Interview by Kristina Pejovski
What’s your AMMO?
Love, that’s my ammo. “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence”. That’s Martin Luther King and he pretty much says it all.
Typical, but important question, what got you into music?
I had no choice really. Everyone around me made music in one form or another. My mother was in the choir and was learning guitar when I was really young, my dad plays piano and loves his soul music. My older siblings all either sing or play instruments and then our church community in Ghana was very musical. I guess for me it later became more of a necessity because I loved the peace I felt when I expressed myself musically and couldn’t really focus that intensely on anything else.
You were born in Ghana. When did you come to the states and how has your Ghanaian background influenced you?
My family immigrated to the states and settled in Atlanta. I was later enrolled in boarding school and University in Canada and would visit when school was out. I am very influenced by all of it…from our traditions and also from just going through life discovering the city of Accra and all the crazy places we weren’t supposed to go to…trying everything for the first time. The big cities Accra and Kumasi are very loud and colorful, and the markets with different fabric and craftsmen, all influenced me greatly.
Now you’re based in Toronto. How is the music circuit in Toronto/Canada?
Toronto is a very interesting city because in my opinion it doesn’t have a regional sound that has been exported to the rest of the world. Rather there are thousands of little scenes and hubs that spawn these great artists and bands. They then move to cities like New York or London that have more of a cultural identity. It is good in a sense because it is just so rich and diverse and complex but also the downside is that globally the city is often overlooked as a real cultural force.
Your music is a fusion of many genres. Where does your inspiration stem from?
I’ve been inspired mostly by just trying to be courageous, trying to not get too comfortable with one single identity. My only rule with what I express is just to chase what feels true. Sometimes it’s not even music; sometimes it’s like picking up a certain book or an item of clothing or confronting a situation that scares me. I think that is what fuels my faith and as a result inspires me to just keep creating. I also love being in diverse cultural environments and just being open to other people’s expressions, trying to really understand it.
I love how your songs are rooted in social cause. Tell me more about that. What angers you, what gets your blood boiling?
I’m angered by the uglier parts of human nature and how easily we can reduce beauty and purity and love by being greedy and hateful toward each other and creation. It angers me when I see that, even when I’m doing that in my own life.
Afriyie is just one of those albums where every song strikes a cord.
How is it different from Lion on a Leash?
Quite different and by that I mean the process was different. Lion on a Leash was recorded on a smaller budget with me producing almost every track. For Afriyie, I worked as part of a team. Friends of mine, Josh and Marc, really know their way around the studio and the skill to help execute the sound I’d been hearing in my head for a while.
Which song on the album resonates with you the most? And why?
Depends what mood I’m in. Right now it’s warmer and I miss Accra so Weh-Weh is my jam.
Tell me how Africa has shaped your musical prowess/life philosophy?
Musically, everything started for me there. I mean, I was born and raised there so it’s hardwired. Whether at home or in school there was a constant need to perform. I was joking the other day with someone about how people don’t feel the need to pay for someone to sing at an event for example because everyone sings the same songs and people that know all these great traditional songs can sing them very well. As far as life philosophy goes it’s about God and loving people and also that sense of community.
Let’s talk about the amazing videography behind “When the Pot.” What inspired the art direction?
A BBC documentary called “This Is Ska”. The vibe is very communal, multi-racial. The director Charles Officer has a great sense for things and he sort of captures my description of my experiences in Ghanaian settings and brings that into a more current context, influenced by a clash of cultures. Charles is Jamaican and he knew exactly what I was going for with that track drawing heavily on the influence of ska and reggae music.
Most importantly, can you shake your hips like the groovy folk from the swingin’ 60s?
Yup. I’m a dancer at heart.
What musicians are currently on repeat?
Hawk House, Cody ChesnuTT, Charlotte Gainsburg
Anyone you would like to collaborate with?
I can’t really say anyone specifically ‘cause it just sort of happens. Sometimes I meet certain artists, not just in music but other fields too that spark this desire to create together. I’m always open to that.
“Ship and the Globe” is a beautiful song. I’m really curious, where was it filmed?
That was filmed a few hours north of Toronto.
What’s your strangest character attribute? Come on, we all have one!
Not sure, talking to myself about myself, does that even count as strange?
What is the craziest music-related predicament you’ve gotten yourself into?
Good or bad. I used to make beats early on and I was working on demos with this group from the States that were definitely involved in some shady business. We’d go in to studios to schedule some time and they’d come out later plotting to rob the studio. Had to get out of that one fast.
Do you come to NY often? What places do you like to frequent in the states?
I try to go to NY as often as I can. It’s irresistible but most of my family and some friends from childhood live in Atlanta so that’s always been more like home.
What about Toronto? Where should we visit?
Visit Kensington Market before it disappears. Also go to High Park. Go to Accents bookstore and spend some time in Eglinton West so you don’t feel too much like you’re seeing only the manicured places.
What’s the last show or concert you went to?
I saw a Toronto band called Highs during the NXNE music festival and they were really good.
I try to take pleasure with as little guilt as possible.
What’s one important life lesson you’d like to leave us with?
Keep a pure heart. Feed your imagination.
Find out more from Kae Sun at , www.kaesunmusic.com