By Alex Gallafent
Blitz the Ambassador was born and raised in Accra, Ghana. But for 10 years his home has been the United States. And you can hear it when he talks: he sounds like any other American hip hop artist.
"I had to learn to speak like this because if I'm going to be a rapper, I should learn the lingo and present myself as that," said Blitz, whose real name Samuel Bazawule.
That's being an immigrant: you take on some things and leave other things behind. You want to fit in even as you hope to stand out. And it's not always comfortable.
"When I return to Accra, guess what? I'm a stranger there as well."
Blitz the Ambassador knows that music is one way of making sense of it all.
For his new album, Native Son, he says he built up the songs the way he himself is built, with Ghana and Accra the foundation.
The album layers multiple languages, a wide-ranging geography and diverse musical styles from Afrobeat and Highlife to contemporary hip hop. Blitz brought all those elements together by first singing the lines that make up the songs. His musicians then translated his singing into instrumental parts.
"If you listen to James Brown records you can see he's just singing them the lines," Blitz said. "Fela's the same: you can see he's just singing them the lines. And they resonate more – they're not just abstract notes that were just written to live – they're things that were sung."
Blitz's hero and mentor is the American rapper Chuck D. He visited Ghana in the early 90s with Public Enemy, and Blitz soaked it all up. But the Ghanaian-born musician says American music doesn't often produce that kind of politically engaged artist any more.
"Coming from where I'm from, I'm consistently engaging in debates about politics, about the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank," said Blitz. "These are real things to us; these aren't things that end up in the New York Times. These are conversations that are being had."
Ultimately, Blitz the Ambassador is a musician, not a politician. But he thinks about politics, just as he thinks about life in Accra and about his new life in Brooklyn.
"Native Son" is his attempt to join the dots, or, as he puts it, "to make the gaps smaller."