SEVEN Questions with Kae Sun:
Kae Sun, born Kwaku Darko-Mensah Jr., is a Ghanaian-Canadian singer-songwriter. He immigrated from Ghana to Canada in his teens after graduating from Achimota School in Accra where he first started performing and writing music. He then studied Multimedia and Philosophy at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
Photo by Yaa Annobil
Kae Sun's albums and EPS include Outside the Barcode, Lion on a Leash and Ghost Town Prophecy. His new album is Afriyie.
SEVEN Questions with Kae Sun:
1. As a Canadian with strong connections to Ghana, I feel particularly compelled by this song, as it seems to have a foot in both countries (the "shore to shore to shore" line in particular, as we are all taught in grade school that Canada borders three great oceans). Pushing further, lines like "We one blood after all and here we are" [emphasis mine] seem to move the song's focus wider, to a global, borderless society. In many ways this song seems like your ode to Ghana and to Canada all at once, and through that an ode to much larger, and more universal themes. Does any of this resonate with you? Did you write this as a Ghana-Canada hybrid, or did you aim to write for one or the other "home" and the other one just slipped in?
I find my songs are more from the gut and heart than intellectual and perhaps because I myself live between these two, in some ways distant and in some ways similar cultures, it just comes out in the songs and poems I write.
2. "Blackstar Rising" opens with what sounds like the ocean lapping against the shore. What role does the Atlantic, and the shoreline of Accra specifically, play in your vision of the city and the country? When you hear that ocean rolling at the beginning of the track, does it bring up memories in you? If so, what?
One of the things I wish I had done as a boy in Accra was take long walks on the beach at night. I didn't hear it as ocean lapping against a shore but I like that imagery a lot. I like water and I like night, I think Accra is at it's best at night. So now that you say it I have memories of the city but more than that a yearning to take a long stroll on a beach at night. I know that doesn't answer your question at all, ha-ha.
3. You open your new album, Afriyie, with "Blackstar Rising". What message do you hope this sends to your listener about the album?
Again, at the risk of sounding very pretentious, I like to think of my music more as a mosaic, more like emotional snapshots and not as holding any rigid message or interpretation. So I think just like you heard the Ocean in the song, some other listener will hear something else and I get a big kick out of that so I wouldn't wanna ruin it with my own ideas. In the end it's really to get a response, hopefully it's a creative, inspiring one.
4. Acoustic versions of many of the songs on Afriyie, though not "Blackstar Rising", were previously released on your 2011 EP Outside the Barcode. Those songs were written after your most recent return to Ghana and recorded in one day upon your arrival back in Ontario. The Afriyie versions are quite different. Can you talk about the journey those songs took from Outside the Barcode to Afriyie, and why you made the choices you made to transform the songs as you did?
Sure. Well it started with playing them live with a band on tour. The song Firefly Dance [from Outside the Barcode didn't make it 'cause the band version didn't bring any depth to the acoustic version. It sounded like I was doing a bad cover of my own tune. The ones that have that got re-worked for Afriyie are the songs that felt like they could grow and become bigger in sound. Also I worked with two amazing producer/engineers who knew how to make all this, technical and also objective musical advice.
5. More generally, I was wondering if you could speak to how those Outside the Barcode songs inform or shape the Afriyie album as a whole? Are they simply one of the composite parts, or are they the centre? Is Afriyie, in its totality, as much a love song to Ghana as Outside the Barcode was?
Yes, very much. Mind you it's Ghana filtered heavily through my imagination and emotions. I'm not a nationalist so it's not about patriotism at all i think it's more direct; This is where I grew up Accra, this is where I'm living Toronto, and these are the experiences I'm having and the people I'm having them with.
6. It's been four years (!) since we last profiled you here on OGOV. Over that period, how many times have you returned to Ghana? How has your sense of the country changed with each visit?
Three times I think. The first visit was the best by far. You can't beat the novelty of a home-coming and being a community of artists - big shout-out to Panji Anoff. Other times were amazing as well but I had to interact with Government institutions so I got that foul taste in my mouth again, ha-ha.
7. In those four years you've also spent a good deal more time writing about Ghana for a North American audience. Over that time how, if at all, has your sense of how to write for a global audience about your homeland, changed? Have you found that certain things work and others don't? Is there a particular approach that you find resonates best?
The biggest change in approach for me came when I realized that it's important to tell these stories to an audience of friends. The audience, however you imagine them, should be the company you want to keep. The North American audience is no different from any audience and they are not so different from myself in so far as we're all trying to live and make meaning out of existence. That realization freed me up a lot. Now I just aim to embrace vulnerability and write courageously for faceless humans, past, present and future.
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