It's only once in a blue moon that you meet someone as brilliant and focused as Blitz the Ambassador. To say he's a living legend is an understatement. His art revolves around Blackness in a way that is both revolutionary and a homecoming. From his debut feature, The Burial of Kojo to Black is King, the soon-come visual album by Beyonce, Blitz is paving a way into the new world for Black creators. We sat down with him this week to talk about his life, his art, and how he uses intentionality to create space for Black people across the globe.
Your career couldn’t have played out more beautifully than had it been scripted. From Accra, to a thriving rap career, to directing. What would say was your big break?
It all happened in increments. My career has spanned music, film, visual arts, and literature. Each one has had its own 'break' that’s rippled into the next. With my music, it was when myself and my partner decided to go to Paris. We did it mostly because we knew we had no shot in America. It’s taken the US quite some time to catch on to immigrant experiences as they should. But in places like France, immigrant culture is quite present -- so we got ahead. One of my first shows in Paris I could tell there was a RESPONSE. We got signed at a booking agency and went from playing for 100 people to playing for 20k people at festivals. For me it was about understanding there's a myriad of blackness globally, and some places are just more ready for it than others. It doesn’t mean we (the US) aren’t going to catch on; we're just in a different time zone. It's about knowing where and how to hit.
But my BIG break came when Ava saw The Burial of Kojo – she was like 'this deserves to be seen.' Then Beyonce saw it on Netflix. It happened in ripples and all of it is a blessing.
Yes! The Burial of Kojo is so visually arresting and beautiful. Can you share your inspiration behind it?
Yeah man, it was born out of my dissatisfaction of the way the continent had been shot. I’ve seen so many films using the continent as a backdrop or even centering it, but there was something missing in the visual communication. As someone who grew up there for 17 years, I knew the vividness, the magic, the colors, the fabric that live there but I was seeing films that were all bland and very sepia toned. As time has passed, I’ve come to understand why. A lot of the post-production for films set in Africa aren't done on the continent. So it's left in the hands of people who have never been. They use their pre-existing ideas, and let's be honest that’s National Geographic. Africa has been socialized for wildlife. So they just don’t know about being in the Accra market and the color that comes at you from all angles. It’s a completely immersive experience. So we thought—if we never make a film again, we need to make sure that this experience is as immersive as possible. The minute we started shooting we knew we were on the right track.
How did you ensure that your finished product stayed true to your vision?
I funded it myself. That meant that I had absolute control over who I let near the film. At first I thought it was a bad idea, like WHY am I using my own money (laughs). But I'm so glad I did. So often when blessings happen from this film I go back to the moments of being alone in Accra. In hindsight, I'm so glad I persisted. Owning the path and having absolute control was essential. Letting only people who affirmed us and our journey to be close to the project really allowed the work to get from ideation to realization without the hiccups of doubt. Doubt defines if you succeed or if you fail.
The other thing was technical. I had very little money so I was very clear on my vision. I story-boarded over 600 frames of the film myself before we got to set because I was paranoid that I would lose my way. I didn't have the resources that gave me the luxury to lose my way, so I needed to use visual aids. Sometimes when you get to set several things go wrong and the only way you can adhere to your vision is if there is a way in which the team can verify. It's all about control and cultural accountability.
Is there a piece of art that sparked a shift in your consciousness or changed you?
Spike Lee's Malcolm X. That was a big moment for me. THAT is how you make an inward gazing film. It's so culturally estute. So clear. So unflinching. That film taught me about how to create art without fear. Malcolm X was a legend, but Spike wasn’t afraid of approaching the film from a human perspective. It helped me understand what cultural impact looks like. Some people feel Black people should just make films “because.” One day we will get there, but I think when we are operating on such a deficit of content, intentionality becomes key. Because we have not yet acquired the tools that make our contributions perptual, we have to be intentional. It’s critical until we are oscillating in a space of plenty. That’s how I’ve approached everything. Our contributions have to live on past us. If we do that then the chances we can produce it again are that much higher.
Absolutely. If we do that, then every generation will have Black content. Tying that into this moment – how does The Movement shape your art? How are you bringing that intentionality to this moment?
Well first of all, this is a beautiful moment. So much has transpired to get us here. I see so much Black ownership over creative content. The changes that are happening in the industry are so clear. I came from music and honestly, film is five years late to everything. We talk about systems but we often forget that a lot of these systems have actually been hinderences to our advancing. These systems cannot continue to exist by excluding our content.
And that’s when I go to what I call the HOV theory which is "we are the reason that this whole thing exists." It's on our backs. So now I can step back and say, I have my own thing. I can use my platform intentionally so our stories are sustainable.
Because of our cultural proximity we can identify dopeness. It's super obvious that white hedge money is running out of cultural impact. So now they need our stories. We don’t have to say 'I’ll give you my masters.' It’s powerful and necessary that we identify and are clear about the parts we play in the system. My goal is for Black art to never be dormant again.
One thing that gives me hope is the way Black people are reaching out to each other holding the door all the way open. We are pulling everyone in. We have our own doors to our own things. The dormancy is never happening again.
YES! And it's beautiful to see what’s happening on a global diaspora level as well. The absurdity that 1.2 billion people on the continent and another 300 million globally have had so little space to operate in the global zeitgeist is something I’ve never understood. I used to turn on the TV and nothing represented me. I couldn’t see a world in which one third of its community wasn’t included. Imagine 1/3 of your body not operating. No wonder the world is so out of whack! It's because of the intentional and artificial exclusion that has gone unchecked for so long. That was the first spark for me. That’s when I decided I had to do art.
Speaking of your art, you're one of a handful of collaborators on Beyonce's new project, Black is King. It's the question we all want to know, how did the call for that happen? Was it “Hey B, this is Bey, wyd???”
Mannnn, I mean, it didn’t happen. It didn’t come to me. I wish I heard the golden voice at the other end of thee phone! What I will say is that I will never forget walking into the office. She was walking out and instantly, she gave me the biggest hug. I was like YO! Beyonce just hugged me. We good. Whatever happens from here is all good. That journey for me has been surreal. I know and understand her cultural impact. Beyond being a superfan, I understand what she means to the culture. To watch a brilliant, generous, loving person in the endless pursuit of excellence was amazing. I consider myself a hard worker, but I will attest I have never in my life seen somebody as focused and hardworking as Bey. To work with her for six months and to see this endless appetite for brilliance and Black excellence was incredible. That for me was a life changing experience. It’s one thing to say she's gifted but when you see the practice, you really see why she’s putting those numbers on the board.
We can't wait to see it. Last question: What message do you think all your art, including Black is King, sets out to convey?
Man. That Black is Beautiful. Ever when our circumstances aren’t.