THE twice Mercury Prize-nominated artist, real name Obaro Ejimiwe, talks to EDWIN GILSON about putting himself in the shoes of the marginalised

AT ONE point in our conversation, Obaro Ejimiwe calls himself a “concerned citizen of the world”. It comes as we’re discussing the themes of his latest record, Dark Days + Canapes, the Londoner’s fourth release and his highest charting yet (although, as will be made clear, this means next to nothing to its creator).

The album’s title gives a pretty clear hint as to its lyrical focus. Ejimiwe has never been afraid to tackle problematic social themes, but Dark Days + Canapes is perhaps his most direct work to date. It finds him exploring the refugee crisis on single Immigrant Boogie, social media on Dopamine If I Do (“Instagram your foes”) and much more besides.

“I’ve never had a scientific approach to music – I just go with what feels right,” says the musician, whose albums Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam (2011) and Shedding Skin (2015) were shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize. “It felt right to try and understand feelings towards particular things, be it immigration or political upheaval.”

Whatever you do, though, don’t assume that Ejimiwe considers himself a political writer. When I ask a question about him merging the personal and the political – after he says the record consists of “conversations and emotions I’d gone through, and news stories” – he flatly refutes the term.

“This whole political…thing – I’m not a political artist. To write in this way made sense, to write about things in the social public consciousness. But I want to emphasise that I don’t see myself as a political artist. I’ve just always tried to be socially aware.”

Ejimiwe takes it upon himself to give a voice to marginalised people – “those who can’t write for themselves”, as he puts it. Immigration Boogie is an interesting case in point. In the single, the artist speaks from the first-person perspective of a migrant who is treated with hostility by the public at large.

The song is packed with hard-hitting and even graphic lines: “I was dreaming of a better life/With my two kids and my lovely wife/But I can’t swim and water’s in my lungs.” Yet, while Ejimiwe displays sympathy and warmth to his fictional subjects and their plight, he acknowledges that he will never be able to place himself fully in their shoes.

“I can’t really, can I? It’s a song. I can’t put myself in the position of somebody who has come from a war-torn or devastating home situation and travelled hundreds of miles through dangerous territory over sea and land.” The artist takes exception when I assume that the song came from a sense of anger about the crisis in general. “You’ve used anger a few times. I’m not angry. I hope things improve. My job as an artist is to write about the times.”

Ejimiwe stops short of saying he is alarmed about the sheer concentration of social media in modern society, too, refusing to “judge people for their life choices”. Instead, he talks of his intrigue towards such modern developments. As a 34-year-old, the musician remembers a time before Facebook and Twitter.

“That small screen is more important than the world you’re walking through, and I find that fascinating,” he says. “It’s interesting to think about how that will affect the evolution of us as humans.”

For an artist with such a social focus, it’s easy to presume that reaching an unprecedented place in the charts – and therefore reaching a wider audience – would be a source of pride for Ejimiwe. Even on this point, however, he has an interesting and slightly contrary viewpoint. “Not really, no. It’s a record label thing. I don’t make music for chart positions, I make it because I like the art form.”

Second guess Ghostpoet at your peril.