Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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Myles Sanko: Soul Exemplifier

Myles Sanko
Myles Sanko Myles Sanko Myles Sanko Myles Sanko

“Just Being Me”, the difference between the albums would most likely be the production. With “Forever Dreaming” I was going for more of a Motown sort of production style, with the current album I've gone for a ‘classical jazz’ sort of sound, with a grand Steinway piano, upright bass and a classical jazz drum kit”.

The Cambridge-based, singer / songwriter is a big believer in following his dreams. Born to French-Ghanian parents, Sanko moved from Ghana to the UK at age sixteen. He went on to travel the world busking with his jazz improv band Bijoumiyo. By 2011 Myles' voice struck a chord with live audiences and YouTube viewers. After asking his fans for help choosing the tracks for inclusion, he released his debut EP “Born in Black & White” in 2013. A year later came his debut studio album, “Forever Dreaming”, which featured the stunning ballad “So Much Indeed” and the soulful “My Inspiration”. On “Just Being Me” Myles returns with an even more well-defined sound, filled with rich musical textures, crisp yet classic production techniques and thought provoking lyrics. “On the lyrical side, I wanted to reflect the me of now, today. Not really necessarily talking about my past…that's why the album is titled, “Just Being Me”. It's about how I feel about what's going on around me, what I feel about the hope that's left in the views on love and on politics”.

Was there a danger in writing about your views on the world's social ills which could come across as a bit ’preachy’? “I wanted it to be like that because I felt like if I'm going to say something, I want it to mean something. That's always been a part of who I am. So if I have an opportunity to say something good to my listeners, I want to say something that's going to make them think. To be honest, I wasn't worried about how it was going to be perceived because we are living in turmoiled times and people are conscious about those things, or most people are. Most songs or albums that I like have a deeper message. As much as I love to write a love song, it's actually easier for me to write a political song than a happier song”.

While Myles admits to gravitating towards “music with a message”, he definitely loves to have fun, particularly on stage. Sanko goes on to tell the almost magical story of how being discovered on YouTube eventually lead to him performing for the Prince of Bahrain with his band Bijoumiyo. “That was one of the first bands where I was the band leader…it was called Bijoumiyo. It was a freestyle, free-form band, we had no songs…we just got together and played. That's when I quit my job (Myles was formerly a chef). I was earning my money by busking on the street. This was at a time when we were on the cusp of Smart Phones and video phones. People would film stuff and post it to YouTube. I got a call from the Formula 1 team in Bahrain and they wanted us to play the F1 in Bahrain. Whilst we were doing that, I had this guy come to me asking questions about the band. The artist liaison said ‘do you know that the Prince of Bahrain wants you to come to the studio after the show. He likes your music and wants to get to know you’. We didn't believe it!” Sanko adds, “A couple of cars pull up and we're brought to the middle of nowhere and we arrive at the Prince's palace. He opens these hangers full of cars, because he's a big car fanatic, we had a beautiful dinner then we went to the studio, he said: ‘whatever you create in the studio I would love to hear it’. He had a record label. He was actually the one who was working with Michael Jackson - we recorded in the same studio that he recorded in - we spent the whole night recording… They loved the music but in the end, they wanted me to do a solo project without the band but I didn't agree to it, I wanted to stay with my band. But I still stay in touch with everyone from that team”.

Perhaps it was that stage presence that also brought him to the attention of Gregory Porter, whom he toured with in late 2014. “Touring with Gregory was really cool. Before touring with him in Germany I was a fan. I thought he was amazing, revitalising jazz, making jazz cool again and being a male vocalist… There's a lot of female soul vocalists, so it was nice to see a male vocalist come out of nowhere and doing his own thing. He was inspiring to me, I look up artists from the sixties and seventies, people that are gone, but now I can look up to Gregory. I was stoked to support him. The highlight was when I was performing with just piano and vocals and I got standing ovations from the audience that Gregory allowed me to share my music with. People would approach me at the merch stand and say that they would happily watch me all night. Leaving that tour gave me even better fight for what I am doing”.

On the topic of touring, Myles explains why he is excited yet slightly anxious about his forthcoming 35 date European tour “excited, I'm scared, I'm nervous all in one. Obviously, I want it to be a successful tour and I know it's going to be good because I know the fans that come down give me their all, but at the same time I get nervous, because I want it to be a good experience for the fans - I want it to be a good show. I want them to come down to experience the new album. Also, the cities that I have never been to yet, those are unknown and the unknown is always a tough one”.

Already anointed with the prestigious moniker, “the lovechild of soul”, Sanko graciously gives a nod to his musical heroes including Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and Gil Scott-Heron. So if Myles had to choose two artists to be his “fantasy musical parents”, who would they be? ”I guess that probably changes every other day, but if I have to pick today, straight off the bat, let's go with Marvin Gaye as my father and Etta James as my mother or something”, he says with a smile. “I think they'd be able to produce something like me!” (laughs)

Surprisingly, singing wasn't really on Myles' original creative agenda. He first picked up a mic with the ambition of being an MC after discovering his natural ability for freestyle rapping. He began performing in clubs and was soon intimidating his more experienced counterparts. Myles recalls an occasion when the other rappers sharing the stage weren't happy with the competition. “I like to think that I'm a gentleman so I stay away from arguments as much as I can, but those moments used to happen and there was nothing I could do about it, but they had given me the opportunity to share what I had with their audience at that moment. They either wanted to make themselves feel better or just show it to the crowd. Suddenly this young guy comes out of nowhere, and because I know the DJ or because they know I'm local, they give me the opportunity and then they realise that ‘Myles is engaging the crowd better than I was, so it's probably about time I take my microphone back!’ Sometimes the audience would boo and say ‘let Myles do some more’ but there was nothing I could do. They were giving me the opportunity anyway, so I had to respect that”.

On integrating hip-hop back into his music, Myles continue, “Who knows what the future holds. The reason why I left rapping was, it was the late nineties and hip-hop had gone very gangster. As much as I love Biggie and Tupac, it was all about violence and it wasn't a positive message. It wasn't like the beginning of hip-hop, where it was very socially conscious. Would I go back to rapping? I don't know, maybe I would. On my new album, there's a track called “Land Of Paradise” with a nod to Gil Scott-Heron, one of the godfather's of rap I would say, with spoken word, I decided to pay homage to him. It's almost rapping, you know? It's poetry, but it's a different way of saying it out loud, so maybe that could be a way of me returning to rap, with more of a Gil Scott-Heron style. There were people like Common and The Roots who were a real influence on me, but you had to go looking for them, the ‘mainstream’ still had a lot of negative stuff. There was still some amazing hip-hop acts out there, but they were not getting the limelight I guess. But that doesn't mean it's not great music”.

Sanko also has a passion for filmmaking and he uses his skills as a cinematographer in the creation of his videos. “The video for “Just Being Me” was edited and directed by me. I love cinematography, it's a part of who I am. All my videos are done by myself, it's a 360 (degrees) creative process. I have a strong hand in everything that I do, there's a finger in every single pot - I kind of like it that way. It doesn't work for everybody, if you collaborate with a bigger label, they want more of a say. But it works for have creative control, then I put the right message out”.

Our conversation comes to a close with Myles speaking about his hopes for the future. And if the multitalented “lovechild of soul” has the opportunity to realise all of his dreams, clearly music is just the beginning. “Music is one of my dreams, I'd love to be a director, to get into cinematography a bit more. Maybe sometime next year, shoot a short film if I can get the time to do it. I would love to go back to cooking, maybe open a Jazz café with music and food. Those are (some) dreams I will absolutely achieve for sure because I'm on the right track and I'm quite persistent in getting the things that I want to get. Obviously, I want more recognition, more publicity so my music can reach a wider audience, but I'm happy how things are progressing already. I'm making time for my dreams and I champion that, with the hope to inspire people to stop and think about what gives them happiness. It's not going to be smooth sailing all the way, there will be hard times but at least you feel alive because you're doing something that you really love”.

The album “Just Being Me” is out through Légère Recordings.
Words Karen Lawler

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