‘The song you did yesterday was so good’. To me, the song was whack but they said the song was good. Then I started going to the studio all the time, and I just started being an artist.
My friends, who I was going to the studio with were actual artists, they knew what they wanted to do and they knew that they wanted to be artists. When I started, we said that we’d form a group together, called Flyboiz.
How did your parents react to you making music while you were still at school?
My parents didn’t even know I was making music until I was fully into it. I would go to the studio in the school holidays, so my mum thought that I just liked being in the studio with my friends, she didn’t know that I actually liked singing. When I went to the University of Manchester, for my degree, I had all that freedom to go to the studio and do whatever I needed. I was shooting my videos, and that’s when I actually started taking it proper seriously.
My mum and dad, I would say they found out from TV. My dad turned on the TV one day and just saw me. He called me up like ‘I sent you to school to study, what are you doing on TV’. After I explained the situation to them and promised them that I would finish university and do my masters, that was the exchange, finish school and then you can make music.
Now, my dad is my biggest fan. My mum too, but I would say my dad shows it more because he is more of a music person. I grew up around a lot of music, but they were listening to a different type of music than what I make, more of traditional Nigerian music.
How have you seen your music change from when you first started out, from being in the studio with your friends, to now, selling out shows across the globe?
I am more intentional now about how I want my music to sound. When I first started, I was just doing different things, making different sounds, and I was just finding out what I wanted my music to be. But now, I have established what I want to sound like; I know the type of music that I want to make and put out. It’s more interesting, it’s more intentional. I want to put out music that sounds good, and sweet, and takes people out of bad moods and bad situations.
I want my music to be music that takes you away from feelings of heartbreak; some people like to listen to songs that will sink them into that situation. That’s not smart, my music is like therapy that will take you away from that; vibey, danceable and just sweet lyrics. My new EP, and my life, is just No Bad Vibes, no stress. I want to live every day like it’s my last. Not to be cliché, but I just want to be happy.
How long have you been working on your new E.P., “No Bad Vibes” for?
I started working on it right after my last album dropped, three years ago, but I had about three or four albums recorded before I decided on “No Bad Vibes”. Every one I recorded, I felt as though it wasn’t the one. But when I picked the name, “No Bad Vibes”, I then started recording songs for the project. To record this project, it took me six months, but the entire process took around three years. Every other one was amazing, but “No Bad Vibes” had a thing. It had a sequence. The others were just a collection of songs.
This EP, had a feeling that I wanted people to feel. I’ve performed a couple of songs from it, in Germany, last weekend. The crowd reacted really well, especially to two of them that are easier to learn. The Afrobeat scene in Germany is crazy, In the two shows I performed at, I didn’t see one black person, and they were singing the songs word for word.
How do you feel about the globalisation of Afrobeats?
I feel as though it is a blessing to African culture. People in the Western world, have this preconception of Africa, they are now learning more things about Africa. It will now be easier for the world to invest in Africa; people will come for the culture, come for the concerts, and know that there is a good side of Africa, rather than how it has been painted with poverty and struggle.
The music could get westernised though, to water it down, so to speak, for the consumers. But the videos, the culture, and the Africanness will always be there. It won’t be bad though, if you look at dancehall as well, artists like Sean Paul took the genre to the Western world and watered it down.
The globalisation of Afrobeats has been coming for a long time, bit by bit. I’m an advocate for growing, even if it is one step a day, you still get to the top. And when you finally get to the top, it is very sweet, as it didn’t all happen at once, and you have a lot of stories to tell. That is why there are different focal points. From the likes of Fela Kuti, D’Banj, then Wizkid, and now Burna Boy and Davido, it is doing something crazy in the world. There have been lots of different turning points, and I feel like it’s only going to get better.
The Afrobeats scene right now is amazing. We Africans, and especially us Nigerians, have this drive. That drive is taking us to where we are now; everyone is dropping music, everyone is doing their thing, and everyone is touring. If you go to Instagram, and you look at Afrobeats artists’ pages, everyone is on tour, everyone is abroad, whether that’s in Europe or America. The competition will keep the game going.
Who’s your favourite person to work with?
I can’t say. I have honestly loved working with everyone. I couldn’t pick, they’re all amazing. I would work with them all again. I really liked working with Ayra Starr, and the song we did together, Options. Three to five years ago, I would have a dream collaboration, but now, I just work with energy. If the studio session is amazing, and our music works together, we will work together.
The first thing I do, when I get into the studio is just play the beat. As soon as I find the right beat, I’m ready to come up with lyrics. The lyrics are just in my head. I feel like my head is like some crazy dictionary or some crazy storybook which just has so much in it. The stories don’t even have to be things that have happened to me, it could be something that happened to someone else, or loosely based on a film or fiction.
I can’t even remember the last time I actually sat down to write a song. That’s how I know that I was born to do this, I was born to make music. It comes to me so naturally. I never struggled to create a song. Every time I go to the studio, I know that I will get a banger.
What was the creative process behind your biggest song thus far, “Sempe”?
I recorded that song in like fifteen minutes. Trust me. I was at home, in Lagos, and in the middle floor I have a recording studio in my house. I was in my bedroom, and I heard a beat coming from the studio, and I was like what is this. I went into the studio, and I was like to my producer, this song is amazing, let me lay something on this. And in one take, I laid everything that you hear in Sempe. I just dropped the mic and went to my room, and I forgot about the song. When I was trying to pick what I wanted to go on my album, we were going through old songs that I’d recorded and forgotten about, and I was like what is this, I don’t remember recording it. My producer, shoutout to him, Clemzy, he played the guitar on it. That’s Sempe.
I wasn’t expecting it to blow like that. I knew it was an amazing song, but I feel as though all of my songs are, I just felt like my normal amazing self. I’m most proud of Sempe. It’s crazy when I see the success, I was just grinding and working hard and it just came. At the point where Sempe came I was stuck, I had been pushing music for around nine years and I just hadn’t got to where I wanted, and Sempe opened a lot of doors for me.
Where do you see yourself going with music? Where do you want to be?
Where I will be, only God knows. I want to be able to sell hundreds of thousands of tickets; massive shows, in countries across the world. I want to be able to touch lives, I want to be able to pay for foundations for people who are sick in hospital. That can be done when I reach the level of crazy success where I can sell those tickets and move those crowds. I just want to be able to touch lives, when I’m recording and making music I always think about that. I have already done it, but not on the large scale that I want. Back home in Nigeria, I’ve paid for children’s school fees, but it’s not enough, I want to do more for more people.
I’ve paid for people’s hospital bills, who thought that they were going to die. During Ramadan, for the last ten days, I cooked for people on my street in Lagos, and it was an amazing feeling. They were happy, they didn’t know where they were going to get their next meal from.
From a young, I’ve been touching people’s lives. When I was about seven, and I was staying with my grandma, I would make sure that everybody on my street was okay, if I had twenty pounds, I would know that it was not for me, it was for everyone, for all of the other children.
What’s up next for L.A.X?
Making a mark is what I want to come next. Do something that nobody will ever forget, in the history of Afrobeats. Something that people can point to throughout history. I want to do something memorable.