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Hasani is making music for queer kids of colour to thrive and survive

BoomByeBye is the Gambia-raised London artist’s thrillingly expansive EP for broken hearts, layered queer stories, and the post-pandemic parties

Queer art has, across decades, brilliantly reclaimed elements of culture that seeks to repress and erase the queer community, especially in music. Bands like The Tuts are taking back pop-punk for LGBTQ+ PoC, then there are club spaces like Hungama with its Bollywood bangers and the hallowed PDA. 

Hasani, the Brixton-born, Gambia-raised artist, has released an expansive, thrilling EP that boldly reclaims the homophobic and violent world renowned hit, Buju Banton’s “Boom Bye Bye”. The tune’s lyrics incite verbal violence against gay men – though removed by Buju from streaming services, it compounds a legacy of mainstream music build on the hurt of the most marginalised for consumption. Hasani’s bold and brilliant EP BoomByeBye stakes a claim here in a genre he adores and builds upon, interpolating love and life stories of queer people of colour with dancehall, reggae, pop, club, and industrial sensibilities.

BoomByeBye traverses Hasani’s personal experiences of love, from desire to fear, shame, all-consuming love, lust, and loss. The stories and lyrics are intimate and evocative, and ones not usually given space in mainstream music – from “Blue Companion” to the title track, which paints a picture of queer lovers not ready to be public with their feelings. “Devil in da dance” is a driving ode to London’s nightlife where Hasani has felt rebirthed, with the exhilarating risks and thrills of partying with your chosen community. It’s one for whipping through the sweaty bodies populating the dark enclaves of a cavernous London dancefloor, or to accompany the blue glow of a laptop screen on a lonely, warm summer night when heartbreak looms.

Below, the musician, producer, and DJ chats his stunning and sensual EP, the beauty and strength of the queer community and its stories, and old school influences from Gambia.

The EP reimagines “Boom Bye Bye” by Buju Banton, a song with violent anti-gay lyrics. What the original thinking was here, what did that meaning hold for you, and how did it feel to challenge it?

Hasani: I think my relationship with the song “Boom Bye Bye” by Buju Banton is a complex one, because although the subject matter of the song is heavily rooted in violence and homophobia, it remains a favourite of mine! A lot of younger and older generation Caribbean queer indiviuals actually really enjoy some of the most homophobic dancehall and reggae songs – a sort of conscious yet unconscious protest; reclaiming the words and riddims used to hurt us until they don’t hurt us at all. How can you sing your homophobic, violent song to me if I sing it back to you word-for-word with a smile on my face? Naming my project BoomByeBye was as a final reclamation of the phrase, as Buju Banton recently removed his version from all streaming platforms and so now hopefully when certain people search it up looking for death to all gay people, they find something with the slightest yet not so slight difference in subject matter!

Your music speaks to the experiences of young, queer people colour. Do you feel that responsibility? 

Hasani: I definitely feel a sense of responsibility, more to the younger me if anything. I remember growing up all lost and unsure ,with no reference points of people that looked like me or feeling the same way I did, existing, or sharing their stories through the arts. I sometimes feel if I did have that representation or reference point, some of the most traumatic things that have happened to me maybe wouldn’t have and even if they did I wouldn’t have felt as alone in the experience. The chance to potentially provide any younger queer person of colour with some sort of representation of a shared or similar experience means a lot to me – even if it’s just one person, that’s enough for me.

“The chance to potentially provide any younger queer person of colour with some sort of representation of a shared or similar experience means a lot to me” – Hasani

How did your experience of growing up in Gambia influence your trajectory and the themes you explore in your music?

Hasani: Growing up in Gambia, although only for 11 years, has hugely influenced the person I am today. The way I talk, think, and tell jokes can all probably be traced back to my time there. The culture shock of moving back to London from Gambia at 16 was also a key, formative time for me; having to toughen up and stop saying hi to people on the street – that was something that was second nature in Gambia. I quickly found out that just because I lived in London now, didn’t mean homophobia didn’t exist and as the threat of violence became even more severe, I had to learn to navigate and survive. 

How much do you position yourself as a ‘London artist’? How has its scene influenced you? 

Hasani: I’d say I’d consider myself a London artist, only because the sheer amount of trials and tribulations this city has put me through – that better have made me some sort of honorary Londoner! Also, the people I’ve met along the way who have guided and nurtured me I am eternally grateful for. Everyone I ever met through PDA, Shygirl, Mischa Notcutt, Ms. Carrie Stacks, Sega Bodega, Yelita Ali, Shy Mason, and all my friends here in London all contributed in some way to the music I make or the way I DJ.

What music did you listen to growing up – did you have a musical household?

Hasani: Growing up, my house and life was full of music. My Dad was a DJ back in Gambia. He would spend Monday to Friday teaching primary school and then the weekends setting up his huge sound system at the petrol stations to DJ these huge street parties. His DJ name was aptly ‘Teacher’ and he would play a selection of old school reggae; roots, lover’s rock, sometimes some rare groove, soul, jazz stuff. I probably wasn’t any older than eight, but I still remember the masses of people teeming with excitement, screaming as tune after tune was played.

The stories of “Blue Companion”, the title track, and “Mantra” will really speak to very intimate and painful stories young queer people are familiar with – like lovers not ready to acknowledge their own identities or feelings in the public space. How do you navigate these shared and intimate stories with your lyricism? 

Hasani: It’s funny, because most of them just come about by me literally recounting word for word what was happening when I felt the way I did and how I feel about it now in retrospect and then I kinda talk it out – it is a melodic conversation with myself. If you listen to the majority of the lyrics in the title track I am quite literally recounting a specific event. That Uber ride home was very stressful! (Laughs)

All the stories are mine, but from having the friends I do with the shared and similar backgrounds we have, I’ve learned that these experiences are so commonplace. It is really important to talk, express, and sing about them, without the feelings of shame that I once had before I found that sense of community.

I’m still in shock that I’ve decided to share some of my deepest, darkest, most sensitive, embarrassing thoughts with the world and so at some point they musta all sounded good enough to me.

“Devil in da dance” celebrates the escapism London nightlife offers. How have you experienced the loss of nightlife in the pandemic, and how do you see it affecting other queer youth? What are your hopes for nightlife's return?

Hasani: Okay I’m not gonna lie, I been going out! I’m not sure if any of the lockdowns – apart from the first – actually managed to keep me in my house. I remember for one of them I was in Mexico! I did stay in for the first one though. In regards to how it has affected the queer youth… I’m sure the girls will always find a function!

How much has the last year of pandemic affected your work and made you reevaluate any processes?

Hasani: To be fair, the lockdown was actually good for me – when I decided to comply with it – as it actually acted as a catalyst for the making of this EP. Especially the first lockdown, there were literally no functions to go to, and so I was home for a lot of it and it was then that I really got to spend time with myself and my ideas, and started chipping away at my EP.

What were the biggest challenges putting together this work? 

Hasani: Self doubt 100 per cent! My biggest challenge has been myself – I’m a real bastard sometimes! One day I just decided that I might be chatting shit! Some of the things I was touching on (when songwriting) hit really close to home, and it was hard to get over the initial feelings of shame upon hearing them back. The idea someone else might soon hear these feelings and thoughts of mine was quite literally petrifying.

Queer love and stories are slowly being welcomed into mainstream pop culture and given nuance and complexity – what else needs to be done? What artists would you love to see rise up with you?

Hasani: The more representation, the better. Even though there are many similarities of our lived experiences as I mentioned before, the chance to show the many different lived experiences of queer people of colour is actually what’s important! I want there to be so many of us in mainstream media that you get to experience us all, and not the sometimes stereotypical trap some popular queer artists find themselves in now (not naming any names!). In terms of artists I would like to see rise up with me – if they are black or brown and queer then I wanna see them win in whatever field they find themselves in. 

Who would be your dream collaborator?

Hasani: My dream collaborator would be Garnett Silk, but that unfortunately can never happen. If I was to pick from someone alive, I would say Missy Elliott.

And what future projects are on the horizon?

Hasani: Yes, I am working on making a lot more music which I will release later this year!

Hasani’s BoomByeBye is out now on streaming services