The blessing of popular culture today is the understanding that everyone is different. And because of the time and era, different is celebrated.
Enter Jojo Abot, the Ghanaian musician, radical black feminist visual artist and musician.
She might be a representation of all of our black ancestors’ wildest dreams: free, bold, talented and wise.
I meet Jojo in Newtown. She’s had a day of back-to-back interviews with local journalists, where she chatted about her three-month tours in Australia and New Zealand, and the planning for a South African tour later this year.
For me, this meeting is an introduction to this visionary storyteller. In magnificent, real-life high definition I get to experience her muted yet powerful aura.
I also got to see her perform in front of a women-only audience at King Tha’s (Thandiswa Mazwai) birthday celebration this past weekend. She took them on a visual and auditory trip.
The first thing I ask her is a question that I know is unfair, but there is no better place to start.
How would you describe yourself to someone that has never interacted with your art forms before?
I don’t enjoy describing myself. Because no matter how I put it, it’s words. And words are limiting. I believe I am far better experienced than I am described.
When did you discover that your sound would not fall into the mainstream?
I tried to join choirs when I was younger but I was told that my voice was not going to take me anywhere.
I remember when I went to college - I went to college in Queens, New York - and they had this amazing all-black choir.
I was like, these people are the coolest kids on campus and I going to audition. Listen boo, I gave them like 5-7 minutes, and they all looked at me and all shook their heads. I knew ah, mba - no.
Then there were a series of coincidences that led me to realising that I could manipulate sound and create my own experiences, and create sound that’s visually stimulating.
That gave me a sense of power where I wasn’t a slave to the craft but I was more committed to a message. Provoking something in the listener.
Let’s talk about Fyfya Woto and Ngiwunkulunkulu. What space were you in when you created the work?
My work is fiction based on reality. I am stimulated by historical experiences but largely I work in a fictional space.
There is a main character I work with which is also the basis of my work. Fyfya Woto. It’s a rewrite of my grandmother’s name that will live with me forever.
She was created when I stood in a Danish fort in my home town. I realised relations between black and white people have evolved but there’s still a lot we need to do.
Standing in that space I thought to myself what would relations have been like in the 1700s and 1800s between myself and a Danish lover? The story came to me as clear as day. And that became a four-song EP.
Fast forward to Ngiwunkulunkulu which was a very spontaneous record I made, a glitchy record I produced in my bedroom. I had reached, while I lived in South Africa, the first time, a point of intolerance after I’d experienced a disrespectful, audacious existence of whiteness.
The response to this has been?
I played this record at the Orbit the other day, and the most powerful image was of young South Africans pointing at their chests, occupying their own space. I hadn’t experienced that disrespect in New York.
Racism is a virus, a disease. We need to allow our art to help us occupy space unapologetically. No one is going to give us this freedom as black bodies and black women.