Akata: a history

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“The boy’s going global”, Kwaku DMC, an akata-boy, has proclaimed in his freestyle rap song, Off White Flow. But akata in itself is already global. What is local are the people who embody this phenomenon. What is akata and who becomes an akata-boy? The akata-boy is many persons, but also one person. Many persons because the akata-boy is found in many places, shaped by many social forces. By virtue of his near ubiquity, it is as if the akata-boy is one body extended to many places. He may be misattributed as the New York hipster who frequented kitsch-land (a place for trading low brow goods) in Upper West Side in the aughties. The akata-boy may also be confused with the Limeño hipster, who despised cumbia music but started dancing to ‘cumbias psicodélicas’ because it became cool. Jace Clayton (aka DJ Rupture) has noted in nplusone magazine’s 2010 series that anatomized the hipster, ‘What was the hipster?’, that the Limeño hipster’s acceptance of cumbias psicodélicas was because “Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru” was produced by a cool Brooklyn-based recording label, Barbes. Cumbia now looked cool to the middle-class Peruvian hipster.


The akata-boy runs deeper than the New York or Peruvian hipster, and his birth earlier than the hipster. Before the hipster took flight from/to Brooklyn, and to/from Lima, or anywhere else in the world, there was the akata-boy.


In retrospect, the akata-boy could be Norman Mailer, the American novelist’s white negro. Mailer, who was well celebrated as a philosopher of hip, explored the hipster as an American existentialist in The White Negro. According to Mailer, the American existentialist was framed from the horrors that feature modernism, particularly the terrors of the 20th century and the injustices that Blacks in the US face from the state for centuries. The marginalized black in US live life by engaging death, for in his consciousness, he could die deus ex machina, not by atomic bomb or radioactivity, but by state aggression. Greeting state aggression with aggression only resulted in his physical death, therefore, the marginalized black harmonized with the state through his jive philosophy, as Anatole Broyard had made clear in his 1948 essay, The portrait of the Hipster. Through jive philosophy, the marginalized black was able to reconcile with the society symbolically: through music, and other creative arts.


The akata-boy is not unlike the marginalized black in North America, or elsewhere around the globe, in that the social forces that created the marginalization of blacks in North America are similar to those that formed the akata-boy who lives at a trap-house (the akata-boy’s residence, which is usually co-habited by his coterie) in a suburb of Kumasi, Ghana’s second metropolis. These forces emanate from capitalist ideals, such as unrestrained accumulation that alienate the individuals involved in the resource extraction that drive this accumulation from their human essence. Once alienated, the akata-boy strives to reconcile with his essence through symbols: music, fashion and argots. Through these symbols, the akata-boy reconnects with his essence, and by so doing becomes a source of resistance to capitalists and the mechanisms put in place to protect accumulated wealth. Not surprisingly, these symbols are core to the jive philosophy that are adapted by the marginalized black in North America to cope with state aggression.


If the akata-boy is spatially related to the black in North America, temporally, he may not be any different from the nkwankwaa.. The nkwankwaa were individuals who descended from low-income families or clans in the Asante Empire, and who were cast into servitude throughout the empire’s history. As political beings, the nkwankwaa served as sources of resistance against many imperial forces. In The Quills of Porcupine; Asante Nationalism in an Emergent Ghana’, Jean Marie Allman traced the role of the nkwankwaa from pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial Ghana. During the heyday of the Asante Kingdom, the nkwankwaa’s resistance were directed at the Asante aristocrats who extracted the surplus of their labor. In the colonial era, the nkwankwaa were largely influential in Asante’s resistance to British and other European infiltration that sought to displace them from their land (or so they thought). Nationalism drove the nkwankwaa’s contribution to Asante resistance because colonialism threatened to supplant an attachment to a place or people that itself was the substance of the nkwankwaa’s existence. Although this attachment was directed at a place and people that subdued them, they regarded their relations with the Asante aristocrats as the concrete of their existence. Without it, they vaporize into nothingness and to nowhere. Just as Anatole Broyard’s hipster “….longed to be somewhere“, the nkwankwaa desired to be somewhere.


Somewhereness is central to jive as well as akata. The akata-boy‘s trap-house or ‘hood’ dominates his symbols: his murals, music and music videos. He lives in slums and poor neighborhoods in urban centers, which embody relics of infrastructures and other resources that attracted people to the inner cities in the first place. As these infrastructures attract varieties of persons; proles and aristocrats alike, diverse communities are formed. It becomes harder to control such diverse communes, leading to the accumulation of filth, increasing crimes and other dystopic conditions that characterize most urban centers. As has been observed elsewhere around the world, in no time, the aristocrats take flight to suburbia, that utopic place that is insular to all the putrescence of the urban centers. This exodus is no more a familiar feature of modernism than inequality has become customary for more than 10,000 years of human history (which, by the way, is only 3% of human existence). Akata translated the decaying urban centers into bohemia, which ironically attracted the kids whose affluent parents took flight to suburbia in search of immunity against the troubles of urban centers. By patronizing kitsch from bohemia, these late arriving privileged kids, who may be the hipster, provide a conduit for capital to kitsch-land or bohemia, fueling hyper-consumerism of kitsch. This consumerist drive of kitsch removes kitsch and bohemia from the grasp of the akata-boy [What I refer to as late removism].


To guard against such removism, the akata-boy uses a priorism to fight back the hipster and capital. As Anatole Broyard noted in The Portrait of the Hipstera priorism constitute a central theme of jive philosophy. A priorism, the concept that it is given to know the score, is, as Broyard rightly put it, “a primary self-preserving postulate”. It binarizes the akata-boy, and the late-comer (hipster): it is either you dig the flow, or you don’t. As an archetypal akata-boy would proudly put it, “This is our lifestyle; you either live it or you don’t.” That way, there is no channel for mobility between outsiders and akataAkata employs a priorism as a defensive weapon against the predatory hipster and their capitalistic accoutrements which constantly threaten to gentrify bohemia. In no time, however, you find an outsider knowing the score or an akata betraying the lifestyle and revealing the score to outsiders (through making love to capital). These few double-dealers punch holes in akata, leading to its death, although akata never dies forever. It keeps resurrecting after capital kills it. Akata is capital’s nemesis.


The author, Alexander Kwakye, tweets @alexrepgh



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