AKUA’s music reminds us to take back our autonomy

Photography by James McVickar

AKUA’s songs make me want to manifest all my dreams. Literally, on her track ‘Queen’ I imagine myself with everything I have ever dreamed of. And for the Canadian-Ghanaian singer, whose name is one given to girls born on a Wednesday in Ghana, this is something she loves to hear. After joining her university’s choir and a string of bands in Canada, AKUA became a background vocalist for Solange, spending years on the road with her. This past spring she released her debut album, Them Spirits, a personal and intimate record that deals with violence, grief, and the death of her father.

With the intimacy of the project being a thread that weaves through the whole album, it’s fitting AKUA wanted to release a visual for ‘My Body,’ an evocative track with the mantra “trust is my body” sitting at the chorus. The video for that track, premiering here today, was directed by Jazmin Garcia, a Mexican-Guatemalan-American filmmaker based in LA. The two collaborated to create an aesthetic journey, featuring a cast of queer and PoC bodies, intertwined with shots of AKUA performing in an oversized blazer, grazing her cheek with her fingers and dancing on the beach. In a world in which the word “body” feels so politicised, and at the centre of so much violence, the soothing moments of AKUA coming back to herself in this visual are liberating.

gal-dem: Where does ‘My Body’ come from? What is behind that track and the visuals for it?

AKUA: There was this specific instance where someone crossed the line with me physically and I didn’t really face it. It was something that could have been consensual and turned non-consensual. Music is such a testament to how latent topics can show their heads. I just found myself writing this song. It was initially about these physical violations to my body; I wrote it out of that place. As I sat with it [though], it started to mean a lot more to me, just in thinking about […] Trayvon Martin and the riots in Downtown LA. The way black bodies have been treated by authorities in America and institutions is a tragedy.

“Music is such a testament to how latent topics can show their heads”

The song actually feels so empowering to me, even though it comes out of these terrible and painful instances.

Talking about it is empowering. The song in itself – the words are quite vulnerable. I’m saying things like “you don’t see me”. It has a lot to do with feeling invisible and the way these power dynamics can make you feel very small. The actual writing about it was empowering, in terms of catharsis and also testimony […] There’s a feeling of it being kind of an anthem for people who are disenfranchised or marginalised, or at least have felt that way in contrast to the status quo.

What we put on our bodies and how we dress ourselves is so connected to our identities. That seems to be a theme throughout the whole video, so can you talk to me about what your look and the overall styling meant?

Everything was about subtlety and letting the song speak for itself. There was something about the feeling of being expected to exercise modesty [as a woman] in order to protect your physical body. I am wearing a bra and a suit, and the suit was about [portraying] a strong image. It’s a symbol of something that feels like an armour and a shield.

The shots of you on the beach moving and dancing are so beautiful and raw. Can you tell me about the role movement plays in your life?

It means a lot of things to me. The beach also feels like nature as a place of healing. Everyone associates it like that, and that’s the beauty of it – this pretty universal feeling of catharsis that can come with water and movement. To me, music is my main form of catharsis, but dance was what I always did growing up, and is another form of expression and processing, and taking ownership of your body on your own terms, which I think is really important. I just sort of insisted that we do something outdoors that felt very expressive and free.

“There is this idea of the way that women and so many people of colour are reduced and dehumanised – we are reduced to a physical body instead of being a person”

Where does the line “trust is my body” come from?

There is this idea of the way that women and so many people of colour are reduced and dehumanised – we are reduced to a physical body instead of being a person. In being reduced to an object or something that can be discarded comes a lack of trust – and that can be on an interpersonal level or on a societal level. It was sort of this proclamation of, “you can’t separate my personhood from my body and if you do, you don’t have me. Then you’ve lost my trust.”

I like the music because it feels like it has all these activist and radical underpinnings, but when you listen to it, it doesn’t feel like, ‘Oh, I’m going to go listen to an activist song’ or that someone couldn’t connect to it if that wasn’t their experience.

I have felt very politicised in the last few years and this record wasn’t about that, but was the beginning of me being able to put words to things that are important to me in a way that I felt didn’t feel too preach-y. Even when I was growing up, anything that felt “conscious” felt heavy-handed and intense. Those are the things I want to write about and I have been navigating the best way to write that feels authentic to me, without jamming ideas down peoples’ throats.

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And while the song doesn’t feel like it’s preaching, it is reminiscent of gospel – albeit a kind that connects to a young queer woman who feels uncomfortable in a traditional religious institution. Her live shows create the same energy, with her chanting, ethereal tracks creating a new kind of church for the marginalised.

In the era of reproductive rights and bodies being up for debate, a reminder to come back to ourselves – to believe in ourselves, in our physical beings, feels so important. And so AKUA, and ‘My Body,’ live in a new world, one in which even when bad things happen to us, we get to take back autonomy and control. A reminder to trust in our bodies.

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