The all-female Ghanaian musical collective making sweet HERmony

As its wonderfully affirming name attests, Black Girls Glow celebrates, supports and mentors young Ghanaian women in music and poetry. The burgeoning feminist collective and annual residency programme brings together both established and new talents to not only empower themselves but also the wider community of resilient female artist across the country. Oh, and they make great music too. With two strong and sonically diverse albums to their name so far - Mothers Of Heirs and HERmony - this is just the beginning of a journey that they hope will nurture artistry, leadership and entrepreneurship and ultimately lead to more women at the top of this male dominated game. Nataal met with co-founders Poetra Asantewa and Dzyadzorm and two of this year’s recruits, Boham and Raës, in Accra to discuss the importance of togetherness.

How did BBG come to be?
In 2016 I was part of the fellowship project One Beat in the States, which was such a great experience that I thought, ‘This has to exist in Ghana’. When I got back, I spoke to Dzyadzorm and as two struggling poets on the scene here, we recognised the need for a platform that gives women the space to collaborate with each other. We reached out to other artists and had a two-day talkshop where we discussed everything from heartbreaks to the industry, and recorded the first album. We had a listening party and asked for support to help reach a wider audience. Three visual artists (Bright Ackwerh, Papa Oppong and Isaac Opoku) donated works and through auctioning those off we paid for our first concert in 2017.

How did you build on this initial success?
We knew there were so many women out there beyond our own circle so we did a call out for entries and had 32 submissions, which we cut down to six. We went to Stone Lodge outside of Accra for five days, which was scary and intense but also beautiful and amazing. These were all strangers coming together and every step of the way was documented as they followed a programme of workshops and exercises based around a theme.

How did you choose the theme?
We were having a conversation about the whole #MeToo movement. It hasn’t taken roots in different parts of Africa, including Ghana, because there are different solutions to different problems in each place. Just using a hashtag doesn’t work and would be irresponsible. So our ideas evolved around the idea of inclusivity. How does it feel to belong? How does it feel to say 'I have a voice'? Or how does it feel to say ‘My issues matter’? We sent the theme to the girls and we were just hoping that they would be brilliant enough to create from it. Miraculously, we came up with an 11-track album in two days.
Dzyadzorm: There was a level of bonding established in such a short number of days - by time we went into the studio people had been staying up all night and sharing secrets. It just felt like this was meant to be.

It sounds like there must have been some very special moments.
When we were first asked to come up with concepts for songs, it was very challenging but it helped me to build a momentum. Not everything worked out as we wanted it to but once I allowed myself to relax, all the strands came together. We’d play around with words, or someone would start tapping on the table, or pick up a guitar and organically we’d create something out of nothing.
Boham: I entered the residency thinking ‘I am not a song writer - I can sing but I can’t write music’. Then we had a song writing session with Ria Boss, a 2017 fellow, and by the end of it I had a song. I was so surprised at myself and it had me thinking a lot about other things I don’t do because I don’t think I’m capable of it. So now I know there’s a lot I could achieve if I just start getting into it.

Tell us about your favourite songs on the second album.
I like Reign – it’s a powerful song about finding strength in yourself. And Iron Girl is just about having fun.
Boham: Sister Mine is a poetic piece. It’s very calm and it’s asking for support. We are all women we must build each other up. Issa Rant is basically ranting about different things we see every day that effect women. Things that men do that fall into patriarchy and stops the growth of women, and things that women do that inhibits their own growth.

What are your primary concerns as female artists in Ghana?
I’ve often seen the arts industry here as a brotherhood. The female artists who have broken through have had to be accepted by the brotherhood. It shouldn’t be that way. We want to start our own community based on collaboration between female artists. We want to create opportunities for upcoming artists and to get away from that idea that you need be brought on by a big male star to be successful. That way we can stand on our joined strengths, blend our voices and asks people to look at us both individually and collectively.

Is BGG making an impact and where do you hope to go from here?
The response has been positive and encouraging but there’s still a long way to go. We want to become an established platform with a good following so that whoever comes next will have the attention they deserve to prove themselves. Next year we hope to get funding so that we can flesh out the programme and reach more women. We’re also organising regular speakeasies so that we can keep the conversation going all year round. It’s about creating a family that helps each other to ensure that we call all thrive.

Nataal would like to thank the British Council’s West Africa Arts programme for supporting our editorial focus on Ghana

Photography Sylvernus Darku
Words Helen Jennings

Visit Black Girls Glow

Published on 09/12/2018