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  • Writer's pictureShenead Poroosotum

Punk, Pain and Poetry: How Avelino's Uncanny Inspiration Fuelled The Creation Of His Debut Album

Brimming with positivity and unwavering motivation, Avelino's journey is laid with a deep determination to honour his late father and etch his name into the chronicles of the rap scene. His steadfast spirit, forged through hard work and close mentoring with rap mogul Wretch 32 from a young age, has propelled him to new heights, culminating in the release of his highly anticipated debut album, God Save The Streets.

The album's title, a clever play on 'God Save The Queen,' echoes the rebellious spirit of punk, a movement that had an uncanny influence to Avelino. In a fusion of genres, the project features an array of talents, including punk icon Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols making a notable appearance, lending his guitar prowess to the track 'VEX' and gracing its music video. Avelino's vision transcends musical boundaries, drawing inspiration from the raw energy and societal commentary inherent in punk rock but still formulated around grime.

With God Save The Streets, Avelino mentions that rap and grime are the new punk, channels for revolution and platforms to voice the experiences of working-class society. The album's resounding success speaks volumes, soaring to number 3 on both the Official Album Downloads and Sales Chart, Official Physical Albums Chart, and claiming the coveted number 1 top spot on both the Official Hip-Hop and R&B and Independent Albums Chart. His determination was caught on by the AIM Independent Music Awards where he won Best Independent Album and gave a very memorable speech.

Although this body of work was fuelled by pain and anguish through the troubles of growing up on the streets, he mentions that it probably would have never come into fruition without it. As he leaves a lasting mark on the charts, he is not only fulfilling a personal mission but is also solidifying his presence as a transformative figure within the rap scene.

 Hey Avelino, how have you been doing?

I’m in a great moment. When people ask me this, I always lead to the fact that I’m buzzing to wake up every day. Things have been going well career-wise but it’s clear to me that everything’s already amazing in terms of being healthy, relationships around me, family and friends and being able to do what I love every day.

You’ve been making music for a while. What would you say are the biggest changes you’ve noticed in the music scene or within yourself since you’ve started out?

In the music scene, definitely the technology in the sense that back in the day I was uploading music to Facebook and social media like Bandcamp where you could only buy music. Even though that’s still a thing, buying music on iTunes, but now you’ve got streaming which is a big shift. It’s probably one of the biggest shifts we’ve ever seen in terms of how music is consumed. With the freedom that the internet and technology has provided me, I probably wouldn’t have even been able to make God Save The Streets or express it or share it with the country in the same way since back in the day, being an independent artist wasn’t so possible. But today, we’ve got streaming and distributors and a lot of power with the internet and social media where we can do our own branding and promotions. I’ve seen great change in the game with the power that’s potentially in an artists’ hands but also in myself naturally over time where I’ve matured. I’ve always felt like music can’t be any more or any less than you are as a person, I heard that quote one time and it always stuck with me. God Save The Streets is a product of that growth on a personal level over the years and it’s my debut album so I’m still fresh and hungry to show what else I have in store.

It's important to have that hunger and power to be able to stay motivated and creative in the industry regardless of how it’s evolving.

Yeah, you have to. It’s evolve or dissolve. That’s life and nothing stays the same for two seconds in succession. Everything is in a constant state of flux. Every cell or electron, just everything. And you’ve got to follow that law and you’ve got to adapt or die. Even MP3’s came out, I’m sure there were a lot of companies who were against it, and they’ve suffered the consequences. I’ll always be motivated just for the simple fact that one day I won’t be here and if that’s not motivation enough I don’t know what else will be. I’m lucky enough to have found my talent and embrace the thing I love doing. So, I just want to do that as much as possible, create things and connect with friends and people. Motivation is never hard to come by for me.

Many artists like to speak on very specific issues and also are in many ways activists. Is there any social or political issue that you feel particularly passionate about?

Yeah, of course. I care about the streets. I care about the poor people. I care about the working-class person. I care about these things and these people because I am part of that group. That's how I grew up. So, I understand how difficult it can be in this tough world, we live in this everyday struggle. I feel like I’ve stumbled across a powerful message which is that struggle isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it helped me a lot to have that perspective. I want to use my skills to help other people come to that realisation or understanding because as I’ve gotten older and started to take control of my own mind, that struggle made me stronger, more resilient, more creative, and resourceful. It taught me about faith and how to make a positive from the negative by growing up in the streets of London and have a career. Without all that pain and hurt or hurdles, there wouldn’t be God Save The Streets. Struggle is a necessity and I feel like it’s potentially powerful idea.

Well said. Were there any unexpected sources of inspiration that influenced God Save the Streets?

I guess the Sex Pistols. I was doing an interview once and the interviewer asked me what I was working on, and I said “the greatest British rap album of all time” but I didn’t even have a title or made or song or anything. I guess it was the early stages of manifestation. But the inspiration came from seeing the artwork for one of their singles ‘God Save The Queen’ on my managers screen in a random moment. I didn’t know the album yet and I just said, “God Save The Streets”. In a few days, it was clear to me that it was going to be the title of the album. My artwork is a flip on their artwork from that album and “God Save The Queen” just being an important phrase in England. And then we got Glen Matlock from Sex Pistols to play guitar on my album and was in one of the videos with me. So, that was an unexpected source of inspiration for sure.

That’s amazing. And it's quite full circle as well because Sex Pistols were heavily in the punk scene and punk music is about revolution and change and was a voice for the working class. It was meant to be.

It was meant to be 100%. I also started to look at what I do and what I care about and I came to the realisation that, if you look at the timeline of music for the poor people, the music for the streets of England, where there was punk at one point, if you go through the ages, you’ll see that rap, grime and drill is the punk of today as punk is not necessarily around the same way as it was. They were anti-establishment, doing mosh pits, wearing Vivienne Westwood and going against the grain. Today, you go to rap shows and mosh, there might not be Vivienne Westwood but there’s Trapstar or Corteiz. We’re the ones where the police are shutting us down. They just shut down the K-Trap and Headie One show for example. I might not be anti-establishment but I’m anti-poverty in a sense where I want to help people in the fight against it.

With God Save The Streets, not only did your album get to number one on the Official Independent Charts, but also you won Best Independent album at the Independent Music Awards as well and your speech was one for the books. What’s the feeling like hearing your name called as the winner?

It's a beautiful moment because you put so much effort into it. I had an agreement with myself that I had to make my best effort and make the best possible album I could make in that moment. And when we did that and sought out the necessary help like getting Glen [Matlock] to play or Reuben Dangoor on the artwork and Wretch 32 to executive produce the album. We got help from all the brilliant producers on the album as well and we spent six weeks in L.A to mix it with David Kim. Just knowing all of that in the back of my mind and knowing how much hard work was put into this album was very satisfying.

I’ve got to big up the AIM awards because the art and the craft and detail are often overlooked in this game. So, for them to look at all the brilliant albums that were also nominated and say that they’re giving it to God Save The Streets, kudos to them as well for making that choice. It was a great feeling, and I went up there and made a nervy speech. But I think nerves are good because it shows that you care. And I absolutely do care because I put everything into it, and I thought it was important to put into perspective what this was about. This is about thousands of lives that get lost in the streets who never had dreams or never knew that they deserved to have dreams. I always say dreams save lives because of who I wanted to become and what I wanted to do, it made it effective in the decisions I made. I thought it was important to make that clear in my speech. I’m lucky and fortunate that I have this gift, but it’s unfortunate that it comes from death, violence, and pain. That’ll never go away and all I can do is transmute it into art and turn it into a positive.

You've got a lot of collaborations on God Save The Streets as well, ranging from Wretch 32, Ghetts, Backroad Gee and Youngs Teflon just to name a few. How do you ensure that your own individuality shines through when it comes to joint tracks or projects and to not get outshined?

I think I'm the best in the world [laughs] so that thought doesn’t cross my mind. But in general, if you’re doing you, then you’re doing just fine. I always just make sure I’m making my best effort and obviously rap is a competitive thing, so you want the best of the best but not make sure the ego gets in the way of what’s best for the song and especially when making an album. It’s all about God Save The Streets, it’s not about what’s bigger. If you put God Save The Streets and Avelino side by side, Streets is much bigger and I’m just a vessel for that message. I made an effort to go and get a three-time Grammy award-winning engineer because that’s what this message deserves. With my collaborations, I really respect them and there are very specific reasons why we reached out to them because of what they could add to the bigger picture. Punk was a movement just like rap music in the streets today, so we wanted to express that and reflect it with different types of artists from the culture. Tiggs Da Author is a voice for the streets and so is Wretch 32 or Backroad Gee so it was an assembly of culture coming together and just about the album shining as much as it can.

Do you have any favourite tracks?

‘SIN CITY’ is my favourite track. I feel like it expresses an important and necessary side to me, which is that I like to have fun.

I was looking through your discography and from what I can see on Spotify, your first release was a collaborative project called Young Fire, Old Flame with Wretch 32 and he's dotted around all your other projects up until today. Tell us a little bit more about your connection with him?

I just think he’s one of the greatest rappers ever. I feel like he’s a great example for younger artists and to stay true to yourself and knowing how good you are but humble enough to still always being hungry enough to add things to the game. I think he’s a really great example for artists. Wretch is where I’m from locally. My mum’s house and his mum’s house are five minutes away from each other, but our generations are around a decade apart, so we didn’t really cross paths. I was always aware that Wretch 32 was one of the local rappers but as I started doing music, he was already a number one selling artist. Word got to him that there was a young lad in his area also making music and that he was quite good. When Wretch heard my music, he reached out to me and asked me to come to the studio.

I was a teenager at the time, and it was profound because it was inspiring to see people doing what you’re doing on the telly and living their dreams. It provides proof that it can be done, especially when they look like you it provides a different level of inspiring when you’ve seen them down the road, same circumstances, same location now a number one-selling artist in the country. In the studio session, my performance was terrible, but my ambition wasn’t terrible, and I guess Wretch resonated with that, which turned into a great working relationship. This resulted to a mixtape and resulted to a quite important Fire In The Booth which was well travelled; a lot of people heard it. Talent is a great thing but the attitude behind the talent shows what the talent can do. So that’s my relationship with 32, and why he was the perfect person to executive produce my first album because talking about God Save The Streets, society, and my environment where I’ve grown up, no-one knows that better than himself on top of being a brilliant rapper and his knowledge and awareness of us. He’s also the creative director at 0207 Def Jam so, he's in a space where he’s putting things together in that capacity and level.

The representation must have been really helpful for you as well. Especially, like you said, seeing someone who was from the exactly the same circumstances, who looked like you made the same kind of music that you wanted to make as well. You were quite lucky to be able to have a role model like that.

Exactly. I guess I just had to be prepared to capitalise on the opportunity, which I was.

God Save The Streets speaks on real life issues that are quite personal. What would you say is probably the most challenging part of being open and vulnerable in your music, knowing that this is going to be heard by the masses?

If I ever saw it as a challenge, then I’m well past that point. I feel like as an artist or as a creative to whatever degree, you've got to come to terms with the fact that there's no such reality as something for nothing. It's almost your job to detach yourself from the music to the point where you're prepared to put yourself out there. With artists, I think it’s difficult to detach yourself from the art and there are thousands of creatives and artists who have great work that nobody will ever hear but they’re so attached to the work so it’s a big blockage for them in terms of sharing it. I now have this level of detachment where it’s like, my job and it’s what I’m supposed to do. I wouldn’t perform well if I didn’t, because I’m very much aware of the fact that this is why I make music, why I’m here and that I have a message and to create art based on it. You want to create a level or degree of attachment to literally detach yourself from the art and share this brilliant idea.

What would you say is like the end goal for Avelino when you can say that you can retire?

The Japanese and in places like Okinawa, there’s no word for retire in the sense of not working anymore. There’s always something new or a new challenge. The day when I’m gone is when I can rest peacefully, but whilst I’m here, there’s always a new challenge, something I can prove, a new experience or education. It’ll never end, and I will always create. I’ve got more music in me and more albums in me. Maybe I’ll write for other people or write films or be in films. I’m always going to be in the creative industry. In terms of music, I’m going to cross that bridge when it gets there, that’s the beautiful thing about purpose. Major purpose can stay the same but purpose in life can change over time.

You’ve mentioned that your stage name, Avelino, is actually your last name to honour your father. Why was your dad such an inspiration for you to continue with music?

My old man passed when I was about 14 or 15. This whole story here emphasises my whole message about what I care about and what I try and share with people is that the worst thing that could happen to you could be the best thing that could happen to you, depending on how you relate yourself to it. That was the case in terms of my old man. I say that because a young boy who was close with his old man, a very present old man who was brilliant, him losing that old man should be a tragic event and the most horrible thing that could happen. If you relate yourself to it in a way where you say okay, my stage name is my surname to do my dad proud, that gives me an unlimited source of motivation. As a result of that, you have this career now that feeds yourself and your family and helps a lot of people. You’re rapping and writing and doing all these things off the back of that and then all of a sudden, the worst thing that’s happened to you is the best thing that could have happened, and the event wasn’t so tragic.

As strange as it sounds, any bad thing that comes always comes with a potential blessing and the potential isn’t always obvious. But with that beautiful emotion, faith, willpower, and imagination, you’ll figure out where that potential blessing lies and allow it to blossom into a full thing. So, that’s how that was helpful, not that my old man wasn’t helpful whilst he was here, but when he passed, it took me to the next level because even though motivation isn’t hard to come by, I’m not going to be here forever, and I knew that because he wasn’t here forever in the flesh. That was motivation enough for me to not waste a second doing him proud.

Listen to God Save The Streets here!


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