ICYMI: 2022 final quarter updates

A few things happened in the latter part of 2022 that I had something to do with. If you don’t follow me on social media, you might have missed some of them, so here’s a quick wrap-up.

Newsletter!

Ironically, this blog post is more like a newsletter post than the posts in my actual newsletter, which has migrated to Substack. Maybe you’ll want to check it out. My latest issue was about the conundrum of qualifying for opportunities as an emerging writer. Subscribe if you like it!


Anthologies!

At the end of last year, not one, but two books to which I have contributed stories, made it onto Brittle Paper’s 100 Notable African Books of 2022!

The first is Tsoo Boi, published by Tampered Press, and available for purchase on BookNook and through Paystack. My contribution is a short story called “Golden Rings,” featuring a protest in Accra and unexpected metaphysical events.

The second is Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction, published by Tor.com and available on all your major book-buying platforms. Hopefully, at some point, it will be physically available in Acca. I’ve been working on that, but it seems shipping has been endlessly delayed. But at least, if you’re in Ghana, you can still cop the Kindle version or listen on Audible. My contribution in this anthology is a Doctor Who-inspired short story called “Exiles of Witchery”, set in northern Ghana and featuring a trio of badass female protagonists.


Music!

I had the privilege of being a featured artist on two tracks on my friend and collaborator DJ Yamz’s debut album, 27 in Accra Town. You’ll find me briefly on U 4 Smoke Well as well as Champion No Easy (which is my favorite track on the entire album, if I do say so myself. It’s so groovy, and every feature is fire. Ahem).


Poetry!

The Canon Podcast, one of our favorite online platforms for poetry in Ghana, did a series in honor of Ama Ata Aidoo. I featured on an episode, with an original poem, read out loud. You can check out my episode, as well as the other episodes in the series. I’m glad we are giving Auntie Ama her flowers now, because that is a living legend.


Book Deal!

In case you missed it, folks, I will soon be a published author of my own book! I recently announced that Android Press will be publishing my novella, The Year of Return, later this year (beware, though: the publication date may change). Brittle Paper reported on the deal in this press release, and I can’t lie, I was so gassed when I came across the article. My face! On BrittlePaper! I won’t talk too much though, because heaven knows there’s much more work to be done and many more stories to write. So, for now, we say cheers, and then we get right back to work.

Happy new year, everyone!

-Akotz the Spider Kid 🕸️

Accra Might Just Have a Sound Problem

When I first interrupted my schedule to write bullet points down for what would become this very blog post, I was sitting in the outdoor space of a very bougie café in Accra. Aesthetically, my surroundings were serene, full of enough vegetation to fill a garden. The little ornamentations from various cultures and eras should have seemed mismatched, but they came together well to form an artsy and antique vibe that ought to have inspired any patron to tap deeply into a sense of peace and calm. But from inside, where the confections display and the coffee machine were situated, employees of this establishment were jamming loudly to aggressively energetic Afrobeats music.

On any other day, this might have been just another personal annoyance. On this day, however, it was a struggle to hold myself back either from breaking down into tears or breaking out into screams. I held myself together and did neither. Instead, I spent a few minutes looking around and wondering if I was insane.

Somewhere to my left, another patron was deep in concentration, working on what I imagined to be some academic assignment. She alternated studiously between her laptop and a fat textbook with a level of focus I could only aspire to. She didn’t seem to have any qualms with the café’s music, aggravating my anxiety that perhaps my inability to function amidst sonic distraction was a personal deficiency. Then again, she had headphones on—probably serving her with whatever sounds she’d curated to help, rather than hinder, her own productivity. An effective strategy, except for those of us whose generative ability relies often on silence.

Natural preference for silence aside, circumstances within my household had cultivated within me, over the course of maybe a year, a nearly visceral abhorrence for too-loud music. A member of my household—one with admittedly deep psychological issues—had adopted a habit of blasting music on their unfortunately formidable loudspeaker at thought-drowning levels throughout their waking hours.

By the time I found myself at the bougie café, I had already spent at least one year trying to figure out how to do basic things such as sleep at night, nap in the daytime due to lack of sleep in the night-time, wake up at dawn to get writing done before work, and more, while loud music disrupted all my attempts to do these things. In seasons when I wasn’t required to go to an office, I found myself needing places to go every day—a café, a friend’s place—to get work done or otherwise preserve my sanity. And so every time I left my house to escape the noise, only to be met once more with noise, it inspired in a me a violent desire to yell, cry, or strangle someone.

The day I went to the bougie café was one of those days that I started out with no intentions to leave the house (or spend money, for that matter), but I had to do so anyway, due to unbearable frustration with the sonic terrorism in my house. I wanted a quiet space to think and write, and thus decided to place myself in a serene environment.

Only to be met with aesthetically incongruous, louder-than-necessary Afrobeats music.

The bougie café in question has actively marketed itself as somewhere people can go to work and concentrate. Visually, they’ve created a unique, conducive environment to do just that. Sonically, however—particularly on the day I was losing my mind—I feared they had lost the plot somewhat.

I was near tears as I called an employee’s attention and asked for the music to be turned down. Guilt for ruining someone else’s good time warred with the thought that as a paying customer, I had at least some right to say something if the environment wasn’t allowing me to achieve what I came there—and spent money—to do.

My heart rate, which had been building up to anxiety attack levels, slowed back down once the waiter fulfilled my request, and I finally had the presence of mind to write. And instead of working on the fiction piece I’d intended to tackle, I started to write this. Because I am truly concerned that Accra might have a sound problem. Or several.

City vs. Culture

Accra is obviously a city and as such, is plagued with the sounds of one. Since being traumatized by the situation in my household, I’ve become hypersensitive to the fact that Accra is rarely, if ever, quiet. There are bars in the night-time, construction work in the daytime, street preachers in the early morning, traffic in the afternoons and evenings, sounds from a primary school’s assembly at the top of the day, and do not get me started on the seemingly countless churches.

While it may be true that cities are generally louder than villages, suburbs and countrysides, I think there are certain things that are peculiar to Accra because of the culture of its people and what we allow to be considered normal. On an individual and social level, we do not pay critical attention to sound, and we treat sound culture with a nonchalance that gives birth to various types of dissonance and cacophony, both of which we continue not to care about as they are happening.

Sonic Mismatch

One type of dissonance is the case of the visual aesthetic not matching the sonic aesthetic.

In the past year, a new Mexican restaurant opened up in Labone. I have since patronized it once. (I still have not forgiven it for taking the spot of my formerly favorite café in the area, but that is another story.) I had ordered food by phone and was arriving to pick it up. Once I left my car, I was struck by sound much more powerfully than by sight. A DJ had set up station in the outdoor seating area, and was playing some of Afrobeats’ latest, greatest hits. Just like they might be doing in any other regular eatery in Accra.

But as soon as I stepped into the restaurant proper, it was obvious that this wasn’t any other regular eatery in Accra. I was impressed by the striking, distinctive Mexican-themed decor. Vibrant, consistent, and excellent for visual and aesthetic marketing. The playlist immediately struck me as blatantly incongruous. The next thought that followed was: I’m probably the only person in here who even gives a damn about sonic congruity. The waiters who weren’t busy at the moment—and even some who were—were having the time of their lives to the DJ’s set.

While the employees’ joy was entertaining to witness, I considered how much more impressed I would have been if the first sounds I ever heard from this Mexican restaurant were some dangerously sexy Spanish guitar riffs. It wouldn’t have to be Mariachi music. It wouldn’t even have to be strictly Mexican. If I’d walked in to Snow tha Product spitting bars over the speakers, or even the delightful weirdness of Rosalía, my mind would have been blown. I allowed myself to consider that maybe this particular DJ was there by special request for an anomalous event, and that maybe if I came on another day, there would be evidence of equal effort put into the curation of sound as to the visual and culinary themes. Alas, due in part to lack of funds, I haven’t been back since.

On the day I nearly lost my mind in the bougie café, it wasn’t just the volume that got to me. It was also the fact that the music wasn’t making sense according to the visual environment nor to the reasons the patrons were there. A cursory glance around the place would show you people looking intently into laptops or books, or talking to each other. There are places in Accra we go to jam, and this café was never designed to be one of them.

It seems to me that various new and bougie establishments in Accra are throwing a lot of energy into being visually attractive and Instagrammable, and may not be throwing nearly enough energy into sonically aligning with their own chosen brand/vibe, or the needs of their clientele.

Another type of dissonance is the case of sonic interludes actively disrupting the current or appropriate emotional energy.

As a poetry lover and performer, I have personal beef with DJs who do not pay attention to vibe and context when playing for events like poetry shows or album launches. It just doesn’t make sense for me to be regaled with some heartfelt original track about daddy issues and, sandwiched between that and the next emotionally packed performance about re-learning how to breathe post-trauma, the DJ is regaling me with a track about what some guy will do if he catches some girl’s backside. When I hear a devastating poem about sexual exploitation, I want to have the minute before the next poem to just digest and meditate on the content I just consumed. But the DJ will choose that moment to disrupt my emotional processing by playing some dancehall track that the current context simply will not allow me to enjoy.

Imagine what it would be like if we curated the sound accompanying our events—with the informed cooperation of the DJs working that event—to actually fit the event? Imagine a culture in which sound workers found it an exciting challenge to pick the next most appropriate song based on the mood after a performance. Imagine what would happen if it was normal for sound workers to think on their feet and be as creative as they possibly can because they enjoy the work they are (hopefully!) getting paid for and want to dutifully serve the people they are responsible for entertaining.

There are some experiences that would be more immersive and emotionally congruent if we attached greater care and creativity to the music we choose to play, and where, and when.

The Louder, the Litter

A few months ago, I visited my friend in Mamprobi, and on (or around) the same street, there were four different churches, all of which all seemed to be in competition over who could be the most obnoxiously loud on the same night. Perhaps each wanted to show the others that their congregation was the most turnt that night. (I thought of this as a joke, but, you know, I wouldn’t put it past them.) Dreadful cacophony.

In my experience, if any city at all can give Accra a run for its money, it has to be Kumasi, at least on a weekend. Good luck trying to convince me that I won’t find a new funeral after every twenty steps in that city on any given Saturday. But here is the weirder thing: based on my observation, the idea of a loudspeaker system operating at balanced levels is utterly unacceptable. The preacher isn’t spewing the word of God until he’s screeching so hard that the mic is giving feedback, and you can’t pick out a single individual word from the sonic slush besides “Hallelujah!” and “Amen!” The four-person worship team isn’t worshipping well enough until there is literal distortion occurring on an otherwise perfectly good sound system. You will hear the sounds of a stadium-sized megachurch, and upon investigating the source of the sound, discover it to be a single room whose congregation is less than eighty people. There seems to be only one rule for the mixer or DJ (if there is one on duty): make everything louder.

In both Accra and Kumasi, we have very warped ideas of appropriate levels. To some extent, I would imagine it is because many people in charge of sound are not particularly trained to handle sound. Not everyone who knows songs also knows the technicalities of operating a complicated mixer. But beyond that, it’s the culture. We have become used to everything always being loud, and so that has become the accepted, unquestioned way to do sound. If it ain’t loud, it ain’t lit.

Zoning is also a problem. Because even the areas that are meant to be residential aren’t immune from the churches, restaurants and bars. It does not seem to be built into our culture to consider whether people will be trying to unwind or to sleep when we feel like screaming to a deity whom we apparently assume to be hard of hearing. And I am certain the seven people at a certain restaurant on a weeknight do not need the music turned up as though a dance party of hundreds is taking place. I have to wonder if the people running such establishments want to create the illusion that their venues are several times busier than they truly are at a given moment.

Public/Personal Border Erosion

I go swimming semi-regularly at a sports complex in Accra. The outdoor pool area is fitted with loudspeakers, which are always on when I go swimming. The playlist is never updated, and I suspect it is one single USB that is never removed from its port because nobody cares enough. You can hear the music as soon as you walk into the complex. You can hear it when you are lounging in the pool chairs, and even when you are underwater.

One day, I was training as usual, and a young man showed up with his own portable loudspeaker. Music was already playing on the complex’s sound system, but even so, this young man saw fit to turn up his own music over it. He placed his portable speaker at the pool’s edge when he was in the water, and beside his pool chair when he was out of it. For as long as I remained at the complex, I was forced to listen to hip-hop that did not appeal to me, and which clashed on multiple levels with the Afrobeats blaring from the complex’s speakers.

I was struck with true, genuine wonder, that anyone of sound mind could go out in public, into a facility that other people were also paying to use, and take it for granted that a) everyone else wouldn’t mind listening to whatever it was he liked to listen to, and b) that even if there was already loud music playing in this communal area, there was nothing wrong with playing more loud music, simply because he felt like it. The sheer bafflement was so great that it stopped me from walking over to have a conversation about sonic etiquette and common sense. I simply could not believe it was happening.

A couple of months ago, on a flight back to Ghana after a writing workshop, I sat, among several other returning Ghanaians, at the boarding gate in Ethiopia’s Bole International Airport. My flights were red-eyes, and having had very little sleep on my first flight—which had taken off at midnight—I was looking forward to dozing off during my layover at Addis Ababa. Despite the gross discomfort of boarding gate seating, my efforts were proving almost successful, until a middle-aged Ghanaian gentleman seated at the same gate decided that he was in the mood for throwback pop music. This meant that for the remainder of my layover, I—and everyone else at this section of the boarding gate—was subjected to a soundtrack consisting of Destiny’s Child, Sean Paul, Mariah Carey, Nelly and the like, from this gentleman’s oddly loud smartphone. Mind you, this occurred between the hours of five and seven-thirty in the morning, when the airport itself hadn’t fully decided to be awake.

Even on a personal level, consideration of other people’s volume/sound preferences just isn’t embedded into our culture. People play their personal sounds on speaker mode, without particular concern about disturbing anybody else. You do what you want with your volume first, and then if there’s anybody who has a problem with it, the onus is apparently on them to tell you to adjust your volume, whereas good etiquette would have things the other way round. I haven’t been able to figure out why Accra’s culture is like this.

A friend was recently telling me that their South African friend, faced with the country’s load-shedding challenges, had resolved to get a generator. In order to do so, this person was required to write to the manager of the property/estate to inform the neighbors and ensure that they were comfortable with the level of noise that the new generator would surely produce. I heard that and thought to myself, “Wow. What a concept!”

-Akotowaa

Where I Been? (A Spider Kid Newsletter of Sorts)

My name seems to have appeared in quite a few places over the past few months, so I thought it would be convenient to give my blog readers an update on all of them at once. I’m not usually this involved in things, so I don’t expect blog posts like this to be frequent. But, for now, here we go:

Writivism

A few weeks ago, I found out I was longlisted for the 2018 Writivism Short Story Prize. The shortlist was released yesterday and I did not make it that far, but making it onto the longlist means that my short story, as well as all the other longlisted writers’ short stories, are going to be published in an anthology by Black Letter Media later. So, that’s fantastic.

More on the Writivism initiative/competition here. You can follow them on Twitter as well, here.

WritivismLonglistBio
Photo via @Writivism on Twitter

Tampered Press

Poetra Asantewa launched a new art magazine in July, and for its first issue, she got a few people to contribute. My contribution was a very dissatisfying story that we can pretend is sci-fi flash fiction for classification purposes, highly augmented by some lit photography by Josephine Kuuire. The magazine is really refreshing in terms of layout, vibrancy, minimalism, collaboration and the general nature of its content. I highly recommend you take a read – it’s very short – and digital versions are available on the Tampered Press website.

TamperedPage
Photo via @Tampered_Press on Twitter (This isn’t my page, BTW. It’s a poem by Tryphena Yeboah and artwork by Kpe Innocent.)

Paapa’s Technical Difficulties 2

Paapa hMensa, a musical and lyrical legend whom I’ve met once (he probably doesn’t remember it, though, because I was entirely irrelevant then, and it was during his concert, so he was meeting a ton of people at once anyway), released the second installment to his Technical Difficulties EP series, and the title track features me! It’s a beautiful song, going perfectly excellently as it plays, and then I barge in and start talking plenty in the name of spoken word poetry, SMH. I also briefly introduced each song, so my voice is on literally every track.

 

The EP is amazing, it’s been on heavy rotation in my music library since it dropped, and it’s musically even better than its prequel. (Is the word prequel applicable to musical projects? I don’t know.) Paapa is a magician, because I don’t even understand how he managed to achieve that. No Heart Left, ft. M.anifest, is a favorite. You can find his EP on pretty much every major music distribution site. 🙂

#IFKR’s UHNI

The DJ duo, #IFKR, which is composed of Eff the DJ and DJ K3V, released a new EP yesterday, exclusively on the Ghanaian musical platform, Aftown. I introduced that EP as well, with a lot of talking in the beginning that feels very weird to hear because I wrote it years ago and hadn’t heard it for a while. The entire EP has been years in the making, and I can personally vouch for the true banger-ness of particularly Lie B3n which features Ayat, and, of course, the pre-released single Omi Gbono, which features Odunsi. You can find the link to the EP here.

 

Bonus:

I know a previous blog post has mentioned this already, but I compiled Kuukua Annan’s OTC stories into a single PDF and created a new site for the OTC project so ayyy check it out and tell a friend!

 

Okay. Dazzit. Spider Kid out!

-Akotowaa

 

 

 

 

 

On Seeing the Love of My Life in Person

I saw Jonathan D. Bellion in person for the first, and what I hope will not be the last time. I wonder if he’ll get famous enough or I’ll get broke enough to be unable to afford his tickets anymore. Unfortunately, at the end of this wonderful concert of LA’s The Human Condition III tour, the love of my life failed to propose to me so I’m still single. It’s a tragedy.

I can honestly say that seeing Jon Bellion live was one of the most necessary things I’ve ever had to do with my life. I can also say that he’s my favorite – in my opinion, the best – performing musician I know of. Yes, yes, I’ll concede that Beyoncé has phenomenal breath control, vocal training, resilience and excellent dance moves. She may be the best performing singer alive. But Jonathan is my best performing musician. Watching him perform, I think, should be an almost life-changing experience, even if you don’t rock with his musical sound itself. I’d felt it in videos, but was something I was determined to see for myself.

 

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In 2016, when I got into Jon Bellion, the strange sounds he made, particularly in The Definition, caught my attention. I believe I started first listening to his tapes in chronological order. I started with the ancient mixtape, Scattered Thoughts Vol. I. (There have never been any subsequent volumes, which I think is very sad.) I remember thinking Jon’s music was okay – not mind-blowing, but nice – but the texture of his voice made me uncomfortable. It’s so strange, because only two hours later, I’d be in love with the very same voice on subsequent music projects.

I listened to Translations Through Speakers, and I was like okay, I like this content. I like what he’s doing with these beats… I moved on to The Separation and thought, this is stuff I’ll be coming back to again and again. But then The Definition. Hmm. “Munny Right,” the first track, slaughtered me in the post-hook by Beautiful Mind member, Mylon Haydes:

“Put the pause button on that weak shit

You sound like everybody else, muh’fucka”

Those lines became a mantra and I couldn’t do a thing about it. They energized me every time I felt low. Along with “All Time Low,” of course. The second track, “Carry Your Throne” made me so happy especially because of the drums and the vocals in the chorus. After that song, I was pretty sure I wanted to date Jon Bellion. But by the third track on the tape, “Pre-Occupied,” I was jumping up and down in my room around 2am thinking, “Who is this guy, and how can I get him to marry me?!” I am telling you, it was a spiritual experience! My goodness. I was nearly high for the rest of the time I used to finish The Definition.

And then I went to YouTube. I can only assume I was looking for corresponding music videos. I found something much better than music videos, though. I found “The Making Of…” videos. And they changed my life more than anything by any musician has ever changed my life before. And this is the story of how Jon Bellion became my favorite musician in one night.

To be honest, “The Making Of…” videos are the reasons I absolutely had to see him perform live. As much as I like the music of many other artistes, Jon Bellion is virtually the only non-poet I have ever wanted to see live so badly. Now that I have, I wonder if I’ll ever be interested in attending anybody else’s concerts, LOL.

Jon Bellion writes himself. And he’s a freaking lyricist. He’s the producer of all his songs. He can’t read music, apparently, but he’s a multi-instrumentalist. And I include beat pads and drum machines in the list of musical instruments in the world. He made his production and composition and recording process transparent in his “The Making Of…” videos in a way I’ve never seen been done before. He’s been intentionally mini-documentary-ing almost his whole creating process. So, I had to do everything I’d seen him do on video live. I was not disappointed. Except for the part where I had to stand, waiting at least 25 minutes after the end of Blaque Keyz’ opening act for Jon to come on.

Jon’s personality is contagious. It’s genuine, casual and bubbly. He’s almost always performing in just a white T-shirt and jeans. He doesn’t have a million-times-practiced choreography or team of 20 dancers in formation, yet his stagecraft is fantastic with just a themed slideshow behind him, his Beautiful Mind band, his loop station, and a lot of help from the ever-energetic Travis Mendes. The themed slideshow was such that, for example, there were clips of crashing waves as he performed “Overwhelming” and a collage of ’80s movies clips as he performed “80s Films.”

To see Jon practically effortlessly switch between the microphone, a piano, a physical drum set and a loop station or beat pad was one of the littest things I’ve ever experienced. And let’s not even talk about how amazing it is to have the whole crowd singing your lyrics even louder than you. And even the non-lyrics like “YEE!” and “Bambudeybambambudeybambudeybambambudey, Guillotine!” That crowd felt like community in unity.

I think my magical moment was when he walked us through a quasi-production process of the song “Luxury” from The Definition, whose trumpets, I think, are iconic. More iconic than the trumpets in Jason Derulo’s “Trumpets,” which, by the way, is a song Jon Bellion wrote and “donated” to Derulo because it was too pop for him. LOL.

By the encore, I had lost my mind, with a few minutes of silence to recover somewhat after the end of the official concert. Several times, Jon built up tension with the ascending backing vocals in the “Jim Morrison” chorus from The Separation (and yes, I LOVED it that only the Day Ones knew the lyrics form this 2013 song – so that by the time Jon yelled, “Rock the fuck out!” I was unapologetically screaming,

“Ask my father, getting money is hereditary,

Will Smith, bitch, I am feeling legendary!”

like I was the most turnt person in the room. I was intoxicated by nothing other than the drug of Jon Bellion’s physical presence and energy.

I was a baritone the next day. It was a wonder I hadn’t lost my voice completely saf.

So yes, not only has Jon Bellion redefined for me what it means to be a great musician, but he has also restored my faith and aspirations in the art of musical performance.  That was so, so refreshing. Take me again!

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-Akotowaa