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Changes Joy Month: Femi Koleoso

The audio version of this episode is available here.

Femi [00:00:00] We can choose to be joyful. I say it on stage all the time, 'for the next 6 minutes, I'm going to challenge you to decide right now to leave everything behind and just go for it'.

Annie [00:00:16] Hello, happy New Year! Welcome to Changes. I am Annie Macmanus, it's so great to be back with you at the beginning of 2024! The beginning of a year is always such a big time for change and we've got some incredible guests lined up to kickstart 2024. I wanted to start the year with a real kind of commitment to positivity. The world is terrifying, overwhelming, scary, horrific at times, and I think sometimes you have to work at making life and your experience of living feel good. Sometimes it's hard work, and I thought we could dedicate this entire month to learning about that work. So we're going to speak about joy for the month of January. It's joy month. January is joy month. We are embarking on a journey of learning, speaking to some amazing people to find out what changes have brought more joy to their lives and what tools we can use to cultivate more joy in our lives. My guest this week radiates joy through everything he does. Femi Koleoso is the dynamic bandleader and drummer of the incredible Mercury Prize award winning group Ezra Collective. Their debut album was called You Can't Steal My Joy, and they made history last year as the first ever jazz act to win the Mercury Prize with their second album, Where I'm Meant to be. Femi also drums with the band Gorillaz and Jorja Smith. He's also a broadcaster, I've been loving his stints on BBC 6 Music recently and he's known for his youth and his community work as well. He is on a mission to bring joy to all through music. Stepping onto the stage during Ezra Collective's recent and widely raved about performance at the Royal Albert Hall, Femi called out 'we're about to turn this room into the most joy filled place'. Femi, welcome to Changes.

Femi [00:02:04] Thank you for having me. Honestly, it's a real honour.

Annie [00:02:08] Everything you put out into the world feels consciously like you are trying to access joy or allow other people to access joy. What does Joy mean to you?

Femi [00:02:20] Yeah man, no, 100%. I think- I think for me, Joy is- it's tied into your soul. And it is, it's almost like your soul's way of getting through another day. It's very disconnected to the word happiness, and it's very disconnected to the word sadness. Those are like very much temperamental things in my life. Sometimes I'm happy, sometimes I'm sad. But my joy is something that's kind of in my soul that is consistent. It's like the thing about me that is always like, we're going for another day. So the things that make me joyful, sometimes it's as simple as, oh my days, I've woken up again Annie laughs. This is like the 29th year in a row this has happened, you know what I'm saying? And I'm joyful about that. They're the things that are like, it's within me. Whether I'm happy or sad, it's kind of subject dependent. Right now in London it's sunny and I'm happy right now. Two days ago, Arsenal lost to Aston Villa, wasn't happy Annie laughs, but that didn't affect my joy. My joy kind of comes from something more substantial than that.

Annie [00:03:23] Right. So the joy is kind of in your heart for you.

Femi [00:03:26] Yeah man.

Annie [00:03:27] It's how you experience life all the time.

Femi [00:03:31] 100%, but I'd even go further and say I think everyone has it in them.

Annie [00:03:34] Do you think you're born with it?

Femi [00:03:35] Yeah, I think it's part of what we all have. I think when we talk about people's souls, like that for me is, it's tied into the capacity to experience joy. It's something we all have. Similar to the capacity we all have to experience heartbreak. Sometimes it's just a bit easier for some people and harder for some people. Some people are brokenhearted every time they watch the news. Some people it takes a little bit, something a bit more close to home to break their heart. And I feel like similarly, some people, maybe like myself, I find joy quite easily in my soul. Some people might have to dig a little bit deeper, but I think we've all got the capacity for it.

Annie [00:04:13] Yeah. I saw a gorgeous quote from you saying erm, 'I came out buzzing' both laugh which I loved. What have you learned about yourself with regards to how you carry joy? Do you feel like you are different to people in that way?

Femi [00:04:28] Erm, I think one of the small differences maybe that I have is, I think I've got an ability to make other people feel joy with me. I could probably convince you to like a film you don't really like because I'll just be like wait for the scene, excitedly just wait for the scene, just wait for the scene, and then it comes and I'll scream for you Annie laughing and make it happen, you know what I'm saying? So I feel like that might be like a little bit of a difference. It might be why being on stage, it comes quite naturally to me to command the room into being like, I want you all to feel how I feel right now. I get excited at the task of getting someone else to experience that with me.

Annie [00:05:04] So that you're getting joy, from giving joy.

Femi [00:05:06] Yeah and it all becomes a big circle. Do you know what I mean? I don't feel like doing every Ezra Collective gig in the year but when I get on stage and I see like, it might be 100 people looking at me, eager to have a little bit of a bounce and a dance, that's what gets me. I'm like right, let's go, let's go, let's go, let's go. You know what I mean?

Annie [00:05:24] When you play with Ezra Collective, what is it that you're trying to do with the room? How do you want people to feel or to change when they watch your band?

Femi [00:05:32] Ahh, that's a great question. I think I want, I want people to forget about the realities of their own lives for the next 90 minutes or 60 minutes. I want people to, regardless of what you've come into the room with, maybe you won the lottery this morning, maybe don't have a penny to your name. Maybe you're here with your entire family, maybe someone really close to you just passed away. Whatever it is, up or down, I try and create an atmosphere where you can leave that at the door because I really believe in the beautiful nature that music can kind of transport you into a different place. Once I feel like people can be transported into the room, into that space, into that moment, then I'm just trying to get them to channel the emotion of joy, because I do feel like if they channel the emotion of joy in a deep way at an Ezra Collective gig, whatever circumstance they left the house with, they'll go back to it finding it ever so slightly easier.

Annie [00:06:36] Can I ask about music - this is something that I'm, I'm always so interested in and I haven't ever really been able to get to the bottom of and I don't think it's possible, actually, to get to the bottom of the kind of existential question about music and the existence of music and why we as a species are given the gift of music. It's so deep. It's something that you can't really describe with words, the power of music. Why do you think we have it?

Femi [00:07:02] It's such a deep like, topic.

Annie [00:07:04] I know, sorry.

Femi [00:07:05] No, no, I'm here for it man, that's what Monday mornings are for. But like laughs, I think for me, I could only answer that by saying at the forefront, I believe in God.

Annie [00:07:18] Yep.

Femi [00:07:18] And I believe we are creatively and lovingly designed. And I'm here for anyone that believes something differently but for me, if you look at it from the perspective of we were designed and purposely and wonderfully made, inside that design is a soul that has the ability to react to other human beings' souls, and I feel like music taps into that. I don't believe our legs were just designed for walking and hunting, I think they were designed for dancing. Do you hear what I'm saying like-

Annie [00:07:58] Yes!!

Femi [00:07:59] I don't believe our lips are this shape just so that we can eat our food properly, I believe they're for playing the trumpet Annie laughs, I don't believe our fingers are these shapes just for the chance of being able to like, cut pieces of fruit, I think they were made like this to play the piano. Do you get what I'm saying like Annie laughs, and I feel like for me, God built and designed us in a way so that we can communicate joy and sorrow and peace and hope, all of these different things through the medium of music. Do you hear? Do you hear what I'm saying? So hence why whether you believe in God or not, you can hear a song that was written about God and you can kind of hear it's not just five instruments on that Kirk Franklin track, there's something else. There was something else going on when John Coltrane was playing that saxophone. I think all of that taps into what we as humans were designed for by God, and then it kind of gets breathed out with music.

Annie [00:08:55] I love the idea of it being a connection tool. Like if human beings are going to exist and survive and be sustainable as a race, they need to understand each other. And to understand each other you need to connect. And to connect, you need a language beyond words.

Femi [00:09:09] That's the thing. Beyond words. It's just so powerful that I don't need to speak your language to get a reaction out of you.

Annie [00:09:16] Right.

Femi [00:09:17] Because languages, in the core, core, foundation of it are not that important. I wouldn't say to someone they are less eloquent than me just because they can't speak. They might have a disability that stops them speaking, but I still feel like there's communication to be had. Anyone that's ever worked in a school like I have back- like when I was a bit younger I worked in a school for children that had some like, learning difficulties and a lot of them were non-verbal but lord knows we could communicate, I just needed a drum for a bit.

Annie [00:09:50] There must be something gorgeous about being able to sit down at your drums and have anyone from anywhere in the world come in and play and jam with you and to be able to speak and understand each other through the language of music. It must give you a deeper level of what communication can be?

Femi [00:10:10] Yeah, man. The closest thing to a non-musician is the feeling of dancing with a stranger.

Annie [00:10:16] Okay, yes, yes, yes!

Femi [00:10:16] It's just so powerful. It's just like, you know that feeling of dancing with your best mates and then some other people come and join you to dance?

Annie [00:10:23] So everyone can access that.

Femi [00:10:25] 100%.

Annie [00:10:27] For people listening, you can access that language, yeah.

Femi [00:10:29] Yeah, if you want to know what it's like to be in a band, just go to a club and dance with a stranger, man. And it's a similar feeling. Well, it is for me anyway. That's how I prepare for Ezra shows, I go and watch other people and dance. And whatever people make me feel positively in the audience, that's my next task on the stage is to make people feel that same thing. You know, I watched Khruangbin one year, I was so excited when they came out and really early on in the stage they- in the show, they encourage people to talk to each other. So they're like, you know, make a friend say hello to someone, make a friend. And I just thought to myself, I love this. Like four people introduced themselves to me and I was like hey I'm Femi and they were like, oh cool blah-blah. And I just thought to myself, every Ezra Collective show from this point on I'm going to give everyone the opportunity to make some friends.

Annie [00:11:20] Do you know what that reminds me of? Church.

Femi [00:11:21] Exactly, they do it every morning.

Annie [00:11:23] When I used to go to church as a kid, and you used to have to be- you have to turn around and shake people's hands.

Femi [00:11:28] My church still does it. Turn around and shake five people's hands init. Those moments is ends up how I build gigs and stuff. It's just trying to recreate those moments for people.

Annie [00:11:39] Yeah. Again, just remembering what you guys do and thinking about it before this interview, one thing occurred to me which is like, the way that Ezra Collective exists as a band, you have a lot of different types of music that you bring together whether it be salsa or Afrobeat or dub or hip hop or jazz, obviously, and you kind of alchemise these different genres into something new, and it feels like you do the same with people. So like, you have different people, disparate people from different communities, different parts of society all coming together. So at the root of what you do feels, it's just connection. It's just bringing people- bringing sounds together, bringing people together.

Femi [00:12:20] It's just- that's how you get the best of the world, I think. I think diversity is the most beautiful thing we have. I've grown up in London. I live in London. All I know is London. We are experts at this. And it's heartbreaking when people try and demonise it because I just see it as the most beautiful thing ever. Something so dark, like colonialism or slave trade, the one small, beautiful thing we get out of those things, and I wish it didn't have to be in this direction, but sometimes you get this mix of cultures and you get a new thing that is just so special and beautiful. That's what music's about, you know what I'm saying?

Annie [00:12:58] Yes!

Femi [00:12:58] You bring like the Negro spiritual music of gospel singing and you mix it with the blues music and you mix it with some Western classical harmony and some African drumming, bang! Jazz. D'you know what I'm saying fam? Annie laughs. And like, that's just sick! So it's like, I'm always trying to do that with music, like, that's the magic of like, I don't reallllly care about the Olympics. Let's be real like, it's cool but it's just running in a straight line and throwing Annie laughs. Throwing and jumping. It's not, it's not that big a deal to me, but like to just be able to see like, an Indian and a Greek person and a Turkish person and a Nigerian person and an Australian person and- it just like, blows my mind! It's like, wow, look at that! And they all- my favourite part of the Olympics is when they're all like doing the opening ceremony waving at people. Annie laughing when they start running around I'm kind of done, but that part is like everything, you know what I'm saying.

Annie [00:14:01] Let's speak about then erm, what kind of house was it that you grew up in and what influence did your mum and dad have on you when you were a child and also now, do you have siblings?

Femi [00:14:11] I've got one younger brother, T.J. Koleoso who's the bass player in Ezra.

Annie [00:14:15] And he's also in the band.

Femi [00:14:16] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So- but I say I've got one younger brother, I lived in an open house in Enfield. So Enfield, North London. My house is very much, you could interview thirty people and they would make reference to my house being their second home. So if, if you were my friend in school, you needed somewhere to go after school kisses teeth come to Fems. After church, where was everyone going? Back to Femi's house. Mum would always make like triple portion of rice because she knew some kid from Enfield was going to end up in the house. On Christmas Day, I would meet people for the first time. Dad would just be like, 'yo guys! Meet- what's your name again? Cool, meet blah, blah, blah'. And he would have been out on Christmas Eve and found out someone was going to be alone, they end up in our house on Christmas Day. That's the home I grew up in. It brings a little bit of context to the music I write and the way I think and act. It was just an open house. It was a house filled with love and joy. The amount of people that saw our house as like, their home, d'you know what I'm saying, were all types of people! Which is funny because now I have my own house and there's just always people here. I just think, to kind of concisely put it, my parents love people and are generous and I think they just installed that into me and my brother. I think the first time I had a culture clash really in my life was going to uni when that wasn't really how everyone thought. I remember thinking it was so weird, like someone would be £20 down for their rent and I had just done a gig that paid me £30, I'm like yo take the 20 man, we're good! And people were so like, that's so weird. And I was kind of like, the weirder thing would let you be in trouble. Like, you know what I mean, like.

Annie [00:16:10] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Femi [00:16:12] I didn't even know you could make rice for one. I didn't know that was possible until I got to uni. And I was like, where's the rest? And then I was thinking, oh, you just made it for yourself. But what if I was hungry? You know what I'm saying like laughs-

Annie [00:16:24] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Femi [00:16:24] I think I just grew up in that kind of an environment of just give, give, give, give, give.

Annie [00:16:28] Mmm. Tell me about what you would say is your biggest childhood change.

Femi [00:16:33] I think it was becoming a Christian, because I think-

Annie [00:16:36] Yeah, when was that?

Femi [00:16:37] So I think I first became a Christian very young when I was like five or six. I remember it because- it's such a weird story but I saw someone vomitting a lot. And it really scared me and my brother because I think it was the first time I'd ever come in contact with, I thought the guy was going to die.

Annie [00:17:01] Yeah. Yeah. Scary if you don't know what it is, yeah.

Femi [00:17:03] You don't know what it is, I was like this guy's, he ain't got long at all. Like he's throwing up. I think I came into contact with the fear of death and I spoke to my dad about it, and he was kind of like, well, I'm a Christian and the reason we go to church- and he kind of in, kind of like my first explanation of the Bible, kind of said to me, you know, you don't have to be scared of death because when you're a Christian and you die, you go to heaven and it's even better than Earth kind of thing. So I was like, yo, sign me up now.

Annie [00:17:40] Laughs sold!

Femi [00:17:41] Deal done, we're good, you know what I mean? Laughs I don't need to hear any more. I'm good. But I would say the biggest change of my life is that because I feel like it's the biggest part of my identity. Before being a Londoner, before being black Nigerian, before being a musician, I think Christian is like the thing that would most eloquently describe who I am. You know what I'm saying?

Annie [00:18:03] Is there a link between faith and joy?

Femi [00:18:06] I would say so. For me, my joy comes from my faith in God. For me, there's a serious, a deep link, because joy, so much of joy is about the peace and not knowing what tomorrow is. I think like, the obsession with perfection-

Annie [00:18:27] And control.

Femi [00:18:30] Control is like the opposite to faith. And I feel like that obsession can be a stealer of joy.

Annie [00:18:37] Yeah.

Femi [00:18:37] You know what I'm saying? Like, I don't really know how the rest of the day is going to go today. All I can control is, is what's happening right now. I'm talking to you and I'm just going to take this moment for all that is and keep it moving. That's one way of looking at it. And that to me is, that's the element of faith that allows me to have joy. If I get obsessed with what tomorrow might hold, I feel like it will steal that joy away from me.

[00:19:05] Short musical interlude

Annie [00:19:15] Just thinking of those people listening who are wanting to access more joy in their lives, I wonder can we talk through some things that you do, that you practice in your life that give you joy?

Femi [00:19:31] Yeah man.

Annie [00:19:32] That consistently bring you that feeling of joy.

Femi [00:19:34] Yeah, immediately the first thing that comes to mind is, if I'm ever feeling low on batteries, low on joy, low on that feeling, I find ways of reminding myself who I was when I was a kid. And the best way I find to do that is going into schools or going meeting with young people and interacting with their spark for life, and that ends up energising me. So a lot of times on tour like we just did Australia, I probably went into three or four colleges and secondary schools and like, you know, the 60 minutes I had with the kids in Adelaide was like so powerful. I got to talk to them and hear what their dreams and music are. And yesterday, the kids in my youth group had their Christmas service and they made like the nativity video for themselves and they organised a little choir. 16 little black kids from North London singing in a choir. Let's be honest, it's not going to be released on a record any time soon but it gave me everything, that's all I needed, d'you know what I'm saying.

Annie [00:20:49] What is it about kids and being around kids that helps you access joy? What is it?

Femi [00:20:55] I think it just reminds you of your most innocent, authentic self.

Annie [00:20:59] Is there something about wonder, as well? I always think of that word, wonder.

Femi [00:21:03] Yeah, it's wonder, it's hope, it's ignorance. There's something so beautiful about the ignorance of children.

Annie [00:21:09] An innocence.

Femi [00:21:10] Yeah man!

Annie [00:21:10] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Femi [00:21:11] I remember one of the most heartbreaking drum lessons I've ever had was I asked this eight year old boy, what do you want to be when you're older. And he said he wanted to be an accountant. I was just like, what? How've you- what? where's the astronaut? Where's the like, spaceman Annie laughs or like, where's the, where's the, like, tennis player or in the morning you want to be a football player, in the afternoon you want to be a spy. Like, that's what I was looking for. And this kid said accountant, I was like, oh my gosh, how have you lost your wonder, your ignorance at that point? You know what I'm saying? And he's probably going to go on to be a great accountant but at the same time, I think children remind you of really the core of what's important. Like, I absolutely love it when I tell like a young girl in my youth club or a young boy, like concentrate. And then you've got about eight more seconds of concentration before they're off again talking to one of their mates or all they want to talk about is football and I'm like, we need to finish your homework. They're like yeah, but did you see the goal? And I'm like, I did see the goal, it was killin wasn't it. D'ya know what I mean, like, Annie laughing I like that and I feel like adults lose that wonder. They lose that joy, that the harsh realities of life begin to kill that in them and you need to chat to kids to get it back sometimes. Especially being a musician, they'd be like, my dreeeam! My dream is to play in like- at Glastonbury, and I'm like wow, what a dream to have. That was my dream as well. When you get the Glastonbury booking, you don't want to like, be like, ohh man, I wanted to play a 7 p.m. not 8 p.m. or whatever. You know what I mean? Like, oh, I wish I was on this stage, not that stage. Go and chat to that kid again and remind yourself what the actual dream was, you know what I'm saying?

Annie [00:23:09] Yeah, yeah.

Femi [00:23:10] I love it when kids see my drum kits. When they walk up to my drum kit and they're like gasps wow! You've got this snaredrum, and you've got these drumsticks! Because sometimes I run the risk of not even caring anymore because I've had it for so long.

Annie [00:23:24] Okay so kids, that's great. I love that. What else? What about gratitude?

Femi [00:23:30] Gratitude is a big one. Like, I always make reference to waking up, and I'm breathing and feeling good. It's a blessing. You know, all the things that you can complain about, you can also find a way of being grateful about, even down to the very darkest things. Like the very darkest things like, goodness me, look at the war that's going on in the world. The gratitude point- part of that coin, I can leave this house and I'm not going to be scared of being shot. D'you get what I'm saying? And it's like, even though it's dark there's a place of gratitude you can find. And even like it's like, goodness me, look at all of this traffic. And it's like everyone hates traffic but at the same time, traffic sometimes represents an economy that means we haven't got starvation everywhere because people can afford cars. D'you get what I'm saying?

Annie [00:24:18] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Femi [00:24:18] There's a way of just switching and balancing and you have to switch, it's not every day-

Annie [00:24:24] And it's a choice, isn't it. It's a choice.

Femi [00:24:26] It is a choice and I think this is why 'you can't steal my joy' came out as a sentence because we started to get really deep into the, we can choose to be joyful. I say on stage all the time, 'for the next 6 minutes I'm going to challenge you to decide right now to leave everything behind and just go for it'. I would say that because you can choose to be grateful about things, I can also choose to be gutted about everything. I can choose to be like- I got another yellow ticket on Saturday, that could be the narrative of Saturday. Someone told me I could park there, I parked there, got a ticket. I'm choosing to talk more about, I got KOKO for the day!

Annie [00:25:06] KOKO, by the way, for anyone listening is a very prestigious, gorgeous venue in Camden.

Femi [00:25:10] Yeah.

Annie [00:25:11] 15- yeah, lovely venue, yeah.

Femi [00:25:11] It's the kind of venue where you wouldn't even dream of asking them can you just mess about with your mates in there, d'you know what I mean? Annie laughing Like, it's not someone's living room. And still they went for it! D'you laughs know what I mean.

Annie [00:25:24] Okay, so gratitude. And I think again, for those, for those listening, it's really good. Like I want people to walk away from this conversation feeling like there's things they can do.

Femi [00:25:34] Yeah man.

Annie [00:25:34] There's things they can do so easily today that will change their outlook and bring them more joy. I wanted to ask about discipline as well, because I've heard you talking about that with regards to that being a way to bring you joy.

Femi [00:25:46] Yeah man, like, so I would argue I'm quite a disciplined person because I believe discipline allows for freedom. So the best example would be, if I'm disciplined with the way I practice the drums, I can dance around and have a good time on stage because I know what I'm doing. And I feel like I kind of apply that to almost every aspect of my life. If I'm disciplined to a degree of what I eat, then it means that I'm going to wake up feeling well as opposed to ill. If I'm disciplined with how much I drink, I'm going to wake up feeling better as opposed to feeling horrible. These are all decisions that I get to make all the time. One of the biggest disciplines in my life is my sleeping. Like, it's so weird how neglected that health hack is. It's like, fam, if it's 10 p.m. bruv, the day is done Annie laughing, like the day. Is. Done. There's nothing more to achieve. I'm not- like, it's 10 p.m., like Annie bursts out laughing I'm going to bed.

Annie [00:26:57] You and me are on such the same tip at the moment!

Femi [00:27:00] Oh 100%.

Annie [00:27:01] I've started an entire new club night just so I can go to bed early.

Femi [00:27:05] And I'm going to come one day Annie laughing because it's like, someone's on the same page bruv! Like, yeah, someone invited me to something the other day, I was like yeah man I'm down, what time does it start? They were like ahh we'll get there around 11:30 / 12 Annie laughs, I said big man, them days are lonnng gone. Like I- I was almost offended like why did you think I would sign up? Like, I was on a 6 p.m. type energy, what do you mean 11:30 bruv?

Annie [00:27:34] Laughs I know! Whenever you wanna meet someone for dinner and they're like, right 9:00-

Femi [00:27:36] In unison Oh, no, no, no, no.

Annie [00:27:38] No, we meet at dinner time. We meet at 6:00!  

Femi [00:27:40] Or I'll say we can, we can meet up at 9:00 but by 9:20 I need to be organising to get home so just, you know what I mean, choose your start of pass cause-

Annie [00:27:50] Laughs but you know what, it's really interesting because I don't think a lot of people put those two things together, discipline and joy, and how what some people would see as restricting yourself from things, actually gives you freedom.

Femi [00:28:05] 100%.

Annie [00:28:05] And you know the first place I learnt that Femi, which is so mad, when I used to smoke cigarettes.

Femi [00:28:09] Right.

Annie [00:28:09] And I read a book by Alan Carr, It's a really famous book, this guy Alan Carr who wrote a book about how to stop smoking. And his whole thing is that- you are- you're looking at stopping smoking as if you are, you are, you know, restricting yourself from something that is giving you pleasure. Where in fact by stopping smoking, you are freeing yourself from a toxic thing that is going to kill you.

Femi [00:28:31] Yeah!

Annie [00:28:32] And it's like if --- you just switch, you switch your outlook completely you're not sacrificing anything, you are, you know, and it's like oh yeah. And it's so interesting, it wasn't anything about trying to cut down or doing different things or nicotine patches, it was like change the way you think about what this is.

Femi [00:28:49] That's exactly how I think. Like, I think it's a curse if you have to spend the afternoon looking for drugs.

Annie [00:28:55] Yeah.

Femi [00:28:55] That to me is the restriction. I'm the free one. I don't want them. D'you know what I mean? So I can spend the afternoon doing whatever I want. I could join you and look for the drugs too even if I wanted to. D'you know what I'm saying?

Annie [00:29:06] Yeah, yeah.

Femi [00:29:06] And it's like- so for me it's like, discipline allows freedom. It's like I always talk about, I practised so much when I was a kid. Practised the drums so much. When I'm on stage and dancing around and having a good time, it's because like every single note has been rehearsed and it's like, I'm so disciplined about going to bed at a good time, that when I don't have the luxury of controlling when I go to bed, I've got it in me. I'm going to be okay. I've slept well six days in a row. This gig is not going to destroy me. You know what I'm saying? Gratitude is a big one. Discipline is a big one. Giving back is, it's just a huge one for me.

Annie [00:29:45] Huge, yeah.

Femi [00:29:45] Because it's just like these are the things that charge me up and keep me happy. And just, I think also just a blissful ignorance to life I think is important.

Annie [00:29:55] That's really interesting. And, you know, you mentioned the news and what's in the news and how- it's one of the reasons why I wanted to do this whole month on joy because, not to try and ignore the fact that the news is happening but just to, just to remember that you have a responsibility to try and make the most out of the life that you have, while you have it. So with regards to the blissful ignorance, can you touch a bit more on that, I suppose?

Femi [00:30:22] Yeah, 100%. So I'm one of the types of people, my disposition naturally is to be obsessed with the news.

Annie [00:30:31] Yes.

Femi [00:30:32] I'd spend all day reading it if I could, but I choose not to. And I control how much I digest. I control very, very strictly the platforms and the places I choose to discuss and converse about certain types of things. Like one of the big decisions I made a long time ago was Twitter is not a place for certain types of conversations... for me. For me. That's- one of the most important parts of that sentence is 'for me'. So it's kind of like, some people feel differently and that's totally fine but when I look at the reason social media exists, the original reason for it, Facebook was made in a university for people to just have fun and hang out.

Annie [00:31:21] And to connect.

Femi [00:31:21] And that is basically what I use my Instagram and my Twitter for. Some people use it differently and that's totally fine. But for me, I had to control that because I get obsessed with it and I'm the type of person that could be knees deep into a debate with someone I've never even met, trying to convince them of something they have no interest- it's funny like, errr an ex footballer, I won't even name, but an ex-footballer wrote some things about females and women in sport that I found really, really backwards and like, I really disagreed with it. I had a decision, I could have fought what he was saying on Twitter. You know what I mean, I'm probably at a point where if I'd really attacked him, it probably would have got quite a bit of attention. But I actually made the decision just to block and mute him. He would never know that I even exist. That's the blissful ignorance I have. But then Lord knows, next time I'm at a youth club and they bring up women in football, that's where I'll decide to tackle what I think about that type of thing. Do you hear what I'm saying?

Annie [00:32:25] Yeah, yeah. So it's actually acting on it in a way that you actually have agency on.

Femi [00:32:29] This is what I'm saying, because I just don't have control over how people interpret what I'm saying. So I'm very much team, effect change in what you can control, don't kill yourself over the things you can't control.

Annie [00:32:42] I see a lot of it in social media, you know, don't look away, don't look away. And of course, you know, you don't want to look away. You don't want- you know, you need to be aware of what's happening in the world and do everything you can and donate and all of that. But at some point, you are helpless to what is going on. And I have personally found, in the last few weeks especially, that the only thing that's made me feel better and feel like I'm actually of use is by putting all the frustrations I have about not being able to do anything, with regards to the war and horror in the world, into stuff that I can do.

Femi [00:33:18] This is what I'm saying. And this is the beau- some people's calling is to tackle it head on on social media.

Annie [00:33:25] Yes, yes.

Femi [00:33:25] Some people's calling isn't. This is why I think it can be a dangerous narrative when they say things like silence is compliance. In some ways, there's truth to that statement. Silence can be compliance if you see injustice and you don't speak out. But the problem is, a lot of the times silence is compliance but you're only listening in one specific type of way.

Annie [00:33:49] Whispers firmly exactly!

Femi [00:33:50] So you're not-

Annie [00:33:51] So you mean silence on Twitter?

Femi [00:33:52] That's what you mean, you don't mean silence!

Annie [00:33:53] What about silence that- what about silence in the youth club that you go and-?

Femi [00:33:56] Exactly.

Annie [00:33:57] There's the problem, isn't it?

Femi [00:33:58] Where were you yesterday afternoon when I was with those 300 kids? But you're only making reference to one form of silence. And then sometimes you have to look at someone's Twitter and be like, okay, he's only spoken about drumming and football for the last eight years. Either, those are the only two things I care about, or maybe there are things I care about that I don't use Twitter for.

Annie [00:34:25] Yeah, maybe that's a conscious decision. It's an intentional decision.

Femi [00:34:28] Maybe I enjoy football fighting on Twitter, because at the core of it, Arsenal doesn't really matter. D'you know what I'm saying, it matters to me but let's be honest if Arsenal just decided we're closing up shop tomorrow, you know I'd be upset for a while, but life goes on.

Annie [00:34:43] I mean, they should at least wait until the end of the league because they are gonna do very well.

Femi [00:34:46] Because they might be- well this is the problem, Annie. This is where the hope- this is the hope that kills you man both laugh. So, yeah, that's kind of a big part-

Annie [00:34:55] And that's also self respect I think, it's knowing what you need to function the most.

Femi [00:34:58] 100%.

Annie [00:34:59] At your wellest. To help as much people, to kind of be the best that you can be, is to know what your parameters are, right?

Femi [00:35:05] Yeah, definitely. I mean, there's been so many times people have basically asked me questions along the line of 'how can you go on stage and be joyful when all of these mad things are going on in the world?'. And my answer tends to be, well, there's so many different answers to that, one of which is, there are a lot of things to be joyful in the world, as much as there are a lot of things to be heartbroken about. This is just 60 minutes to celebrate the joyful things in the world. The point I'm making is, the people that need to fix these issues around the world, the people that are going to go on the frontline, the people that are going to go into schools, into hospitals, they need that joy to get them through tomorrow. No one gains anything from everyone being depressed. The depressed person needs someone that isn't to help them out of it a lot of the times, do you get what I'm saying?

Femi [00:35:58] Yes, yes.

Annie [00:35:59] And that's kind of how I see these things. That's why- I'm almost like the saddest place in the world is the place that needs the gig the most.

Annie [00:36:07] Yes. And circling back to what you said at the very start of this conversation, which is it is possible to feel unhappy and to feel angry and frustrated, but also to have joy.

Femi [00:36:19] 100%.

Annie [00:36:19] That can and should exist alongside everything else.

Femi [00:36:22] And you shouldn't feel guilty about that. I see that increasing more and more, people feeling guilty about being joyful. And so then there's this kind of fake kind of let me make out like I have some sort of thing to be upset about because they want to empathise more deeply, but empathy doesn't mean you have to go through it in the same way. Let's be real man, I live in London, I'm a male, there are things that I probably will never, ever, ever be able to relate to. There is a time to be joyful and that joy will power you up to fight the things that are making your heart break.

Annie [00:37:00] What about the things that can steal your joy? And I'm speaking specifically about comparison culture, and I think we're so fucked when it comes to that. And I just wanted your take on that quickly.

Femi [00:37:10] Yeah, comparison is the thief of joy. That's the statement init and it's the truth. Because the thing about comparison is it robs you of gratitude because immediately it's like, well look at that person's garden... but you didn't have a garden before, bro! And I feel like the way to kill the evil of comparison in yourself is to go back to the word gratitude and you end up being grateful you've got something to aspire to. It's so natural, especially when you get compared with people even outside of your own power, you'll read an article of yourself and they're comparing you against someone.

Annie [00:37:51] Yeah.

Femi [00:37:51] And it's like, ohhh man, I got to beat this person's record sales. But it's like, bro, let's be grateful. Let's look at Chapter Seven, the first record you ever put out. All of those records were in your mum's house because no one bought them. Now we're talking about record sales. Just be grateful that you can sell a record, you know what I'm saying? And it's kind of like when you go back in that journey, I can proudly say I really don't feel like I'm comparing myself to anyone or anything... at the moment. I'm so grateful for everything. I've got hope in the journey that if there's something I really think would be great, maybe it's just not my turn yet. Maybe one day it will be my turn, do you get what I'm saying?

Annie [00:38:31] What about hope and joy Femi, and the relationship between those two things?

Femi [00:38:34] I think that joy brings hope.

Annie [00:38:38] Yes.

Femi [00:38:39] When you've got joy in your heart, suddenly tomorrow looks a little bit brighter. That tomorrow is hope.

[00:38:46] Short musical interlude

Annie [00:38:56] So I want to end this conversation on a quote that I just loved of yours, 'a good bassline and a drum beat puts everyone on the same page. And when you've got everyone on the same page, you can achieve change'.

Femi [00:39:07] Yeah man, I really think there's some truth in that. Because I think one of the biggest thieves of like joy in our society is we have so many prominent figures spouting this narrative that our differences are more significant than the things that make us the same. Our differences are important and they're to be celebrated, but the things that make us the same are more significant. And I think that music has this really powerful way of reminding us we are all the same. You see it every time you play like a Prince tune in a wedding. Oh, we're all the same. You know what I mean, like laughs Elton John did that to the U.K. and when he played at Glastonbury, I'm not like an Elton John fan, like I don't have a single one of his records downstairs but there was a couple tune when he played it I was like, yeah man! Annie laughs I'm here for it, d'you know what I mean? Kylie- Kylie did the same thing at Glastonbury yeah, when she performed at Glastonbury, again, I'm not like a Kylie fan, you know what I mean, I love Neighbours Annie laughs but like by way of the music it didn't really like, it's more like- but when she started telling everyone to spin around and that, I was there bruv Annie laughs. And I just feel like music has a way of reminding us at the very core of who we are, we're all just the same. And I feel like when we have music in common, suddenly when we're on the same page you can tackle the more important things in life. Like, you know what would make the world way better? This is a thought I've just had yeah, I don't really like anything about the government let's say, but can you imagine if before Prime Minister's questions they had a DJ in there for an hour Annie laughs and just got everyone vibing on the same level and then asked them to tackle the country's issues? I'm telling you, I'm telling you, there will be a lot more peace. There will be a lot more togetherness. There will be a lot more agreement. There will be a lot more positive strategy, not just getting at each other because it's just like ahh yeah, but we just kind of- we just kind of had a little dance together, alright let's talk about the-

Annie [00:41:17] Laughing you're so right!

Femi [00:41:17] I'm so right, aren't I?!

Annie [00:41:20] You're so right!

Femi [00:41:20] 'Let's talk about the economy for a bit', it will go better! It will go better. I'm not saying it will fix everything but it will go better and so-.

Annie [00:41:28] It will go better, yeah.

Femi [00:41:29] And this is why music festivals have a place in society, because it's a levelling out. It's a putting people on the same page for a bit. This is why clubbing is important. This is why gigging is important. This is why the pub down the road needs to stay alive. This is why I'm passionate about not just my own music, but just everyone's music played loud.

Annie [00:41:50] Femi, what change do you still want to make in the world?

Femi [00:41:53] Do you know what? Benjamin Zephaniah passed away recently and there was something so beautiful in his sad passing. The amount of people that said 'he came to my primary school', and me too, he came to my primary school-

Annie [00:42:10] No way.

Femi [00:42:10] And me and T.J. remember it. And what a legacy to leave behind that he inspired so many people on a one on one personal basis. And so if there's a change that I want to make in the world, it is to meet as many people on a one on one personal basis and convince them that they have a joy somewhere in their soul, they just need to dig a little bit to find it. If I can leave that legacy of change behind, then I would have done my job, d'you know what I mean?

Annie [00:42:42] Femi, thank you-

Femi [00:42:44] Ah thank you for having me man.

Annie [00:42:45] So much on behalf of all the listeners of Changes who I guarantee are going to go fucking skipping into their day now.

Femi [00:42:50] Oh, beautiful man!

Annie [00:42:52] And anyone listening, go and cop your Ezra Collective albums. Go and listen to them. You've also got an amazing playlist, an Ezra collective curated playlist on Spotify which, which I love. Thank you so much, honestly, I'm such a fan of everything you do and-

Femi [00:43:04] Oh man, appreciate it, likewise. Well, thank you for doing this, man.

Annie [00:43:07] Thank you so much, Femi... Come on! Such a joyous episode. I have to say. I was buzzing after that conversation with Femi. I had to email him, like, later on in the week and just say like, wow, thank you, thank you, thank you. And I took so much from it and have acted upon a lot of what we were talking about and it just feels so good to feel like you have some control and some agency over bringing joy into your life and kind of sustaining it in your life. I really hope that you feel the same and you got something from that episode. Please share it. Share it with anyone you know who you think would be uplifted by it or inspired by it, and share on social media. We just appreciate any of that. And do, if you haven't already, subscribe to Changes! You'll get our episodes straight into your box every Monday morning. We have three more episodes all focused on joy and you do not want to miss them, trust me. Changes is produced by Louise Mason with assistant production from Anna Dewolfe Evans, through DIN Productions. It's been a pleasure, lads. See you next Monday!