Kadiata: Not Your Average South Londoner

“Right now, we live in immediate times. You can have anything at any time.”

With a wide range of talents including production, directing and song writing, all-round artist Kadiata Justino De Jesus Alidor hails from the musical melting pot that is South London. A product of his environment to some degree. Foregoing a definitive box for his music in favour of artistic latitude, is very much in keeping with the attitude towards creation that has seen South London become the home of many of the UK’s most forward-thinking artists. A place where talent pours out of every SE or SW postcode. But also, a place where you need to know yourself if you don’t want to get swallowed up. Perhaps this is why Kadiata counts meditation as a key part of his daily life and ability to deliver as someone that wears multiple hats. This offers an intriguing polarity, illustrating how balance is of equal importance to inspiration in the creative process. But also that Kadiata is not your average South Londoner. During lockdown, Kadiata released Blind, this summer and Lost, this winter – a double-sided project that touches on a brief summer fling and its frosty aftermath. A standout feature on ‘Enemies’ earlier this year with Jords and Masego cap off a strong period of growth for Kadiata. But he isn’t done growing yet, as you will come to discover in our latest Cover Story.

I arrive early for our conversation; set in a swanky hotel lobby. The interior design harks at the 60’s era with shades of mahogany and walnut coloured wood fittings adorning the room. The Scandinavian retro-futuristic art deco feel is evident. Even the hotel map is laid out in playful rectangles, like a classic Hollywood film title sequence. This place is trying to replace our beloved Ace Hotel – a very tough act to follow. Kadiata arrives shortly after, recognising the laptop and notepad that likely belong to his interviewer of the day. Sporting a Billionaire Boys Club tee that reads ‘Heart and Mind’ – akin to some of the themes most prevalent in his latest work. The t-shirt acts a bit like subtext, an unofficial campaign message for his current creative direction. This wasn’t done deliberately, but this level of integrated thinking has a way of showing up in artists that are adept in multiple mediums. Which brings me to his current state of mind. “Just working right now, just focused. Keeping my ear to the street as I’m cooking. Preparing for my headline show at the minute, too.” A reminder of the diligence he puts into not just making music, but how his music is experienced. This is a key part of modern music. A project roll out has always been an event. But in this era where curated experiences build connections between artists and listeners, how that release is communicated is a critical part of building longevity.

When I ask for more details on what’s being planned, he coyly mentions it’s just “one you’ll have to be there for”. Going back to the point of cooking after a highly productive last 18 months, I ask how he approaches the art of collaboration. “I’ve always been open, you understand? Like, if we share fans, and have a similar sound, then I’m always open to collabs.” Honing in on the point of sharing fans, he expands. “Well, I’m trying to build a world of course. So, whoever I collab with has to make sense in my world, you get me? Like, I’m not going to collab with Linkin Park and that. Even though they’ve got bangers, it won’t be real to my ting.” Kadiata is a strategist with the belief that each piece has to fit in the wider puzzle. World building takes patience and careful hands, like those of a cartographer. Cartography; the art and science of mapping out a geographic area where step has to be precise, deliberate and synchronised. Any wrong moves might misalign a critical shipping lane. Or, a whole nation of people. So alignment is key, especially as an independent artist. Kadiata’s collaborators have to be people whose sound and vision match his own.

Acts that he can count as collaborators include the aforementioned Jords and Masego, as well as Sam Wise, IYAMAH, fellow Pimlico native Miles from Kinshasa and super-producer Juls. The South Londoner is in good company and the latter act is a co-sign that points to a possible sonic lane for Kadiata to tap into. Versatility is one of the best features of his sound. He’s naturally at ease with melodies or raps in equal measure, so which allows him to delve into various genres. Afrobeats is one that I could see him do well in given his roots, we’ll get to that later. That however, may not be on his map yet. The beauty of world building is, there’s always more to be discovered. More to explore. To create. “We’re trying to build our world to a very stable place,” Kadiata says in a statesman-like fashion. He isn’t just thinking about himself. He’s thinking about his community.

‘Bebigirl’ off Blind has one of the funniest skits on the album and details Kadiata bumping into a friend in the ends, while he’s on the phone to his girl. They catch up briefly before he says bye to his friend, leaving him to get back to his girl. But then, he spots another friend. They begin catching up. He asks how his friend’s mum is. She wasn’t feeling this very common courtesy, making a point to kiss her teeth to the point of exasperation. It’s a scenario we all know well. When running into an old friend takes a little longer than you might expect. But, this is the reality of remembering where you’re from. This is what happens when you care about your ends and the people in them. In 2020, Kadiata released the self-directed video for jumpy, garage-infused ‘Blindside’ taken off the same project. It does a great job of capturing the feelings from the first lockdown. Knocking on your friend’s doors, like kids again. 4-way video calls. It features close-ups of Kadiata’s friends and also random people taking time out of WFH to dance and smile from out of their windows. The post-credits scene shows a road in London clapping and banging pots for the NHS. This smart leveraging of a viral, nationwide event led to a viral moment for Kadiata – people sharing the video because of how deftly it managed to capture the new reality. The infectious melody of ‘Blindside’ brought light into difficult times. Metrics and storytelling aside, the biggest takeaway here is the love Kadiata has for his manor.

In the last year, Kadiata has released two albums. A decided double release, that hints at a further series. The double album was a feature of 90’s music. The late DMX’s platinum classics It’s Dark And Hell is Hot and Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood both released in 1998.  Double albums are making their way back into consciousness, but in most cases the ‘second’ one is a deluxe edition which is usually a bit bloated with features. However, Kadiata uses this strategy cleverly. It’s curious, though, that an artist who had garnered considerable buzz from 2016 onwards, even landing a COLORS performance in 2017, had taken such a long time to drop a full-length project. “I know I hadn’t put out an album in a few years. So I started feeling a bit of pressure in all honesty. So during lockdown, I was like, fuck it.” If there’s one thing lockdown inspired, it’s a feeling of creative bullishness. Artists started taking more risks and dropping music whenever. It felt like the blog and mixtape era all over again. For Kadiata, he used the two albums to so the two sides of his artistry, and himself. “I’m always between making arty stuff and then straight rapping. Like, I’m always trying to find the balance between a big smash and the real shit.”

The duality is evident. Blind, this summer was released in 2020 and has much more of a light, garage-inspired, bouncy feel to it. Its radio-friendly rhythms and easy-going feel point to Kadiata’s ability to craft music for the masses. Something he attributes to growing up listening to a lot of pop music. “I grew up listening to lots of commercial shit. Craig David, Robbie Williams, Blue, Eric Clapton and that. It taught me how to make things that make sense to other people. Cause you can make something mad abstract, but not everybody may be able to take it in. It’s important to balance it out, get me?’’ That mantra is all over Blind. The sharp and playful lyrics and indie-inspired strings on ‘Delete My Number’ especially, it’s a track I’d expect to hear on a TV show sometime soon. It wouldn’t be his first time. Kadiata’s ‘Art Hoes’ was featured in the fourth season of the hit HBO show Insecure. So, he knows how to craft a track with a mass audience in mind. What Kadi managed to reconcile though, was the feeling of balance between art and commercial. The skits that created the narrative structure for the album, are actually the standout of it. It’s a throwback to 90’s/early 00’s rap and R&B albums and it works brilliantly here. It’s the retelling of a very relatable, modern romance. Guy meets girl. Asks for the number, she gives him the IG. The games begin. It has a cinematic quality to it, and could easily be scripted and turned into a short film.

But the 2021 B-side album, Lost, this winter has an expected colder, introspective feel to it. Album opener ‘Toxic Toxic’ has a sparsity to its production. With tinny drums and pared-down acoustic strings, it sets the scene for the story to play out in the next eight tracks. The seasonal LP release is a strong theme. I ask whether this is part of a longer series. “Yeah yeah, it’s meant to be a quadruple. Right now, we live in immediate times. You can have anything at any time. And a lot of music isn’t really timed these days. So this method gives me the balance to express what I’m feeling in a way that listeners can connect with as well.” It’s true. A lot of music is dropped, but the context from artists can be missing. Not that every drop needs context. A release every season is ambitious, but it does provide a schedule and a setting for the music you can expect. In an era where fans have such access to their favourite artists, maybe managing expectations like this could, in turn, benefit the artist’s creative process, and overall mental wellbeing.

Winter has many more features on it. Regular collaborators Knucks and Jords make an appearance. While Venna and vocalist IYAMAH jump on for their first entries into Kadiata’s world. ‘Guess What’ featuring Knucks is a banger of a track with its easy groove and catchy chorus. But it’s the stream of consciousness flow found on ‘Playing Widja’ that stood out most for me. It’s a sombre guitar playing, a kind of Latin guitar. The guitar is a prevalent instrument in Kadi’s soundscape. Perhaps inspired by his connection to Portuguese culture, through his Angolan roots. Above the guitar, he’s lucidly laying down his thoughts as they come to mind “But I smile through it / half perfect / half-ruined / don’t know why we’re here / but suicide I can’t do it…” It’s a deep insight. A self-analysis of Kadiata as a person and a musician. “Sometimes they give me flowers / other times they give me petals”. These stark juxtapositions sometimes veer into philosophy. Something Kadi is a fan of. “It’s one thing to sell music and messages to everyone, but I always want to show that I’m philosophical too.” It might be this duality that makes me like the track so much. It’s proof of range. And tonally offers a major contrast to a buzzy cut like ‘Blindside’. When artists decide to show off their range, you can hear the decision immediately even in the beat. ‘Playing Widja’ doesn’t take much time to show itself as this moment in Kadi’s canon.

Kadiata is proudly Angolan and he even raps/sings verses of his songs in Portuguese. Angola was a former colony of Portugal. London being the home to many African diasporans, I was intrigued that I’d never met an Angolan person before Kadiata. I mention this to him and ask what it’s like living in a city where Angolans aren’t populous. He ponders on his response. “Well, there’s hella Nigerians and Ghanaians here. But they all came here because this is an English-speaking country. So, all the Angolans went to Portugal, cause they speak Portuguese init.” This makes a lot of sense, but when you are a Nigerian in London and your sub-culture is so entrenched in this city, you can forget what that experience might be like for another African whose nation isn’t as well represented here. I ask what Angolan/Portuguese music sounds like – and means to Kadi. “You know, the first track of mine that I’d say has those influences is Mamacita, taken from my latest album. We have a sound called Kizomba, and Mamacita has that influence heavily.” When you see artists like J Hus and Pa Salieu bring the Gambian sound to the masses in their music, I wonder if Kadi has similar ambitions for Kizomba. “I rep my country and I’m always letting people know where I’m from. So when I said I was keeping my ear to the streets, I’m always tryna see Angolan talent on the come up.”

With some banging features in his back catalogue, ‘Enemies’ with Jords and Masego listing as one of the best, and the smooth autumn cut ‘Don’t Be An Opp’ with Miles from Kinshasa, Kadi’s next moves are going to be interesting. While I won’t reveal who he mentioned, upon pressing him for names of future collaborators, he mentions a variety of mostly female artists. Kadiata wants to start producing more for female R&B vocalists “I feel like there’s just more girls on the melodic R&B vibe and much of what I do as a producer is linked to the melody. I feel like the ladies just understand some melodic things immediately so, yeah man.”

Kadiata’s sound and outlook on his purpose are expanding. You can hear the subject matter shifting on Lost. The vibes are still loud, but there’s a new seriousness in his tunes, a reflection of what’s been happening in our community over the last two years. As a musician, a lot of responsibility can fall at their feet, for better or for worse. “You know what? The roads have always been fucked. But the thing is now, the youngers are mad materialistic. More than before. So that’s making a lot of kids get mixed up because they wanna get their drip up. We didn’t have that in our time really.” He’s right. Back then, it was wearing fake Bape hoodies and jeans from Wembley Market. That was the hustle. Sell cookies and Lucozade at school all week to cop something new at the weekend. It’s a different landscape now.

Kadiata’s view is firmly focused on his future. On becoming a legend. “I’m just trying to be timeless through the art I create. Like the Mona Lisa. It’s still going viral after all these years.” We ponder on what being a legend looks like for him. Kadiata looks out the window for a second, then comes back again. “For me it’s just when everything is aligned. You got classic tunes that still ring off. I’ve got three classics so far – On Tap, When The Sun Comes Out and Art Hoes.” Smirking with an undercurrent of unshakeable self-belief, Kadi signs off – “And I’m really just getting started.” 

Blind, this summer and Lost, this winter are out now on all good streaming platforms.