Leïti’s new genre fusion niche is “cute exercise”. Close your eyes, let ‘JÖM’ enter your consciousness and it transports you to a hazy dreamy Barcelona landscape – think Biutiful by Iñárritu, minus death and melancholy. July’s single ‘#Spanishfeet’ brilliantly captures the vibe of the project, with Leïti’s sweet voice floating above a slow, sunny production. This low, slow bounce vibrates throughout the project like a heartbeat. The cosmopolitan and creative city is the muse of Leïti.
“Barcelona is not a big city, but it is full of people from all over the world. We have people from the Philippines, Germany, all over Africa. There are a lot of different cultures, ”he continues. “Because it’s not a big place, there are no separate ghettos. Everyone is here together, in the same place. It makes you more open-minded, I think. It is a very artistic place. It’s been hundreds of years and the energy is so crazy and special here. ”
Collective spirit and community are key to everything Leïti does, producing work as part of Cutemobb – a youth-led ensemble of artists, rappers, producers, dancers and creatives. They released their first group mixtape, ‘Cutetapes’, in November of last year. It’s a happy amalgamation of songs, built on the organic chemistry of friendship.
“With us, it’s so natural,” explains Leïti. “We were all already friends, doing different things: dancing, fashioning, singing. We started to understand that if we work together and put a name on it, it’s more positive for everyone. We are creating an industry for ourselves, because in Spain there is not a lot of industry for us. If we didn’t create this community, we would have very short careers. I think the main thing in art and in artist movements is that people share what they have in mind with each other. It creates community, and it means more opportunities for everyone.
Leïti is of Senegalese origin and ‘JÖM’ is a nod to these West African roots. In Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal, ‘jöm’ translates to ‘honor’ or ‘dignity of self’. The project is a deliberate antidote to the hype and macho postures he identified among some of his peers. “It’s not like I hate exercise,” says Leïti. “But here in Barcelona, the exercise that talks about people killing for this and that… it doesn’t exist. I think there are imitators who are trying to fit into the industry and get more numbers. I think it kills art. I’ve done more gangster bullshit than them but I never talk about it, because it’s not like that.
“I like to be more artistic and involved in the community,” he continues. “I think that’s the key to supporting these kids who really live this life. I never try to rap about these things, because I’ve never been in these situations. You lose respect for the people who are really in them when you do this.
This unwavering honesty and reality is the epitome of ‘jöm’. It is about approaching difficult themes in a conscious way that is true to your own experiences. “My Senegalese roots influence the way I speak to the world in my music. I used to talk freely about drugs, sex, all that. Now I have experienced and seen more. I experienced different things. It made me think a lot. I want to understand the world.
Leïti’s music has not necessarily changed its tone; his paradigm shift was more thematic. “The sound of the trap, mixed with bits of different stuff… it stays.” I do not give African vibrations in the sound. But now I think more about what I say, the energy, the frequency that I send to the world. I still talk about things like drugs, but from a different perspective.
“I think the messages in African music are much clearer, much more solid. I think that’s the key to this project, ”he continues. “I’m starting to give more of myself. I used to try to serve every beat and have a cool sound. Now I am more influential. The children listen to me. I try to show them better things, even though I’m still young too. “Dignity with yourself” is knowing yourself, knowing what ideas and values suit you, instead of trying to fit into them. “