akua naru by Julia Ismail August 15, 2018
Akua Naru grew up with music surrounding her entire life. Originally from New Haven, Connecticut, the now-worldwide singer frequently attended church, where music, dance, and community became a thriving, integral component in all her inspirations.
As a child, Akua became versed in many artistic channels of creativity. Poetry and short stories run through her veins, as they’ve contributed to her unique style of hip-hop.
Her hybrid-sounding singles normally feature resonating jazz behind a chorus of melodic vocals, where Akua raps lyrics visiting the minority lens of the highs related to Black female empowerment. This is most evident in her latest album, The Blackest Joy.
The Blackest Joy was worked on for nearly two years before it was released. During the process, Akua was touring, lecturing, speaking, learning and reflecting on her life in its entirety. She’s been involved in teaching workshops, holding conferences, academic committees, and concert performances. She brings her community together through the lessons she believes she is indebted to pass along.
Akua has been, and remains, an independent artist. Now on her fourth project, her albums are signed with her own label, The Urban Era, and are all available worldwide. In an interview with Kulture Hub she told me,
“The whole process took me about a year and a half. I was touring a lot, lecturing. Spending more and more time on the continent. Reflecting. Carving space in my personal life for Joy. You can hear all of that on this record.”
Akua, who’s also considered an activist and poet, as well as a musician, is one of the first people to place herself in altruistic social work, working towards a bigger vision.
Her music ties with her purpose, empowering those around her to work towards something greater, from holding healing circles and open discussion workshops in Senegal to sold out concerts in Europe. She told me,
“I do a lot of work with women and young people on the Continent. I taught at the Ahfad Women’s University in Khartoum. One project which lays on my heart was a group of women artists I worked with in Sudan. Through using the genre of hip-hop to address critical social issues and to raise awareness while centering sisterhood… we were all transformed. So much of that experience lives with me today. So much of it was rich and private and can’t be shared. It was just for us. This was a revelation that the work I am doing is transformative for both myself and others.”
Akua’s belief in unified womanhood can be found in every one of her songs. Her preceding album, The Miners Canary, spoke from a “darker” place. The Blackest Joy, however, steps into the light and shines on the blessings of Black culture.
The track “Serena” admires the beauty and power of being a woman, taking the listener through a colorful spiral of imagery, celebrating Black femininity.
Lost in the fever, got me queening like Serena, swinging like Venus, queening like Serena‘
“My Mother’s Daughter” starts off a musical number turned into a discerned narrative finding your way through the veil of womanhood through West African spiritual roots.
Living in an era where hip-hop Queens have slowly started the climb to their claim to fame, Akua sees the changes that have begun rising. Her music is never limited to one form of expression alone, playing with different sounds and managing her jumps into different styles of musical mesh.
Akua’s work has been recognized by those looking to represent the life of Black culture. In April, Akua found out she was accepted into the Nasir Jones Fellowship at Harvard, where she will be working on The Keeper Project, an “online multimedia archive” for Black women in hip-hop. Akua commented,
“We live in a patriarchy. The music industry is a microcosm of the larger structure. We have a lot of work to do to get free.”
Akua’s album is a fresh escape from the negative and a step into a more positive hallmark we take for granted.
With so many different messages assorted into 11 songs, her music is able to compel her audience into natural submission of conjoined harmony and peacefulness, driving forward the dream of equality in the voices of women in hip-hop. Akua explained,
“The new album The Blackest Joy was released this April 2018. The music is so pregnant with so much that we still have so much work to do within this album alone. I’m working on film. I’m writing a lot. Recording new music. All of this to say, there’s a lot underway.”
For young artists looking to step into the domain of the rap genre, Akua says to stay true to knowing yourself, above all else.
“Real simple. There is power in being yourself. Stay true to you first and last. The trend will fade. The curtains close. The applause will die down. You have to be committed to knowing who you are with and without it.”