On Sept. 8, the eclectic combination of Akua Naru and the DIGFLO Band rocked the KnightSpot with an emotionally-charged hip-hop concert that resonated with the intimate crowd.
Naru and her band played for almost two hours on Thursday evening, with a set that was split in half by a Q-and-A session with the audience. Backed by the DIGFLO Band from Cologne, Germany, Naru rapped about the current state of politics, religion and the place of women in the hip-hop industry, as well as about how the history of African-Americans as a people have affected her life and future in music.
Originally from New Haven, Conn., Naru's journey as a female rap artist is quite an interesting one. She has done a great deal of traveling to places like China and Germany, as well as locations around the United States, but she said her travels to Ghana, Nigeria and the Cape Coast of Africa impacted her the most.
"As an African-American before the trip, I was searching," Naru said. "There was a hole in me because I could never answer the question of where I was really from."
She went on to explain how her travels "gave her a window" to look at herself. "I was challenged to think about what kind of human I wanted to be in the world."
It was also on her travels that Naru met and befriended the current members of the six-piece DIGFLO Band after living in Germany within a small community of musicians. The sometimes jazzy, often electronic sounds emitted by the band emphasized the impact of Naru's lyrics, which were accented by disc jockey "Dr. Chris" and a wide array of eclectic instruments, including a saxophone and a cowbell.
Telling a story with the impact of black novelist Toni Morrison and the poetic brilliance of female hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill, Naru moved across the floor, captivating her audience with songs like "Run Away" and "Tales of Men" off of her album The Journey Aflame. It was writing songs like these based on her travels, Naru said, that helped her to "understand how much struggling and suffering is part of the human experience."
To lighten the mood, Naru engaged the small crowd with a medley of ‘90s rap and hip-hop songs by female artists including Eve and Lil' Kim. She was all smiles as she jumped around and rapped the lyrics of those pioneers that led her to where she is today.
Naru is a self-proclaimed "cultural critic," who said she uses rap as a form to express herself, and that she is first and foremost a writer in every sense of the word. "Hip-hop gives your words a way to live that a page in a book could never do," she said.
The Office of Multicultural Programs sponsored the event, which was part of Weeks of Welcome. Fatima Rodriguez Johnson, the coordinator of Multicultural Programs, said she was fascinated by Naru's life journey after hearing about her from a colleague at Niagara University, and believed that a performance by Naru and her band would correspond with her office's mission this year.
Through events like Cultural Harmony Week (Oct. 23-27) and the third annual hip-hop symposium in April, Rodriguez Johnson explained that her office is focusing on "exploring the way that we interact and communicate."
The Akua Naru performance and similar events "are something new for our campus," Rodriguez Johnson said. "Hip-hop has become an experience that so many diverse people can connect with."