The track is taken from BKS’s latest album ‘Wolves Of Africa Part 1’, which also features contributions from his label boss Idris Elba, as well as Little Simz, Q-Tip, Royce 5’9 and James’s late father, the legendary Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango.
Having made his name as a hip-hop and pop producer in the US, placing tracks with P Diddy and Snoop Dogg and working closely with Ja Rule, James returned to his French homeland in 2012, only to learn from his mother that Dibango was his real biological father.
Meeting Dibango for the first time shifted his musical perspective dramatically, and he began reinventing and modernising African culture on singles such as 2018’s ‘Kwele’, a collaboration with his father, and 2019’s ‘New Breed’.
The will.i.am collaboration was the result of four years of James trying to forge links with the Black Eyed Peas lynchpin. “I loved his tone and I always thought that he was truly ahead of his time when it comes to finding new flows, trying to make fusion out of different genres of music,” James told NME. “I was trying to work with him because I knew that African fusion I was trying to do would speak to him.”
Signing to Polydor France, James was finally able to get his music to will.i.am. “He loved it right away,” he said. “I was just asking for, like, a verse…He made a verse, he made a bridge, he worked on the outro, he sent it to me and I was like ‘whoa’.
“I was blown away by the direction. He understood completely where I was trying to take that record. But then he was like, ‘Hold on, I’m not finished, I really want to add some production to the record. I know where you are trying to go. There’s that particular sound that you have that I love, but I think we can get it to the next level’…And he took it to the next level.”
NME caught up with the pair to discuss the collaboration, James’s reunion with his father and the future of Black Eyed Peas…
NME: will.i.am – how did you first discover James?
Will.i.am: “James sent me a DM via my Instagram presenting me his work and proposing me to collaborate with him on this track ‘Jungle Go Dumb’. I was not familiar with his work before that but definitively knew who his father was and the impact he had on music culture. I liked James’ work and the overall vibe, on top of finding out we have the same label in France, so felt all ingredients were in the mix and gave it a go.”
James BKS: “My gut told me I would get that one opportunity to let you hear my music one day. I had to make sure the song I’d submit hit you different since you always been ahead of your time.”
Will.i.am: “I liked the track from the first spin because it was mixing several influences from Afrobeat and different rhythm sections. The overall vibe and story was great, I always liked this idea of getting a bit silly and let it go thanks to the music, and this is what this song is all about. My approach was: ‘How can I develop this existing story with my parts and give my own footprint trying to push it to the next level?’ The song reminded me a bit of some of the tracks from Major Lazer in 2015. My goal was to keep this same vibe, but with the 2022 touch.”
James BKS: “I was truly humbled when you went on and suggested additional productions on the record. How did you still find that drive that makes you want to go that extra mile after so many years in this industry?”
Will.i.am: “I consider myself as a perpetual student who wants to keep learning. I’m super curious and believe music is a universal language. Ideas, influences, lessons can come from anyone and from everywhere, in any genre. I think it’s been one of the reason of our longevity with the Black Eyed Peas. We’ve never been afraid to try, travel, embrace the local scenes, learn from new talents or more experienced ones, fishing from here and there to make it out own style. Put on top the fact that I’m really picky with details and like to work hard.”
James BKS: “Is there one collaboration you haven’t done yet you wish you could do?”
Will.i.am: “There are many. It’s been a big factor of motivation for us throughout these past years. Still, I will always regret the fact we didn’t get the chance to finish what we were working on with Michael Jackson.”
James, how did reuniting with your father change your musical outlook?
James BKS: “I was born in France, raised in France by my mum, and my two stepfathers. The African culture wasn’t really big at home. Because when my mum moved to France and she left Cameroon, she didn’t live in good conditions. There was a lot of family issues. She truly had a trauma. Every time we were talking about Cameroon or Africa, it was always in the negative kind of feel, and the way the media were portraying Africa was always in a negative perspective.
“When I reunited with my dad, he allowed me to add another perspective of my roots. He wasn’t trying to make it beautiful. Obviously there’s reality, poverty, jealousy, political conflicts and all that – but Cameroon is not all that. When I started hanging out with him more, he introduced me to some books, I got to meet his musicians and I got to really know the persona behind the instrument. Through his music, he told me his story. I fell in love with his story, and I fell in love with him, so I wanted to know more about myself too.”
Was it natural to want to reimagine it?
James BKS: “Yes, because that’s what [my dad] was doing in his generation. That’s why he was like the dad of world music – because he was already trying to make this Afro fusion with jazz, with soul music, but back then they didn’t know where to put his music. That’s how world music came into play. I’m taking the same path because I’m using what I’m doing in the music of my generation; which is pop music, which is hip-hop, and trying to mix them with the African traditional music from Cameroon, Congo and South Africa.”
Will.i.am – following your new single ‘Solo’ this year, are there any more new music in the pipeline?
Will.i.am: “I keep being open to collaborations and side projects, but at the moment my focus is on Black Eyed Peas’ next album. We’ve been working on it actively for the past months and keep recording while on the road.
How were the recent Black Eyed Peas shows?
Will.i.am: “Being able to go on tour again was probably one of the best pieces of news for us after this pandemic. We like traveling, we love performing. That’s our fuel, our way to find inspiration, still be creative and try new things. After a seven years break with the Black Eyed Peas, we could have disappeared and never reached that success again. But we worked hard, tried to reinvent ourselves, teamed up with Latin artists and pushed it out of our comfort zone. It worked. You can never take anything for granted. You still have to learn.
You recently judged a US TV talent show involving singers transformed into digital avatars – is technology the future of music?
Will.i.am: “Technology is part of the future of music, as long as technology remains at the service of human beings and helps push our creativity to a step further. Look at ABBA, that’s the perfect example. Their show Voyage is over the top but it’s working because ABBA is a unique band, with massive hits, and worked super hard to make sure it matched their expectations.”
Do you have any concerns about AI stealing your job?
Will.i.am: “No! No worries!”
‘Jungle Go Dumb’ by James BKS featuring Will.i.am is out now, as is the album ‘Wolves Of Africa (Part One)’.