ON HIS hit single “Little Derek”, the London rapper Derek Safo (aka Sway) makes it clear that it was because of music that he “ended up in HMV, instead of HMP”.
The multi-award-winning rapper has just been added to the bill for this year’s Greenbelt Festival, where he will feature on the Mainstage on Saturday night.
Sway was born in east London in 1982, to Ghanaian parents. (His cousin, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, plays for the Ghanaian national football team and is currently on loan to Cardiff City.) He began experimenting with music at the age of 11, and spent much of his spare time using equipment at his school to sharpen his production skills.
In 2004, Sway released a trilogy of “mix-tape” albums on his own label, Dcypha Productions. This Is My Promo volumes 1 and 2, and This Is My Demo garnered a rash of awards: Best Newcomer at the Urban Music Awards; Best of British from the Channel U Award, and Best Hip-Hop Artist at the MOBO Awards — all despite being unsigned, and competing against established stars such as 50 Cent. Further mainstream recognition came in 2006, when This Is My Demo was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.
Winning a BET (Black Entertainment Television) Award helped to consolidate Sway’s now global fan following. It also led to collaborations with heavyweights from America’s urban-music scene, such as Akon and Lupe Fiasco. Back at home, he also performed and recorded with the Kaiser Chiefs, Craig David, Lemar, and Jamelia (a former Greenbelt headliner).
Sway’s slot at this year’s festival ties in with his new role as an ambassador for Platform2, the Government’s voluntary scheme for young people, which was launched last year (Features, 16 January).
Platform2 is funded by the Department for International Development, who run it jointly with Christian Aid and the British Universities North America Club. The scheme is aimed at less-advantaged young people who would not normally get an opportunity to volunteer abroad. It offers ten-week work placements in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Peru, India, or Nepal.
“I think it’s a great thing that young adults can go over to places where they usually wouldn’t or couldn’t afford to go,” Sway says. “People might see something on TV, and see some parts of South Africa, but there are other parts that have not been highlighted in the media. I think it’s a good idea that people go and see the culture for themselves.”