Ending this year's Black History Month on a high note, today's article is brought to you by writer and interdisciplinary artist Samenkhya Owusu-Adjei. The Düsseldorf-based Ghanaian's work revolves around topics of Black female identity and Afro-German activism. She is the co-founder of the Black collective Schwarzes Haus Düsseldorf and frequently uses her social media platform to analyze and critically assess music and pop culture. In today's article, Samenkhya discusses the progression of Black music beyond the borders of genres that used to be primarily associated with white artists, and their impact on her identity growing up.
When it comes to music, I was born a little too early. Being black ten years ago came with a lot of rules. I’m dark-skinned with Afrocentric features, so nobody was ever going to question my blackness, but 20 years ago, my music taste would have had people call me "Oreo" - or something similarly stupid.
20 years ago, my music taste would have had people call me "Oreo" - or something similarly stupid.
Growing up with "white" music genres
I grew up listening to the radio. Our TV only ever had ARD, so music to me was what came on the radio and what my parents listened to. My parents listened to a lot of Ghanaian Gospel and the radio stations introduced me to hits from many prior decades. I soon learned that I liked a little bit of everything. So when Bands like t.A.t.u, Nou Pagadi, Nickleback - yes Nickleback -, Green Day, Linkin Park, Evanescence, and many more entered the Charts here in Germany, I embraced them with open arms.
It was interesting back then that Rap and Hip Hop could do well in the charts and Rock and Metal, too. However, there was a clear distinction back then. The only genres that didn’t have a clear race distinction seemed to be R’n’B and Pop. So, I would have my Rock driven phases where I’d almost exclusively listen to white artists and then swing to Hip Hop and Rap where I’d listen to black artists. I always liked either genre and the artists I listened to, but only bands like Linkin Park - who collaborated with black artists - showed me that there was space in Hip Hop for vocals more associated with Rock or Metal. I wanted that because every art is infused with social and cultural influences, and I knew that black artist would put their own twist to it, in a way that I might relate to even more. That was an exciting thought.
Music to express oneself with
Music has always been an expression of myself. My dad was a choir leader, so we were always singing. I was constantly singing something and making up songs on the go. So to me, music has always been an expression of my state of mind and my hopes. Therefore, the apparent lack of black people in some genres that I liked to indulge in was saddening. Nothing made that more obvious than going to a concert and being the only black person. It created this weird moment where when I’d listen to the music, I would feel it, but the people who also listened to it would look at me like I was an anomaly and not just another person enjoying a band.
In a broader sense, it also meant black musicians weren’t encouraged to be diverse. That way it was easy to associate blackness with a genre or a sound and exclude black people from other sounds. Fefe Dobson is a good example of this. She was one of the pop-punk solo artists to come from Canada, but never got as much popularity or fame as she follows musicians even though critics have always talked about her positively. Even I only found out about her late in life, because unlike Paramore and Avril Lavigne, she was wasn’t promoted in Germany.
Ringing in a revolution
Things are changing though. I don’t know when it happened, but the first time I realized that Rap had finally made way for more sound was when I heard „XO Tour Llif3“ by Lil Uzi Vert. It was clearly a rap song, but there was an Emo twist to it. I realized that a part of me was very happy about that. Then I heard of Rico Nasty and I felt like my wish had come true. Her raspy voice colliding with heavy beats just made me want to headbang all day. Back then, I didn’t know many more artists, but I was ready to wait for them to become known. That’s how I stumbled over the Nova Twins who unlike the others didn’t rap and sing to produced beats, but played live Instruments. This made me want to grow up with these artists. Their existence is an absolutely validating thing.
"I almost cried because it felt like black scene kids were finally coming out and paying homage to the songs we used to like that we were told made us white."
I’m super excited about this development. So much so that when I heard iSpy by Kyle ft. Lil Yachty, I almost cried. Not because of the actual song of course, but the Panic! At the Disco Mash-Up. I almost cried because it felt like black scene kids were finally coming out and paying homage to the songs we used to like that we were told made us white. Of course this time I was wrong, but I’m sure the person who will do it for real is out there somewhere writing 16 Bars, and when they drop the song? It’s gonna be fire. However, until that happens I got an ever-growing list of Black Artists to Headbang to.
Interested in what I’m listening to exactly? Here’s a list:
Bye Bye Boyfriend – Fefe Dobson
Start A Riot – Duckwrth
Lose Your Head – Nova Twins
Vortex – Nova Twins
Nuketown – Ski Mask the Slump God
OHFR? – Rico Nasty
Rage - Rico Nasty
Top Bitch – Baby Khalo
LITTLE NOKIA – Bree Runway
If you're interested in more of Samenkhya's work and music recommendations, you can find her on Instagram @m00onisneveralone, and check out her Black Düsseldorf-based network Schwarzes Haus via @schwarzeshausddorf. As Black History Month comes to an end, we hope you continue to listen to Black artists, read Black artists' work, and support activist collectives way beyond February. We sure know we will!