On Finding Inspiration in Ghana and Recording an Acoustic Masterpiece in an Ontario Barn
“I like to mix traditional music from Ghana with folksongs.”
“I get a real joy out of songwriting. It’s like a collage of little moments and moods. It feels right.”
Every artist’s background and upbringing shapes them into the musician they become later in life. It shapes the way they see the world. Even in the smallest of lyrics, one can get a glimpse into that artist’s world and what growing up was like for him or her. Whether they grew up listening to rhythm and blues in the South or hip-hop in the Bronx, where they grew up is extremely influential. For up-and-coming singer/songwriter Kae Sun, halfway around the world in Ghana is where it all started for him.
The Ghanaian-Canadian musician doesn’t really know how best to describe his sound. “It depends on what mood you’re in and what genre you want to classify it,” Sun jokes. All kidding aside, Sun’s music is a sweet combination of melodic acoustic guitars, harmonious vocal arrangements and emotionally stirring lyrics. “I like to give people a wide variety,” Sun says. “I like to mix traditional music from Ghana with folksongs.”
Growing up in the West African country, Sun was surrounded by a wealth of rich music. The artist was heavily influenced by his father’s record collection, which in turn was heavily dominated by American Motown artists. “My dad had a lot of American records that I would listen to,” he says. “He had Stevie Wonder and The Temptations. Stuff like that.”
He also was very influenced by Bob Marley and credits Marley for the way he crafts songs. “I can see a direct connection between the way I write songs to Bob Marley,” Sun says. “I write a lot of songs about the community and things that are happening.”
The Bob Marley fan started performing when he was in high school and began playing the guitar at 15. Once he picked up the guitar, it was something he knew he would never put down again. The instrument quickly became his vessel for expressing himself. “The first six years of your life are what really define you. That’s how you see the world,” Sun says. “That’s what I write about.” It was when Sun was about 19 years old when he realized he wanted to pursue music professionally.
In Ghana, Sun wasn’t exposed to many of the things that American children are at a young age. This outlook on life is what blessed him with such a vivid imagination. “I didn’t watch TV or anything like that,” he says. “It helped with my imagination and storytelling.”
His homeland is also what inspired his latest EP, Outside the Barcode. After living in Canada for nine years, he returned to visit Ghana and upon his arrival, he knew he had to write and make music fast. The heart-moving songs were recorded on 2-inch tape on a farm in Ontario. The process was unlike anything the songwriter had ever experienced. All the songs were performed acoustically and recorded in one day. “It was raw and live,” he says. “A real urgency came across in the songs.” It was the first time in the musician’s life where he wasn’t worried about production. “We weren’t worried about editing or anything like that,” Sun says. “I’ve never done anything like that before.”
For the Ghana native, the process of writing songs immediately and recording them was eye opening. It was a nice change of pace for Sun not to over-analyze every lyric and beat. “It was great to come home and immediately not over think everything and not let too much time go by,” Sun says.
For him, songwriting is a sacred thing and something he is still figuring out. “Songwriting is still a mystery to me,” he says. He credits his tender and thought-provoking lyrics to being open to whatever emotions run through him. “It is the ability to be in a certain mood and to be able to accurately portray that mood,” Sun says. He also carries a notebook with him everywhere he goes. “I don’t want to let that moment go by,” he says.
Songwriting is a cathartic release for him that he treasures. “I get a real joy out of it,” he says. “It is like a collage of little moments and moods. It feels right.”
This winter Sun would like to go back to Europe and Africa to perform. He really enjoys performing to overseas crowds, no matter the size. For him, every live performance breathes new life into each of the songs. “Every time I play a song it is different. I can play for 1,000 people or 40 people and it is always different,” Sun says. “It keeps it exciting.”
When it comes to performing, making a connection to the audience is huge for Sun. He likes to create a sense of togetherness in the crowd. “It’s cliché but it is true. When there is this feeling in the room that everyone is together and you are not separate from the audience,” he explains. “That is just…‘wow.’ When that happens, it is priceless.”
Sun isn’t one to dream too far ahead into the future, though. He has a steady head and remains in the present. His only goal is to continue making music and do what he loves. “I want to do more of what it is that I am doing,” he says. “I want to share music with people.”
Photos by Philippe Nyirimihigo