Blitz (born Samuel) Bazawule is a Ghanaian hip hop artist, filmmaker, and visual artist who has been based in Brooklyn since 2001, and for whom self-determination is central to his practice as a creator. A live version of the epic track “Remembering the Future” from his 2010 EP StereoLive illustrates Bazawule’s refusal to capitulate to what our creative industries often force Black artists to accept. Opening with the sound of Malian musician Balla Tounkara’s kora playing and overlaid with his tender opening refrain, Bazawule joins him to sing, “I am who I am / and you can never change me / Reaching for the sun / remembering the future,” before being swept up by his twelve-piece band, the Embassy Ensemble. The song moves into an unapologetic flow, taking swipes at a music industry that cannot imagine what Black art so often defiantly dares to dream.
As his practice moved into filmmaking, in 2015 he joined the Accra-based African Film Society, a collective of West African filmmakers seeking to safeguard Africa’s cinematic history and also nurture the future. The group’s mission is to empower African-financed, African-centered storytelling. Bazawule’s debut feature bears all the hallmarks of this radical intention. Unlike similarly internationally lauded African films such as Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not a Witch (2017) and Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki (2018), which were financed by European companies, Bazawule chose to use his hard-won success as a musical artist to pursue financing from within Ghana. He has said that The Burial of Kojo is the first local feature film—financed, written, and directed by Ghanaians, with a Ghanaian cast and crew—of its scale to be produced in Ghana, and is certainly the first to gain such international recognition, having been nominated for a Golden Globe and distributed on Netflix by ARRAY.
We spoke midway through the pandemic. Bazawule was in Atlanta, which—a few short weeks before the grief and fire of national and international uprising—he said felt like a refuge from the infection rates in New York. We discussed some of the storyboards for his visionary film.