Singer Kele Okereke and his sister Susan on their special relationship

Bloc Party’s frontman and his teacher sister have always been close. They talk about playing school, Nigerian nicknames and feeling proud of each other

HIS STORY Kele Okereke, 33, singer

I’ve always been very close to my sister. Our parents are from Nigeria and come from a different culture. Growing up in Edinburgh and London, Susan and I had different views to them on certain things. We both understood we were trying to forge our own way; we understood each other’s battles. She’s a very joyful person.

Everyone says that when we were kids I kept myself to myself, but that my sister was more sociable. There was a part of me that envied her ability to be so light all the time. I was always more concerned with my own thoughts. That’s still the case. I was quite a naughty brother. At 14 I used to sneak into her room and take her acoustic guitar. It was the first musical instrument I touched. I started writing songs – not particularly impressive, but expressions of myself nonetheless. If it hadn’t been for her guitar, I don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing now.

When Bloc Party took off and we were touring the world, Susan and I would go for months without seeing each other. But seeing my family was very grounding for me. I could see Susan was proud of me. I’m proud that she became a teacher. It’s the only job I would have liked to have done if I wasn’t making music. She’s not afraid to do anything, and she’s not worried about what other people think. She’s a cool girl.

We call each other “chinch”, which is an Igbo term my mother would use to describe bed bugs or something annoying. When we’re together it can revert back to how it was when we were teenagers. It can feel like we’re having the same argument that we’ve had for 20 years. But we take it all in good humour. We have always had each other’s back.

HER STORY Susan Okereke, 34, teacher

I’m a year and a half older than Kele, and I don’t know if it was a Nigerian thing, but I was charged to look after him when we were kids. We used to play schools, where I’d show him what I’d learned and get him to do it as well. I was a much more compliant child: he was good at getting out of washing the dishes whereas I’d never question it. In a weird way I really respected that.

We leaned in different directions as teenagers. Kele was into guitar music and I was into R&B and hip-hop. But actually I like a lot of indie and he likes some urban music, too. On the face of it I seem more sociable and Kele comes across as shy, but he’s really funny and can be loud. He used to wind me up like no one else, but then also make me laugh like no one else. One day during GCSE revision he kept coming in my room and being silly. I was like: “Leave me alone! I’ve got to revise!” He then came up with a guitar, which he couldn’t really play, and said he’d written me a song. He was just strumming rubbish, but I couldn’t stay angry because I was laughing at how ridiculous it was.

I saw the band play before they were Bloc Party and they were really tight, but it was still a massive shock when they became huge. I was just filled with pride. Through Kele I’ve experienced some great things. Watching him at Glastonbury for the first time was unbelievable. Now we are older, I really respect his opinion. We debate things a lot. If we have an issue we generally get to the root of it.

Kele’s very focused on quality, but he also likes some trash. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this but he’s partial to rubbish TV: he enjoys a bit of Big Brother.

Kele’s new album, Trick, is out now on Lilac Recordings


Candice Pires

The GuardianTramp

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