Grammy-nominated music producer Nana Kwabena is on a mission to shed light on the vivacious and encapsulating beauty of African culture through the music he produces. As a self-proclaimed “minister of Black propaganda”, Nana uses his work to publicize the greatness of Black culture and creativity. In his journey, the artist has collaborated with famous singers such as John Legend and Jidenna, and through these partnerships created many popular songs we know today, Jidenna’s hit “Classic Man” being one of them. Through music, Nana makes it his focus to embrace this generation’s renaissance of appreciation for Black culture.
As a child, Nana had always had a love for music and creating. He first tried his hand at music production in his junior year of high school when he was hospitalized for a whole summer, after an accident. While holed up alone in a hospital room Nana found solace in teaching himself how to produce on his laptop. Determined to learn everything he could, Nana developed this interest further in college at the University of Pennsylvania. By constantly getting together with other creatives in his circle to learn and develop his producing abilities, he built bridges between some of the musicians he works with today.
However, before Nana decided to take on such a large cultural mission with his music, he was on the path to medical school. His interest in medicine began with his uncle, brother and himself being diagnosed with sickle cell disease. After studying abroad in Ghana during his junior year of college he discovered his passion was in addressing the psychosocial aspect of this disease and how it impacted sufferers. Realizing that no major change could take place unless this topic is investigated, Nana then shifted his focus to music in order to impact the conversation the best way he could.
Through this personal revelation, Nana realized his two competing interests were, in a lot of ways, feeding each other. With his music he could approach the aspects of society that influence how Black people think and feel about themselves; he was inspired to help the further development and advancement of Black people and culture. He then went on to produce his first hit with John Legend, “Made To Love”, and from there has continued to grow and succeed at his craft.
In this episode of Our Folklore podcast, Nana Kwabena tells us about his background, going from medicine to music and how Black people can reclaim the telling of our own stories, live unapologetically and change the trajectory of the next generation. Listen to the podcast here, and on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and read excerpts from the interview below.
“I really believe that I am here to propagate the greatness of Black people, to propagate the greatness of the diaspora, and the continent and so on.”
“I realized there is a lot of value in taking a different approach to the same issue, and then it really crystalized for me when my brother passed.”
“I just had a personality of, if you’re really gonna be something you have to be a master at it, so I just spent time really, really learning.”
“I got out of the other side and I recognized that my statement was going to be, ‘no one is going to create better West African-inspired drums and music with pop melodies,’ essentially and that was my statement. Ever since, that became the only thing I ever said, it became the only thing that I ever studied, it became the thing that other people said about me, and before you know it when anyone was thinking in that way they always thought of me.”
“One of the producers I was working with at the time, we were working on John Legend’s project, and although I had known John for a while, I was not ready musically to create anything that would land for his project but when I had this kind of change of philosophy of what my unique voice is gonna be, it just opened things up.”
“As a creative your only job is to actually make sure that there are no cobwebs between your own creative spirit and the Creator, it’s literally that simple. We have all of these judgments of how things are supposed to turn out or how it’s supposed to sound or how it’s supposed to be received but that’s beyond our control.”
Words by Reann Philogene
Photographs courtesy of Nana Kwabena’s Instagram