Blitz Bazawule (Blitz the Ambassador) is a Ghanaian filmmaker, musician, and visual artist based in New York.
He is currently set to direct the Warner Bros. musical film THE COLOR PURPLE, based on the Tony-winning Broadway musical. Blitz most recently collaborated with Beyonce on her BLACK IS KING visual album now available on Disney+. BLACK IS KING reimagines the lessons of The Lion King. It is an affirmation of a grand purpose, with lush visuals that celebrate Black resilience and culture. His feature directorial debut, THE BURIAL OF KOJO, was acquired by Netflix through Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY Films. The film won Best Narrative Feature at Urbanworld Film Festival and has become a critical breakout, scoring the rare 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Blitz shot the film in Ghana with a local cast, and he composed and performed the score.
As a composer and musician, Blitz has released four studio albums and performed internationally on the festival circuit with his band Embassy Ensemble. Blitz directed many of his own music videos before making the jump to features, including the award-winning DIASPORADICAL TRILOGÍA. Blitz is a Senior TED Fellow, recipient of the Vilcek Prize, and the Guggenheim 2020 Fellowship. He is also the founder of the Africa Film Society, an organization focused on the preservation of classic African cinema.
Produced by Patrice Worthy and Farrah Rahaman
Edited by David Adams.
Engineered by Mike Mehalick.
Music supervisor: Rashid Zakat.
- Theme song composed by Vijay Mohan and remixed by David ‘DJ Lil Dave’ Adams.
- Additional music in this episode: “Deep Black Society” by A Thousand Times.
Show notes written by Irit Reinheimer
Deeba (Deeba featuringing Blitz Bazawule fka Bazaar, 2000)
Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972)
George Padmore (1903-1959)
Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line, a shipping company, was part of a larger effort for self-determination and economic independence. The Black Star Line also transported African Americans emigrants to Africa.
Native Sun (directed by Terence Nance and Blitz Bazawule, 2011)
Diasporadical Trilogìa (directed by Blitz Bazawule, 2016)
The Burial of Kojo (directed by Blitz Bazawule, 2019)
‘The Color Purple’ Feature Musical: ‘Black Is King’s Blitz Bazawule Set To Direct (Anthony D’Alessandro, Deadline, August 24, 2020)
Beasts of No Nation (directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2015)
Ousmane Sembène (1923-2007)
Black is King (film by Beyonce + collaborators, 2020)
Maori Karmael Holmes: (00:02)
You are listening to Many Lumens, where we talk about and find meaning in the intersections of art, social change and popular culture. I’m your host Maori Karmael Holmes. In this conversation I’m joined by Blitz Bazawule, the musician, filmmaker, writer and painter. We discuss the Black Atlantic and Kwame Nkrumah, moving to middle America from Ghana, finding a creative tribe and working across mediums, including film — the form perhaps best able to capture the many dimensions of Afro diasporic storytelling. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this show. As I know that you have a really busy schedule and we really, really appreciate participating in this first podcast of ours. You are our last interview in this pilot season, so it’s also really nice to just to be celebrating today that we did this, um, there of course is a lot going on in Philadelphia and, you know, just in the world period right now. So I want to take some time to kind of acknowledge that, but yeah, just very much gratitude for you agreeing to do this.
Blitz Bazawule: (01:25)
Thank you guys for, for having big pleasure.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (01:28)
What or whom gave you permission to consider yourself an artist?
Blitz Bazawule: (01:34)
I will say first, you know, my mother grandmother, you know, they were the first artists I knew, you know, in, in, in, in whatever, whatever pure sense of the, of that word is, you know, just the ability to create the ability to, to use your imagination, you know, uh, to bring forth a world. And my grandma mother was a master of that. And my mother continued that, you know, for us growing up and, you know, I never grew up with an idea that art was one specific thing, you know, for me, the way my mother got ready for church on Sunday was art. The way that somehow, you know, without having a lot, we could have so much on our plates was art, you know, and, you know, the stories that were told, whether doing domestic stories or, or, you know, world-building stories like my grandmother would tell that was art, you know, um, the way family would show up on, on, on the weekend and they’ll play music, uh, on vinyl and dance was art. So looking at that, and I will always, that will be my first purist idea of what art is and permission to participate, you know, cause that was another thing we would never kind of kept out the kids run around while all of this was happening. And so we witnessed it and we were never on the outs of any of it. Um, and so yeah, I will say that is kind of my, that was my permission.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (03:09)
I want to fast forward a little bit from growing up into you broke out as a musician in 2000 as a featured guest on a song called Deba. Our researcher went really deep in the archives and found the video clip, which was really great. And I noticed that your name at that time was “Bazaar ” And I was curious, how did you come to that name? And then how did that evolve into Blitz?
Blitz Bazawule: (03:37)
Bazaar was just the first four letters of my last name. Right. And then they kind of added the AR at some point I had nothing to do with that, but, um, yeah, that was like my, you know, probably like my first real recording and I have to deeply, um, salute and send love to a brother called Hama homo is the first person to say, Hey, you should record at my studio. And that song actually became quite a big song. And, and I remember at that time we were going through kind of a political, um, election moment in the country. And I remember some of the political parties using that song as kind of their, their anthems at the time. So it was, it was, it was a big deal. We, we also won like best new artist in Ghana, um, of that record.
Blitz Bazawule: (04:33)
And so it was, it was very early. I had no idea what the business was. I had no idea what I, even if I was going to be an artist for living. Uh, but I, but I did know that it was something special. And, um, um, when I did move to the United States at the time of show, a lot of people know D 12. Uh, there was a guy called Bizarre in D 12, um, and bizarre and bizarre just sounded too similar. So said, well, you know, at the time, you know, I was, I was at Kent state university as a freshmen. And, um, you know, my style of rapping was super rapid and fast and people would be like, man, you know, you blitz the track, you blitz the track. And I was like, well, I’m sounding like a bad name. So that’s where the blades comes from. And, and then kind of, you know, the rest is just kind of been an evolving sense of self since then.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (05:30)
That’s great. And I know it’s been interesting, like a lot of rappers who become actors, trying to figure out sort of what name to use and you evolving into a filmmaker that you have this hybrid now between your rap name, like half your rap name and half your real name is like the name that you’re going by. And just wondering how you settled on that. Was that just a function or is there, was there an intention of merging the two?
Blitz Bazawule: (05:54)
Yeah, I mean, I, you know, I’ve gone by Blitz the Ambassador for a decade of being a musician and people knew me as that. And then, um, you know, I get this opportunity to, to, to make film and, you know, I was like, Oh, that’d be, you know, cause everyone called me Blitz at that point, you know, and, and it, and it became like my first name anyway. So I, I decided, and then kind of the alliteration of that also just sounded, you know, blitz baza wule just kind of worked. And so that’s kind of been it. And, and, and that also allows me to still go back and be blitz as a musician and allows me to be Blitz Bazawule as a filmmaker.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (06:35)
You grew up in Acra yes? I was curious for you. I ask a lot of people personally, but haven’t had an opportunity to do it in any platform. So I’m actually excited to ask you this, where do you see yourself in the legacy as someone from West Africa in the sort of transatlantic slave trade, but connected to a global Pan-African and Black identity, you know, sort of, how do you situate yourself in that?
Blitz Bazawule: (07:04)
That’s a great one. I mean, well, you know, my, and this is also a big tribute to my parents and how I was raised. I was always raised to understand that there was, there was a global black identity that existed outside of just being Ghanaian, right. And specifically Sila as my tribe. Right. And so like, you know, that expansion has always has been ongoing. And my understanding of kind of the role in which the continental African, um, performs in this scattered diaspora is also been quite a responsibility. You know, knowing that, you know, the, the, the need to connect to some sort of home, whether it’s physical, ideological, uh, revolves around kind of Africans creating those pathways. So growing up, I didn’t see a lot of that. And, and I didn’t there wasn’t that much. I mean, fortunately Ghana was born out of a Pan-Africanist idea. Really, if you think about Nkrumah coming to Philadelphia, being a student, going back to Ghana independence, bringing over brilliant minds like George Patmore or WB Dubois to helping the foundation. So I’ve already, I knew that going up and I knew where we fit in that space. Uh, but as an artist specifically, and I did take that upon myself to say, look, if, if, if, you know, for whatever reasons our nation states, aren’t still pushing that agenda, that idea of creating bridges, then the artist has to take that responsibility. So I’ve always seen, seen my work as an artist, and that’s also kind of going back the name and naming oneself that I I’m, the ambassador part of this was always been been about that. Because just to say, I, I recognize that there are so many fragments around how black identity exists on the continent and in the diaspora. And the artist has to step in and create some of these bridges. So for me, whether it’s in the United States, it’s in Latin America, South America, it’s in Europe, in Asia, my job is always as an artist to say, here’s a pathway, which you can look back to the land in whatever form, fashion is possible. And so I’ve done it in film, music, fine art, like whatever venture that I’ve been in that has been one consistent and constant driving force.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (09:31)
But it’s funny that I mean not funny, but it’s great that you mentioned Nkrumah and also his time in the States and specifically in Philly. Cause we were definitely gonna go into that because of course, you know, I run the Blackstar Film Festival. We definitely take our cues, it is a nod to Marcus Garvey and the black star line, but definitely in Nkrumah’s use of the black star in the Ghanaian flag and everything that it means to Ghana, but also just this general Pan-African idea. So I wanted to also ask you, what does Nkrumah mean to you? Although I feel like you’ve just sort of answered some of that, but if you had anything else to add.
Blitz Bazawule: (10:09)
I mean, it’s, you know, um, it’s, I’m actually writing a book or a novel right now and he kind of plays a significant role in it. So I’ve been forced to kind of, um, do a ton of research recently, um, on top of what I already knew and, and um, I mean, you know, his ideas, no matter how, how they ended, you know, was so ahead of its time back then, you know, and, and to think about the circumstances to which those were born, you know, and so early. And just his understanding that, you know, blackness was, was global, you know, is something that I think that we, we have, you know, even if we do understand that as an idea, we don’t practice it as as much, you know, I think folks in that era post independence knew the stakes and knew that survival was based on our connectivity. And so, you know, Nkrumah beyond of course being the liberator and independence movement leader. There’s also for me an incredible spiritual guides for what we’re attempting to do. Right. Which is more bridges, more understanding, uh, more connectivity. Um, so that, so that, you know, we are, you know, whenever we appear, we don’t appear as fragments of ourselves, but we appears as, as full selves, which so, so many other, you know, groups on this planet have that privilege of appearing as a United front, um, ideologically or physically. So that’s kind of what for me is important. Um, and, and he was an incredible beacon back then and continues to be for me, for sure.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (11:55)
Yeah. As a teenager, what was your focus of study? And I’m curious, what made you want to come to the United States and then also, how did you choose Kent State of all places to come to?
Blitz Bazawule: (12:06)
Yeah, so it starts with me as a visual artist. So I drew, painted throughout, um, throughout like elementary school years, and even, um, what we call secondary school. It was visual arts. So that’s really what cause I was for me the most accessible at the time. Um, and so I did that over time and then, um, you know, hip hop as a culture starts to permeate quite, uh, in a massive way. And so, you know, public enemy comes to Ghana in 1992, it kind of sparks his whole, you know, aesthetic revolution, Sonic revolution. We were also listening to a lot of Highlife music at the time, which was a dominant, you know, sound of that era. And so little of it was talking about sort of the acts that young people were going through. It it’s a lot of love songs, right. And not a lot of it was dealing with, uh, social economics and, and, and just the fact that so many of us, um, had no real, um, sense of how we were going to achieve our dreams. Then hip hop shows up and then you see people who look like you certainly on the other side of the Atlantic, but have figured out a way, not only to define themselves, but to say, um, that this is who we’re going to be and be brash about it. And B and B I’m unapologetic about it. Right? And so that attracted a lot of us. And if you look at, if you look at you go around the world and you see what hip hop in the nineties did for young people globally, you go to Cuba, you go to Brazil. I mean, it’s it functioned in the same exact way if you were black or Brown or, or, or were in any group that was considered on the fringes hip hop was kind of your, your voice. It became your voice and you, you adapted. And so that was it for me. I, I found a lot of meaning in it and certainly so much love for the, for the, for the pioneers Cain rock, ham, public enemy de LA tribe, you know, and then there was also kind of a, an interesting aesthetic callback, you know, when you look at the African medallions that were popular at the time and the dashikis and the cuvees that were in the music videos, we could also identify. And it, and it was almost like a distant cousin saying I’m here to like pay attention. And so that was happening simultaneously to, you know, same time that we will also try to self-discover. And so then it became, Oh, wait a second holiday function. How are they doing that? Oh, they’re taking old records, like funk, like jazz, and they are adding these heartbreaks to them. So we said, Oh, well, if we took Afro-beat and Highlife, and these records from the sixties and seventies, and perhaps added these, we could also arrive at this. And one of, one of the most incredible first people that to show that it was possible as a brother called, uh, Reggie Rockstone was still incredibly popular in Ghana. And Reggie really is. We open our eyes, you know, he had lived in, in, in, in London. And I think you’ve been in the States for a brief moment, but he was the first person I saw that that had, that had taking. And so I think he is one of certainly the pioneers of hiplife, which was a, a, an amalgamation of hip hop and Highlife. And, and that was life-changing for me, because immediately I said, I realized that all we can contribute to the global discourse while, while still contributing something that is, you know, ours, you know, um, to this larger, uh, parts of that is a long way to say, I knew that to participate probably in, again, let’s remember, this is before my space. This is before Facebook, before Twitter, Instagram, you know, I was just, there was just no way that I thought that I could communicate to my, to the us for, um, my family outside of, you know, so I was like, well, if I came to the place that was, you know, had the biggest media monopoly in the world, then it will allow for this springboard. And, and certainly New York was that, and prior to New York, it was well being also the Nan, your parent wants you to have that degree. So I was like, well, I’m just going to do both. I’m going to go to whatever college. And then Kent state was the most random decision ever. There was no real thought besides I’d seen a random thing about, you know, some, you know, student protests where some shooting happened. And I was like, Oh, okay, they’re going to be, there will be some kind of, uh, activism on campus because boy was I wrong. I showed up and it was, you know, that was completely in the seventies and whatever. And none of that existed when I showed up, uh, to camp. So that was just what I got, but it was also just a good education into understanding what middle America looked like. You know? And, and now, especially in this climate that we’re in a lot of people who live on the coast have no idea so much of what this country is. Right. And that for me was a huge education. So that’s how I arrived.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (17:11)
It’s always fascinating to me to ask those stories because, you know, even myself, I think the ways that we make decisions at 17, 16, 18 years old, and the impact that it eventually has, but, and depending on the family you come from, I had a lot of leeway and was on my own. And so like, when I think about how I made those decisions, it is wild, but also I think it also shows you when the ancestors have their hands on you, because you ended up exactly where you needed to be. You know,
Blitz Bazawule: (17:39)
And I will say this just really, really quickly, we’re Kent State ended up the blessing that Kent State ended up being was that, you know, it’s, you know, it’s predominantly white school and super, super, super white middle America. So kind of, there was this natural kind of black studies, um, confluence that was happening. So kind of everyone kind of rotated into that black studies building, which really, for me, um, is really where my awakening happened. You know, and the beauty of that department was that it had theater, it had literature, it had African studies, African-American studies. I had everything in there. And so like if I wasn’t taking a literature class, I was taken at theater class. So I, I was in plays. I did, I directed, I did light. I did all those things in that department learned a lot. Um, cause that’s another thing, you know, when you leave the continent, you’re coming with like whatever the British bequeathed educationally, which so much of it just has nothing to do with us globally. And so Kent state was my education. Has it relate to black people specifically in America, but also black people globally. And that was that, that out I’m eternally grateful for. I don’t think so. That was always the case in, in, in other campuses at the time. And so I was really lucky to be there.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (19:04)
Can we talk a little bit about how you made a transition from music into filmmaking? And if you also want to talk about, I mean, I think you’re hinting at it, but most people probably don’t understand how broad your practices as a visual artist, you’re working on a novel. You just mentioned this, you know, uh, fomenting of some of this in college, but you have been successful in multiple disciplines as a painter, but I think I’m most interested in moving into what you’re currently doing. So what was the transition from music into filmmaking?
Blitz Bazawule: (19:35)
Um, so back in 2010, and this is maybe a little or a little before that, um, I’d always wanted to, I always knew this is even before I found any real success in music. You know, I always knew that music because of back in the day, how, you know, things have definitely changed now, but it was V we were very stratified and [inaudible] kind of driven. And so the chances to someone who wasn’t a hip hop head to hear me was very slim at the time. Um, and kind of, you know, with the iPod and with those changes with I, you know, with the internet, our tastes have expanded. And now, I mean, if you look at the average kid’s device, it has music of all kinds of Johns, but that wasn’t the case. I mean, you remember like you walk into the record store and it’s very segregated. And if you, you, you don’t venture to that metal section at all. You know, it’s like all the rock and roll section. Um, if you wear a certain kind of a person. And so, um, Matt, for me, I always knew that based on whatever kind of ideas of trying to, uh, to reach as abroad as possible population, I always knew the film cut across a lot more. Like if, you know, if you see, you know, if you ask people what their favorite films are, you’ll, you’ll find a cross section that is a little bit more diverse than say music even till today, right? Um, so I knew that if I participated in film, my chances of getting these ideas out would be so much broader and so much more global. Um, and so I started doing it in a very, very piecemeal so like I make a record and then I try to make a film or music videos or whatever visual accompaniment I could create. I’ll do it myself, you know, because I knew that first of all, no one was ever going to give me money and a script to go direct something. Right. So it was like I had to learn something and I also looked at my post, my education, uh, so called formal education. I was like, I don’t want to go to film school. Like I’d already, you know, going through college was enough for my parents. Right. And I didn’t wanna, I didn’t wanna, you know, continue that. So I just knew that I wasn’t going to go to film school. Um, and so yeah, it, it really just boiled down to me saying, I’m going to be doing it while I’m making music. So at some point, you know, if I, if I’m, if I learn enough, I’ll be able to take little pieces that I’ve made and turn it into something. And I think, you know, and big, big shouts and big loves to Terence Nance cause you know, us making “Native Son” together on that album was a big education. You know, we went to Ghana together and made that film and pick up to Shawn Peters who came with us and James Bartlett, who was the producer of that. And, you know, again, just piecemeal that together, but it was huge education. So when I was making diaspora radical trilogy of the album, I was like, okay, this now I may be able to step out alone and do something with just my view. And, you know, but then again, I was like going back to kind of the original mission, which is, you know, I got to make it global. I got to figure out how to communicate across with African people globally. And so, you know, making shooting in Ghana, shooting in Bahia, shooting in Brooklyn, we’re all part of that education and certainly big up to you guys. Um, because we, you know, it, it was actually programmed a Blackstar and, and really, yeah, you know, it’s like the first time I was like, okay, well this thing might, you know, it, it might work. I just need to go back now and figure out. And I remember, like a few of us, um, you know, surely Teran, surely, um, uh, Sean, um, few of us were standing outside one, we’re standing outside a screening. I forget who screening it was. And, you know, we were all just talking about what we were planning to do. And this was 2016. And I remember saying, man, I’m listening to everybody talk about what they’re going to do. You know, cause everybody want to show up again at BlackStar, it’s something better, you know? And I was like, man, I, I got to go back. I gotta go back home. I gotta figure out something. So I remember it was August, 2016. I just like went to Ghana and I didn’t come back until, you know, I mean, I may have showed up to play a show here and there, but I really was down there figuring out The Burial of Kojo and, and all of that was really just to come back with something because I knew everybody was going to be coming back with something, you know, that, that was kind of like the, the internal, the beauty of that kind of competition. It’s like, okay, very cool. But I, now I got to go work harder, you know, come back with something. Uh, great. So that was it. And making burial of Kojo really is, you know, it’s kind of was the spring.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (24:38)
Yeah. Thank you for sharing that story. That, that was a very special festival. It was the fifth one. And that’s the, I don’t know if you remember, but the power went out in the middle of a screening. Terrence and Arthur Jafa was in that block and it just, it was the, we were just talking about it yesterday because what was happening at the same time was a marker was being put in the ground for, to recognize the first enslaved Africans brought to the shores of Philadelphia. And that’s what I mean, we can’t say it’s what made the power go out, but it happened at the exact same time. So, so it seems like you must have benefited from a little bit of that as well, which is incredible. I wanted to bring up, I became aware of your work via Terrence and James and Chanel Pearson and you know, the folks who had MVMT collective. And I was curious if the collective is still intact, do you all still see yourselves as a collective, even though everyone’s careers have expanded so widely and related to that, do you currently have a council of folks to whom you lean upon for like critique and check-in?
Blitz Bazawule: (25:48)
Absolutely. And I mean, you know, MVMT was, was a family, you know, I mean, we, we, you know, something, a lot of people don’t know Terrence Nance, myself, James, Orlando, Chanel, Natasha. We were all roommates, you know? And so that was like, I mean, we leaned on each other in some of our lowest points and celebrated with each other and our highest points. And that hasn’t changed, you know, we’re, we’re still like a family. I mean, obviously, you know, business ventures take people into different corners of the world and, and all that. But to your question around family mean, you know, those same people, I still might lean on to, you know, Shanghai texts with Sean all the time, tans James, you know, family always, always just kind of, you know, cause we’re all going through similar things, maybe at different points of whatever ladder.
Blitz Bazawule: (26:44)
This is, uh, you know, we all going through similar things. Some of us have been through it already. Some of us are just about to go into it. So we’re always in touch that way. And, and it’s, it’s always something I always advocate when I meet young creatives is man, you got to find your family and it’s gotta be love because you know, success of failure is going to happen over time. It’s just the nature of any kind of journey, but you’re going to have to find people who you love deeply and they love you deeply. And that is going to continue on. Some of us will have kids. Some of us will, you know, things are going to, but that family is going to be your, your bedrock. You’re always going to be able to come back to that. And so I was extremely fortunate to have met, you know, these folks and some of them was so random in the way we met, but overall that family, so much of my success, um, is a result of that family. And so that I keep that no matter what happens and it’s critical that every creative has hap have that.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (27:53)
Yeah. I heard you say that you had a uniform when you were touring as a musician, that you would make sure to wear suits and they were often made out of Ancora and I was curious if you also have a uniform as a director on set, like, what is the look, you know, how do you put on your costume to like go to work? Yeah.
Blitz Bazawule: (28:11)
Yeah. Oh, I love, listen. I love uniform looks, you know, it’s like, it’s, it’s it’s for a few reasons. When I was a musician, um, we were going, we were traveling so much and we were playing so much and I show up and this is before we, before I, and this is before 2010. So after 2010, I was like, Oh, this is the look that’s going to work for us. Right. But prior to that, like I’ll show up and it’ll be a band plan. And I’ll be like, which band is that? And it could have been any band. Right. And I was just like, I don’t like that. I don’t like the fact that, you know, people can’t from afar, can’t tell who’s up on stage. Right. And so, um, I was just like, all right, this is how we’re going to look. And we look, we look, we’ve looked that way for, you know, 10 years.
Blitz Bazawule: (28:59)
Right. And, um, and the same is true for, for directing, for directing. And I, this is more from a practical standpoint. It’s like, it’s an old black regalia for me and it’s, and it’s, and it’s that because first of all, I can I go to gap and I could buy the same thing, like 10 of them. And I don’t have to do laundry if I want to attend, you know, 10 day hustle and I’ll do laundry. And, and I, when I, when I jumped out of bed, I don’t have to think. And, and that for me is it’s been important because there’s so much, and, and, you know, any director knows this, your morning begins with so much a problem solving. Um, and I always want, have time to ground myself. And so the less time I spend on, you know, anything frivolous, like, look, you know, th th the more time I have to ground and to figure out that the challenge of the day. So, yeah. I feel like man, throughout, yeah, Berlin Kojo, it was like all black, Dwayne Beyonce is black is Kang’s all black and certainly, you know, continuing on it, it just, again, it just makes life very simple for me. And I, I, yeah, I think a lot of directors have that, even if it’s not a basic, it’s like a set of thing, you know, it’s a set look that is already dialed in. And so you just have more time to think about, you know, your day and the challenges ahead.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (30:27)
I I’m always striving for that. I have not figured out my look, but I am always, always striving,
Blitz Bazawule: (30:34)
But you’d be having some killer shoes though. So, yeah. Yeah.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (30:40)
So do you prep for your projects? Do you tend to mood board or do you have, you know, do you have a consistent
Blitz Bazawule: (30:48)
Practice? Yeah, I mean, it, you know, and this is also just super grateful for my, you know, visual art background, you know, uh, you know, and I’ve, I always see film as a visual medium, you know, certainly you have your Sonics and you have other things, but it’s primarily visual. And so I start, I start first with collecting just, just a ton of images, right. Just things that, you know, photographers that have, that have shot in the, in the vibe, in which I’m looking to shoot particular project, um, you know, on Berlin Kojo. Um, there was a lot of Alex Webb. And so like, I, I print out 50 Alex web photos and my bedroom is literally covered and out of swept photos, like on the wall, it’s when you wake up, you’re immersed, you’re in that world. You’re seeing what the colors are going to do.
Blitz Bazawule: (31:39)
Like, so I do that just a few months into the project. And then, um, and then I store a board accessible, you know, that’s one thing that I’ve, I’ve always counted on because, um, you know, I believe in the spontaneity of the moment and I believe in the ancestors hands in the work that I do, and I always leave room for that, but, uh, I’m also aware that my assistant expect me to be ready, you know, so that I can take full responsibility and full, um, a full advantage of, of what they give. And so that’s been just a very key part of my prep process, you know, and even if the scene ends up being different from our storyboard in it, I always know where I’m starting. And for me, that’s the most important if you know what you’re starting then, you know? Yeah. You’ll change, you know, and I look at burial and I’m like, Oh man, I, I completely drew this in the opposite versus how I’ve edited it together. But it gave me a chance to know where to start, you know, and, and I, I highly, you know, that
Blitz Bazawule: (32:40)
All types of ways to do storyboards. If, you know, if you can’t draw, you can certainly photograph your friends in these places already. Or you can draw stick figures that allow you at least to have a sense of where the camera goes and, and where your, where your characters go, because that gets you into again, the goal is to bypass all of the, you know, all of the ancillary stuff that has nothing to do with procuring the image, the final image. And so the sooner you are able to decide on all these things, the more time you give your actors, the more time you give cinematographer, the more time you give the process in general. Yeah.
Speaker 4: (33:21)
What would you say right now? And it may be too early to ask, but what is the through line or the locus of your films?
Blitz Bazawule: (33:30)
No, I don’t think it’s too early. I mean, I, I think that I’ve had a viewpoint over time and even in my short films, I always did. Um, and certainly now, um, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s being able to capture, you know, what the third eye sees, you know, and, and that’s, that’s, you know, that’s difficult to explain a lot of times in this convention inventional, uh, setting old world, but, um, I, you know, in some we’ll call it magical realism, some will call it, you know, mysticism, like whatever, you know, whatever that plane is that we, we know, we see, and we see it in our dreams. We see it in our, you know, I’ve always strived to, to add that element because as an African I’m certain that that is, that is one of the, one of the most fertile places to create from, for me.
Blitz Bazawule: (34:22)
Right. Um, certainly can’t speak for the vast majority, but certainly that has been the one place that I know doesn’t exist in somatic lexicon and mass right now. And, and, you know, as, you know, certainly indigenous people and cultures that are much closer to the earth have just a little bit more connection to that side. And so I’ve, I’ve always looked at my work as contributing to that part. And so everything I’ve done, you know, everything from diaspora, radical burial, black is King. And certainly now I’m working on the color purple, all extensions of that side. And I, and I, I do believe that the more we give we contribute to that cannon, the more balance is restored in the cinematic because it’s constantly been from a very Eurocentric viewpoint, which isn’t how complete story on this earth, you know? And so a big part of that story is missing. And, and I speak again specifically for me, this is the corner that I know I can contribute to. So I’ve been intentional about that.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (35:39)
When you think about this question that we’ve been grappling with through the black star project broadly on cinema and its promise as a mode of black cultural expression, you know, what do you see? I think you’re getting to that with your last answer, but you know, what is possible in the future?
Blitz Bazawule: (35:57)
I mean, I think it’s, I’ll say it like this being a musician, right. And having the privilege of practicing for a decade and having the privilege of touring the world for decade and seeing the Marriott of black musical expression, unfettered, unhindered, and, uh, on co-opted. I know that as an expression, black people are just beginning, uh, to express themselves cinematically. Because if you look at what we’ve been able to do at reggae, jazz, funk, Afrobeat, and everything else, and if you just took that as a medium and you took film cinema as a medium, you, we have not yet seen what sandbox in, in cinematic form looks like. And, and, and there’s a myriad of reasons, but certainly barriers to entry is one huge one. We know that the reason we’ve been able to express ourselves sonically with such a breadth of, of, of, of style is because we’ve had access to the tools, you know, just you and your homies can get together and you can create something incredible.
Blitz Bazawule: (37:13)
And that’s how we’ve always done it. Cinema however, has been a lot more difficult because of the, just again, the barriers to entry. So now that the tools are becoming as available, it’s inevitable that we are going to see style and freedom, specifically, freedom that has existed in our Sonic expressions and certainly other expressions, other artistic expressions that are, you know, even literature, if you look at how we’ve written over times, because you know what a typewriter, you can get it done and how it gets published as another question, but the writing of it is accessible cinema hasn’t always been. So now we find ourselves in this disjuncture where the tools are becoming liberated in a way that tools for music or tools of visual art or tools for literature have been liberated. And so we’re just starting, we’re just starting in terms of our, our contribution and the promise of being able to say, man, like you haven’t seen what we can do with this camera at all. You know, you let one spike Leanne, look at what he gave you. Now imagine a hundred, imagine a thousand unfettered and free, you know, and so, and so that’s where we are arriving at inevitably because it’s always also becoming more, more accessible and
Blitz Bazawule: (38:36)
You can already see remnants of it through things like vine and, and, and, and, and, and take talking all these things that I just incredible, incredible creative with, again, with just getting familiar with the tool. And so the minute the familiarity happens, we’re going to see an incredible genre bending, uh, approach to cinema. And it it’s happening though right now,
Maori Karmael Holmes: (39:01)
For sure. You’re listening to many lumens brought to you by Blackstar. Welcome back. You’re listening to many lumens brought to you by Blackstar.
Blitz Bazawule: (40:04)
I want to talk a bit about Varial Kojo, what attracted you to its story? And what was your goal in making this film? Attraction was just the opportunity to show us the way I know us. You know, it just, I, I hadn’t seen much of it, or certainly not much of it the way I grew up remembering the proximity to each other, the way we moved around each other, the camera hadn’t done that in my eyes yet. You know, the way we, we sweat under the sun just hadn’t been captured in, in at least not as much as I would’ve liked. So that was the first attraction for me was just that the possibility to just have a living Testament of how I know us to be. Um, and, and a lot of it again was just from my growing up, you know? And so a lot of where my camera was a lot was just cause again, memory from like hanging around my uncles and my aunties will show up on a Sunday and gossip all day. And my vantage point of listening to that gossip. Like I remember that I remember how they smell. I still remember the perfume they wore, you know, like that kind of stuff you don’t forget. And I just knew that if no one who is not from there and hadn’t lived through that could do that. And so I found myself in that place where I had to. So that was one
Blitz Bazawule: (41:34)
In terms of goal. Honestly, I don’t, I cannot say that I had a specific goal for it, except the fact that I wanted it to be seen. And I, and I wage it with myself that no matter what happened, you know, my film would be seen, of course, I didn’t know that it will end up, you know, thanks to Ava and the RA team. I had no idea that ended up on Netflix, none of that. But I, I was certain because we had achieved the fee, a feat that hadn’t happened. I knew that. And so I was completely clear about the fact that it will proliferate and it will be seen, it may take 10 years to be seen. I didn’t know those points. I did not know, but I, but I won’t say that was the only goal and everything that has come out of that has been certainly, um, you know, you know, just extra, you know, but the goal was certainly just to make sure that this film was seen and it would be it’ll contribute to the cannon.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (42:36)
No, it definitely will. I’ve read. And I think our also heard you talk about it as the first, um, fully Ghanaian film. Can you explain what this means?
Blitz Bazawule: (42:48)
I mean, it, you know, certainly in, from a financial standpoint, you know, just, just in terms of, [inaudible] not financial, but more like from a funding and ideological standpoint, right. Um, so much of what we do, especially on the continent of Africa, film wise is often filtered through, you know, foreign cultural institutions, right? And they exist on the continent and mass, the goal specifically is to advance their countries, whatever culture, right. And they have funded. And so what they end up doing is they ended up playing gatekeeper for our stories, not so different from what happens around the world, certainly not in America as well. So you have gatekeepers who have very little proximity to this story, this kind of storytelling, and yet have the resource. And so they decide what is made, how it’s made, how far it goes. Um, if you’re going to go to Cannes, if you’re going to go to TIF, if you’re going to go to somebody, you almost, it’s almost impossible if your film isn’t routed as an African film through these foreign cultural institutions.
Blitz Bazawule: (43:59)
And so, um, I knew that that wasn’t the kind of film I wanted to make. I want to make my film with people who know love approximate enough, understand, uh, grappling with what it means to be African in this context. Um, and that was key for me. And I have one foreign on set who was my DP, Michael Fernandez, and much love to Michael. Uh, because even when Michael came to Ghana, there was a level of submitting that was necessary for, to participate. Uh, Michael is Mexican, uh, African-American African. So, you know, but he was the only foreign. And that was important for me. Um, because certainly you, you, you want, you want viewpoints as well, but again, this is submit, submit, and as necessary for me as an African who has lived overseas for a while, even that is required of me as well. So there was a submitting that was necessary.
Blitz Bazawule: (45:00)
The difference is that so many foreign institutions don’t submit because certainly the power is skewed and they don’t have to submit. So the work ends up being bland. It always, almost always ends up with a, of gays that isn’t an ward. Um, and that, that is, uh, that has been our history. And so making burial was important for me that I would, I would protect that. And I think that in every frame, we, we will, we will stand by that frame and say, that’s, that’s true. And that’s not because this other person sees it this way is because this is how we see it. And that for me is it’s important.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (45:37)
You filmed on location in Accra and cast local actors. Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve found your cast and crew?
Blitz Bazawule: (45:47)
It was rough. Yeah. I mean, because, you know, again, of making a film in 2016, um, there will be shot in 2017. There was so little, uh, experience. There was a lot of talent, there was very little experience. And so kind of, I have to start, it was like, it was like building a building from the foundation up. And, um, I had to educate myself, but I also had to educate everyone. Who’s going to be involved with this. So we had to watch everything. We all learned each other’s jobs. You know, I learned how to produce my producer. I learned how, you know, how to cast. I mean, we all learned, and that for me is probably the most important legacy that the burial of Kojo has is that it showed a few things that showed that one internally we can do it ourselves because prior to that, um, the Mo the, there hadn’t been much shocking.
Blitz Bazawule: (46:48)
Don is certainly the biggest, last project I was shutting down before we shot. It was beast of no nation. These have no nation, uh, stone ages, uh, directed by Carrie. What, what, where were all external, uh, free produced prefabricated structures that arrived in Ghana? So a lot of people don’t see how it’s made put together. Um, my team learned how to fund it. My team learned how to protect each other safety. We look, we learn, we learn so many things. And then certainly the icing on the cake was crowdfunding, which, you know, I’m still incredibly indebted to our community, um, for that contribution on Kickstarter, which allowed us to get to the finish line, but it was, it exposed us all. So the fact that we could do it ourselves. And so, you know, it was, it was a, it was a local, uh, investment.
Blitz Bazawule: (47:44)
It was a local, um, scouting, you know, looking for people who had the right heart, maybe not, you know, not be the experience, but knowing that if put in that position, they will hold. And it’s been incredible for me to see. So many of them continue on, um, to work. Uh, I work on very high level productions. It’s incredible for me to see, you know, my cast, Cynthia, specifically that the young girl who played, um, uh, AC and Joe Joseph, who played Kojo, you don’t have so many opportunities now globally, that they, you know, they are, they are, they are part of this global, um, family of cinema now. And I, and, and I’m incredibly proud to have achieved that. And if nothing at all, to have shown that internally, we have, we always have what it took. We just needed, we just needed to get it together. And that was it
Maori Karmael Holmes: (48:44)
Collaborated with Michael Fernandez, who you just mentioned as DP on this film, but also worked with him before. And you worked with him before burial, right? Or was that your first?
Blitz Bazawule: (48:56)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, but he hadn’t shot for me. He did color. Uh, he did, he did color on diaspora, radical trilogy of Bahia shield. So he did a color grading them.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (49:09)
And then you had him work with you on Beyonce is black, is King as well. And I was curious, how did you meet and what is it about his style and approach to cinematography that appeals to you?
Blitz Bazawule: (49:23)
Well, Michael had a similar journey as me. She’s a musician, you know, and so, you know, I think we all look at film in a very similar way. We all look at visuals in a very lyrical way, you know, and, and, and that lyricism and that pacing, uh, was important for me to find someone who understood that. And, and, um, and on burial of Kojo, we kind of learned to trust each other as friends, as brothers. And, um, and certainly on, on black is King. It was an expansion of that, right? It was, it was, it was, Oh, now we have a little bit of a budget now. Okay. Now we can do these kinds of seniors that we never had access to to do. Um, but, but, and, and again, this might sound, this might sound really, but any, even when I made music, you know, I’ve always looked to people’s hearts first, you know, like that, that has always been the most important thing for me as a creative, because talent is subjective, you know, and, and what people’s abilities, it’s, you know, what, what, you know, what good is the best cinematographer who doesn’t believe in that frame?
Blitz Bazawule: (50:36)
What good is that it’s not going to carry over what good is a Julliard trained guitarist who doesn’t believe in the sound whose heart isn’t open to the sound. You’re not going to achieve that. And so, you know, and, and I know it’s very unconventional because we live in a, and again, a very Euro skewed world that, that, that looks to your numb, like whatever your CV or resume SES. Right. But, but I, I look past that, you know, because I, I think at the end of the day, everyone with the basics can achieve it. You know what I mean? Could, you know, anyone can set up a camera and shoot, you know, if you know how to press on and off, you can film a scene. It’s not, but to communicate as a, as, as a heart thing, you know what I mean? And, and that, I, I’ve never been able to do that with people who don’t have the kind of heart that I, I, I I’m attracted to, you know what I mean?
Blitz Bazawule: (51:37)
And so, and so that has always been this, my, my philosophy around who I bring around, you know, and, and I know that in time, if you’ve got the right heart and you’ve got the right spirit, we’re going to achieve it, it may, you know, maybe not in one shot, but over time we will achieve it because our intentions appeal. And that’s how, you know, I cast, that’s how I, you know, that’s how my man, yeah. That’s how I find musicians. That’s how I find EV that’s how I find, that’s how we find friends, you know, that thought band, friends that, you know, it’s, it’s people who are connected from a heart space. And that’s, that’s why my friends stay my friends, you know, for a long time, you know, it’s, it’s because of that. And so I don’t, I don’t change that on just because it’s a professional endeavor. I think it’s the same thing. I think you’re going to get more out of each other, especially when you have difficult days. Right. So, and so, uh, that’s a long way to say, that’s what I saw in Michael [inaudible] Michael Scott. I love that brother. You know what I mean? It’s just, it was just, we, we understood what we were trying to say. And, and that, that was just, that’s why the work achieves what it achieves
Maori Karmael Holmes: (52:47)
Very of culture, of course, is not like the Zenith of your career in any way. You’ve been winning for a while. Even before Hollywood has sort of come to you, you’re Guggenheim and a Ted fellow, you were awarded the Vilcek prize for contemporary music, participated in the Whitney biennial. You want an urban world, and it looks soar as you pivoted into Hollywood, directing television and scheduled to direct the adaptation, um, of the musical, the color purple. I’m curious if this was at all, what you envisioned for your career at this stage.
Blitz Bazawule: (53:20)
I w I wouldn’t say envisioned. Right. You know, and I, and I’ve always tried my very best not to, not to pin my goal in specificity, right. I go for the largest broadest goal, which is,
Blitz Bazawule: (53:44)
I want to be comfortably making my art. I want to work with people. I love that love.
Blitz Bazawule: (53:50)
And I want to, and I want to tell incredibly adept stories that allow me to be an artist
Blitz Bazawule: (53:58)
And how, you know, when you, when you, when you make those, when you make those goals and you are,
Blitz Bazawule: (54:05)
You, you go for the, the essence of them rather than the specific, you know, because
Blitz Bazawule: (54:13)
My challenge, I wouldn’t say my, my
Blitz Bazawule: (54:17)
Issue around say, yeah, I want to make a Hollywood film is because then it, it, in a way undermines everything else you make. So, so it’s, it’s
Blitz Bazawule: (54:28)
Less about, I wanna make a Hollywood film as much as it’s about, I want to make a film,
Blitz Bazawule: (54:31)
Um, just with, you know, with more people and more people.
Blitz Bazawule: (54:35)
That’s just it, you know, and, and, and cool. If that’s a Hollywood film, fantastic. If it’s an indie film that, you know, that’s, I’ve got some more resources to do. That’s fantastic. And so, so that’s just been it for me. And I think that just by pivoting in this,
Blitz Bazawule: (54:52)
You know, things have naturally happened, you know, and yeah,
Blitz Bazawule: (54:55)
And, but I learned this from making music. It was the same, you know,
Blitz Bazawule: (54:58)
Was it ever, I want to play, you know, trans music call
Blitz Bazawule: (55:04)
And Ren France. So I want to
Blitz Bazawule: (55:06)
Play Afro punk in Johanna’s. It was never that for me, it was always, I want my music to communicate, and it’s real
Blitz Bazawule: (55:16)
As true as way to as many people as possible.
Blitz Bazawule: (55:20)
Blitz Bazawule: (55:20)
Somehow your phone rings and someone says, you should show up in France. Someone say, show up
Blitz Bazawule: (55:25)
Japan, you start to find that it’s happening. Right. But, uh, but I, and I, you know, I teach from time to time and I tell my students a lot, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s about creating these larger goals that are about the essence of what you want rather than, rather than specifically
Blitz Bazawule: (55:45)
Categories, because the way the world is stratified, first of all, isn’t that right?
Blitz Bazawule: (55:49)
So the minute you start, you start, um, narrowing these gaps the further right.
Blitz Bazawule: (55:55)
They get away from you because that’s just the way it’s structured. And so, and so, yeah, I mean, and I will say, just keeping that open mind and heart
Blitz Bazawule: (56:03)
Has just always just gotten me one step closer, you know what I mean? And I, I don’t, I don’t want much, you know what I mean? I just, I just want us to have more access to each other. That’s it. And so, and so naturally, you know, yeah, yeah,
Blitz Bazawule: (56:19)
Yeah. I mean, certainly barrel coach Atlanta on Netflix. Wasn’t, you know, it’s, it’s,
Blitz Bazawule: (56:24)
It’s part of this larger goal. Yes. But it achieves the more, the essence of a goal, which is now globally, more people have access to this work, which is, which is what I think, you know, especially in this creative environment, you know, we should do more off, you know?
Maori Karmael Holmes: (56:44)
Yeah. To talk about the color purple just a little bit. What are you listening to, or looking for, and basically like, how are you dreaming and visioning your approach to this, if you want to share,
Blitz Bazawule: (56:57)
Um, really not much to share right now, it’s still very early in that process. But, um, what I’m doing is just not doing, doing what I’ve always done. Know, it’s the same thing for me, you know, listening more and more to music that feels like the vibe, you know, I did it on burial. Did it on black is King, same watching, more and more. That feels like the vibe, you know, and meditating. That’s the same thing that I I’ve always done. So, yeah. That’s, that’s it. Yeah.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (57:34)
You’re the founder of Africa film society, which does many things, including running a monthly screening event called classics in the park, which you’ve been doing since 2016, uh, or you screen classic African cinema for free sometimes with filmmakers present. What was the impetus in starting the society and the series?
Blitz Bazawule: (57:56)
Yeah, well, it, it revolved around the fact that I, I found that I wasn’t educated at all, as it relates to African film, I hadn’t seen enough. Uh, I hadn’t, I didn’t know the filmmakers and I, you know, it’s by design, you know, that we just don’t have access to our own. So we always think we are inventing the wheel. And in fact, we should be thinking about the, the motto or the engine, you know? So I, um, I found myself in that position. Um, and I thought to myself, well, I didn’t know this then certainly most, most of my friends didn’t know this. Like most of my friends didn’t notice and certainly the larger population didn’t. And so when I went to Gunnar to make burial, I found that, you know, I was educating myself and my team, you know, as, as I was saying earlier, I mean, we had to learn how to do everything.
Blitz Bazawule: (58:51)
I didn’t find, I didn’t, I didn’t think it was wise to begin without looking back as to who’s done what prior. So certainly having a chance to watch this months in Bennett or [inaudible] or qual, and saw any of these incredible filmmakers Sofie Fe, um, from Senegal. And, you know, it’s just like having that chance to see, you know, a Marriott or these films, which were made under a lot more strenuous circumstances than we were, was for me, I think important. And then that gift is just kind of was like, well, then let’s make this, let’s take it from our office that, you know, only 10 of us can fit in here to watch this. Let’s take it out in the park. And I remember growing up, one of the biggest outdoor is before, like a lot of us had televisions in our homes. We certainly didn’t growing up.
Blitz Bazawule: (59:46)
Um, one of the biggest things that pulled us, what are the evangelicals who will come out and show Jesus movies in the park for free. So I knew that that was effective because I remember like we waited on that, you know, so I’ve seen last temptation of Jesus Christ 20 times, cause like that would show up and we’ll all take our maps or our aisle stool and we’ll go outside and we’ll wait for the car to set up and I I’ll go early and I’ll watch how they’ll set up the projector. They’ll set up the screen. And the screens were attached to the vans that did like the crusades call. We call them crusades. Right. And at the end, you know, the pastor will come and we’ll convert the whole pot, you know, and then a week later they’ll come and convert everybody again. But that was just, that was just the way it worked. And so I knew that it was an effective way of getting out ideas and images. And I, till this day, I remember, you know, visually at least what the last temptation of Jesus Christ looks like, feels like. So my thing was, well, if we just took their mantra and a system, then we will be able to reach a lot of people. Then it’s been great. I mean, this year, certainly because of COVID, we’d have to fall back, but we all looking forward to getting back to programming next year.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (01:01:06)
What’s wonderful. You’re also still, as you mentioned earlier, exploring other mediums. So you’re working on a novel. You recently had paintings on view at Fridman gallery, um, as part of open arts, young artists, one exhibit, those paintings were inspired by found photographs from markets around the world, which I really appreciate because that for me was just like still referencing your ambassador goals. And also I wanted to note the paintings are also doubts. So I’m just curious for you, you know, is there a medium that you have not approached that you’re interested in exploring and also if there’s any plan to return to music?
Blitz Bazawule: (01:01:46)
Yeah. I mean, you know, I’ve always just over time really. And I think this is just the way I was raised, man. I, I get, I get restless very quickly, you know, in, in spaces generally, you know? So like I’ve never lived anywhere too long, you know, I move around, I can find inspiration, different cities, different towns. Um, I’ve, I’ve just been that kind of person, you know? Um, and so my has followed that path where I don’t even think I’m intentional necessarily about what artistic style I want to go into next. I mean, I really sometimes just stumble into doing it. Um, I hadn’t painted for instance in years and when COVID hit and I couldn’t tour, I couldn’t shoot, I couldn’t do much. I was just like, well, let me just get my canvas out and see if I still remember how to do it.
Blitz Bazawule: (01:02:48)
You know? And I turned out that I did well enough to sell out all the pieces I made and now my phone won’t stop ringing. And I’m like, but I’m not really a painted though. Not yet at least, you know? And so, and so, you know, I never really, no, I don’t, I never really go his time to make music. You know, it’s time to make film. I’ve really always thought about it as, you know, the season and what I’m, what, I’m what I want to say at the time. Certainly what I wanted to say in 2016, 2017 was this visual capture of what I remember as my beautiful growing ups and the, the magical worlds in which my grandmother’s stories affected my life personally. And I knew that that’s what I wanted to say. And there was no way I could have said it in music form only I could have only said it.
Blitz Bazawule: (01:03:47)
I could have only said those things in feature films. I couldn’t have even upset it in short film form. I needed to save in feature film form. So, so for me, it’s less been about medium and it’s really been about what I want to say at the moment. And what I want to say at the moment has been very, that I, I think about, you know, that I, I ponder on and I meditate on, but the medium, the best medium in which it takes, I never really do the math on that. You know, I, I, I wake up and I go, well, this, I guess, I guess I gotta, I gotta make some songs, you know, because, because this, this thing I want to say only through music, can I say it? You know, and, and I had, and that’s one thing I wish for every creative everywhere. It’s just that you, you have, um, unbridled unfettered access to all your creative engines and you are free enough to practice them, how you see fit. And when you see fit,
Speaker 4: (01:04:55)
Can you talk a little bit about what it was like to work on, you know, queen of all Queens, Beyonce, along with other directors like Jen and Kira and Emmanuel RJ on blackest King. I mean, that’s a lot of creatives as director, you know? So what, what was that experience like for you? And I think also specifically the tricky about black
Maori Karmael Holmes: (01:05:18)
As King as a project to me is that I think for so long, we have tried to not, uh, centralize or romanticize the continent of Africa and having this like synonymous relationship to the animal kingdom, right. Like safaris and all of that notion. But then this project is, is essentially doing that. But obviously for the narrative structure to mimic the lion King, which is this other story. And so how did you as a contemporary African artist take this challenge and meet it? I mean, it’s a really, really incredible one
Blitz Bazawule: (01:05:54)
That, that, that is where it started. Right. It started for me, my, my, when I was called for this project, I was the one thing that I knew would be my core contribution would be, um, figuring out how we move away from being socialized to see the kind and of Africa as a, uh, non-stop Safari to a place where human beings live, who go through their challenges, uh, and triumphs. And so, you know, when, when I was called for the gig, I was like, my pitch, my pitch is just like, look, I, I want to go to South Africa, you know, cause I knew that I will get, I will get the two worlds, you know, the, you know, they have an incredibly robust, traditional, um, um, life, um, and, and a very contemporary, modern, uh, urban life. And so I knew that I would get those two polar opposites and, um, yeah, I D I did a ton of storyboards to show B and, um, she, she liked the idea and said, go for it.
Blitz Bazawule: (01:07:06)
And so, you know, it was, it was a challenge. Um, but it was an incredible one. I mean, you know, such a blessing one to have the resources, but to also they have the musical soundscape of Beyonce to work from. I mean, that’s, that’s, you know, that’s something that people have to think about. Like, that’s, that’s where this was born out of because the album was a story as well. So that’s where we drew almost everything, you know, in my job was as a cast and South Africa to, to find these incredible visual moments, you know, that were gonna tell the story. So everything from, you know, warehouse Simba now is as a young adult and is in this hearse losing his mind, you know, when he gets blessed and levitates in this crazy building, like those things were all part of things that I’ve already wanted to say, you know, about our lives. And then this was just a perfect bridge to do that. And, you know, Beyonce was very adamant about the magical realist element that we could add to this story. Elevate, you know,
Blitz Bazawule: (01:08:16)
I brought in ideas around the celestial, which were like the doggone tribe and how, you know, how King is looking to the stars. And certainly, you know, you know, this could be a nod to this, try it. So some of the symbolism and insignia was also important because we also knew that, you know, this is something that, you know, my son is 11 years old and this stays imprinted in his mind forever as it relates to the continent. And so the same way that the original lion King is imprinted in my mind, you know, for as long as I live. And so that was it for me, it was just finding these incredibly powerful moments that I could work from. And then as it relates to working with a larger directorial team, I mean, you know, you mentioned those names and we’re talking, high-level brilliant global minds that all came together.
Blitz Bazawule: (01:09:06)
And for me, it’s like being on dream team 1992 Barcelona Olympics, you know, it’s like, it’s like everyone, the hits the backboard and it’s getting dumped is no, there was no question around. So again, when you’re working in that field, you also don’t feel like you feel like you don’t, first of all, you don’t have to carry all the water. You know what I mean? Like you just know that if you carry your part general, carry hers and make you look good, you know, um, my, um, uh, Ebro will carry his, you know, like Beyonce will carry her. So it was just so much brilliance all around us, you know? And so I was very fortunate to be in that space. And it was also just an affirmation of his same thing I’ve talked about from the beginning. It was just knowing that our job is to reach as many people as possible.
Blitz Bazawule: (01:10:01)
That’s just the job, you know? And so we don’t know where that call’s going to come from. We don’t know what platform is going to live on. We don’t know any of that. However, I’ve just stayed true to that notion that if I just kept keep going, if I keep the goal of, of, of expanding at whatever rate, you know, sometimes it’s, it fluctuates. Sometimes you play a thousand people. Sometimes you come back to playing a hundred, sometimes you play 10. It’s just, you know, just knowing that all of that adds up to this larger goal. And I mean, for the millions of people who saw black is King. I mean, that is status. That is a gift as a gift.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (01:10:42)
I to, I had a question for you about your son and curious as an artist, how raising him has impacted your practice. And I’m curious a, how he influences you and B what does he think of your work?
Blitz Bazawule: (01:10:57)
Uh, yeah. It’s interesting. So yeah, I mean, any parent will tell you this, right? It’s like your kids become your inevitable checks and balances, right? So like everything you do
Blitz Bazawule: (01:11:14)
To being watched, right. How you handle those phone calls,
Blitz Bazawule: (01:11:18)
How you handle yourself in those meetings, if they are there with you, how, you know, especially in this version of our world right now, where he’s homeschool,
Blitz Bazawule: (01:11:26)
You mean schooling from home and, and I’m working from home and it’s like, they’re part of your world, you know? And so, so that’s incredible, but it, it also, so first from an ideological perspective, it’s also given a lot more meaning to my work, because I know that him and his peers like this. Yeah.
Blitz Bazawule: (01:11:47)
Tangent, like there’s a tangible, like I’m not talking about some proverbial kids who need to see this. I’m talking about
Blitz Bazawule: (01:11:53)
My son, who I sit in front of the television with him to watch blackest King, to watch the burial of Kojo that specific I’m talking to him specifically. Right. So that’s been incredibly
Blitz Bazawule: (01:12:07)
Important because it’s also put a level of responsibility
Blitz Bazawule: (01:12:10)
On me, um, where it’s like, and what I choose is important. How I choose is important. I work at it as important because he’s watching everything. And then, um, has I feel as well.
Blitz Bazawule: (01:12:22)
That’s very interesting. So up until like, as my son has this thing where he’s like, yeah, dad, you know, your wraps are
Blitz Bazawule: (01:12:29)
Whatever. Like, he’s not like a big, you know,
Blitz Bazawule: (01:12:32)
Not a fan on my raps likes my films. A little, certainly black is King. Yes. Because you know, it’s Beyonce. So, you know, he likes that. But what surprised me was just
Blitz Bazawule: (01:12:43)
When he saw my paintings and he was like, wow.
Blitz Bazawule: (01:12:49)
And I, it’s very interesting because, you know, for kids like that is magic eggs. Exactly. Definitely don’t lie, but it, but it’s like, it’s like, it’s a direct, it’s the most direct talent [inaudible] tablet, creative expression. He’s seen,
Blitz Bazawule: (01:13:07)
It’s like my brush touches the canvas and he sees art. Um, what film it’s like,
Blitz Bazawule: (01:13:15)
Right. Maybe it’s the camera. Maybe, maybe my dad’s not nice like that. Maybe
Blitz Bazawule: (01:13:19)
It’s the mic or maybe it’s the
Blitz Bazawule: (01:13:21)
Beats, you know? So it’s, it’s not as direct, but I think that, so it’s been very interesting to watch how much he loves my paintings. And I actually, when I had to ship it
Blitz Bazawule: (01:13:31)
For sale, he was, he wasn’t so excited about that. Uh, but, but it, but it’s very interesting to see how his kids, like what they gravitate to and such, but he’d also definitely keeps me abreast. You know what I mean? Like he’s one of the kids is up on everything, up on what the kids like, why they like it, you know? And he
Blitz Bazawule: (01:13:53)
Articulate those things, you know, to me why that works. And so, man, it’s, it’s, it’s a huge blessing to be able to be a working artist,
Blitz Bazawule: (01:14:01)
Parents, you, you, you really get to direct feedback. And like you said, they don’t lie. You have talked to some tire time
Maori Karmael Holmes: (01:14:12)
About all of the things that you’re doing and it feels nonstop to me. And I am curious where you find refuge, you know, how does blitz chill? How do you,
Blitz Bazawule: (01:14:24)
I do, I am intentional about taking my breaks. They don’t seem, they don’t see him, uh, to the outside world, um, that, that, that, that they happen. But they do because I also don’t believe in burning out, you know, uh, I think that we have such a marathon to run and self care is critical. And, um, like I try very much to not do much, like when I’m not doing the most, you know, I just, I don’t, I don’t go out and I I’ll do nothing. I’m Shelly, you know? And so that has been, uh, a huge, but I learned that from touring, you know, I learned that from being on the road, playing five nights a week, you know, jumping from playing a plane, if you don’t find your times to reset, you know, cause that audience doesn’t care that you just flew from on the red eye, you know, from New York, the, I don’t know, Amsterdam, they don’t care. They pay that money and they got to see brilliance.
Blitz Bazawule: (01:15:35)
So I learned that, I learned that being able to self, you know, being disciplined enough to self, uh, reset, and that, you know, you, you don’t, you don’t need to crash before you, before you find out that you need that. Um, um, as being has been incredibly important, you know, I, I meditate, I take my time, you know what I mean? I take my time in the mornings. I don’t rush through it. You know, I take my time and getting my days off the ground, you know, and again, because I, I feel like I’m at my best, if I’m in my most relaxed, in my most am I in my best self? You know? And so yes, I mean, and again, knowing how to schedule, you know, in a way, so I work with the overlap system a lot, you know, like I don’t, it doesn’t have to end for me to start.
Blitz Bazawule: (01:16:30)
I know how to take a break in between. And so while it’s out, I know how to take my break while it’s out. So that, and, you know, look, we, our work is expansive and we know not enough of us are doing the work. So a few of us do the work of the many Nat may have always been the case. I do not know, but certainly I can say that for this era, a few of us do the work of the many. So, um, it is important that we burn on as many, seven days as possible because the more diverse in our conversation, the more of us were able to, the more of that work we can do. But within that cylinder is finding, you know, it’s also the ability to kind of restraint. I, that party sound good, but I’m not, you know, I can’t, I can’t hang, you know what I mean? Like, you know, and I, I’m always missing like the, the amazing, uh, black star parties just cause I’m like, yo, I love this, but your boy got to go. You know, because if, because if I don’t, then it builds up, it builds up. And then before you realize it’s affecting the same work that you want to do. Right. And so I I’m really about self care and rest then that is, that is a, a must. What for, for us doing the work, it is critical that we rest. That’s a really beautiful
Maori Karmael Holmes: (01:18:06)
Place to end. I also am going to hold on to, I just took notes
Blitz Bazawule: (01:18:11)
Between the most and not much, but yeah, it’s a pleasure.
Maori Karmael Holmes: (01:18:29)
Thank you for listening to this episode of many lumens, visit us at manylumens.com to subscribe and follow us on Instagram and Twitter, @manylumens. Many Lumens is brought to you by Blackstar. This episode was produced by Patrice Worthy and Farrah Rahaman edited by David Adams and engineered by Mike Maholick. Our music supervisor is Rashid Zakat. Our theme song was composed by VJ Mohan and remixed by David DJ, little Dave Adams. Sending you light and see you next time.