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First known as Bloc Party’s singer/songwriter/guitarist, Kele Okereke also pursued a solo career that spanned styles as diverse as electronic music and folk-inspired singer/songwriter pop. He first branched off from Bloc Party for his 2010 debut The Boxer. From there, he delved deeper into polished dance with 2014′s Trick. Veering into an emotive, pastoral direction for 2017′s Fatherland, he reinvented himself yet again. By the close of the decade, he combined his various sides and injected some soul for the intensely political 2042.
Born in Liverpool, England to Nigerian parents, Okereke’s family moved to London while he was in high school. It was there that he met future Bloc Party guitarist Russell Lissack. Later, during college, they formed the band the Angel Range, adding bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong to the fold soon after. In 2003, they settled on the name Bloc Party and found success with a string of post-punk-inspired releases beginning with the singles “Banquet” and “She’s Hearing Voices” and albums including 2005′s Silent Alarm, 2007′s A Weekend in the City, and 2008′s Intimacy.
Late in 2008, Okereke moved to Berlin and began working on his own songs, which adopted more of an electronic influence than his band’s already angular music. He also appeared on Tiësto’s “It’s Not the Things You Say” in 2009, the same year that Bloc Party went on hiatus. The following year, he released his first single as a solo artist, “Tenderoni,” and his XXXChange-produced debut album, The Boxer, a set of songs inspired by the focus and endurance of prizefighters. It was followed by the like-minded Hunter EP in 2011. Later that year, Okereke reunited with Bloc Party, who released their hard-rocking fourth album, Four, in 2012.
Okereke spent the rest of the 2010s juggling his Bloc Party duties with his solo career. After collaborating with British DJ Sub Focus on the track “Turn It Around” in 2013, he issued the house- and dub-influenced Heartbreaker EP. Another EP, Candy Flip, preceded his sleek second solo album, Trick, which melded electronic influences with more pop-oriented songwriting and arrived on Okereke’s own Lilac Records imprint. Bloc Party’s fifth album, Hymns, which incorporated gospel and R&B with ethereal electronica, appeared in 2016. Okereke’s eclectic third solo album, Fatherland, was inspired by his becoming a father, his African roots, and artists like Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell, and Al Green. Recorded in Portland, Oregon and featuring performances from Corinne Bailey Rae and Years & Years’ Olly Alexander, the album arrived in October 2017.
After taking a brief break from his solo work for a 2019 Silent Alarm anniversary tour with Bloc Party, he resumed his solo endeavors once again for his fourth album 2042. Tackling social issues with more energy than Fatherland, Okereke took aim at racism and politics on singles like the Afrobeat groover “Jungle Bunny.” That year, he also debuted his musical Leave to Remain in London, which tied into the themes highlighted on 2042. ~ Heather Phares & Neil Z. Yeung