AKUA: Cultivating Sound

Photo by Maja Hajduk

In the West African country of Ghana, “Akua” means “Wednesday” in the Fante dialect. In Canada, it’s the name of the innovative artist that graces this page. The singer is not in The Gold Coast, but Toronto’s High Park. And it’s a Monday. The ground is soggy after a morning rainfall, rather than dry and dusty like the African plains. Cherry blossom buds have barely made an appearance for this year’s bloom, yet their pink leaves are peaking, slowly but surely. They’re transitioning between seasons, like a songwriter and new compositions.

Akua Carson is budding like a cherry blossom and doing it in the most unconventional way. The 28-year-old uses her voice as a “metaphor” for personal development, where confidence has played a huge role throughout years of self-exploration. Her curly hair, tall stance and spunky style evoke individuality on another level and it’s audible in the music, too. With downtempo-laden synth, tribal percussion and a voice both richly soulful and full of grace, “Gravity” is the centerpiece single from Akua’s new EP, One’s Company.

The track is also featured on Episode 12 of the Showcase series, Lost Girl. Akua believes that public exposure isn’t a factor of affirming hard work, but rather an imposition from society.

“It’s funny because I’m getting past that point of needing approval. I think it’s part of my Ontario upbringing of succeeding and being acknowledged for something,” says the London native. “I had a lot of themes of what is legitimate because I didn’t grow up around artists or in an artistic home.”

Originally a closet singer, Akua’s talent wasn’t unveiled until she auditioned for an elementary school play at age 10. Raised by doting, biracial parents; a Nova Scotian mother and Ghanaian father, she always knew she could sing with a “hairbrush in hand” or in the shower, but didn’t know how to share her raw talent.

Everything changed when Akua moved to Montreal to study international relations at McGill University. She joined an acapella choir singing contemporary pop before branching out into the local indie music scene.

During her undergrad, Akua began to compose original music, mostly alone in her room, feeling intense emotions, encouraging her to write captivating lyrics of relationships and identity. She describes her sound as “more melancholic” than “sunshine,” yet doesn’t imply that her audiences should feel the same.

“I’m not at a place where I need lyrics to hit people and move them. It’s more of a personal exercise,” Akua says. “It’s cathartic for me.”

Writing One’s Company wasn’t easy. In November 2012, Akua lost her father to prostate cancer after many years of struggle with the disease and moved home from Montreal to be with her family. Months after the grieving process, Akua reclaimed her strength, putting “emotion to pen.” She believes that the best way to honour an influential person is through chorus and verse.

“If it weren’t for my dad’s illness, I wouldn’t have taken that pause to explore music. There are all of these tiny little blessings in dark times, you just have to look for them.”

The candid musician truly believes that “the power of people” has enabled her to develop relationships in the arts scene. From opening for Atlanta R&B artist Cody ChesnuTT to playing Canadian Music Week at the Silver Dollar Room, venue size doesn’t concern Akua, for it’s all a “matter of vibe.”

After performing at North By Northeast Festival in June 2012, Akua received an inquiry from a high school acquaintance, which led to an open-air homecoming set for the London community.

“It was the most beautiful, intimate show,” she says of lights strung and lawn chairs filled with neighbours young and old.

Akua has also connected with others as a vocal instructor at the Rock Camp for Girls program with national charity, Girls Action Foundation. Last summer, the artist witnessed young women emerge from cocoon to butterfly.

“I truly like watching 13-year-old girls pick up a guitar on Monday and play a song on Friday,” Akua regards the impact of the program. “You see that confidence being cultivated in the way the girls take risks and interact in a healthier way.”

With the release of One’s Company, this solo artist is more than comfortable in her own skin – be it on stage, with fellow artists and new environments. Growing from her past, Akua states that her voice now “mirrors” her confidence as a platform to share sub rosa messages with others.

“In terms of personal expression and exploration, I’m on a spectrum. I’m not saying all of the things I want to say yet.”

Akua has bloomed. But the shape of each petal wavers in every note she hits and chord she plays. For the songstress, poise is in place, but the pursuit is still in its prime.

This piece was first published in the Summer 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine



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