Searching For Balance: Venna Interviewed

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Today’s streaming era is a contradictory phenomenon to grapple with. The fate of an artist is no longer solely in the hands of major labels and industry success; it’s now traversing its way across inter-connecting, DIY pathways. Artistic value is something that South London saxophonist Malik Venner aka Venna is deeply concerned with, putting himself forward as a catalyst for change. The last few years have seen the artist work alongside global trailblazers from WizKid to Burna Boy, while gaining plaudits for his key role forging Kilburn rapper Knucks’ breakthrough project ‘ALPHA PLACE’.  

Reflecting on their journey together he remarks: “I remember DMing Knucks when I was 16 in music class, he had like three-thousand followers. I heard he was using software saxophones and I was like “nah, bro, you don’t need to use that no more, I’m here, shout man.” 

For Venna, physical instruments unlock the power of self-expression. Assured and honest about his role as an artist, he details: “I was definitely destined to play saxophone because it is probably the most melodic instrument in terms of closeness to actual voice.” Choosing his words carefully he resumes: “the reason why I don’t sing is because I don’t have anything to say, so I feel like the saxophone is perfect for me because it’s all about melody.”

There is a gripping charm to Venna, an evolving force negotiating the contemporary with the classic, seamlessly navigating between jazz, soul and hip-hop. Inaugurating classical piano lessons at the age of six, Venna found himself lodged between the soundtrack of his peers and his mother’s aspirations, swinging like a pendulum between N-Dubz and Mile Davis. Late adolescence would see the artist turn away from further education, taking his first steps into production and refining his craft at any opportunity. “I was tackling that shit for a long time. I was on my lunch breaks, in the back of Carpet Right trying to mash work,” he recalls. “I was shit for so many years, I was the worst. My bredrens would delete my beats off of my laptop [but] I never took it to heart because I knew – I’m not good. But I said, one day you’re gonna see…” A Grammy-award winning producer now stands before them.

The 23-year-old marks a period of transition with release of his EP ‘Equinox’, a project that outwardly seeks balance whilst pointing towards music’s possibilities. Speaking on the significance of ‘Equinox’, he explains: “I feel like I spoon-fed everyone my sound but I’m bringing everyone to me now. I want to hear rappers on some real shit. What would I want to hear as a young man or a young woman who’s grown up in similar surroundings? How can I make it consumable for them?” 

From start to finish, Venna crafts a response to his internal ruminations, joined by the likes of Masego, Mick Jenkins and Yussef Dayes who extend his hybrid experimentation further. “The project is six songs – three with lead vocals, three without. It’s about balance, that’s why it’s called ‘Equinox’.” Arriving as a testament to his mellow, personable aura, the project equally mirrors the competitive streak in his personality. It’s a trope that feels necessary to Venna and his field, isolating those who seek to undermine its standards: “jazz is not something that people can just take on easily and say ‘I’m a jazz musician’. It doesn’t work like that.” Taking a pause, he muses “all the cats that I listen to, they’re all great. So if I want to be doing this genre I have to be somewhat alright.”

Now re-calibrating to a life aside from global tours and recording sessions, there’s a sense that Venna remains indifferent to superficial success – he’s focused instead on the road to longevity.  As he ventures further into the spotlight, the artist calls for reform across the music industry, actively highlighting the importance of instrumentalists worldwide. “I feel like I’m making it easier for the next people to come through because we demand our publishing. I know what I bring to records.” Becoming an artist whose impact goes beyond the listening experience is no easy feat, but nevertheless one that Venna is prepared to challenge. “I want to be a pioneer of our generation.” 

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‘Equinox’ is out now.

Words: Ana Lamond
Photography: D’Andre Elizah