Have a walk onto the docks in Nantes in mid-winter, and you will hear musical waves spreading beyond the Atlantic ocean. Between the Hudson and the Loire rivers on this February 18th 2015, there was no one to see but an Hip Hop female artist : Akua Naru. This picture leaves you confused, doesn’t it ? So, stop here for a few minutes to come and discover a citizen of the world whose humbleness is equal only to her talent.
First, let’s talk about your album. Why talking about a love story of a West African immigrant couple, deeply in love and in the midst of a cultural conflict ?
Because why not ?! (laughs). Actually, when I began a conversation with Terence Nance (US director and producer, ndlr) about the short film, we wanted to do a video. It was for a song that is really important on the album. Actually, in the album, I have four love songs, because this is just the experience that I’ve had in my life the last two years as I was working on this album so this romantic partnership, this theme of love is something you’ve found explored in the album. It’s also a kind of thing I love to watch and we wanted to do it in the South of France. We could have picked anywhere but I really like France.
You went to Marseille, didn’t you ?
Yeah, because I thought doing this in Paris would have been a little bit too cliché and Marseille is also a beautiful city, very multicultural and because my album portrays a black female protagonist, you have to have that in the film so we wanted to go into the South African community and see who could portray this character.
I would say you are a beautiful mixture of modernity and traditions. « Traditions » is a word you repeat a lot in your interviews. You also said that Hip hop was a mixture of those components : funk, soul, jazz. Is it the reason why you asked so many people to collaborate with you ? (Her album is a 17 track jazz-inspired live hip hop album featuring legendary drummer Bernard Purdie, Cody ChesnuTT, Trumpeter Christian Scott, Ben L’Oncle Soul, Daru Jones, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Fetsum, Sa-Roc, Dynasty, among others.)
Yeah, the thing is it just happened that way. I did the album before with my band, Digflo. For this new album, I had a few things that I decided very early on before : I wanted to work and invite a variety of different musicians, I wanted to have live sounds, to produce the album myself, and ask some amazing and talented musicians to contribute on a few tracks.
How do you invite people on your clips ? Are they friends of yours or people you met on the streets ?
I did those clips them a few years ago. I had a camera and I thought « this camera is so dope ». But now I look back, it really wasn’t ! It was a cheap camera, I was just travelling and be like « oh I like this place » so I grabbed the camera and then I rapped. (On the video clips ndlr) it was just different people. It could be easily these people standing on their windows, my mother went on a video clip, some family members…
Let’s talk about your short film now. I read that Yohann Cornu is going to produce your film and that this French guy distributed thanks to Damned Films a historical documentary named Africa, blood and beauty directed by Anastasia et Sergey Yastreb and released in 2012 and narrated by Lambert Wilson : it is about tribes in Africa who protect themselves against globalisation. Had you seen his documentary when you chose this collaboration or had you met Yohann before ?
The thing is lots of things is doing is in French, he’s also done some stuff in Brazil in Portugese and I cannot follow because I don’t speak French nor do I speak Portugese but I know him as a person, I was introduced to him through Terence (Nance, US director and producer, ndlr) because we decided we wanted to do the film in the South of France and we were looking for the perfect producer and I met him. He’s a really special person, and I wouldn’t say that if it was not the truth ; he’s a very special human being, I’m saying special like extremely kind-hearted, a beautiful person, very deep, very interesting, just the kind of person I wanted to cross. I really think it was just fate we came together. He really believe what I’m doing and I believe what he’s doing, we’re a whole team so I’m really looking forward to it. We have somebody from here to make it happen.
I learnt you wanted to apply on time for for selection at a number of film festivals. Are you thinking of the Cannes festival for instance ? And what audience do you want to target with this short film ?
Listen, I don’t want to divulge (laughs) but in terms of festivals, whatever festival we can apply to, we will and I think we have a good chance, I’m 100% sure (laughs). Terence is a genius, Yoann is incredible and people don’t think too badly about myself so..We want to target everybody. The people who follow my music will probably have an interest in seeing the film and also the people who follow Terence.
Let’s go back to the title of your album : when I looked up the definition of « The miner’s canary » on internet, I read it was an allusion to caged canaries that miners would carry down into the mine tunnels with them. If dangerous gases leaked into the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners. So I was wondering if you were the miner or the canary ?
You know what ? That’s a good question ! I think I’m both but more the canary than the miner..it depends because the miner is also the person who has to do the work, the miner is a metaphor for the world.
But the canary alerts the miners so is your album an alert to your listeners about problems of today’s society ?
Yeah, the canary is a symbol for many things. She alerts who’s to danger, she could also be a sign of hope. The question is « between lies and the equivalence of surrounding her fate, does she survive the mine ?», that’s the question, and I think it’s a metaphor, a space for me as a black woman to tell the story the people into the mine why we survive it !
And is this metaphor call for a political involvement ?
Well, there’s a time for political movement going on right on because people are waking up. A call has already been made. I’m just a part of one of the people who try to find to answer that call in my way.
Usually, you’re compared to Queen Latifah or Lauryn Hill. I wouldn’t say that. I would rather compare you to Maya Angelou because of the title of your album reminded me Maya’s poem, I know why the Caged Bird sing or even Angela Davis (who fought for black civil rights, ndlr). Indeed, I read that it is important for you to convey a message through your music as Maya or Angela used to do in their own field.
Thank you ! Maya passed away last year, therefore that got me thinking about certain things and it was due to debt to write a song for a writer I love called Toni Morrison, a song whose title is eponymous on the album. I think that these are women who wrote for black Americans, they wrote to us, they wrote for us and I’m trying to do the same in my music.
Have you ever heard about hip hop education or even Science Genius founded by GZA and Chris Emdin ? Would you be interested in taking part into such a project ?
Yes. I do this kind of work when I have time. For example, sometimes I go to high school classrooms and do poetry workshops, also at universities. For example, when we are on tour and we are about to have a day or two off, it depends on where we are, if there is time, I’m trying to give women chats or courses on social media, on music, we talk about that kind of things. It’s always awesome, especially I really appreciate the moments that I have when it’s just women because the way that we share is really powerful and it is amazing how hip hop creates this space for all of that.
Akua Naru’s new album, The Miner’s Canary, was released on February 20th and is available on Bandcamp here below:
Bonus: don’t miss this footage of Akua Naru rocking the crowd at Le Ferrailleur in Nantes for the last Hip Opsession festival.