The Village Is On Fire

The Village Is On Fire

Guvna B had planned for his 10th studio album to celebrate garage, grime and gospel sounds and the subcultures he was raised on in East London. But after tapping a fresh crop of producers (including TSB, Sampah) and resuming work with long-time collaborator Jimmy James, recording halted following a brief, unprovoked attack. This incident would become the thematic catalyst (and provide the visceral cover art) for The Village Is on Fire. But he would need the counsel of his cousin—actor and film-maker Michaela Coel, whose voice features on the album’s opening track—before opting to re-examine his world through the lens of this shocking incident. “We skate around these topics and sometimes delve into them a little bit, but we don’t go all the way in on them,” Guvna B tells Apple Music. “I wanted to remove all of that sugar-coating and just send a message: ‘This is raw, unfiltered vulnerability.’ My mum would say to me a lot of the time when I was growing up, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ and I started to think of the people in positions of influence and power in society. What happens when they don’t do their job to the best of their ability, from the healthcare and education systems to the parents and guardians? That’s when it can feel like the village is burning.” The album is a rich exploration of Guvna’s life beyond the attack—but it doesn’t shy away from examining its impact. There are odes to family on “Traffic”, roots and identity are explored on “Amplify”, and the formative strands of gospel and grime do come together on Ghetts-featuring smash “U Get Me?”. “Like most, I was raised to have a stiff upper lip, be strong, that kind of stuff,” he says of his upbringing in Canning Town. “So opening up about the fact that I was attacked wasn’t an easy thing to do. It was a big deal. Coming from the ends, the term ‘victim’ is a title that nobody wants. But it was the right thing to do here for what we wanted to achieve.” Read on for his track-by-track guide to The Village Is on Fire. “Bridgeland Road” (feat. Michaela Coel) “This track sets the context of where I’m coming from, starting with my upbringing in East London—amongst a working-class, council-estate culture. This was important because it sets a lot of nuance around the incident. [Plus] I’ve had experiences with poverty, racism and the police before. I also thought it would be quite powerful to have the actual voice note that Michaela sent me that inspired me to keep writing about it. From that point, we go into the raw and vulnerable aspect of what happened.” “U Get Me?” (feat. Ghetts) “I didn’t hear anyone else other than Ghetts when I got this beat. I’ve been trying to work with him for a while as it’s such an authentic collaboration. He’s a man of faith, a father, family man, and we [both] grew up in Newham. Look at his latest album [2021’s Conflict of Interest] and how he’s evolved as a human. I’m just a fan of the journey—of his growth, both personally and as an artist. He’s been there, done that and lived the life, and [he’s] partnering with me here, in a way that doesn’t sound preachy. We’re just sharing our journeys. It’s important.” “Brother’s Keeper” “This track was inspired by reading an article on 50 young people murdered in the capital [in 2022], headlined: ‘London Affected by Youth Violence’. I’m an ambassador for a youth charity called Power The Fight. I wrote this to go deeper on that issue and show that we can’t rely on the government for policy change, and we can't rely on those with power to tackle the roots of an issue. Rather than just being reactive when a young person loses their life, we have to put more emphasis on us being the ones to protect each other.” “Traffic” “I would love to give an incredible story of inspiration here but this song came to me whilst sitting in traffic—waiting to get into the Blackwall Tunnel. My son was really annoying me, asking to watch different episodes of Peppa Pig. So I was sitting there, and got to thinking about the school system and my old English teacher—the first person that told me I was good at something. From that moment, I would write stories. And that transformed into lyrics that I now write for a living.” “Amplify” (feat. DarkoVibes) “I would always go to Ghana on holiday, but after my father passed, walking some of the streets that he grew up on just felt different. He was a man of few words, so it made me feel connected in a way. When I laid my verses, they felt right, but I knew I needed a Ghanaian artist to bridge the gap a little more. So I hit up a Congolese guy, funnily enough, [presenter and comedian] Eddie Kadi, who’s so well connected. He told me DarkoVibes was in London at the time, and he was in the studio the very next day. It was the quickest session I’ve ever had! The hunger, the know-how, the skill level…he banged his part out in half an hour. He even wanted to do three more choruses as another option for me, and that’s when I knew, ‘I need to go back to Ghana, man!’” “Everyone’s a Hypocrite” “This track is about challenging hypocrisy and double standards. There’s literally hundreds of issues going on at any moment in time and, where I can, I’ll always support. I just like to know what I’m talking about first. People message me about issues and causes from missing persons to racist attacks and climate change. This day, one person in particular was hounding me [online], annoyed that I didn’t post about their particular issue. And I get it—we all have stuff that we’re extra passionate about. In a way, it makes us all biased hypocrites. Even me, I’m trying to work on ending youth violence, but in the whip, I’m banging music out with outrageous lyrics. And going mad to it.” “Case Closed” “I’m not really a singles artist. I’m an album artist, to be honest. I’ve always liked telling a story, and it’s always been that way. For this track, I just wanted to get out some raw emotions from another perspective. Don’t think that I’m justifying the actions of this individual in any way. They should be held to account. But I’m also under no illusions that they just woke up and took on those attitudes. There’s investment there, and this track is my way of questioning where that might have come from.” “Revenge Ain’t Sweet” “I know Krept & Konan have got an album called Revenge Is Sweet, I’m not trying to go at them or anything, just to make that clear! Instead, this came from a place of waking up every day after what happened—frustrated, bitter, angry, wanting to get my own back. Driving around the ends for that two weeks hoping to spot them. And just realising: Even if I did, would it make me feel better? Maybe for a little bit, but not in the long term. I remember 2011—there was a stabbing in Custom House, [over] 10 years later there’s still mad drama [between Custom House and Plaistow] about what happened. And I think to myself, ‘Brother, revenge can’t be that sweet,’ because we never want to get even and stop there.” “Alright” (feat. Kierra Sheard) “The Sheards are gospel legends, real OGs in this space. I’ve been a fan of Karen and Kierra, and the whole family, for 10, 15 years deep now. I went out to America with the BBC for some broadcasting work [filming 2020 documentary Gospel Meets Hip-Hop], and Kierra played her part when I went to meet her in the studio in Detroit. We just hit it off, and she gave me the through ball: ‘If you ever want to work, let’s work.’ With my albums, no matter how deep, no matter how heavy the issues are, I don’t want to leave people in a place of no hope. There has to be a moment that nudges towards light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s this song.” “Replay” “When I go through difficult situations, I always have voices ringing in my head—stuff that my friends and family have said consistently through my life. There’s my mom saying, ‘Look, when you walk out of this house, you are blessed.’ Or ‘Kill them with kindness.’ And those words come back to me, no matter what I go through in life, no matter how far I go from home, or how much I get distracted, they’re always on my mind. This song was just a nod to those words from family and friends that care about me. Their words just replay on my mind, no matter how much I try and forget them.” “Simple” “This is an extension of my own humanity and hypocrisy. All of my career, maybe not so much recently, people have put me on this pedestal as a role model. I just wanted to step off that here, and say, ‘I’m human and I make mistakes, too. I’m sinful and I’m not perfect.’” “Suits and Shirts” “[British Kurdish comic] Kae Kurd opens this track with a segment from [his tour] Kurd Immunity. I actually went to the live show, and this particular bit had me in stitches—because I’ve been in that exact situation with the mandem. Part of getting older is only seeing them in group settings, and we’re often in suits and shirts—maybe a funeral, christening or wedding. Everyone’s all over the place, busy with work, different cities, different countries. This is about those moments and conversations that we have on the occasions when we link up.”

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