This Black History Month, Atwood Magazine has invited artists to participate in a series of essays, interviews, reviews, poetry, playlists, and more features in recognition of, and out of respect for the symbolism and significance of this month.
Today, Jamaican born, Charlotte, NC-based singer/songwriter and producer Sanya N’Kanta shares his personal essay “Tracy Chapman: My Influential Artist Selection for Black History Month” as a part of Atwood Magazine’s Black History Month series. A multi-genre, socially conscious artist active for years throughout the Midwest, N’Kanta’s career has found him engaged in everything from pure raw rock n’ roll to glitzy ’80s synthpop, hip-hop, neo-soul, alternative, industrial, grunge, and much more – both on stage, and in the production booth.
He formally debuted his solo artistry with March 2020’s heated debut album The Counterfeit Revival, an expansive and sweeping album that encompasses rock, reggae, hip-hop, house, and electropop elements all under one stable frame. Singing about race, immigration, and the Black experience, N’Kanta injects deep emotion and stirring sentiment throughout an ambitiously diverse, yet laser-focused full-length statement.
Songs like “Silence is Violence” and “I.C.E. at the Door” capture the pain, violence, and fracture felt throughout the United States in recent years. A dark reflection of the times, The Counterfeit Revival sends a shiver down the spine a year out from its release – a resonating reminder that many of N’Kanta’s topics are as relevant now as they were at the time of writing.
N’Kanta returned in 2021 with the six-track EP These Are the Days, released February 12, 2021. An indisputably brighter record than its predecessor, These Are the Days showcases N’Kanta’s tender and soulful singer/songwriter side. From the visceral, mesmerizing alt-rocker “The Hard Lesson” and the gorgeous, falsetto-laden “Waste My Time,” to the uplifting and inspired mantra of “Hold On” and the unrelenting pulse of “North Carolina,” These Are the Days is a personal, deep diary-like dive into N’Kanta’s heart and soul – and if the popularity of his music videos are anything to show for it, then this artist has nowhere to go but up.
“Most of the black kids then thought I was trying to be white, that I had ‘sold out’… I never accepted this because I was already aware of my culture and rich Jamaican heritage, especially the music. They made fun of my darker skin and gave me the nickname ‘Midnight’ because my skin was as black as midnight. This didn’t offend me though, I loved my skin color, and I remember feeling sorry for them that they did not. I just got off the boat from a mostly black country, so nothing they said could convince me that I was not black enough.” – Sanya N’Kanta
Tracy Chapman: My Influential Artist Selection for Black History Month
For Black History Month, I am celebrating one Black singer-songwriter that influenced me as an artist. I have always preferred music that has an underlying social message, even as a young child. As a migrant from Jamaica, I was very used to hearing political themes in reggae music. The American music that my father, who was a musician, exposed me to also had a political message and was mostly folk music of the likes of Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel. I developed a fond love for this type of music, and when I heard Tracy Chapman, I immediately fell in love with her acoustic artistry, social commentary, and storytelling ability.
Her self-titled album Tracy Chapman spoke to me in 1988 at a time in my life where I felt like I didn’t belong and that no one understood me. Listening to her songs made me feel like I was not alone, that others were existing in this painful world right alongside me. Her songs not only evoke empathy, but they also make you wear the shoes of the characters in her stories. This album, in my opinion, is music perfection.
When writing my new EP, These Are the Days, I revisited Tracy Chapman’s self-titled album for sonic inspiration. I wanted to lean on my acoustic guitars in the same way and bring a level of simplicity and restraint to my production. You can hear the similarities in the glimmering acoustic guitars that maintain their dominance over all other production elements except her voice.
“For My Lover” is the ultimate love song and a great example of her brilliance. Tracy speaks of a love that no one understands. A level of commitment that nothing could shake. Anyone in observation thinks she is a fool, but she knows something that they do not. She defines true love in this song as a commitment to love above all. She cares not what anyone says, regardless of the situation and despite any internal doubt. She’s giving up everything for her love to the point where she even questions, “Is this love worth the sacrifices I make?”
Stream: “For My Lover” – Tracy Chapman
My song “Waste My Time” also speaks of unwavering love. It speaks to all of the blessings that you can receive from a commitment to love. It is universal that our time is limited; how we choose to spend is the most telling indicator of our priorities and values. If time is our most valuable asset, then it is also the most treasured gift that we can give the ones that we love.
Watch: “Waste My Time” – Sanya N’Kanta
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