Akua Naru’s long awaited new album The Blackest Joy drops at the end of this month, with Bristol being one of the first stops on her album tour. It’s the MC’s first release since 2015’s The Miner’s Canary and her second foray into self producing and self releasing on her own independent label, The Urban Era.
Akua Naru blazed into the pages of hip hop history with her groundbreaking debut album A Journey Aflame in 2011, a substantial 14-track album with three interludes spanning the realms of classic hip hop, jazz, soul and blues, with traditional African rhythmic influences trickling through. With a flow to rival any hip hop great and the propheticism of a poet, Akua’s entire body of work speaks from her experience as an African American women in a world that would try to quiet her.
With a flow to rival any hip hop great and the propheticism of a poet, Akua’s entire body of work speaks from her experience as an African American women in a world that would try to quiet her
Now settled in Cologne, the MC explains why after a successful first album she began producing her own beats for both The Miner’s Canary and The Blackest Joy, and whether she can say she’s grown as a producer from album two to three:
‘Mainly it was about me wanting to find ways to really communicate what I wanted to say, not only through words but also sonically. I wanted to really put my imprint on the sound and let it really be me. It was a progression for me to grow and see who I could be in this role.
‘I don’t know how well I can measure my own growth while I’m still in the body of it. I would need like 20 years to look back on this experience and then I could say, “Yes, I grew a lot in that time”, but in the moments that I experience daily as I work on music, there are some things that became easier for me, and I guess that means that I have grown.’
Akua Naru released the first track from the forthcoming album last October, My Mother’s Daughter. Featuring traditional Mina vocals and a heavier African influence than we’ve seen in Akua’s previous releases, the video for the track opens with a subtitle ‘For the ancestors’. However, ‘for’ is not to be misinterpreted, Akua makes it clear that she doesn’t need to speak on behalf of anyone.
‘We always have voices, it’s just that there are institutions and people who are committed to trying to silence us. But the voice has always been there. I’m in this body so I feel that it’s very important to speak from what it means to live this experience. They say, “Speak, even when your voice shakes”.
We always have voices, it’s just that there are institutions and people who are committed to trying to silence us
‘I’ve had wonderful experiences and I’ve found that people have shown up in the midnight hour when I speak. My music is always about my people and I feel that that’s very important, but there has never been a time in history where we didn’t have a voice or when things weren’t spoke, it’s just that there has always been resistance; that’s the constant, which is really unfortunate, but it is what it is.’
Talking about the forthcoming album as a whole, My Mother’s Daughter sets a good example for what’s to follow. As always, the record will set forth an exploration of Akua’s own story.
‘It centres black women’s experience in the diaspora. This album has a lot more African influence. I study history, so there’s always conversation about where we’ve been, who we were and what that means as it collapses itself on the present moment, every day, right now.
With rap, it’s line for line. I could be bringing you into a space where you experience so much from one line to the next, metaphor to metaphor, simile to simile
‘Spiritually it’s about love, it’s about a pursuit towards justice, it’s about navigating the politics of our current reality, it’s about carving a space to try and understand what the future looks like, it’s about a lot. With rap, it’s line for line. I could be bringing you into a space where you experience so much from one line to the next, metaphor to metaphor, simile to simile.’
Hip hop and jazz, the two most overt genres that Akua’s music occupies, is traditionally protest music, and dissention is something she appears to actively embody in her work.
‘There are times where I have a statement that I specifically want to convey. There are some songs where that was very important – I knew it might be provocative – but I had to say it, because it needed to be said for whatever reason. There are other times when I’m just writing and whatever is coming out is coming out.
‘I’m a black woman making hip hop music, living in this world – just me waking up and opening my eyes, that’s a protest right there, that’s resistance. Just to love, just to laugh, is an act of resistance.’
I’m a black woman making hip hop music, living in this world – just me waking up and opening my eyes, that’s a protest right there, that’s resistance
It’s pretty clear that Akua Naru is an artist that creates from a need to create, but on what she hopes people will take from her music. ‘I’m happy to know that people are listening. And if people can listen closely and really try to understand the world that I’ve created within this music and if they relate to it, that’s a blessing to me.’
The Blackest Joy is released on 27 April, just a few days before her Bristol show on 2 May at The Fleece, where the audience will be among the first to hear the album played live.
‘We’ve never played the new album before to date, so by the time I get to Bristol it will be maybe the fourth time we’ve played it, so that’s going to be interesting. You can expect to hear new music, you’re going to hear some hip hop, some jazz and everything in between. I’m bringing the fire to the UK. This is what I really love to do, so I’m going to come and just bring everything on the stage.’