‘How the West Was Won’: nana. talks new EP

Queen’s student recognized by Kingston Arts Council

Nana’s EP was recognized by the YGK arts council. 
Credit: 
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Nana, CompSci ’21, worked on his new EP every day for six months.

The Queen’s artist takes inspiration for his music from the cyclical nature of racial justice and how, over time, very little has been done to relieve the problems facing Black people.

He was recently recognized by the YGK Kingston Arts Council for his new EP, a trio of enlightened afrobeat-inspired tracks titled How the West Was Won.

In a statement to The Journal regarding Nana’s EP, Laura Chaignon, programming and communications coordinator for YGK said, “I listened to it and I thought it was brilliant and deserved way more attention locally.”

Nana—who goes by the stage name nana.—told The Journal he’s grateful for the recognition from the Kingston Arts Council and for the newfound collaborators and supporters reaching out after the feature.

Nana first started making music as a kid growing up in Ghana, where he lived until relocating to Toronto in 2013. In May 2020, 22-year-old Nana began working on the EP. The three-part epic released in October consists of “the plea,” “the protest,” and “the pain.”

In his words, the EP “explores the suffering of Black people across the world with a special focus on what is happening in Africa.”

Nana credits his many collaborators—childhood friends, fellow musicians in Ontario, and artists in Kingston, among others—for the success of the EP and for helping fulfill the rich vision he had for How the West Was Won.

The album art, titled “the bargaining,” was created by Francisco Corbett, a student at St. Lawrence College, who has also been recognized by the Kingston Arts Council. The album art, in Corbett’s signature style, depicts a white saviour in a crown of thorns commending himself for “saving” Black people.

Upon seeing Corbett’s work on “the bargaining,” Nana said his creative vision was amplified and clarified.  At this point, he renamed the EP from its original title, “dem say.”

“I named it How the West Was Won because I feel like the successes of modern civilization was built off of the suffering of Black people combined with the bargaining from the white man,” Nana told The Journal.

Nana lists Fela Kuti, a Nigerian musician known for his instrumentalism, as the number one inspiration behind the EP. Kuti’s music spoke to the injustices faced by Black people in Nigeria and beyond.

After an epiphany that 50 years later Kuti’s music and messaging was still relevant, Nana began working on his album. His motivation: the story still needs to be told, militarized states in Africa are still terrorizing residents, the endSARS movement is not being covered by major news outlets, and oppression of Black people is somehow up for debate.

He hopes his EP will bring the attention and change these issues have long deserved.  

“And, if change doesn’t happen, well, we go again,” he said.

Nana feels privileged by his opportunities at Queen’s and safe in his community in Toronto. This is what ultimately inspired him to engage more seriously with the current events devastating Africa. He believes people like himself, who are in “a position of privilege in [their] own diaspora,” have a responsibility to show up for those who are less fortunate.

“I would say my voice is through my music,” he said. “That’s the way that I'm able to express a lot of what I have to say.” According to Nana, his album serves as both a call to action for himself to continue his activism, and a message to the listeners to bring more attention and tenacity to the issues.

One of the central themes of the EP comes from Fela Kuti who changed his name to Anikulapo, which translates to “he who carries death in his pouch.”

In Nana’s words, Anikulapo serves as a reminder that “our lives, as in the lives of Black people, can’t be controlled by anyone, but themselves. Right? We hold our own futures in our pockets. We shouldn’t let anyone else affect that.”

After going through multiple iterations, the final product is a truly unique EP that showcases classical African music, excellent production quality and a strong and powerfully executed vision. How the West Was Won pushes the genre, and the Kingston music scene, into a new and unexpected direction.

One of many layers in “the pain” is the Twi phrase, “εyε yεn ya,” which roughly translates to “it keeps hurting us.” It’s details like this that create such a rich story in only three songs.

Nana draws inspiration from the past and present to demand a better future for Black people. His concept for this album would not exist without their collective stories, including his own. 

“And that’s how the west was made,” Nana said.

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