Blitz is an artist at the crossing of several paths. America and Africa. Past and present. Hip-hop and highlife. He is not confused about where to turn though. He stands instead as a messenger between worlds, as fluent in one reality as he is in the other.
The kid once called Bazaar on the streets of Accra has grown to become its ambassador. In his own words: “You have to be good at home first before becoming good elsewhere.”
Samuel Bazawule discovered Rakim and Public Enemy while he was a student at Achimota. He was soon reciting their lines over beats banged out on school tables, and tasted early success recording with the likes of Deeba, Hammer & Obrafuor in hiplife’s early days.
Along with Cy Lover and M3nsa (who he recalls was messing with pidgin even back then), Blitz was known for rhyming in English. In fact, ‘Native Sun’ is the first album on which Blitz rhymes in Twi: “If I rap in Twi, I have to make sure my Twi accent is on point. The same goes for pidgin. I would expect someone coming to Ghana to try to speak Twi authentically. If you speak Americanized Twi, it’s a problem.”
To Blitz, those same principles of authenticity apply to the music he wished to make. Not hiplife: hip-hop: “[It] started in the Bronx. Others have influenced it but it started there. If it’s something I’m going to learn to do, I’m going to learn to do it to that standard. It’s the same as guys who play for Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak, and go on to play for AC Milan and Chelsea.
Playing football barefoot? That’s authentic, but you are going to have to learn to play the game by international standards. There were limits to reaching a global audience from Ghana. We’re nominated for BET awards now but nothing like that existed at the time. If I was going to compete, I had to be where it was.”
“Our culture in Ghana is no better or worse than anywhere else, but it doesn’t promote the artist. The [hiplifers] making money back in the day were those who had resources to travel to perform. Sales from tapes were not enough to allow you to live the life of an artist. However you can make a living doing music out here [in the US].
There are stages, venues, festivals… things that make culture appealing. It’s not that we lack the know-how. We don’t have the money. My success in America makes it easier for anyone else in Africa to get shine though, to get known. When Samini played New York for the first time, I was his musical director and put his band together. Everyone has a part to play.”
When Blitz first arrived in America, things were not so easy: “It’s human to try to fit in. But after a while, you realize a piece of you is unfulfilled. You are not what you are supposed to be: a blend between where you’re from and where you’re at. It hits everyone at some point. It happened with Fela. It happened with Nkrumah.”
By the time he released his first full album, ‘Soul Rebel’ in 2005 , Blitz was influenced by conscious MCs like Talib Kweli and Dead Prez. Yet consciousness was not enough to represent who he was. Everything changed with his work on the score of a documentary about a sassy American teenager’s journey to Ghana to reunite with her father, a chief: “It was a huge learning curve. The producers [of ‘Bronx Princess’] were looking for both hip-hop and afrobeat. I ended up making 20 tracks. It was the first time I had to do anything like that.” On 2009’s ‘Stereotype’, he began recording with a band he called ‘The Embassy’, replacing slick studio production with a more raw, live sound.
The evolution went down well with critics and fans, and the album managed to top the international iTunes chart.
Blitz describes his new album – ‘Native Sun’- as the combination of the ambition he showed on ‘Stereotype’ and the African sound that he rediscovered while doing the score for Bronx Princes. On ‘Native Sun’, Blitz rhymes about displacement, consciousness, freedom, celebration and repatriation over horns and electric guitars straight out of 1970s Africa, complete with drums inspired by the funk that hip-hop used to sample so heavily in the 80s and 90s.
Throw in older African instruments like the kora and djembe, and you have an epic album that effortlessly traverses time and space: here and there, back then and right now. It’s a sound he rightly feels proud of: “Listen to the record. Not all the songs apply to everybody, but even if you don’t like the sound or the experimentation, you can hear the authenticity. From a musical standpoint, I hope [it] takes us to a point where we can have a pride in the aesthetics of who we are and where we’re from. There is nothing wrong with borrowing but at the end of the day you have to know where you are coming from.”
On a continent that sometimes looks distrustfully at its children in the Diaspora, Blitz hopes to help connect the dots: “Our Diaspora is huge and it’s played an important role in Africa’s growth and development. Look at one of our most revered sons: Kwame Nkrumah. Without him linking with the ideas of George Padmore, WEB DuBois, Clarke… there would not be a free Ghana today. It takes ideologies coming together to move. This isn’t new. We are reliving Nkrumah’s time. We need to stop looking at things that separate us like geography and look at what brings us together. We have to work together to build this new Africa movement that we are so desperate to see.”
To help promote the album, he returned to Ghana late last year to shoot a short film: “Seeing is believing. Native Sun needed to be seen. I’m extremely proud of what we were able to do. There can never be enough positive images coming out of Africa. Often, people with important messages forget about talent and quality. People may listen to you, but there is nothing else to draw them in. That’s why we went hard with making the film.
We needed another outlet. When it starts doing the international film festival circuit, we hope people get the good vibe and universal message being pushed in both the music and the film.”
Returning home to shoot the short gave Blitz the chance to reconnect with his hiplife roots: ”Yaa Pono is brilliant. Sarkodie too: I’ve been hearing about him in the Diaspora. Of course, Wanlov: he’s been doing his thing uniquely (and dope) for a long time. I like the Skillions crew too. The beautiful thing is the diversity. Everyone grows. Who knows what this may grow into.”
He also paid tribute to one of his heroes: “Some people are so insecure about threats to their legendary status that they don’t want to give people shine. I salute and will always shoutout Reggie [Rockstone] because ever since I’ve known him, he has always given up and coming artists their shine.”
With plans to bring his band to Accra for a special concert at Alliance Française this October (alongside fellow Embassy MVMT artists, Les Nubians) Blitz has his eyes set firmly on home: “My real impact won’t begin until I return and settle, and people see what I have achieved. It’s not about returning home with a superiority complex.
People from the Diaspora must humble themselves and recognize the people who stayed behind to struggle and build. You can’t just say you hate Ghana traffic. It’s Ghana traffic: you’re not in Ohio or London anymore.”
“I have a three-year plan to come home. I moved when our industry was just beginning. There is no real need to move today. There was no internet back then. Now there is.
It is not about travelling anymore. Like Chuck D [of Public Enemy] says on the record “it ain’t you’re from. It’s where you’re at.” It is about heart and soul and what you are about, wherever you are in the world. That’s why I salute DUST.”
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