This Akua Naru article was written by Eleanor Wallace, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse. Lead photo by Milky Ray
Akua Naru speaks out, poetically and prudently, on her role as a woman in hip hop. Here in this room, she communicates through rap a retelling of black history, or “herstory”.
Her band- slick and funky – beg you to move as we wait for Naru‘s arrival. Dressed in a trench coat and trilby and barefoot, she storms on, already dancing. She really feels that kicking drum beat and bluesy bass, as in turn, so do we. The opener is the track ‘Heard’ from Nura‘s 2015 album ‘The Miner’s Canary’, in which she asks: “How d’you listen to the radio and claim hip hop is dead?”
Young women around me, with their hands in prayer or to their chests, tell me they love Naru. Her music centres on uniting people and giving all of yourself in loving each other. As we clap along with her, we are responding; giving back that love that she communicates to us. A substantial part of Naru’s musical upbringing was hearing gospel choirs in her church, where she was often in the presence of black female leaders, from her Pastor to the Choir Director. She has a natural ability to conduct, which, combined with her love for poetry, turned her into a politically minded MC.
She initiates cheers from the crowd by dedicating this next song to those who doubted her; those who said she couldn’t be a successful female hip hop artist. She says: “Watch me. I said it all stank like: Watch me!” One of the backing singers comes forward for the track ‘Canary Dreams’, initiating a call-and-response section with the audience: “Ooh, aah / Watch me spread my wings and fly”. The song is lifting, and enourages a sway in the crowd. Naru‘s rap is powerful and full of grief and experience, and suddenly there is a beautifully mellow chorus, completely timeless in its soulful sound. It places Naru in the category of musicians like The Roots, whose legacy has been magnified by their impeccable live performances. She’s a dynamic force of nature; a female artist with a voice designed to cause and captivate.
The crowd goes quiet as Naru asks: “You ever heard this bass line before in your life?” The band slides into the instantly recognisable and infectiously sultry ‘Poetry: How Does It feel?’ The audience erupts; this is the track that contains Naru’s most melodious, elegiac words to her lovers, every sensual whisper palpable. “Forgive me, I’m a woman. I’m a romantic,” she says.
The final song is ‘(Black) & Blues People’, first recorded the night the Trayvon Martin case was closed with no indictment. For her, it holds a great sadness, a tragic association that will plague black history for decades to come. She cries out stories of young black men and woman whose deaths have been protested by the Black Lives Matter movement: “Mama told my brother not to leave the porch / Panicked every time he opened the door / How many Trayvons walk the streets at night/ Renisha McBrides / Groomed in a state that don’t respect black life”. Naru dominates the room, fist in the air, making her voice the only one you need to hear.
Naru‘s presence is undoubtedly powerful, as she thrives off of challenging the predisposition that women cannot be part of politically conscious hip hop. Full of spirit and humanity, her live performance elates the crowd; which can only indicate that her voice will spread. And so will the message.