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Otis Mensah Staying sane through creativity

Otis Mensah gives us the lowdown on his creative journey throughout the latter half of lockdown.

Otis Mensah The Thinks
Illustration by Jim Spendlove

Following the release of the most recent episode in the #OtisMensahExists series, we caught up with the hip-hop and spoken word artist to find out what's bubbling in his creative cauldron.

We last chatted to you at the end of May. What have you been up to since then?

It’s so weird that May is a distant memory already. My grasp on time has become so slippery during this global pandemic, everything seems to be spilling into one and time is just a shifting state of blancmange now!

I’ve been trying to stay sane through creativity, just throwing myself into the process throughout the last month. I’ve found great solace in starting the journey of producing myself, chopping up samples, sitting with old live jazz recordings and trying to alchemise a new world from it.

I’m working on a chaotic self-produced project of jazz-rap ballads as a sort of personal pass-time and therapy but outside of that, my series #OtisMensahExists has been demanding most of my time and creative and emotional resources. It’s been fun.

You released the third episode of your #OtisMensahExists series on 7 July. How has the series been received so far?

That’s right, on 7 July I released the third episode No Record Store Day which truly felt cathartic to put out into the world. The song harnessed some of my most unaltered, unfiltered emotions in the form of a poetic rant and it felt freeing to rebel against any form of structure or poetic formality. I tried to imagine the song like a jazz soloist, creating their own pocket of rhythm and moving in and out of it of their own volition, except with my solo, the instrument was my calibre of vocabulary. No Record Store Day was about a feeling of cabin fever, using the cancellation of Record Store Day as a metaphor to explore a deeper sense of social disquietude. Over moody psychedelic instrumentation produced by the intern, I felt at ease with exploring personal wrestles over ego and self-worth.

After this, at the end of last month, I released the fourth episode The Thinks which encompasses some of my most intimate poetic contemplations yet. The song is centred around a fear of impending doom but is juxtaposed with a mellow backdrop of Nujabes, Dilla-esque instrumentation produced by Brelstaff, some flowery imagery and a dreamy vocal delivery. It features some of my favourite animated visuals from the series.

When can we look forward to seeing the next episode?

The final episode from Season 1 of the #OtisMensahExists series will be released on 18 August over on my YouTube channel.

You were involved in Live From The Incubator as part of Migration Matters Festival. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Yeah, it was such an honour to be part of Migration Matters Festival again and amazing to see the festival adapt virtually in lockdown. The concept behind Live From The Incubator, the virtual stage that I curated for the festival, was paying homage to some of my favourite Black creatives and musicians from across the world, exhibiting and valuing their art as a powerful, social and political means of uniting people beyond borders through poetic vulnerability. The lineup included creative innovators, each artist bringing their own soulful touch, melding contemplative writing with trailblazing sounds inspired by R&B, soul and hip-hop. We had exclusive live performances by Lucy DK from her apartment in New York, K.ZIA in Berlin and Lando Chill in LA, and it was a beautiful thing to see everyone’s art from across the world exist in its own right but together in one mental space.

What's on the horizon for you as society drifts into something akin to normality?

I’m looking forward to continuing to release music virtually with the second season of #OtisMensahExists underway. I’m currently working on the animation concepts which I will relay back to Sheffield’s incredible illustrator Jim Spendlove and similarly with the music, now sitting on the next five songs in the series. I’m waiting on my good friend and musical genius the intern, who produced the instrumental music for all of Season 2, to finish mixing and mastering the project, then I’ll be set to go again.

In the meantime, I plan on continuing my journey of personal catharsis through the production and recording of a new EP and I’m setting goals to release a debut album in the new year, which will hopefully see us return to real life physical live shows again.

by Felicity Jackson (she/her)
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