Singer, songwriter and actor King Cas Ajani speaks to Renée Davis about his experiences in the entertainment industry and his efforts to empower young men
‘THE first nine years of living in this country, I had a hard time,’ says Zimbabwe-born King Cas Ajani, who arrived in the UK in 1998. ‘I came to the country at a time when it was “cool” to be from the Caribbean, but not Africa. I just didn’t understand it. At school, people would laugh because I didn’t know what a kebab was or because I didn’t know who Steps or S Club 7 were. In Zimbabwe, I grew up listening to R&B artists, such as Monica. People definitely weren’t afraid to tell me that I didn’t fit in or that they didn’t like me.’
At the age of 15, Cas realised that he could sing well and decided to take his vocal abilities to a talent show near where he lived. He enjoyed it, and wanted to pursue singing alongside his other dream of being a pilot. But life took a turn in another direction when his family had to change location.
‘Living in Kent, my hope at the time was to stick with flying,’ Cas says. ‘There weren’t many opportunities to develop a music career. But when we hit hard times and had to move back to London, I was upset because we had already moved so many times. We were immigrants and not having our immigration status made things difficult. But I decided to take a leap of faith with my singing, because I felt I had nothing else left to lose.’
Deciding to make the best of his situation, Cas enrolled on a vocal artistry course at college. In 2007, he graduated top of his class. Cas continued to do all he could to perfect and sharpen his musical craft by writing and recording songs.
‘I admired my friends who could get jobs and afford to buy a car,’ he says. ‘I was old enough to work, but I couldn’t do any of that, because I didn’t have the necessary legal papers. It was so hard.
‘On one occasion, my friend recorded over a beat that I had already written lyrics to. I was upset and through tears I told him: “You don’t understand – you go to work, you drive a decent car, you’re able to help your family, buy clothes when you need to and go on holiday. All I have is music to build hope for myself and you took that.”’
At the age of 21, Cas finally got his immigration papers.
‘Society thinks that by 21 you should be ready to go into the world and work,’ he says. ‘But that was when I was just getting started. I never really took acting seriously, but people suggested that I go for auditions. I did and from there my acting career took shape.’
Cas attended an open audition to join an agency. He was accepted and was offered a bursary to take an intensive musical theatre course.
‘That was unheard of, because to be put on an agent’s books, you had to attend drama school first,’ he says. ‘On the course, I got to delve into musical theatre and its technicalities. For two days a week over four months, I had to squeeze in a ten-year education.’
During his time of learning, Cas experienced bullying from classmates.
‘I believe they were jealous,’ he says. ‘My singing voice is what God gave to me. Other people felt that they had to work hard for their abilities and thought that I didn’t appreciate that. I experienced extreme bullying and racism. Many of my peers were uppity and didn’t believe I deserved to be there. I suffered breakdowns. On the day of our showcase performance, I was pushed around the stage the whole time but I had to hold myself together.
‘My teacher was wonderful. She had my back and defended me to the end. I quickly came to realise that though I stayed away from negativity in these spaces, I would still get targeted. I realised God gave me a particular light and people were fiercely intimidated by it.’
After a stint in the West End hit Thriller, Cas decided that he would use his past experiences to help people by writing a book titled Ambition is not Enough.
Released in 2014, the book encourages readers to find their true self and embrace it. It also urges people to take action to achieve their ambitions. Cas has been able to tour the book around various parts of the world. ‘I’ve read some wonderful comments about the book,’ Cas continues. ‘Readers have sent me emails and letters, talking about how it has been helpful to them. People were grateful that I was candid and open. I didn’t do well in English at school. But when the book idea came to me, I knew it was from God.’
Cas’s Christian faith is a big motivator in all that he does.
‘I was raised in church,’ he says. ‘At six years old, I decided to give my life to Jesus. In everything I’ve been through – things that would probably drive others in the opposite direction – Jesus’ comfort and peace have been my solid rock. I’ve never felt forsaken. The only time I’ve ever felt bad is when I’ve felt as though I couldn’t forgive myself.
‘I decided that in order for me to be truly effective in life, I needed to see people in the image of God. I try, according to his will, to render a service that is peaceful, loving, understanding, compassionate and caring.’
Cas uses his faith and experiences in the entertainment industry to help young men discover who they are and their purpose in life.
‘I’m a big advocate for brotherhood. Travelling to schools to present talks helped me to notice that boys were going through a lot, and I wanted to get them talking,’ he says.
‘I’ve been through a lot of stuff that made me feel like I couldn’t fit in with the guys. I didn’t like hanging around boys, and girls would reject me, so I was in social isolation for six years.
‘When it came to mentoring, I had to take the leap and offer one-on-one sessions. Then I started talking to groups of young men, and the next thing I knew there was a network of brothers all over the world who were helped by my mentorship. I can’t believe how God has turned things around. I’ve never been the macho kind, and I’m cool with that now.’
Cas’s community projects, such as his conference series One Promise, teach young men about emotional aptitude and how to talk openly about issues such as depression and anxiety.
‘I want to erase the culture of hyper-masculinity,’ he says. ‘There was a time in my life where I wasn’t tough, but I am now. I’m spiritually tough and mentally resilient because I allowed myself to be broken and cry. I thank God that I had the strength to be able to figure some of these things out myself, because a lot of my brothers out there don’t even know where to begin.’
Cas has found that doing the ‘meaningful work’ first has inspired other creative projects, such as his new YouTube comedy series New Skool Life. It is shown on the Wall of Comedy’s channel and is made by Cas’s production company Symphony Park. So far, the series has attracted 8.8 million views across various platforms.
‘It was inspired by my trips to schools,’ he says. ‘I never thought it would be as big as it is. Most of my artistic projects now stem from the meaningful work that I do. Being a young entrepreneur mostly means that you’re broke for a while. So you learn how to be resourceful and creative. You learn how to get up and go, even when you don’t feel like it and no matter how challenging it is.’
Cas continues to turn his pain into purpose. His thoughts, feelings and experiences have been documented in his seven-track EP The Path of Ratcheousness. The term ‘ratcheousness’ is a mix of the slang word ‘ratchet’, which signifies that something is ‘rough round the edges’, and the word ‘righteousness’. Cas explains: ‘You may start off in life with every righteous intention, but certain experiences scar us and bring out our “ratchet” side – the raw edge,’ he says. ‘My EP is not filtered in any way. I felt deeply that it was right for me to present the most authentic version of myself. I expressed anger, pain and empowerment. It’s the same point I make in everything I do. I want to leave people feeling uplifted.’
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