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Young Fathers: We won't be treated as some kind of joke

By Chris Jones

So the Edinburgh hip-hop act may have been a little stern when they picked up their Mercury Prize... but it's only because they take their music so seriously.

Most people's first exposure to Young Fathers will have been on the morning of October 30 this year, when they turned on the TV or opened their newspaper to see three sullen-looking men staring back at them, clutching the Mercury Prize. The Edinburgh hip-hop act had beaten odds as long as 16-1 and a mere 2,400 sales to win the award, so why the long faces?

"I'm smiling right now talking to you, but we won't be pimped out or made out to be a joke, because we take our music very seriously," says Kayus Bankole. "You're putting normal people in an abnormal circumstance, where cameras are flashing - how do you expect them to react? It's something that we're not used to.

"It was a great opportunity for us to demonstrate what we're about and for people to see it (on TV)," he adds.

Kayus, who was born in Edinburgh to Nigerian parents, met his bandmates Alloysious Massaquoi (born in Liberia, raised in Edinburgh) and Graham Hastings (Edinburgh born and bred) when they were all teenagers.

"It was just through boredom," he recalls. "There was this club that was literally next door to my old house. It felt like a community centre where people could just come and enjoy music and that would be it. There's not a lot to do in Edinburgh where people can come together and hear good music."

But although they soon progressed to making music in Graham's house using "a karaoke machine with a £10 recording device", the trio bonded over more than just music, and it's clear from talking to Kayus just how deep the bond between them runs.

"Sometimes you don't understand why some people are part of your life, but you know they're good for you," says Kayus. "Whatever I feel is missing within myself, I feel like the other two guys have that. It's such a strong family. There was one thing that I saw with the other two guys, which was their freedom. They didn't feel like they had to be attached to anyone. The guys and myself found ourselves circling around all these (social) circles, and we found that it was only us that was doing that. It allowed us to bond, the feeling that you don't have to be a certain way. Don't be scared, be yourself."

Not only do Young Fathers like to sit outside of existing social circles and friendship groups, they aren't too keen on being seen as a "Scottish band" either.

"Who gives a f*** about being Scottish?" Kayus says. "Graham's dad has always told us that you have good people and bad people everywhere, so it doesn't really matter where you are.

"The real satisfaction is when you have a real family of people who love you and you love back. So it doesn't matter where you are. I have family in Nigeria and I can call that my home. I want to go to Africa and do gigs there, and let them feel something from it."

It's interesting to hear Kayus's dismissal of Scottishness given the amount of focus there has been on the country and its artists over the last year.

"Yeah, well the real focus should be about a band making special music. The full stop should come after that."

They've won the Mercury Prize and their stock is rising. That's no guarantee of mainstream success but Kayus is determined to avoid the fate that befell recent winner Speech Debelle, and fall into respected obscurity. "Hell yes we're ambitious," he says with an audible grin. "Our aim is never to be underground.

"You're in the wrong war if you just want to stay in that kind of territory. We see the world as our oyster."

Young Fathers play the Out to Lunch Festival, Belfast, on January 16. For details, visit www.cqaf.com

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