If you know anything about Fuse ODG, it’s probably because you’ve heard his track Antenna. The tune pumped through speakers during the hotter months of 2013, and if it wasn’t for the colossal play dedicated to Blurred Lines and Get Lucky, it may have been in with a shout for that most valuable of informal accolades, Song of the Summer.
So even though Fuse was sipping tea and honey when I met him on a cold day in London, he still brightened up when we spoke about his biggest hit to date. ‘Antenna was monumental. To make music inspired by Africa and for it to be accepted by the mainstream was just an amazing breakthrough.’
For Fuse, changing perceptions of his homeland is the reason he enters the studio. Born in south London in 1988, his family moved back to Ghana when he was only two-years-old. In the years that followed, the ‘London boy in Ghana’ struggled to get used to his new surroundings. When he came back to the capital for secondary school, things only got trickier: ‘I didn’t even realise I was black until I got here, and I kinda lost myself trying to fit into British culture.’
His Ghanaian heritage wasn’t exactly popular either. ‘Being African was not easy. It was so much easier to be Caribbean, there were no negative images of it.’ Although he says he finally felt settled when he got to college, it wasn’t until a 2011 visit to Ghana that he really took pride in his identity. The familiar picture of Africa - ‘kids with flies around their mouths’ - peddled by British media concealed an otherwise vibrant culture, one few knew existed. ‘The energy was crazy. I was wowed by the whole country and the music was bringing people together.’ Azonto, his single named after a dance he learned on nights out in Ghana, speaks of the revelatory trip.
He’d already been recording at college, but it was heavily influenced by Hip-Hop and Grime. When he returned from Ghana he was determined to channel the positivity of African culture, or more specifically, Afrobeats, through his music. This Is New Africa (TINA) was born. ‘TINA is a platform to create awareness of the Africa I know, the amazing side that the media’s not showing, so people can reconnect with their roots - with themselves. When people think of Africa they think poverty, charity, famine, diseases, but now we’re changing perceptions.’
One person fascinated by the new perspective was Wyclef Jean, who met Fuse after a gig in Ivory Coast. ‘I started telling him about TINA, and he told me that what he was doing for Haiti was exactly the same, so we connected on a social level.’ They remixed Antenna in the hotel and filmed part of the video on the lawn out front, all in the space of about a day.
Despite already having three top 20 hits, a VMA nomination and a MOBO award, his debut album, naturally named TINA, only comes out next month. As Fuse says, the sound is ‘British and African at the same time,’ and with the winter months closing in, its energy hits you like a sugar-rush. But perhaps more than anything, you notice how elated he is to be singing it.
This feeling has allegedly rubbed off on other people, too: There’s a story about a soundsystem scuffle at Notting Hill Carnival a few years back, when brawling sides came to an abrupt stop because the DJ dropped Antenna. Who knows how this tale’s been corrupted over time, but if you had to attribute it to any artist, you’d probably pick Fuse. ‘It’s amazing that my music can bring people together. My music can stop fights!’
T.I.N.A is released on 2 November. Pre-order it here. Be sure to follow Fuse on Twitter.