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Spoken word artiste Cynthia Amoah on inspiration & passion

US-based Ghanaian spoken Word artist Cynthia Amoah talks to us about her journey, what inspires her, the desire to study Law sometime in the future amongst other issues.

What influenced the decision to be a spoken word artist?

Spoken word poetry, more specifically, aside from just poetry as an entity is what always resonated with me. There is something about the tune of one’s voice, the tone – its influxes and invasions until it arrives at one thought that always fascinated me.

There, in that moment is where I live. On the boundary between what I write on a page and how it sounds when I say it. It always means more.

And because I’ve always wanted to mean more to the causes that I find dear to me, I thought it best to speak on them so that they can mean more to people unaware of them. There, in that, lies the answer. My poetry is political. And I am its messenger.

Who introduced you to spoken word/when did the passion for this begin?

Recitation, for me, began in High School. I had always written poetry but, Mrs. Fitzgerald, my high school English teacher introduced me to “The National Recitation Project.” It was a national competition that I competed in twice and lost both times, but it was there that I learned the art of recitation and the true essence of the spoken word. It was also there that I learned defeat and how to overcome.

How many years have you been doing spoken word as professional?

I have been writing and performing on stages for the past 5 years. I performed all throughout my undergraduate career and now that I have graduated, have begun booking local gigs.

What are the topics/issues you address in your spoken word pieces?

I’d like to think of my poetry as political, at times, but also as spiritual pieces that come to life when I discuss topics that hit home for my audience. As a result, I’ve discussed anything from “Stop and Frisk” laws and rape in the Congo to young women who ought to believe in and respect themselves.

Which events have you performed at?

I’ve performed at several events from a candle vigil for the victims in Haiti hosted by my alma mater to my recent performance at West Virginia University’s African Students Association’s Africa Night to name a few.

Do you have any spoken word pieces out? Titles?

My most recent piece is a poem titled, “Honam,” that discusses the need for brown girls to love themselves especially with the recent success story of actress Lupita N’yongo. This poem raises an anthem and calls for us to love one another as well. Please visit my YouTube page to watch “Honam” and for more poetry videos!

What do you do aside spoken word?

I currently work as a sales supervisor in retail and have learned many of my strengths in my short experience there. Everything I do in life, however, always comes back to poetry.

Which spoken Word artist inspires you?

Maya Angelou (May She rest in perfect peace),Lauryn Hill, Joshua Bennett, Saul Williams, just to mention a few.

Future plans?

God willing, I will attend law school sometime in the future. That is, if poetry, hasn’t gotten too big for me. It will never leave me. It will always be my source of strength and survival and always, always my first love.

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Amma Asante talks Belle + future projects w/ Interview Magazine

British filmmaker Amma Asante had previously directed one contemporary indie, A Way of Life, in 2004, winning several individual festival awards, along with a BAFTA award for a directorial debut. Belle, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last September, will be released by Fox Searchlight in theaters on May 2.

LORRAINE CWELICH: How does Belle embody the goals of the Athena Film Festival?

AMMA ASANTE: I think Belle fits so well with the themes of Athena because it’s a strong female exploring identity, her place, finding her own value, not letting anybody define who she is. In many ways, what Athena inspires us to do as women is what Gugu expresses to us as Dido. Her role empowers women by saying, don’t let a culture or society’s rules define who you are; you define who you are. For Belle to be the opening film at the Athena Film Festival was a privilege and an honor for me. It was such a great partner because every one of its ideals fits in with who I am as a filmmaker and the kind of stories I want to tell and characters I want to build as a filmmaker.

CWELICH: Was the film first picked up at Toronto?

ASANTE: It was produced independently by Damian Jones. Then it was picked up before Toronto, in June. We finished the film in May and then did screenings in New York and L.A. for distributors and then Fox Searchlight picked it up.

CWELICH: How was an independent filmmaker on a limited budget able to create such a sumptuous and historically authentic environment?

ASANTE: Damian sent me the postcard of the [18th century] portrait [of Belle and her cousin]; that’s how it first came to me. From the portrait, I started to do lots of digging and research. I took everything from the portrait—the relationship between Dido and Elizabeth, the colors, the world I wanted to set her in. I imagined and extended the world beyond the portrait. So I knew I wanted to make a movie that looked decadent and expensive. I knew we would have to make every penny stretch and put as much of the budget onscreen as possible. So it starts with your heads of departments—your production designer, costume, hair and makeup designers. Picking the right people who were as committed as I was to telling this story as I was.

CWELICH: Tell us about the locations and production design.

ASANTE: It was shot in London, the Isle of Man, and Oxford. We had to piece together their world. Kenwood House, Dido’s original house, was made up of five houses, and the later house in London was actually comprised of three houses. I wanted Dido and Elizabeth to feel dwarfed at the beginning, to be living in the countryside like little girls in a giant dollhouse, to represent their innocence and the idea that they were protected from the harsh realities of the outside world. As the scales fall from their eyes, if you like, and they learn more about what it is to be a woman, and a woman of color, what it is to be second-class, in so many ways—where you have to be chosen and validated by the husband you have—I wanted their worlds to be more sophisticated, with less pastel colors, darker, richer colors, lower ceilings. I wanted their exterior world to reflect their interior journey. I wrote out a document for [department heads] and had a mood board.

CWELICH: Tell us about your first film, A Way of Life.

ASANTE: It was set in modern day and also had a female protagonist. It dealt with similar themes. It was about a teenage mother who becomes involved in the accidental murder of her neighbor. It was a tough, emotional film. Like Belle, it had a lot of pathos but was also funny. It too dealt with issues of race, gender, and class.

CWELICH: In the intervening years, were you working on other projects or focused on developing Belle?

ASANTE: Belle didn’t come to me until 2009. Before that, I had three projects, one of which I will go into production with next year. I’m working on a Warner Brothers film next, Unforgettable, and then after that, I’ll do my third indie. Before Belle, I’d been writing three films, all of which collapsed within three months in 2009, right at the beginning of the recession. One of them was a Jane Austen adaptation which had never been done before, Lady Susan. With my next indie, which is set in 1940s Berlin, it was announced in Cannes that it was about to go into production and then the financing collapsed, so it went into turnaround. So thankfully I now have the financing for that movie for 2015.

CWELICH: What is Unforgettable about?

ASANTE: I just signed on for it about a month ago. It’s a double female lead, a story about a man who’s divorced—on his second marriage—trying to negotiate the life of his first wife and his second wife. The first wife goes slightly crazy and tries to kill the second wife. There are huge A-list names possibly attached, which I can’t announce yet, but am completely honored to work with.

CWELICH: You mentioned Jane Austen, which is interesting because Gugu’s performance reminded me of Keira Knightley’s performance as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice—romantic, elegant, headstrong, and spirited.

ASANTE: Absolutely, I was hugely inspired by Pride & Prejudice. Belle is actually my homage to Jane Austen, who I think is one of the most incredible female novelists we’ve ever had. For all the love she gets, I still don’t think she’s recognized enough for exploring the middle-and-upper class female experience in 18th-century England.

CWELICH: What personally resonated with you about Dido’s story and compelled you to make this film?

ASANTE: The history, 100 percent. We had a painting and the history, and I spent three years in development to make sure that we could do justice to Dido’s incredible story and weave all the issues seamlessly to reflect Dido’s journey from girl to woman, to reflect her political awakening and her transformation from a girl who said, “as you wish, sir” to a woman who says, “as I wish.” It was also about honoring the girl next to her [her cousin, Elizabeth], looking at her with such love, and also honoring Lord Mansfield, the man that was courageous enough to commission that painting at a time when it was completely unheard of.


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Interview: Spoken Word Artiste Paul Forjoe Jnr Talks Career

Paul Forjoe Jnr, known also as 100%, talks to us about life as a Spoken Word Artist.

Who is Paul Forjoe Jnr?

Paul is a student of creativity on a journey of mastering the art of performance, music and spoken word.

Who introduced you to spoken word/when did the passion for this begin?

I got introduced to spoken word in University in South Africa after I went for a poetry session.

Their poetry was so different that it caused me to change my style. I have been writing poetry since JSS3. In SSS, I write and let people rate my pieces out of 10. It was only in University that I started performing and loving stagecraft.

How many years have you been at this professionally?

About four years

What are the issues/topics you address in your pieces?

Anything that tickles my mind. I deal with a number of issues such as abuse, societal problems, love, life , religion and sometimes I just want to rhyme , make people laugh and feel good.

Do you have any spoken word pieces out?

If you are referring to publishing an audio, I have not released officially. However, I do have a lot of pieces (20 and above) that many have seen me perform.

Which events have you performed at?

Ehalakasa, Ehalakasa Slam , Poetry Night with the Rainmakers , Alewa , Moonlight Café , Live at the Terrace etc . Aside that in 2012, I had an Unplugged Session hosted by 233Live. In 2013, I organized 4 solo shows and was hosted by Heel the World at Christmas at Marvels Mini Golf Dzorwulu for a show.

Do you think Spoken word has a following in Ghana?

It has, though not as strong as dancehall, hip life or gospel music.

Which Ghanaian or international spoken word artiste inspire you?

Tumi, it was after I heard Tumi’s (South African rapper and spoken word artiste) piece Yvonne that got me psyched on my mission to become a spoken word artist. That was my inspiration.

What do you do aside spoken word?

I love to DJ and rap. I also host a show on VOM107.5 FM called Brunch account which runs from Monday to Friday at 12-1pm.

Future plans?

Getting a band and some gadgets to make better performances, hopefully shoot a couple of videos before the year ends.