If the name Lize Accoe doesn’t ring a bell, Liz Aku might do sooner as you think. And chances are her soulful and sweet voice has already found its way to your eardrums. After working with bands such as Delavega, Internationals and Jerboa, Liz Aku is back to bring a new chapter to her solo career. Early May 2017, she is releasing Ankhor, her new album full of electro soul. We sat together with Lize to discuss her way to this new phase which she feels is "100% Liz Aku".
Hi Lize! You’ve been around for some time, but for those who don’t know you yet: Who is Liz Aku and what’s her story?
"Well, let me take you way back, to the beginning. My parents used to own a café, where every Sunday a big band would play. Week after week I would go the bar to check them out, which was very inspiring. Not much later, at age seven, me and some kids in our street would form our own version of a big band. We would play steelpan, drums and guitar and I would act crazy and put on a show. I always felt the urge to provide entertainment to people. At that same bar, there would be a turntable, which I borrowed and used all the time. Both the performing and DJ-ing turned out to be massive inspirations.
At the age of fifteen I started rapping and singing in ‘Het Gemengd Offensief’, a collective which mainly was inspired by hip hop. Here I would rap during verses and sing a bit in the chorus. I always wanted to sing, but I was a bit embarrassed. A very mixed feeling since I felt the need to perform. A turning point was when I signed up for ‘De Kunstenbende’, a Flemish music competition. I finally got the recognition for my voice and it helped build my confidence.
It was a boost which got me to sing in tons of (cover)bands, but It also led me to performing at projects like Ozark Henry, Delavega, JERBOA and Sweet Coffee. I loved to do these things, but at the same time I felt like being stuck. Music is very personal to me and there were so many things I couldn’t express at that time."
And how did you end up at Liz Aku?
"At that time, the decision to go solo maybe was somewhat impulsive. Together with Peter Revalk I recorded my debut solo album ‘Me, Versatile Me’ on computer. I tried to translate the album to a live environment with a full band, but it didn’t feel right. It’s not what I was hoping for. I think I really found my favourite work method by working with instrumentals I found by just listening to mixtapes. I love to edit and work with other people their beats. Without exaggerating, I think this way of working already provided over 100 songs. I felt there was enough quality in some of those, so I selected my favourite ones to use for the new album."
Our research showed you also recorded part of the album in New Zealand?
"Yes! I kind of had an epiphany when I saw Mara TK perform with Electric Wire Hustle at Worldwide Festival (which is curated by Gilles Peterson). On the spot, I knew I wanted to work with that guy. His voice and his productions just connected with my view on music. I asked him if he wanted to work with me on the album and after listening to some stuff, he said yes. We started working with each other online, but since music is very personal to me, I felt I needed to go to New Zealand to finish the album. I quit my job and asked Mara if I could join him at his place. He said yes and a few months later I was in New Zealand."
At what time did this take place?
"Only a year ago, actually. I already invested a lot of time and wanted to wait for the right label to release the album. My husband, Mr. Leenknecht has been a massive help during this process. Without him I wouldn’t be where I am today. At his Chunks of Funks parties, he always invites some interesting guests like Marco Melziade who forwarded my songs to Alexander Barck of Jazzanova he has the label Sonar Kollektiv from Berlin. They liked what they heard and so my new album is coming out May fifth!"
Your debut single ‘Seasons Change’ has set the mood for Liz Aku. What has been the response so far?
"So far, I’m happy! The single was released the end of February and it already got some good reviews. In Belgium, main supporters are Lefto and Radio 1. Furthermore, I’m showing up in a lot of playlists on Mixcloud. I’m a big fan of Jazzcat his show and when you see yourself between artists like Fatima and Robert Glasper, I feel so honoured. Also, BBC6 has played another album track. Let the good virus spread!"
What are some of the most important musical influences that inspired you?
"I think they’re mainly jazz, soul and funk orientated like Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Jamiroquai, Lauryn Hill (because she raps and sings, just like me at some point) and Melody Gardot. Even a great soundtrack, like the one for ‘Habla Con Ella‘ can work encouraging. There’s a bunch of Belgian artist who I love too: Collective Conscience, Selah Sue, Melanie De Biasio. And STUFF. of course! What they do on stage is impressive."
Let’s talk about your upcoming album Ankhor. Has Mara TK been the main producer, or did you work with multiple people?
"There have been some. Chief and Deheb from Switserland, Christian Mo and Maximoe, who I met thanks to the Birdview Crew mixtapes. And Morshmellow from Brussels of course. In New Zealand, I noticed I already did quite some production and writing for this album. As I’m a bit of sceptic, it was very helpful to have Mara working with me, because he’s been a real guidance. Having him making the tough decisions while believing in me has been so important."
What’s the story behind the album title?
"It’s something that came together when I was in New Zealand. Ankhor is a mixture of Ankh and Anchor. I need to be/feel free to be creative, like I said with some bands I’ve sang with. I sometimes had the feeling I wasn’t free to be me as an artist. The ankh stands for eternal life. The long journey to New Zealand is also a symbol for the long journey that led to this album. I want to be able to sail, but I also feel the urge to put down my anchor and to come home. It felt very right for the whole process."
You’ve got a special treat in store for us. We’re streaming your upcoming single ‘Slowly’ exclusively on Red Bull Elektropedia. What can you tell about this track?
"My god, it’s all happening so fast! ‘Slowly’ is coming out on March 31, together with the pre-order link for ‘Ankhor’. The track has been finished for some time now. Since I was waiting for the right label for this new adventure, I didn’t want to throw away any songs. It started out with a beat that Chief produced and sent me. I tried some things and was really pleased with the first result. Chief mixed the track and everything was set! The track is a good representation of what Liz Aku stands for: laid-back hip hop beats with a genuine soul feel. I think it’s accessible and radio friendly, so I would be happy if It got some airplay."
What are your plans in the long run? Where would you like to be in five years?
"That’s a tough one! I believe it would be important to find a right balance between writing songs, producing and performing. I would love to make more albums. And of course, I want to keep on meeting people with whom I can collaborate. I feel I’m triggered by other people’s their creativity. Music to me is coming together and working as one. If that kind of participation works out, it’s such a pleasant feeling that is nearly indescribable."
*Pictures by Mathias Lambrecht.