Music

Interview: Agyakomah Talks Being A First-Generation Ghanaian And New Single, “Pay Me What You Owe”

Agyakomah is an Afro-Fusion singer and songwriter from New York. Being a first-generation Ghanaian has heavily impacted her musical journey and has shaped her identity.

Agyakomah is an Afro-Fusion singer and songwriter from New York. Being a first-generation Ghanaian has heavily impacted her musical journey and has shaped her identity. Agyakomah was inspired by her Ghanaian upbringing, the hustle and bustle of the city and artists like Brandy and Boyz II Men.

Music resonated in the depths of Agyakomah’s soul and she fused her love for writing and exploring sounds to reflect her identity. She says, “I feel that when you’re a first-generation person, you’re already experiencing a fusion of languages, clothing, stories, cultures, etc. so the next step for me will be to really capture that and transfer it into visuals and music videos.”

Tell us who Agyakomah is.

I’m from New York! I was born in Mount Vernon and moved to an area called Rockland County shortly thereafter which is on the outskirts of the city. I’m a first-generation Ghanaian. My dad is from a city in Ghana known as Kumasi and my mom is from a village known as Bompata, they immigrated to New York in the early 90’s and started their family! I’m the middle child of five which made growing up pretty interesting [laughing]. My siblings like to claim that I have middle child syndrome because I’m “extra” or “a diva,” but it’s a complete lie! 

Because both our parents worked heavily when we were younger, we were also raised by two aunties and one uncle throughout our childhood. When I look back to that time, it was so much fun because we didn’t really have many cousins or extended family in the states to be around, so one of our Auntie’s would always play outside and watch TV with us. She is the reason that I got into watching soap operas and WWE wrestling, which for some reason turned into a deep passion of mine.

This same auntie would also play board games like Ludo to keep us entertained. If you’ve ever played Ludo you know how intense that game can get, and I will never forget one day, we were playing and my auntie swore that my oldest sister was cheating in the game. She was so upset that it was one of the last times we ever played the game and that was about ten or so years ago! It was a pretty dramatic scene [laughing].

In terms of my interests when I was younger, I think I had a creative bug; one of my favorite TV shows was That’s So Raven and the character of Raven Baxter resonated with me so much because at the time I was really interested in fashion. I was always taller and bigger than my peers and to see a thicker Black girl with such a vivacious, confident personality with an unwavering passion in her craft as a future fashion designer was something I loved so much. When I was around ten years old, I started drawing different fashion designs that I saw in my head and keeping them in a book in hopes that one day I would actually figure out how to make those outfits. I was a terrible drawer so I’m sure if I look back at the outfits now I’d laugh at my drawings, but the passion I had for it at one point was really that passion that would develop for music.

That’s interesting how your passion for fashion turned into your passion for music. When did you get your start in music? 

I started in music when I was in elementary school and I just remember always being excited for music class and being aware of how good it made me feel on the inside. When it came to singing for people, I remember being a bit shy, but I broke out of that once I got to middle and high school and I started participating in more chorus classes, developing my own voice, and performing live more.

I feel that when you’re a first-generation person, you’re already experiencing a fusion of languages, clothing, stories, cultures, etc.

You’re an Afro-Fusion artist. For those who may not be familiar with the genre, how would you describe it?

It can mean different things to different artists, but for me personally, Afro-Fusion is both a sonic experience and a lifestyle. On the sonic side, I have such a love for R&B/Soul music like Brandy, Boyz II Men, Mary J. Blige and that really reflects in my singing style and vocal arrangements when recording. When I look for beats that’s where I want the Afro percussion and rhythm to shine through. I’m currently working on an EP and once people hear how I merge these styles, it will definitely make sense. 

On the other hand, I feel that when you’re a first-generation person, you’re already experiencing a fusion of languages, clothing, stories, cultures, etc. so the next step for me will be to really capture that and transfer it into visuals and music videos.

What Afro-Fusion artists do you enjoy listening to?

I really appreciate what Burna Boy is doing right now and there’s also a Ghanaian singer named Efya. She was really the first artist I came across that showed me that the mixing of sounds I heard in my head were possible. I remember hearing a lot of high-life and hip-life music when I was younger, and the essence of high-life is a mix of Ghana’s traditional sounds and Jazz. On the hip-life side, it was a fusion of rapping in Twi over Hip-Hop inspired beats so now that I’m thinking about it, I must have been destined to have this fusion style haha!

How has growing up in New York impacted your creative ideas and musical journey?

Whew… New York! It’s interesting because living in the suburbs on the outskirts of NYC it’s like two different worlds. In my immediate area there aren’t many African families that live here, so I would experience the Ghanaian culture either when I was home or when I would go to the Bronx for church on Sunday’s. 

I think living in New York has allowed me to be freer in exploring my creative self. I’m thankful to have gone to a high school and colleges where there were ample opportunities to perform, facilities to practice in, classes to develop your skill in performance, songwriting and production, and most importantly, peers who also operated in the creative space to collaborate and learn from.

I recently got accepted into a program called the Bakanal de Afrique Fellowship where I’m actually diving deeper into this specific experience. I’ll be creating some music for their corresponding Bakanal de Afrique Festival which is happening in November surrounding the theme of transportation and I’m definitely going to be writing about how my identity was shaped by the experience of living outside of the main city.

My confidence increases every time I finish a song because it shows me that I’m able to take a thought and create a full fledged piece of work. 

It’s interesting to know how you experienced New York. It sounds like there are more opportunities to get into the arts versus other cities or small towns. What do you enjoy most about the music making process?

Probably the writing first! I come from a writing background, due to majoring in communications, and taking journalism and writing classes. I love working on lyrics and creating concepts and figuring out the best way to tell a story in a song. Every song has a different approach, so some songs may be more about being straight to the point and saying exactly what’s on your mind, while another one may need more metaphors and be crafted in a story-like manner with a beginning, middle, and end. I love figuring out how a song should be molded for its final form.

I also enjoy the actual recording part, I usually tend to write full songs and rough demos in my room to get a feel for how it will sound before heading to the studio. But once I get into the studio and I begin adding the stacks, harmonies, and ad-libs—it’s like wow, I created this concept, melody, and storyline and it came out like this?! My confidence increases every time I finish a song because it shows me that I’m able to take a thought and create a full-fledged piece of work. 

Tell us about your latest single, “Pay Me What You Owe“. What does this song represent?

I really love that this title is so straight forward and that there is no ambiguity in it. “Pay Me What You Owe,” is exactly how it sounds, it represents wanting to get paid what you’re worth from a job or really any experience. For me, I was at a job that I wasn’t happy at and I was feeling dissatisfied, unhappy, and undervalued. I remember one day sitting at my desk thinking that I needed to write a song about this experience because it was so real and so relatable. The song pretty much talks about how once you graduate college, society tells you that it will unlock all of these opportunities right away and that it’s the key to success, and although there’s definitely some truth in that, I wanted to share a perspective that is the reality for some people in 2020 such as unpaid internships, low salary offers, student loans, etc. These are things we are experiencing before we can find those really awesome opportunities, so I kind of wanted to give society a reality check in a sense.

The message is very relatable! Life after college is an adjustment and is often a time of self-doubt for many. I personally enjoyed the message of “We Gonbalright“. What inspired this track and what did you hope to achieve when you released it? 

Thank you so much! That track was really spur of the moment, I believe I had just lost my new job due to how the pandemic was impacting the company and this was at the very height of people having to transition to working from home, losing their jobs, and people passing away so there was a lot of confusion and worry going all around. 

When I heard the beat it felt very hopeful, positive and it just felt good, so when I began writing, I really wanted to make myself feel better and affirm to myself that everything will work out in the end. Whether it’s comforting yourself, having that one friend or partner, or praying to God—sometimes these are things we need to lean into to get through challenging times and that’s what the song expresses.

What have you discovered about yourself along your journey?

That I actually have the skills to make it happen. Sometimes we fall into the mindset of thinking we’re not ready or we don’t have the resources or we don’t have something we need to begin our journey, but when I look at where I am now and where I was in high school, I’ve seen so much growth in myself and it makes me realize that as long as you take action and move forward, no matter how small, you are getting to where you need to get because you are learning the lessons and having the necessary experiences you need to progress.

Have you faced any challenges in regards to music?

I think the biggest challenge for me thus far has just been figuring everything out. There are so many different pieces and elements to be cognizant of when pursuing a career in music, and there’s always something you have to learn or educate yourself on. It’s truly a never-ending process, but I think that’s where the beauty lies as well. 

Are there any areas that you want to grow in?

Absolutely! It’s hard to pinpoint one area I want to grow in artistically because I’m learning that the most important and fun part of being an artist is the growth process. So, from singing to songwriting to performing, I’m actively focused on growing in all of these areas and specifically making those as “me” as possible. 

Outside of what I usually do, I would also say that I want to pick up production more. I took songwriting and audio production classes in college which gave me the chance to use the school’s equipment to create instrumentals and beats after school. At first, I was pretty intimidated due to the technical nature, but after receiving a basic understanding and playing around with sounds and musical ideas, I realized that I definitely have the ability to get my production idea out into a DAW (digital audio workstation) and work with a producer to really develop that idea fully. I will definitely be doing this more in the future.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Yes, I’m actually working on my debut EP which I’m still writing and recording, but it’s becoming a project that I get increasingly proud of with every song I finish. I’ve been wanting to release a project for the past couple of years but God’s timing is the best timing, and now I think I have the knowledge and support I need to really execute it properly. This EP is designed to give listeners a sense of who Agyakomah is, what goes on in my head and what you can expect from me on my musical journey.

Like I mentioned previously, I’m also going to be performing and presenting the work I will be creating during the Bakanal de Afrique fellowship at its corresponding festival this November, so I’ll share where you can get your tickets once they’re available and post updates so you can see the process to the festival.

How can we stay connected with you?

You can connect with me on social media: Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I’m also going to begin sending out newsletters for people to stay updated with new projects and initiatives that are coming up for me, so I would definitely say hit me up on one of those social platforms and be sure to share your email if you want to receive those updates.

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