her journey aflame: 5 powerful thoughts from international hip hop star akua naru

April 8, 2013

When I first heard “The Mo(u)rning” by Akua Naru with Drea d’Nur, I felt like the song was holding me in its arms. That was Akua doing what appears to come so effortlessly, giving voice to women’s interior lives in a way that is powerful, feminine and sincere. As she puts it: ”We are so often talked about, but we are never humanized and heard. We are almost never in first person.” It’s no wonder that Akua receives so much praise from the likes of OkayPlayer and cultural scholars including Tricia Rose who says she is carrying “the torch for global Black music” and Dr. Mark Naison who describes her as: “a hip hop artist with the flow and dexterity of Rakim, the poetic brilliance of Lauryn Hill, and the ability to invoke, through [her] art, the full weight of Black women’s history the way Nina Simone or Toni Morrison does.” Yes, we agree, Akua is all that.

Written by Kathryn Buford, AFROPUNK Contributor

Photography credit: David Doenges

via LiveUnchanied for

An international hip hop artist, Akua’s travels include China, India, Jordan, Ghana and Zimbabwe, where she is currently touring. Of her journeys, Akua says: “Traveling and creating music with people from different parts of the world changes the music itself, it becomes a blend of different genres, it has become hip hop and more.” She is currently based in Cologne, Germany where she likes the eclectic music scene and support for local artists.

When I saw Akua’s live performance of The Journey Aflame,” my soul said “wow.” With the perfect verses over the perfect beats, she reminds you of what you already know about enduring racism, misogyny, and greed: this shit is killing us. As real as it gets, Akua’s music is also full of hope, bliss and love – especially self-love. My favorite lyrics from “The Mo(u)rning” is “self-love is the very first romance.”

If music is your food, Akua’s sound isn’t the instant microwaveable stuff that tastes good, but isn’t good for you. This is music for your palette and your vitality. With Live Unchained, Akua shares her creative process, critique of women’s representation in hip hop, what she wants black women to know about themselves and what it means to live unchained.

What was the creative process like for the title track for The Journey Aflame? I think it’s very powerful and it really resonated with me.

Thank you. The Journey Aflame was a song that I was longing to hear, but didn’t exist. I wanted to tell the story of African American women from across pre-colonial Africa to the present day. It has often been the case that others have told our stories, and I felt that it would be great to have hip hop narrative from our perspective. Especially since today our bodies are so often seen and used to decorate hip-hop videos. We are so often talked about, but we are never humanized and heard. We are almost never in first person. I had a few conversations with my grandmothers about their experiences. I often have conversations with my sisters and friends about their experiences, and I want to bridge those gaps, tell the truth about our joy, our pain.

I prayed for this song one day, and it woke me up in the middle of the night, and it was just pouring out of me. It was as if I could watch the first and second verse before my eyes, like watching a movie. I wanted to glide across generations, and show how the past is linked to “the now.” I wanted to talk about how we felt: the anger, the rage, the love…what did we feel? What are we feeling? We are real human beings, flesh and blood, we have felt so much, and I wanted to create a narrative to explore our pain.

As an international artist, what do you think it is about your music that makes it appeal to so many people?

I haven’t yet had the chance to locate my music as universal or local. This question marks the first time I’m thinking about it…When I write and create, it’s first personal. I am just writing what I feel I need to express or communicate. I need to be honest with myself first. I feel that if I have the courage to speak my truth, then people might feel it.

At the end of the day, we are all experiencing life as human beings. There is just one experience. When I am telling the truth, someone, somewhere, will connect. This is the beauty of art. It reminds us that we are all connected, that we are human, that someone, somewhere has felt what you feel, has experienced what you are experiencing.

How would you like to see black women’s representation in hip hop change? What do you think it will take for us to get there?

I would like to see black women represented as the human beings that we are in real life. I would like for the negative dialogue and vocabulary (bitch, hoe, etc.) about and around us to change. This is not limited to hip hop, hip hop is just a microcosm of something larger. I would also like to see more female emcees get on the mic and tell their stories.

I think that the Internet is a wonderful tool, and has given a lot of artists a platform. Using the internet as a tool, I think it might take for people to mobilize in support of artists who they feel are talented and positive representatives, this might show the industry that there is a market, and could challenge record companies to move away from those old oppressive narratives and representations.

What do you think is most important that black women know about themselves?

There are so many things. I would say that it is important that we know that we are beautiful, in our skin, with our hair, and our African features, our hearts, just as we are. That it is important that we have the platform and courage to tell our stories. It is also very important that we support our sisters at all costs.

Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?

Living unchained means living life deliberately, conscious and aware, not just simply surviving. Free.