‘I really love it when I perform and people in the audience resonate with my work or tell me that it helped them. It pushes to keep going and reminds me that there is power in my existence and power in my story.’
Abena Essah Bediako
Abena is an upcoming poet, musician and model from North London. They are excited to be taking part in the BBC Words First spoken word scheme and are a member of the Roundhouse Poetry Collective. Abena’s work as a musician and writer explore personal themes of race, gender, sexuality, religion, childhood and mental health.
Their previous writing and performance experiences include winner of the November and December 2018 Some-Antics Slams and the subsequent Championship Slam. In 2019, they were commissioned to write and perform at Leicester’s Festival2Funky and also took part in the POW! showcase for young LGBTQ+ creatives. They also made it to the finals for the London Roundhouse Poetry Slam 2019 finals.
Abena studied psychology and the University of Leicester and represented their Univeristy in the 2018 and 2019 UniSlam performances. After this experience, they fell in love with poetry and went on to write and perform at different Slams and showcases.
‘Sarah Kay inspired to start performing poetry. When I stumbled across her poems on YouTube as teenager, I saw myself in her. I love the way she uses imagery and builds such vivid pictures to this day. When I was young, Leona Lewis really inspired me to sing, her music was everything to me. There are so many other artists that influence and inspire for example Andrea Gibson, Vanessa Kisuule, Alicia Keys and of course Beyoncé. There are too many to name.’
As a visually minded artist, Abena says their goal is to ‘translate the world they see in their mind into words on paper’. Poetry allows them to turn abstract subjective experiences into words that can be shared and understood by others. They also have ambitions to write a full length poetry piece that focuses on their life experiences as a child of Ghanaian decent and the difficulties of growing up being both queer and Christian.
‘In many ways my poems are quite narrative and often explore various aspects of my personal identity. I often like to incorporate music in my poems to bring my two mediums together. I want to write a full length show which explores being a child of the Ghanaian Diaspora, being queer and growing up Christian and hopefully tour that too! It would also be awesome to publish a collection of poems.’
Here is an poem from Abena titled ‘Shallow Tongue’ that explores being a child of the Ghanaian diaspora:
‘I listen to a broad range of artists and genres and they all influence my music in different ways. But I am very influenced by music that is layered and full of harmony and try and emulate that sound in songs…’
Abena’s music has a unique alternative-soul sound. They currently have two acapella tracks on Soundcloud. Both involve blues inspired vocals supported by layered, backing harmonies. Abena’s dream is to tour, release their own songs, EP’s, albums and become a full-time musician. You can check out one of their songs ‘Care To Be’ on soundcloud below:
A last word from Abena on what dificulties they face as a creative and how to embrace failure and grow as a result:
‘The most difficult thing about creating is reminding myself that failure is not the end. It’s just the world, the universe or God saying maybe this is the wrong direction, maybe try another door (I learnt this from Oprah). Also finding new ways to communicate and tell my stories can be hard too. I can be really hard on myself sometimes because I want to be a better writer and singer. So I have to trust myself and trust that when I keep going I can only get better.’
Interview for The Collaborator’s Project
What interested you about collaboration with other artists?
I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with other poets before. And I’ve found that collaboration definitely leaves me inspired and gives me rush. Especially when something clicks with the person I’m working with and we are bouncing idea after idea off each other. I’ve never had an opportunity to work with other creatives – outside of the realm of poetry – so I’m interested to see how that brings a fresh perspective to my work.
How long have you been working on your craft and what inspired you to start?
I first started getting on stage when I was in year 6. I was so shy as a kid but it didn’t stop me jumping up to do acapella covers of Leona Lewis’ Bleeding love at the year six class talent show (and winning yay haha). Music is genuinely the love of my life when I sing it brings me release and I feel lighter and that’s what inspires me to do it.
I didn’t get to study music it at university – because it wasn’t encouraged by my parents – but I still found myself on stages throughout my time at primary and secondary school. And at university I really started to take performing seriously.
I had also written poetry as a teenager but I began performing poetry at UniSlam – a National poetry competition where universities across the UK compete against each other.
I studied psychology at the University of Leicester and heard about UniSlam at the Fresher’s Fair so I auditioned, got into the team and had chance to represent team Leicester in 2018 and 2019. After UniSlam I fell in love with poetry too and began performing covers, original song and poems at different Slams and showcases.
Sarah Kay inspired to start performing poetry. When I stumbled across her poems her poems on YouTube as teenager, I saw myself in her. I love the way she uses imagery and builds such vivid pictures to this day. When I was young, Leona Lewis really inspired me to sing, her music was everything to me. There are so many other artists that influence and inspire for example Andrea Gibson, Vanessa Kisuule, Alicia Keys and of course Beyoncé. There are too many to name.
How did the theme of Isolation resonate with you? Did it conjure any immediate images?
The first thing that comes to mind is Covid-19 which literally put our world at a standstill and also gave us/forced us to think a lot. Isolation ripped the veil from people’s eyes to finally see all the injustices that exist in our world. The world finally paid attention to Black Lives (and I hope that continues).
I also think isolation brings mental health to mind because being indoors for a long time can cause flare ups in anxiety, further isolate queer kids who already feel othered etc.
I also associate isolation with appreciating nature more, taking comfort in the little joys, baking, dance work outs. So yeah, a lot of things resonated and came to mind.
Is there anything that you usually use to inspire your work?
My experiences usually inspire my work. I write a lot about personal identity often exploring my Ghanaian Heritage, being a black queer womxn, mental health, being brought up in a religious household, friendship, childhood memories etc.
My more recent work explores the intersections of my experience i.e. how my heritage affects my relationship with being queer which has been important and healing journey. Often I focus on a specific memories or conversations and begin writing there.
How has the lockdown affected your work?
I think I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and integrate all the things I’ve learnt in previous workshops into my work. I also think the current state of the world has urged me to become more political. As a black queer womxn I’ve always been viewed as political just by existing, writing and sharing my work. But now there’s more urgency to my work. I found that in the most recent poem I wrote, I still write about the personal but there’s more integration between my history, my childhood and what’s happening right now because they all inform each other.
If you could master any other artform, what would it be and why?
That’s a hard question. I really love all forms of creativity and if I could do it all I would haha. But if I had to pick it would be photography, dance and film. I think with all these art forms they inspire conversations; photography and dance do this without the use of words and I think that is so important. Emotions are a powerful thing and I love that you can inspire that in someone or communicate that through a picture or through movement. With Film, I absolutely love the Skin Deep, Soul pancake and just anything that makes me feel loads of things at once. I would love to be able to do that using a camera.
Discover more of Abena’s work on instagram: @abena_essah_
We look forward to seeing the work of all our artists in this seasons Collaborator’s Project. Works will be exhibited at the end of August. Follow us on instagram for more updates! CM.