December 11, 2015
Talking to freshman Joseph Awuah-Darko ’19 is like stepping into a vacuum of artistic euphoria. Born in London and now living in Ghana, he spent years trying to explore which of his passions he cared most about. However, it was during his spring break after high school that he really started to focus on what has now become his biggest ambition — music.
“In high school, I won most versatile actor as part of a musical cast,” he explains. “Then during Ex-President Bush’s visit to Ghana, I was chosen to be part of a group of three students that sang the national anthem at an event hosted for him. Music felt like something that naturally came to me, and the biggest challenge was convincing every one else that it was something worth committing to.”
Joseph started off as a painter, but has chosen to spend more time with his music.
Kunta Kinte, a character from Alex Haley’s novel Roots, inspired Økuntakinte, Joseph’s stage name. Haley claimed that the character was based on the story of a real-life man, captured from the Gambia and sold into slavery, who deeply resisted his enslavement.
“I believe in non-conformism, and people who do not allow themselves to be defined by the status quo or what those around them think,” Joseph adds. “I chose the modified ‘ØKUNTΛKINTE’ as a respectful way of celebrating the spirit of Kinte.”
Økuntakinte’s sources of music inspiration are eclectic, spanning a range of expressionism, surrealism, renaissance and abstract art, as well as soul, jazz and blues.
“I had a very typical rhythm and blues sound to my voice, and I didn’t like it all because it wasn’t recognizable,” Joseph explains. “I wanted to have a more unique and eccentric tone. Since I’m a huge fan of sixties jazz and blues, I decided to learn from the vocal styles of artists like Nina Simone, Billy Holiday, Nat King Cole and Fela Kuti. “I believe that greatness is nurtured from hours and hours of beating on your craft. So I spent some months doing intense vocal training and learning scaled techniques and methods aimed at achieving a raw leaner vocal tone. I did this before releasing the Summer of X.”
Over the past five months, Økuntakinte has released five singles, and now works under record label Meister Music, which he hopes will help him develop the strength of his work to mould a career. He is currently representing Ashesi on YFM Ghana’s Campus Star Search, and has made it onto the music competition’s shortlist of ten out of nearly fifty contestants. (Click here to vote for Økuntakinte)
“The beauty of abstract art is that it supersedes and transcends the limits and confinements that classical genres of artistry possess,” Joseph says. “I can be as primitive and as profound as I want.”
On his biggest source of strength, Joseph credits his family. “I feel like I won the parent lottery in heaven. Despite the initial struggle, I am so fortunate now to have parents who believe in my artistry and respect what I am trying to build. My dad is a big fan, and he actually listens to my music in his car. That’s one of the best things ever.”
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