Interviews Music

Akon keeps the music flowing

Akon is a singer, songwriter, producer, and businessman with the schedule to prove it. During a whirlwind trip to Cape Town – packed with radio interviews, in-store album signings, press conferences, and a show – we manage to grab a few minutes with the man and talk cooking, Michael Jackson, ‘Sexy Chick’, and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

You’re the son of a musician – was there actually any chance you’d ever become anything other than a musician yourself?

Absolutely, but as time goes, your life just steers you into what I guess your calling is, because I was into everything – there’s nothing I can’t really do. It just so happened that music took the best of it. I was into sports like football and basketball and, I think if it wasn’t for music, I’d be playing in the World Cup this month.

I probably could have been a chef at some big restaurant – I love to cook and I’m really good at it. I could also have been a businessman. You name it.

The thing is, you are a businessman now with clothing labels and a charitable foundation. How do you coordinate that with your music career?

I have a nice little office home base in Atlanta that pretty much runs a lot of that stuff while I’m on the run. I just have to oversee it and make sure I make my weekly conference calls and meetings. But everything I do – music, fashion and sport – really goes hand in hand so it’s really easy to run because they all work with each other and I use each company to cross market with the others.

On the music side of your career, you’ve collaborated with everybody from Lady Gaga to Whitney Houston. What do you look for when choosing someone to work with?

I just personally have to like them, it’s that simple. They could be a new act or a legend. If I like the vibe and I like the potential of where it could go, then most likely they’ve got a good chance of doing something with me.

You even worked with Michael Jackson, on the album he was making before he died.

Yeah, an incredible guy, just incredible. I think that was probably the best experience I’ve had in my career. We’ll see if anything comes of the work we did together. Right now it’s up to the estate, they make a lot of the calls for it, and we just see what happens. Hopefully they’ll let some of those records come out.

Is there anybody you still want to collaborate with?

I’ve worked with everybody who was on my wishlist because MJ was at the top of my hitlist. Once that happened there was nowhere else left to go after Michael Jackson. So that’s why you find me doing a lot of stuff with brand new and upcoming artists, giving them the opportunity to work with me because I know it’s probably a dream of theirs. But, at the same time, I like to work with acts that I know are going to be around for a long time. I build that rapport with them early on in their career and help them get to that situation.

Who helped you when you were starting out?

Mine was a little harder – I didn’t get that help, I kind of had to do it all on my own when it came to collaborations, just chasing people down and hoping they’d do it. And that’s why I’m a lot easier with new artists because I know what it’s like being a new guy trying to make it and you’re not getting much help from the major artists.

Talking major artists, you’re working with David Guetta on your own new album, ‘Stadium’, coming out this year.

Yeah, it’s more upbeat, more dance. If you like ‘Sexy Chick’, you’re going to love this album. It’s going to be outta here. Of course I’ll still have the traditional Akon elements as well so my hardcore fans won’t feel cheated. So I think this album is really rounded off – we get everybody with it.

Were you surprised by just how popular ‘Sexy Chick’ became?

Actually not really. I kind of felt the song was going to be that big – I just hoped David had the courage to put it out because I was actually singing “bitch”. So I was like: ‘David, you’ve got to put it out ‘cos the world’s going to love it. It’s not degrading women, it’s actually complimenting them, so let’s play with the words a little bit, let’s get real edgy, let’s go controversial, but I promise you it’s going to pay off.’ And he was like: ‘Yeah, I love it, let’s go!’ so it all worked out.

You’ve said in the past that you wrote that song really quickly. Are you a prolific writer?

That’s my gift. I literally wrote that song in less than two hours – it was that easy, man. So it just comes to me. When the vibe is in that room, I just go. I do four songs in one night sometimes.

So what’s the story behind your new song ‘Oh Africa’?

That’s dedicated to Africa. Proceeds from it go to my foundation to rebuild Africa as well. So it’s more of a charitable song but at the same time I thought it would be a song to represent Africa during the World Cup. Even though it’s not the official anthem, we made our own anthem just to have it, cutting through the politics. I thought Africa deserved that much.

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