Dancing with the Diaspora

Jojo Abot Interview

All of these things I create, music, dance, literature, film and photography, all of it is sitting behind a message. The work doesn’t mean anything without the message and I give greater value to the message the spirit of the work than I do the aesthetic feel. I prefer to be in the zone of exploring the deeper aspects of the work. 

My work is contemplative. Through my contemplation I have learnt a number of things. This is our rejection of traditional (colonial) forms of religion and spirituality. Our generation haven’t rejected those forms of expression. We have turned to look for other forms of spiritual connection expression and exploration. The human being needs community, needs healing, needs spiritual awakening and a space to feel safe to express yourself.

When I began with my musical exploration years ago, I knew for a fact based from feedback that I would not make it as a mainstream traditional western singer songwriter. I was never encouraged when it comes to music. So I always knew it would not be me going on stage and sounding like Celine Dion or Whitney Houston. I had already rejected that. SO I wrote my own music.

I started off in the space of writing my own music. And when I got to Ghana I had musicians at my finger tips. How do I use these instruments as tools to create something that is organic to me. And in the same way my voice, my perspective and ideas I was discovering became a tool. At some point I realised the identity the world is imposing on me couldn’t be all that I was. Am I who I think I am?

Whether in Copenhagen, New York, Accra, Johannesburg or Adelaide I am still a respectable human being that deserves to occupy space and to be happy – equal opportunity and equal access.

The experience with the first nation’s people is very similar to South Africa’s experience with apartheid. And you discover a whole nother layer to this idea of blackness because you realise there are young people who live in these spaces who are black who are displaced and feeling out of space ad disconnected from the continent and looking to create  a further connect ion to the continent. Having everyone in the same space that night was about reaffirming each other and let each other know that presence is felt and minorities come together and form a majority and can be a source of support for one another.

I feel I am discovering spaces on this earth that are very controversial and heavy histories. Being from Ghana and being raised in the US a bit, that sense of inequality and tainted history has always been a could over my head. Being able to travel spaces with a similar narrative is to build my sense of awareness. It reaffirms the urgent need for community to be built around the world together in alliance towards each other. Issues of inequality and hatred are universal. There are so many sub groups and minorities we can’t make it about variables anymore. You have to make it about spaces of community and love where humans flourish and nourish together.     

Ghana is my foundation. My people the Ewe’s migrated from as far out as South Africa. My mother remembers it as far back as Nigeria and then through all the way to Benin which is our great migration into Ghana. My people are already nomadic. We have travelled historically all through multiple lands. Maybe it is that inheritance of feeling I have access to all of the universe and feeling as though I can share my culture, my experience and perspective with the universe. Ghana is the core of my experience and offers an entry point to connect with others.

 My music is a global reflection, like when you are creating things from the subconscious. All of the universe has influenced my work and given me something that is contributing to my creative alchemy.

Even the child in the middle of the square twirling around that I saw from the corner of my eye for 5seconds, has affected my energy and perspective. My creative process and what I manifest is thanks to the universe. And the human experience, human expression and stories that I have heard, stories that I have imagined, stories that I have experienced. It is a collaborative effort. I am humbled that everything that I create is having discovered things that are already in existence: the culture of my people, the language, the reggae rhythms, the afrobeat rhythms, the psychedelic synth sounds – all of these sounds exist at the core of nature and when you are able to plug into that, that is when you feel the harmony between you and the universe.

We are all siblings. In South Africa, people will look me in the eye and say to me you are from here – you have walked this land before. And I went to my mother and she said it is possible, our people have been nomads long before slavery – so it is possible in past incarnates you were of that earth. When you go back to ancient roots of people whether it be first nation people in Australia, Native Americans in Canada or the original people of the land in South Africa or the many cultures that existed in Ghana before their displacement – you realise that there is a spiritual tone to music. It is in the drumming and the vocals.

You don’t hear much of that in mainstream music but there is an inherent guttural feeling that we get an expression that is very innate to the human being when you are spiritually connected. You find in genres like Gqom or Abadja which is from Ghana – there are so many similarities – there is a spiritual tonality and a rhythm that once you get to move your feet to you go into a trance.

It does take you away and transports you – and that is the purpose of music – it is meant to offer you a space of expression and healing.  When I listen to Gqom I hear the earth, my ancestors and nature itself. To me it is electronic but it represents and echoes the very frequencies of the universe, our ancestry and our spirits.  

The ideal structure of the band is a six member band. As you travel due to logistics and cost, it is a matter of making decisions that allow you to consistently bring your best work forward and sustain the practice. As we travel we collaborate with people we meet and are connected with. My band are from New York but the two dancers we started working with here and had to commit the time to developing the work and perfecting your presentation. And that requires commitment and devotion and hard work.

I am testing the idea of bringing in additional staff and building up my own unit. My whole career has been about investing in myself and as a self managed artist who invests in her own videos and music and self produces her own music I got to learn and grow up very quickly. Music is a business. Being in a space to manage budgets, to run a calendar to build relationships to really look at all the aspects beyond the creative and be responsible and mindful of all the aspects is huge. And being able to manage the time and your ability to focus on all the aspects is tricky. Ultimately it is necessary to learn what works for you as an individual particularly if you are looking to create new space and challenge pre-existing notions it is an opportunity to learn and to grow at your own pace. And that is how it has been for me - to learn to fall on your face and get back on your feet. To learn from the mistakes of others, to talk to my mentors and to figure out what it is like to build from the ground up. Africa is a wide open market. The industry is still very green. Creatives have the capacity to build businesses as well. We are looking at the long term sustainability of our practices and how we can set up the infrastructure for others to be able to develop their work as well.

For an artist for me it is very important for world’s to meet. For example when I exist in the digital art world you find that there is a lot of elitism and this narrative that music can support visual art but music and visual art cannot be on the same equal plain. It is always pick one – are you an artist, singer, dancer, writer – pick one and grow in that and let the leverage grow in that and be transferred into the other things you do. I never believed in that. I am under the impression that everything I do comes together. When you see a show, a costume, balloons, incredible visuals in the background, people dancing and live musicians – all of that is part of my work – it is composition, photography, directing, editing, producing visuals, costume design, stage design – it is everything and understanding that I have to put seven years into this everything.

I have to be disciplined in putting in the time. You should pay your dues, have mentors, go into residencies and put your money where your moth is. It is about a commitment and respect for all the art forms that I indulge in and bring them into one great harmony.
My mentor is an incredible Ghanaian artist based in the US and his name is Sam Adokwe. I sit with and talk to the philosophies behind my work. I remember when we started out having 5 hour conversations about the nature of God and whether or not we had Ghanaian philosophers and are we documenting their philosophies the way the West has documented their philosophies. We are looking at who we were long before the big disruption of many years. Mentorship comes in different forms. It is about being present and when you are present you find that your conversations becomes cyclical and your understanding of these ideas grows and you expand and then eventually you find that your frequency brings you in to the right spaces to have these conversations. And so you are mentored and nourished on a daily basis.

It is beautiful to see artists like myself invited into spaces like this because it shows the expansion of these spaces and that these spaces are growing with us making space for artists like myself and Time and the Bandits, and Thundercat and Kamasi Washington and Dizzy Rascal whilst still having the Pat Thomas and Abo Taylor and all of these other artists who are very traditional in their approach. And we are very much influenced by. Looking at the older generation and then our generation and allowing people to experience the evolution of these sounds and see the continuity of these sounds. Yesterday I played and Pat Thomas played right after me – so going from contemporary Ghana to old school Ghana and being able to understand the evolution of that sound from the same space. I appreciate the expansion of these spaces and the growing open mindedness of these spaces. We experience life in a multi-media and multi-sensory form, so why shouldn’t our creative spaces be like that:


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