In the modern game footballers are well-oiled machines. The level of ability and dedication to physical fitness is at an all-time high and growing exponentially. Sometimes it can be easy to forget that there are human beings underneath the shell of pure athleticism.
Under the pseudonym Way 45, Rafael Leão is expressing himself outside of the world of football and thinks others should to. The musical venture is heavily inspired by his father and aims to bring many artists together.
PENALTY caught up with Leão to talk creating under a different name, the through line between music and football, and the importance of creativity to the modern footballer.
How does music as an outlet aid your performance on the pitch?
Being a professional athlete comes with immense pressure and stress, both on and off the field. Music provides me with a way to unwind and relax, allowing me to release any built-up tension and recharge my mind and body. This, in turn, helps me approach training and matches with a clear and focused mindset.
And also, creating and listening to music fuels my passion and creativity, which directly translates into my soccer performance. Music has a unique way of inspiring me, helping me overcome obstacles, and pushing my limits to become a better player.
How important was your father’s time as a semba singer on your artistic voice?
My father's time as a semba singer had a profound impact on my artistic voice and musical journey. Growing up in a household filled with semba and other Angolan and African music genres, I was exposed to the rich cultural heritage and rhythmic melodies. Semba is not just a music genre; it's a representation of Angolan culture, history, and identity. By immersing myself in my father's music, I developed a deep connection with my African roots.
Was your father an important figure in your pursuit of footballing excellence as well?
Absolutely, my father played a crucial role in my pursuit of footballing excellence as well. His support, guidance, and encouragement were instrumental in shaping me as both a person and a soccer player. Sometimes, actually, most of the time, pursuing a career in professional sports can be challenging, especially with the pressures and uncertainties that come with it. My father served as a pillar of emotional support, offering encouragement during both victories and setbacks.
His belief in my abilities bolstered my confidence and resilience on the field. And over that, my father taught me about the importance of humility, respect, and perseverance, values that shaped my character and interactions with others on and off the pitch.
What made you choose to release music under a pseudonym?
As a well-known athlete, my public persona is primarily associated with sports. I wanted to explore my passion for music without overshadowing my footballing career or facing excessive scrutiny from the media and fans. By using a pseudonym, I could create a clear separation between my identities as a musician and a soccer player, allowing me to express myself freely without unnecessary pressure or expectations.
Being Way 45 provided me with a blank canvas to experiment, take creative risks, and evolve as an artist, without the weight of preconceived notions about my abilities. By adopting a pseudonym, I could begin my music career humbly, just like any other aspiring artist.
You’ve chosen to team up and platform a host of other artists, is collaboration/teamwork the through line between football and music that makes you love both of them so much?
Absolutely, collaboration and teamwork are the throughlines that make me love both football and music so much. Football is the ultimate team sport, and success on the pitch heavily relies on effective collaboration. As a player, I understand the importance of working together with my teammates, communicating, and coordinating our efforts to achieve a common goal. The camaraderie and shared experiences with my teammates have created strong bonds that extend beyond the field. Similarly, music is not just a solo endeavour, it often involves collaboration with other musicians, producers, and creatives. Coming together to create music fosters mutual respect among artists, pushes me to strive for excellence, and continually improves my skills.
What do you want people to take away, or feel, when listening to My Life in Each Verse?
I want them to have a deeply personal and emotional experience. This album is a reflection of my life's journey, and I hope it resonates with listeners on a profound level. Each song encourages listeners to reflect on their own lives, experiences, and personal growth. I hope it inspires moments of contemplation, where they ponder their journey, successes, challenges, and the lessons they've learned along the way.
How important is it for the modern footballer to have interests and creative expression outside of the world of football?
It is incredibly important. Pursuing interests beyond football provides an outlet for players to unwind, de-stress, and maintain mental well-being. Football is a high-pressure profession, and having other hobbies or creative pursuits can help players find balance and cope with the demands of the sport. Creative expression outside of football can serve as a source of inspiration and motivation. Players can draw from their hobbies and experiences to find new ways to approach challenges on the pitch and to fuel their passion for the game. And I should add that football careers are relatively short. Having other interests and creative outlets can open doors to potential post-football career opportunities, such as in music, media, business, or other fields.
Should the public be more accepting of footballers who want to pursue other interests? Seeing them as human beings as well as elite athletes?
Absolutely. Footballers, like all individuals, have a multitude of interests and passions. Each player has unique qualities and talents, and embracing their passions allows them to express their true selves. When fans see their favourite footballers pursuing other interests, it can inspire them to do the same. Footballers can become role models not only for their sporting achievements but also for how they embrace their diverse passions.
What’s next for WAY 45?
I am currently focused on the promotion of my fresh new album, "My Life in Each Verse" but I'm also actively working in the studio with my talented team from 608 Records. We are exploring new ideas, experimenting with different sounds, and collaborating with other artists.