Arts interview

Interview with singer-songwriter Kae Sun

The Tech chats with Kae Sun about his albums, influences, and the process of songwriting

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Ghanaian-Canadian singer-songwriter Kae Sun.
Courtesy of the Planet Group
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Album cover art of Kae Sun’s second album, Afriyie.
Courtesy of The Planet Group

Born and raised in Ghana, Kae Sun moved to Canada when he was just a teen. Entering the music scene as a student in Hamilton was never an intentional decision for him, but that initial spontaneity has evolved into a promising music career, with two full-length albums released and an ongoing tour.

His complex personal background has had a notable influence on his music — much like his heritage, his music cannot be described so easily. Infused with tinges and flavors of soul, hip hop, indie, folk, reggae and pop, his songs successfully portray the complexity of his influences and the thematic variety of his albums. His first album, Lion On A Leash, is saturated with very open, activism-oriented lyrics, and emotionally diverse acoustic sounds. His newest album, Afriyie, takes a slightly different turn with a more polished production, a more digital sound, subtler — but equally captivating — lyrics, and more up-tempo songs backed with dance rhythms.

Despite this unbridled exploration with sound and lyrics, Kae Sun colors his music with two virtues that seem to be of great importance to him – spirituality and honesty. His songs show that his work is never a one-dimensional product, but rather a result of sincere observations, moral preoccupations, and, ultimately, his love for music.

The Tech chatted with Sun to find out about the inspirations and influences that played a part in the creation of his two albums.

The Tech: Can you tell us a little bit about your personal background and where you come from? How has your growing up experience influenced your music?

Kae Sun: I grew up in Ghana and then I immigrated to Canada to go to school. My growing up experience definitely gave me access to a lot of different forms of musical expressions, from learning to play instruments to mimicking sounds I heard around the house or on the radio.

TT: What was it like to enter the music scene once you moved to Canada?

KS: It wasn’t ever a conscious decision. While in university, I performed a lot as a part of different bands in Hamilton, where I was going to school. It just gave me confidence to keep making music and I just kept evolving and getting more comfortable with my voice.

TT: Do you have a particular pattern of writing and creating music? On that note, do you always have a clear vision of what to do when you are making new songs or does the creative process happen without any particular plan?

KS: The initial process is very spontaneous; I try to keep a note pad and some kind of a sound recorder around all the time to put down melodic and lyrical ideas. I shape it later either on guitar or with other people playing different instruments.

TT: Compared to your debut LP Lion On A Leash, your new album Afriyie sounds more “digital”. Was this your intended direction for Afriyie?

KS: Yes. It was actually my intended desire with Lion On A Leash as well, but I just didn’t have the means to really craft it. With Afriyie, I got to work with people who really knew how to achieve that balance between a lyrical, personal song and an interesting soundscape to complement it.

TT: I really like the two up-tempo tracks on the new album, “Heart Healing Pulse” and “When the Pot”. They seem different from your previous work — were you inspired by particular artists or genres while making these songs?

KS: Yes, very much. I was inspired by reggae singer Dennis Brown, his earlier stuff. I was also inspired by Little Dragon.

TT: Do you see Afriyie as an artistic progress from Lion On A Leash, or do you think these albums have different values?

KS: I think these records highlight very different phases in my journey, both very accurate in capturing what was happening with me at the time. In that sense, I value them both very much.

TT: Do you like touring? What’s the most prominent feature of your live shows?

KS: I love touring. The most prominent feature of my live show is definitely the rawness of it. I’m really comfortable with the idea of performance and try to be open to whatever the audience is bringing to it. It’s a living, breathing thing and I like that.

TT: Is there any particular genre of music that you still haven’t explored, but would like to try out in the future?

KS: I really wanna explore writing more songs in Twi, my mother tongue.

TT: Are there any upcoming records that you are looking forward to?

KS: Nothing I can think of right now.

TT: Finally, if you had to go to a deserted island and could only take three albums with you, what albums would you choose?

KS: Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, and Terry Reid’s Seed of Memory.