Chiedu Oraka: ‘I am determined to put my city and my area on the map’

Comprising five singles and two new tracks, Ave Life, the new EP from Chiedu Oraka, is a powerful statement from a Hull grime artist hitting his stride.

Chiedu Oraka has just released his new EP, Ave Life.

“The (title track) is a documentary of me growing up young, black, on one of the roughest council estates in the city,” explains the 33-year-old, adding that he might have had his “trials and my tribulations” in his younger years, but he is keen to present a balanced portrait. “The majority of my time on the North Hull estate was fantastic,” says, “just a typical young boy exploring life, no one had much – no one still has much – but we’d always get by.”

The entire EP embodies Oraka’s new slogan: ‘Council Estate Confidence’. He says: “Just because we were born on a council estate in hard circumstances we should be proud to have survived, it builds character. Unfortunately the role models around here are not the greatest, but we should be proud of ourselves.

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“A lot of us walk around with our heads held low, a lot of us get told from when we’re young that we’re not going to achieve anything, a lot of us are born into circumstances that are pretty s***, if we’re going to be honest, poverty and stuff like that, but I’m trying to switch that on its head and say ‘you should be proud that you’re still here, you’re still making noise’, and that’s something that I’m trying to promote when I say council estate confidence.”

Oraka’s songs are unflinching but there’s no trace of bitterness. “There’s been some hardships, there’s been some ups, there’s been some downs, I’ve had every single emotion living round here, but I know I wouldn’t change it for the world,” he says. “I’m just trying to tell people my own familiar story of the black experience side of the bigger cities. There’s no one that’s made it over the hill from Yorkshire in UK black music and I’m trying to be that guy but I’m doing in it a way that I’m trying to put up my whole community.

“It’s not just for me, it’s not just for selfish reasons. I do see myself as a guy that is trying to inspire young kids on these streets because at the end of the day, there are not many positive role models.”

He understands why young Northern rappers sometimes fake a London accent to try to fit in – “It’s what they listen to, what may appear is cool” – but, he feels: “You should be proud of where you come from, and speak about the issues that are going on in your own community, not trying to reach out and impress.

“I don’t really care about fitting in, I understand my position, for me it’s about me creating my own name for people to actually look towards a city like Hull. I’ve experienced the industry, there are good parts and bad parts, but to be honest, it’s all about creating my own legacy. I’m not really fussed about being liked because I know my music is good and I know I will get to a position where I need to be, it might take me a bit longer than everyone else but I am determined to put my city and my area on the map.”

As well as music, Oraka has been creating a series of YouTube documentaries on race called Black Kings of Hull. He says last year’s Black Lives Matter protests were the “catalyst” for the project which has looked at issues such as education and the death in police custody of former paratrooper Christopher Alder, but adds: “I think for me, the main reason why I wanted to do the documentaries was for the cause – and doing something for the cause doesn’t mean me just posting a black square or a couple of quotes here and there and then it getting forgotten about in a month.

“I wanted to do something that people could actually find on the internet and keep on going back to.

“We’re doing episodes five and six currently. In episode five we’re going to be interviewing the police. It’s something that didn’t come easy to me because my relationship with the police isn’t great...To be honest, I felt like I was letting down my community by doing that, it’s not just a race thing, it’s a class thing. It’s well documented that we don’t have a good relationship with the police on my estate, but on the other side I felt like I needed to do this for my community at the same time. I need to pose some quite difficult questions to the police and no one else in community is going to do that. Episode six is about nationalism and sport.

“The main reason for the documentary was I wanted to do something for the cause, not just say ‘black lives matter’, but to actually do something. A lot of people jump on the idea but what are you actually doing to eradicate forms of racism?

“The work doesn’t stop,” he adds. “It’s something that I’m passionate about and I will continue to champion.”

Ave Life EP is available from chieduoraka.bandcamp.com