Patoranking: "I want to be the voice of the voiceless"
Hennessy caught up with Patoranking in Cognac to talk about his pan-African music, his vision of the world and his commitments.
"I always wanted to be a different guy." And different he is: international reggae star and dancehall hitmaker Patoranking, born Patrick Okorie in the Ebute Metta district of Lagos, Nigeria, has been racking up awards. The singer-songwriter is as charismatic as he is humble. He's an artist with a chameleonic voice and a cryptic lyricism, one that has deployed many metaphors to his refined, distinctive songcraft, making his songs conscious, filled with optimism. "I want to give people hope through my music," he discloses.
Since breaking onto the scene, Patoranking has been nominated for Best New Artist at the Headies, the Nigeria Entertainment Awards in 2014 and the MTV Africa Awards in 2015. In the wake of this, the artist has released three records; 'God Over Everything' in 2016, 'Wilmer' in 2019, and 'Three' in 2020, all of which have received critical acclaim. He's an artist who leans into character; with each song, he reaches for something new to articulate, always going at full speed. "My favourite Hennessy campaign, which resonates and best explains me, is the 'Never Stop, Never Settle' one. It takes me back to where I'm coming from, being a young boy from the ghetto and against all odds making it, never stopping, never settling."
The artist has also expanded his horizons beyond the continent, appearing on Major Lazer's 'Particula' and performing as a special guest on Lauryn Hill's 'Miseducation 20th Anniversary' tour in 2018.
But rubbing shoulders with these international celebrities hasn't made him forget the local messages and ghetto spirit that infuse the songs he continues to produce, and he never lost sight of his roots. "Me coming from the ghetto... the only option I had was to make it; there was no other option. But I’m a go-getter, a fighter, and the fight against poverty was the biggest fight I needed to endure. Breaking that chain... I said to myself, ‘It ends here, this is the beginning of a new era’."
And it was the beginning of a new era, but Patoranking still feels a strong connection to his upbringing, which is reflected in all his work. And this feeling is accompanied by an infectious lightness where his lyrics are abstract smears on a spacious canvas and where the sound of a word supersedes its definition.
The artist grew up deeply immersed in the music of Buju Banton, Lucky Dube, Tuface, Fela Kuti, and other greats of reggae, dancehall, and Afro-beat, eventually channelling these influences into his own unique style, to which he explains: "Coming from the ghetto you wake up, you eat, and you sleep to this kind of music, to conscious music. With this kind of music, there's no holding back and not not telling the truth. I admired their courage, and these artists spoke for the voiceless. It made me fall in love with their music, and through that I discovered myself and that I can actually be one of them. Now I pass on their legacy and keep up their good work," he says.
Everybody that has listened to Patoranking's music, or just the artist himself, will, without any doubt, hear an artist whose mature worldview and love for his country transcend borders. An artist moving beyond the shadows of previous albums and toward a more elaborate sound, one reflecting the endless dimensions of his voice and him as a human. He explains, "I always wanted to be written up as a pan-African musician. And music-making for me is beyond me trying to sing or trying to make people dance," stressing, more than anything, "when I first started with music, I did that because I wanted to be the voice of the voiceless."
The Nigerian artist is trying to practice what he preaches in his music. He's not shy about spreading love and happiness, sharing the fruits of his success in the studio and beyond. And he's quick to say that "success is not just about me," adding, "seeing the people around me reaching their goals is real success. It's important that 'we' come more often than 'I'. In the end, it's a collective effort," he continues. He then spontaneously starts to sing one of his hits, ‘Heal the World’, before finishing the conversation by saying: "The world would be much better if we came together. That is what I want my music to say."
The inclination toward doing, feeling and saying these kinds of comprehensible things is exactly what makes Patoranking so riveting. Both as an artist but also as a human.
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