KAE SUN: DEFYING MUSICAL GENRES

A lyrical artist and producer, Kae Sun spoke with writer Masiyaleti Mbewe about his artistic influences, his future plans and Namibia as a creative and spiritual inspiration.

Photo by Philippe Richelet and Jennifer Li

It was through the FAVT (Future Africa Visions in Time) exhibition’s stopover in Windhoek that Ghanaian-Canadian singer-songwriter and producer Kae Sun first visited Namibia. Two years after he took the stage at the Goethe-Institut’s Night Under the Stars musical showcase in the capital, the Montreal-based artist has returned to the country to work on a project that promises to build on his expansive and innovative earlier works. 

Kae Sun’s genre-defying music explores the nuances of African-diasporic life, love and everything else in-between, so in many ways, his fondness for this culturally diverse southwestern country is not at all strange. Something magical is in the works, so while he was in town, I interviewed him to find out more about his latest project, the personal and thematic evolution that’s evident across his creative disciplines, as well as his current muse, Namibia.


Kae Sun – Treehouse (Official Video) 2018

How has your experience in Namibia been this time around? 

It was busier. We had just under two weeks to shoot and move around locations as well as meetings with the crew, prep work… This trip has been pivotal in a lot of ways for myself and the director Christian [Boakye-Agyeman]. For me, it’s fulfilled something fundamental about how I’ve always wanted to work, which is to create within a context that is familiar yet unique and with individuals who truly get what we’re trying to communicate. Hopefully it is a shared experience. I think visual works really allow you to do this kind of collaborative thinking. In my role as both an artist and producer it’s been really rewarding. 

What prompted your return? 

On my last visit I got to see a bit of the country and met some incredibly talented people. I couldn’t imagine the story we wanted to tell happening in any other setting. Even the music that the visual supports has the sort of varied expansiveness that would only work with the landscape and the general vibe in Namibia. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s a low-key yet timeless place, if I can put it that way. It literally feels as though time is suspended in some places here. There’s something  special about that. 

Has your creative process changed from your first project to your current one? 

Absolutely. I have a great deal of independence now, which allows me to approach things more holistically. I’m able to work with people who challenge and share my perspective in a way that serves the work. 

‘I’m extremely grateful to be able to demonstrate that there’s globally competitive talent in Namibia and across the African continent.’

Who did you work with for the visual components of your latest project and how has collaborating with them changed your creative perspective?

Christian Boakye-Agyeman is the director. Ericke Tijueza is the art director, Kevin Perestrelo is the director of photography and Dangos Geingos is the stylist. For the director and I, it was important that we had a Namibian creative team at the helm. I wouldn’t say my creative perspective has changed. It’s been affirmed. I guess in someway I’m living out my ethos around support for the creative arts on this continent. I’m extremely grateful to be able to demonstrate that there’s globally competitive talent in Namibia and across the African continent. It’s just a matter of who’s looking and what’s important to them. 


Photo by Philippe Richelet and Jennifer Li.

About your new project; what is it about and what would you want people to take away from experiencing it? 

This project (I can’t reveal the title yet) is a short film and concept EP exploring themes of ritual and completion. It features ideas around belonging and what you could call a contemporary way of being in the world — now that everything about modernity seems to be in flux. We’re slated for a mid-Fall release; so October-ish.  My thing with work of this sort is that people will take away from it whatever they want. I like that and wouldn’t want any preconceived notions to direct their thinking. I welcome it all. If the thing works, it’ll provoke thought and hopefully be absorbed into the culture. My influences for this were a lot of avant-garde film; this is probably the first project I’ve done that’s not inspired as much by music, or maybe my musical influences are more diffuse now that I’ve been at it for a while. The project is inspired by story, place, and thinking around experimental film. 

‘I’m always returning to the value of variety within community, which I think makes Africa a proto-modern continent; it’s not talked about enough.’

How do you think your Ghanaian-Canadian upbringing affects how you create? Are there things you find yourself always returning to?

Not sure. I lived in Ghana until I was in my teens. I moved over to Canada and had the unique and at times unpleasant experience of being an immigrant. I started my career and got a great deal of support and acceptance. It is a complicated thing to tease out but I suspect all of this comes out in my work somehow. That said, I feel more Ghanaian, and generally more African than anything else. I’m always returning to the value of variety within community, which I think makes Africa a proto-modern continent; it’s not talked about enough. When it comes to the way societies are configured, we’ve been more progressive than alot of other societies. Complexity is the norm here. We live with it, and at our best, we celebrate it. Just consider the number of languages and cultures in existence within a single national boundary.


Photo by Philippe Richelet and Jennifer Li.

You’re currently studying for an MFA. What’s that journey been like? 

Pursuing a Masters in creative writing has brought much more focus to the way I work. Writing is a passion of mine and it’s a big part of what I do. After undergrad years ago, I wanted to go on and do a masters but life and music got in the way.  Last year I finally had the time and decided it would be a good idea to go back. I love learning. In terms of themes in my work,  I find myself writing about home a lot – or rather the idea of home. My childhood was rich with stories. I thought it the most natural thing in the world to share [these] as you would a meal. I’m a much better literary storyteller than I am an oral one so I kind of just followed that.

What, or who are you listening to right now?

Lets see… currently listening to Mereba, Oko Ebombo, Yves Tumor, Debby Friday…  

… And should we expect you in Namibia again? 

Honestly, Namibia suits my temperament. From the first time I visited back in 2018, I could see myself making frequent returns. I just want to thank everyone involved with this project, and for making it such a memorable experience for us. Can’t wait to show it!


Photo by Philippe Richelet and Jennifer Li.