Akua Naru was at The Lantern last month – a spoken word artist that has been on my radar for only a year or so after a friend compared one of my songs to hers (massive compliment) but who I thought I’d never actually get to see live. Originally from Connecticut, US she now lives in Germany – after seeing her show I’m inclined to think it was an escape…
I wasn’t sure what to expect of a live music show because I’d only heard her as a spoken word artist. I knew she played with a band but what would it be, instrumentals in-between poems? A slow, soulful, hip-hop vibe? Well, you never know until you get there.
On a pure performance vibe it was intense from the beginning. The set was put together mindfully, opening up with easily accessible hip-hop before moving on to her most popular song in the middle of the set ‘How Does It Feel’ – always a brave move. There’s a danger as a performer that once you play your crowd pleaser, the crowd starts to peter out – but it didn’t.
In fact when she played that song, the crowd changed. We evolved from shuffling, bum shaking, good timers to alertly thoughtful listeners. When she played this song such a huge wave of emotion went over me that before I knew it tears were streaming down my face.
That’s how music affects me – it’s so deeply connected with my emotions that sometimes I don’t know I need to cry until something starts and I break. I recorded the whole thing even though I knew it was gonna be a long one (excuse the shaky hand – arm workout!) because I wanted to capture that moment.
That song changed the tone of the night – everyone was ready to listen a little harder, feel a little deeper.
Akua Naru started to explain the reasons for certain songs that she played from her new album The Miners Canary (click to buy her album off bandcamp – it’s worth it) is political, musical and thoughtful. (Black &) Blues People is the song she sang straight after dropping some truth and spreading the word that America’s problems are not new and they are not confined to America. Technology has forced the world to wake up and now blatant disrespect for life can no longer be ignored – things have to start to change.
Here’s what she had to say:
I thought she might do a half hearted 45 minute show, I’d heard it had been a long tour, but Akua Naru stayed on that stage for a whole 2 hours and not once did her energy dwindle.
Initially I took the effort she put into connecting with audience as an ‘Americanism’ but by the end of the show it all made sense. She needed to open up that level of communication with the audience so that they trusted her. Trusted that she wasn’t there to make anyone feel guilty but that equally what she was telling them was the truth, a truth that is too dangerous to ignore.
At the end of the set she said she would be outside with vinyls and merchandise (I always feel bad for artists when they say this because people generally tend to smile as they head straight towards the exit) and no sooner had the band finished playing, almost everyone was outside waiting to thank her for the experience she had brought to them.
I overheard a girl in front of me who was almost at the point of emotional explosion because she said it was the first time she had been made to fully understand the issue. It was a discussion she had always felt she couldn’t be a part of and it made her turn a blind eye. Akua told her that the first step is to listen, listen to the stories to understand the experience and then form your opinion – but that she had already taken her first step by going to that concert and staying until the end.
I left that concert feeling like my heart had been torn and mended all in a two hour period – I laughed and cried, shared her pain but also glimpsed some hope. Because if you look past all the A List celebrities who are more interested in money than morals, you sometimes get to see those who are left. Using their gift to try and change the world – music never sounded so bittersweet.