The trajectory of ZieZie is a rise to be proud of. His story is perhaps even more inspired. Tragically losing his Arsenal-inspired father at the age of 12, it was he who instilled football into his mindset. Becoming a provider for his family, almost becoming a carpenter and releasing one of the biggest hits of 2019 with Aitch and in the process amassing millions of streams himself, we get to know this talented artist as he drops his latest single.

What’s your connection to football? What did it mean to you as a kid and while you were growing up?

I remember when I was 11 years old. Football was massive for me. I used to play Sunday league which my dad got me into. He was really big in pushing me forward - he wanted me to go all the way with football. I remember him saying to me, “everywhere you go, bring a football” so whether it was the park or to the shops, he’d always say, “bring a football”. My dad was a proper influence for me when it came to the football side of things. He supported Arsenal and that support was given to me. He passed away when I was 12. When he passed, my love for football and motivation stopped at that point. It reminded me too much of him.

So sorry to hear that. Football must hold a lot of memories when you think of him then. Precious memories...

Yeah it does. That’s why I’d never even think about switching teams. Arsenal was the last team I remember watching with him and it’s been a big part of my life. That moment in time shaped me.

The Sunday League memories - what do you remember about that time? Can you set the scene for us?

I was a really good player. I think if I had stuck with it, I would have gone a good distance with it. I was always either up front or a winger. I was a fast kid. In my team I was the captain. I used to play in a place called Chesington and we wore this pink and brown kit. I remember going to play with older boys in better teams - you had to kind of earn your way up - I remember loving football at the time. We didn’t have much money back then though so paying for the kit and getting to games was hard and eventually we couldn’t afford it.

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Do remember what it was like at School as an Arsenal fan? Were there big rivalries?

Back in Primary School, we used to play with a tennis ball. We didn’t have a football that we were allowed to play with. I don’t know why but we had to play with a tennis ball. Every lunchtime and break time, it would be madness, kicking around this tennis ball. We used to team up, whoever supported Arsenal would play against whoever supported Chelsea. We always had that type of rivalry. It was good when I think back.

When you think back to then and the type of players that were playing professionally - did you look at them as icons?

Yeah for me I looked at Adebayor. I thought he was a proper icon. I used to have the same hairstyle as him. People gave me his name as a nickname. We looked similar, kind of played similarly. He was one I looked at. He was out there. I liked him because he’s different. That’s a bit like me I’d say, I’m different, a bit weird sometimes. I can relate with other people who are like that as well.

It’s good to be different. You say you’re a bit weird, how would you describe yourself - how does your mind work?

I try not to think about what other people think about me but I know that I give off an aura of being shy or awkward. I think that’s more a thing that I don’t like to give away too much of my personality to someone that I’ve just met. You never know how people perceive you. I like to be myself but I know that in this world a lot of people like to build ideas up around you, so I do like to stay a little reserved because of that. I like to think in depth about a lot of things. I’d say I’m a thinker. I don’t like to come across as strange to people. I’m a closed person but I open up more and more as people get to know me. 

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You come across as someone with a deep character. Have the experiences over the last few years, the success you’ve had, helped you wise-up?

I think when you’re younger, you say before you think and now I’m more of the type of person who thinks before they say. Now I’m in the adult world, it’s a normal thing for me to think about what I say or do before I do it. I want to get things right and I like to approach things this way.

When you were a kid, did you dream much? Was there something you always wanted to be as a kid?

Before my dad passed, it was always football. I remember from a young age thinking that I was going to do everything I can to make it in football, whatever it takes. After he passed, that’s when music started to happen for me. I wrote my first song then, it was about him. Ever since then, I’ve tried to venture out and see where it could take me. I even joined the school choir because my teacher heard me singing in the toilet one time. I remember them saying to me “you’ve got a nice voice, you should join the choir”. I didn’t really think about joining the choir before then because I was one of the popular kids in school. I got one of my friends to join with me. Since I started doing that, I always had the ambition to make it someway into the entertainment industry. Since year six, it’s always been a dream to be an actor or a singer.

Was there music you remember hearing when you were younger that really sparked that interest?

When I was younger, I didn’t really listen to all that much rap until I was in high school. In primary school, it was stuff like The Script, Justin Bieber, Black Eyed Peas, Chris Brown - it as a merge of all kinds of different sounds back then. Then getting older, my tastes changed but it’s all come together to make the sound I have now.

Have you had a creative edge since day one then?

Yeah 100%. In school and all that, I have. I have Dyslexia so I feel like with that, it helps me focus in a different way. When it comes to writing things down, I struggle because you wouldn’t really be able to read what I was writing. Now because I do music, I have a good imagination and although I can’t get things written down, I can sing what I’m feeling and what I’m thinking. It’s helped me to venture to different places and express who I am in a different way.

It’s also massively inspiring for anyone out there who has Dyslexia as you can show what’s possible.

I see it as a little super power. Like if you lost your sight, another part of your body might become stronger. If a part of your brain is not working with one part, another might become stronger for something else. That’s how I see it.

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It must be horrific to lose a parent but do you see him having given you a gift in showing you music?

That’s 100% my outlook. I think everything happens for a reason. When I was younger, I was annoyed and angry at the situation of losing my dad. As I got older, I was able to take in the situation. With me, I don’t read a lot of books but I love movies. I like to read movies almost in the way you would at books. I like to look at them in depth and pick them apart. All kinds of genres, I like to look at them and explore them. That mindset is something that came from having to think a lot from a young age, having to deal with what I did. All of those movies I’ve watched over the years have also helped my thought process too. I love sci-fi, action and romantic movies most.

Can you tell us about your Congolese background and how that shaped your personality?

Both my parents are from The Congo. I remember from young how they would both speak French, English and our countries language. I grew up a little bit bi-lingual. My mum would speak a lot of French and my dad, mainly English. My mum was quite traditional and I feel that she brought the vibe of her country to the vibe of this country as we were being brought up. She educated me about the culture from Congo. Even though my dad was from there, he was trying to fit in more over here - there was a good balance between the two growing up.

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What part of the culture are you really proud of and love most?

The language and the vibe that Congolese people have is amazing. We are definitely a people that don’t take life too seriously and don’t take ourselves too seriously. I like that aspect of things in life. If you are too serious in life you can give off bad energy. Congolese people are happy, happy people.

You see that character come through in your music. Take the artwork and sound of ‘Fine Girl’, there’s an African feel running throughout it all. When you first started making music, did you want to make a point of bringing through the Congolese energy?

One million percent. Growing up, listening to the music I did and going to high school, not knowing where artists were really from, I wanted to change that. You could have artists who are from Jamaica or Ghana but you wouldn’t know it in their music. I wanted to make sure that when I’m making music, I want people to know where I’m from. That’s why I add some French Lingala here and there in my tracks.

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What has the journey been like to go from College to where you are now?

Music is incredible. This journey is crazy. When I was in high school, my dream was to become an actor. Even though I was dyslexic, I think back to things like how I remember my lyrics. It’s the same way I did for a script back then when I was acting in school. It’s surreal when I look back now. Even when I got signed, I’ve never had that “ah this is crazy” moment. It’s been a respectful process. I think that’s down to my dad passing. Ever since he died, I’ve never been that type of person to shout about something, if something good happens. Nowadays, I just think anything can happen. I just run with everything I can do. It was a great feeling to be signed though.

I can remember going into Year 11 to do my GCSEs and there was a cleaner at school. Me and my friends were just messing about. This guy started telling us about how his life has gone down hill because he was messing about. He was like “you boys need to focus, you need to get your heads down”, at the time, we were all just like “shut up man, we’re not going to be like you”. As I finished school, I started thinking about that moment and his words and started thinking “what am I actually going to do?”. I got good grades but they weren’t great. I was on the fence, whether to go to college to do drama or go out and try and get a job. I started studying carpentry in college so that I had a trade. I thought that was where my life was going to go. In my first year of college, going into my second year, my mum had to go away to look after my gran. She was supposed to go for two weeks but ended up going for five months as my gran was sick. I had to babysit my little brother, my little sister and my little nephew for the whole of those five months by myself. I missed loads of college. It was then when I realised I had to start doing something. That’s when I started doing music properly and putting it out. By the time my mum had come back, I was ZieZie and I was about to sign a deal. It was a crazy experience.

How radical is that change to your life when you sign a record deal?

It was a complete change. Obviously my mum wanted me to go uni. All African parents want their kids to go to university and get new jobs. For me, this felt like a moment I could make her proud in the same but different way. It was kind of like my graduation for me and my mum. It was a proud moment because I had all my family there. I had my girlfriend there, friends there and it was a life changing moment for them all to see and be a part of. 

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The number of listens to your tracks are huge. How much does that make you hungry for more?

When those kind of listens start coming in. 60 million… It just makes me think about how much more I can do. I haven’t really put out as much music as I should have. I feel like I’ve done a lot in a short space of time though. I haven’t done a headline show and I haven’t put out a full project and I’ve had all this success. So it makes me think that when I put out a project, I need to put my all into it because I can do something massive with it. I feel that way with the single I’m putting out. Nowadays the way I record is different. I used to go just to record one song. Now, I don’t feel the pressure about recording a hit at that time. I just go to the studio and express myself.

Where do you set your ambitions and targets? What’s the goal?

The goal is to do this for as long as I can. When I first signed, it was the first time I had money, let alone that type of money. At the time you’re caught up in it and you don’t really think about the long term. I’ve learnt from that time. I’ve grown up a lot in a short space of time and I want to build on that and the success I’ve had. It’s opened up my eyes to how big this can go.

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