The name Bright Ackwerh is usually associated with humorous yet thought-provoking illustrations. His name tolls among some of the new crop of talented artists from the African continent making news within the arts and culture space. In a short period of time, his incredible talent has caught the attention of some of the world’s biggest media outlets, including CNN, BBC, DW-TV, who have all interviewed him about his work.
In 2017 alone, Bright Ackwerh, the 2016 Kuhenhyia Prize for Contemporary Art Winner, has seen his work adorning the walls of some arts galleries across Ghana, Africa and the US like the South Bay Contemporary Gallery and the Absa Gallery, in Los Angeles and South Africa respectively.
Even though he describes his work as an ‘investigation into identity politics and cultural issues’, they are heavily geared towards pop culture. Bright’s employment of pop culture references, which always carries a humorous verve feeds into his broader ‘satire to speak’ philosophy.
For the majority of people, Bright is an illustrator, period. But, for the few close pals and associates, he is also a music head. His musical palate extends across genres. I must state that, Bright has personally put me on some incredible artistes like Nigerian soul/jazz crooner, BeZ and some songs by Blitz The Ambassador I wasn’t preview of.
In this interview, Bright shares his musical side with Culartblog. He speaks about the state of Ghana music at present: ‘This is the best time to be a musician in Ghana’; how music influences his artwork: ‘music has a way of turning my emotions’; his love for American rapper Joey Badass; and why hip hop’s ‘social commentary’ is an attraction.
Who and how did you get introduced to music?
Oh, I can’t remember. Maybe the first songs my parents must have sang to me as a child? It’s impossible to remember or name the first song I ever knew but something special happened in 2004. I got introduced to hip hop.
What kind of songs were played in your house growing up?
My dad had music of all the highlife artistes of the 80’s and 90’s, and every Elder Mireku (a prominent gospel artiste) cassette ever and he would play from his cassette player. The whole household caught on with the vibe because for one, we knew it entertained the old man. Later, my brother started playing music in church so there was always some Ron Kenoly or Don Moen. Those were some of his learning materials I think, so he collected tapes and live recordings.
Do you remember the first album you bought with your own money?
Being the black sheep (of the family), I opted for something more secular. I can’t remember the very first one, but I bought a lot of Luther Vandross CDs, the blues from America. I think I had all his albums and I used to play them in the house. I could play only when no one else wanted to play their stuff because being the youngest at the time meant automatically, I had the least right to the CD player. It was bullying but I waited my turn patiently. Aside that, I had a lot of Celine Dion, West Life, you know the music that usually expressed what I couldn’t say to the girls from school.
Has there been any album you regretted buying?
Not for the content. Maybe a CD developed scratches too soon but since I got my first Ipod, I ripped all my CDs into it. I think the set from then still forms the core of my digital collection now.
I think it’s impossible to think of my work as an artist in isolation. I think what I do rubs on and is rubbed on by the work or many other artists.
What kind of music genres do you listen to mostly? Any reasons?
Now I am just a hip hop head. I listen to everything else though, mostly out of curiosity. And when something catches my attention, I add it to my lists and find more about it when I can. Hip hop does social commentary for me like no other genre. Through the culture, I have been able to find some of my strongest voices for my work and for my life generally.
Is there a relationship between your work as an illustrator and the music you listen to?
Yes! I think it’s impossible to think of my work as an artist in isolation. I think what I do rubs on and is rubbed on by the work or many other artists. Elements in music have been inspiration to me a lot of times.
Can you explain how one influences the other? And what kind of music do you listen to when working?
I don’t have a particular kind of music I listen to while I work, but, music generally has a way of tuning my emotions. Once I decide what I want my day to feel like I can create a playlist to wake up to. I can easily catch the frequency I want, more easily when the music exudes the same frequency!
For instance, when I want to do something related to pain, I would go and listen to some of the stories Joe Budden tells in his music. He does that well. Or when I want to paint a picture about some of the interesting things that happen in our country, I would listen to the ‘Fokn Ode to Ghana’ by the Fokn Bois. For me, it’s one of my favourite albums to paint Africa in a realistic light. And it’s entertaining too.
You are supportive of some of the artists on the come up like Worlasi, Cina Soul, The FOKN Bois, Black Girls Glow and Blitz The Ambassador. Why are you invested in their work?
These are only a few and most of them are already well established as far as establishment goes (here) if you ask me. But we can extend this your list. I have deep appreciation for all the music talents repping different styles and themes and giving us so much variety without compromise. It’s fulfilling for me as a fan first to be able to just witness all the evolutions and then be able to play more active roles is just bliss. When I learn of something dope, I want to share it with everyone so they may also enjoy.
You are a fan of rapper Joey Badass. What is it about him and his music that you love? You remember what made you a fan?
I fell in love with Joey Badass when I heard his mixtape ‘1999’. I first got into hip hop after hearing about Nas’ work, so to find someone so young continuing a legacy many greats had contributed to was special. I thought I would keep a peeled ear and I am happy to see what he is doing now, especially when a lot of what you are likely to hear is the other stuff. No disrespect.
There is so much great music being put out that you could blink and miss so much
Which artist or album are you currently listening to?
‘Hues’ by Robin Huws. I personally made it my mission to apply pressure on him to put something out. I am glad he did. I am sure he is too. But ‘Onipa Akoma’ by Akan, ‘Mother of Heirs’ by Black Girls Glow (BBG), ‘Orange Card’ by Wanlov. Also, ‘Laila’s Wisdom’ by Rapsody to name just a few. All these projects came out this year so I have had to have them on constant rotation so I can grasp different feels at each listen.
My playlist also extends to include spoken word projects like those by by Dzyardzorm (The Wine Wrote This’, Akotowaa (I Wasn’t In The Picture) and Kwame Write. I like to have my playlists as diverse as possible. I played the new Kayso again only this afternoon. There is so much great music being put out that you could blink and miss so much. Darkovibes is a new favourite too. And it’s great to see the artists be able to sell CDs and downloads and organize their own concerts for their audiences.
If you are to invite artists from any genre & generation to your party, who’d be on the list? Explain why
I am generally a chilled out kind of ‘partier’ so my parties would be very low key. There would be a lot of RnB playing so Kevin Ross would be there. Brymo, if I can get him to sing. BeZ too. All the artists I just mentioned above would be invited to come too, if they will agree to perform for exposure else they can pay to come to my party. If they opted out of both, I would make ugly pictures of them all. Hi Adomaa.
What is your honest view on Ghana’s music scene?
This is the best time to be a musician in Ghana. There is so much going and so you can’t be isolated. The motivation of just seeing your contemporaries getting it should motivate you too. (Hey RU?!)
On a scale of 10, where will you rank Ghana music as it is today?
I would say a 9 because I love what people are doing behind the scenes to get things moving. I would to see more of the younger acts break into and change the taste s of the mainstream.
Who’s your favorite artist of all time?
I don’t think I can answer this fairly. Michael Jackson comes to mind easily though. He had it all.
Is there a music lyric that you live by? Any song that you’d say is the soundtrack to your life?
All the Akan Abusua knows what it means when you hear that ‘luke white on the beat… prrrrr po po po po’.
Track 7; ‘Akan Kasa’ off the Akan EP, or ‘Hard To Choose’ by Rapsody. I think they talk about the same thing and I am at that crossroads in my own work often so hearing these get me through that tough decision.