The name Leo Miyagee wasn’t familiar to me a few months earlier, which is strange since ever since I’ve heard the name so many other things started falling into place. That being a collection of Northern Irish rap artists such as Jack Bashful, Steve Loc, Jay Suttin, Kneecap (just to name a few). An idea that would have seemed bizarre to me in my younger years, when all I listened to was Drake and Jay-Z. But it only takes one person to break the mould; and the emerging success of Kojaque, and the whole Soft Boys Record label down south is playing a key part in paving a way for acts to follow in the future.
One of those acts is certainly Leo Miyagee, after hearing his Bluebird EP released last year, it was clear there was a maturity and wisdom in his lyrics and delivery. Bluebird was a demonstration of the idea that the past informs the future with the golden era beats embroidered with lyrics that are very much in the present.
I was sitting in Sunflower Pub, Belfast nursing a pint indoors strangely, i’d arrived slightly earlier as I’d never expected to find my way as soon. Sitting on my own, I stuck out like a sore thumb and judging by the glances I was getting, they thought I was either insane or I’d been stood up.
An instagram call from the man himself let me know he was in the area, and in a matter of minutes he came bouncing through the door in a geometric patterned monochrome sweatshirt and jeans. Immediately, we went outside as he wanted a smoke, he has an energy which is palpable and he seemed completely un-phased by the meeting. The conversation fell straight into hip hop music as we both expressed our various opinions on the typical conversations that come with it, ‘Favourite Kendrick Album’ and ’Thoughts on Drake as an artist’. We moved to a quieter spot so I could get an understanding of who Miyagee is as an artist, as well as a person.
Leo Kamutsi is a 22 year old who was born in Zimbabwe, who moved with his mother to London when he was three years old who moved to Northern Ireland, when he was 13, though on and off at the beginning. “Imagine…you have to move to a country with no family and no friends”. Over time, he realised that his Mum would be staying for a while and he eventually just “accepted” it but states that he plans to move back to London.
It is clear that moving was a major theme in his life as in Belfast alone, he has lived in Carryduff, East Belfast in which an incident took place that meant that “they weren’t very welcome there”, then off to a house just off the Newtownards Road. Fortunately, they have settled in Comber due to convenience for his mum’s agency and almost with a sigh of relief, he states how this is the “final destination for her anyways, for the foreseeable future”. Miyagee is understanding of the circumstances which surrounded the constant moving about and how his mother was a “proud woman” and knew this was what would benefit them both. Miyagee imitates his mother’s sentiments as he recalls, “we’re moving, suck it up”.
Miyagee’s introduction to music was gospel “from no age…African gospel, African American Gospel, all kinds of gospel. You can see the passion he has for music as he starts talking about the “soulful gospel” and the authentic “live drums”, which makes sense as a lot of these styles show up in Bluebird. He goes on to say “As i grew older, we have grime” as he lists of early influences like Chipmunk, Skepta and Icekid. He mentions when he moved over here, the emphasis was more on hip hop and when he played grime he was met with “will ye turn that aff”, which made me laugh as he slipped into a thick Belfast accent. Eventually, his ears were turned to hip hop when his ex-girlfriend bought him Nas’ Illmatic on vinyl and he gleans how “this is how I started to fall in love with Hip Hop”. He also cites the illusive Jay Electronica and how he tipped him to be “the next biggie”, the incomparable Kendrick Lamar, who him and his friend John would have listened to religiously when Overly Dedicated dropped in 2010. However, what had as profound impact as gospel was Motown, Jive and Neo- Soul. He lists Erykah Badu, Marvin Gaye, Sylvia Striplin, Isley Brothers and The Temptations, which is not a bad list of musical inspirations in my opinion.
Miyagee’s road to an artist starts in his younger years as he details how he always used to write poetry and stories when he was younger. He details how “As I started to get more into the rhythm of writing…when I was 15/16 I started uploading videos to Facebook just for fun”. Following this, Miyagee and his friend, comedian William Thompson would perform on the streets “with a mic and a speaker”. Enthusiastically, he points out the feedback they’d receive, “we used to make a killing…people used to love it”. Over time, he would build up a following as his videos would gather traction and this would play into his hands. As rapper Jon Tsu put out a request to recommend a support act on Facebook, the people wanted Miyagee. He posted a video and Tsu contacted the rapper and Miyagee relays how the rapper was “so amazed” by his talent, and asked him to be support for the gig at Voodoo in Belfast. Sixteen at the time, Miyagee looks back fondly as he notes how it was the “best start to a career”.
This seemed to be a catalyst moment for Miyagee as producers flocked to him as they wanted to record his songs. However, personal grievances meant that he went “quiet from April 2016 to January 2017”. As he bravely divulged how his “heart was broken” as his older brother had tragically took his own life. Miyagee’s strength is clear as he has got to a point of acceptance, “It happens, it’s real life” as much as you can from such an unimaginable incident.
Following this hiatus, his energy shifted. “When I came back, I was hungrier than ever…I made my best music”. Through a B.A.R.E In The Woods festival booking while was ultimately cancelled, he was put in touch with District Magazine and eventually signed by their label; District Records. This did not work out as the label is no longer running, but Miyagee states “They did amazing things for me, I was performing at venues that I’d never dreamed of like the Sugar Club and Grand Social…RTE brought me in for a cypher”. The folding of the label did prove a disappointing setback for Miyagee, as he states “I felt like I’d found my calling”.
But then came that Bluebird, in which he gained an overwhelming response from producers from all over the world including New York and Sweden. And as Miyagee notes, “I got taken more seriously”, when he speaks you can tell his mind is running ten steps ahead of him, his passion and thirst for that success he has held so close in his grasp. But, he’s never in doubt as he confidently exudes “I’m at a stage now where its a matter of time for me”.
Leo Miyagee’s new album is out on the today on Spotify and Apple Music. The launch is taking place at a secret location on 11th April with Plain Sailing.