Blitz the Ambassador is a Brooklyn based emcee–by way of Ghana–who is fast attracting international attention for his musical ingenuity and his DIY indy hip-hop community that he has cultivated under the platform of his self-made label Embassy MVMT. His music is an amalgamation of political ferver, West African Highlife, Afrobeat and Afro-funk, early 90s boom bap lyrical stylings, visual art, and the element of egalitarianism that he loves and admires about football (what American’s call soccer). Blitz sat with us in the Greenroom before his performance at The Green Space in Tribeca to school us on Pan-Africanism, cinematography, the politics of football, and his biggest musical influences. Take a journey with us inside his mind in Blitz’ Picks, a special post curated by Blitz the Ambassador.
The Alchemist is probably one of my all time favorites. I try to read it at least once a year. It reminds me of what it really takes to follow this dream and to really go the distance doing it. It’s by Paulo Coelho.
Khalil Gilbran’s The Prophet, another one of my all time favorite books. It simply breaks down life.
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I read that book when I was really really young. Every time I read it, the older I get reading it, the more insight I gather. That’s just the gem of the book.
Tsotsi is a movie that was made by a South African director Gavin Hood, it won best foreign film [Oscar] in 2005.
Amores Perros is a phenomenal film by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Kehinde Wiley is one of my favorite artists, His juxtapositions are crazy.
Seydou Keita Photographer. His style of photography we kind of borrowed for my new album cover Native Sun. The whole thing was inspired by his style of photography. Seydou Keita, is a phenomenal photographer, shot in Bamako, Mali, he just uses African fabrics as his backdrop for his shots of everyday life. I think Janet Jackson’s “Got Til It’s Gone” was inspired by his photography. He’s fabulous.
Fela Kuti—his sound, his style—I get a lot of what I do from him.
Salif Keita cause he’s somebody who’s been doing it for Africa for a very long time, him and Youssou N’Dour specifically, really exploring the sound to a real major level. The double-edged sword thing has been setting up the whole world music scenario. It’s been kind of difficult to branch out if you’re coming from anywhere else but America or Europe (specifically England) if you are in only the world music category, which is kind of bogus and unfair.
Seu Jorge is another fabulous musician from Brazil. I’m a big fan of a lot of Brazilian music and the Brazilian sound. Seu Jorge is one of my all time favorites.
There is also a composer called Arthur Verocai. His work really inspired my new record Native Sun in that his compositions are really interesting. He has an obviously classical style of writing but it’s based in African percussion styles, so strings are almost percussion instruments, and horns–I mean, it really has a different kind of vibe. He’s a fabulous composer.
Of course Mulatu [Astatke] who’s a pioneer of Ethio jazz. Just genius sounds! And the horns that I record primarily have that Ethio jazz vibe to them, so I’m really influenced by him.
Ebo Taylor is fabulous. He is one of our pioneers in terms of highlife music and Afrobeat. That’s real major.
I’m a big football fan. You call it soccer here. Those of you who think it’s soccer, whatever [laughs]. I’m inspired by a lot of football players.
Everybody knows Pele. Diego Maradona is one of my favorites. Roger Milla from Cameroon was one of my favorites growing up. Jurgen Klinsmann—a German—insane striker. More recently of course they is Ronaldinho and Messi. Sometimes I go online and I google best goals. I’m one of those people, but those things have 2 million views, so I guess I’m not the only nerd for football.
I think it’s the only sport that’s global and democratic. Any other sport seems like it requires just a level of equipment, knowledge, it’s not made for everybody around the world. I look at what we call football here [in the United States], I can’t see that being played in Accra. Just the technical needs of that game are impossible, and the rules just go on forever. There are just some sports that just don’t translate well. Basketball and football are probably the most translatable. I just love the sport, it’s one of those sports where anybody can really compete off of merit. I look at sports in terms of what can be played barefoot in Accra. = I watch the world cup over leagues because to me leagues is just one billionaire buying up all the good players. The World Cup is where the game really gets real. You really have to be that good because most of the players are come from nothing, and they really just dominate. In spite of the challenges that soccer faces in Europe, especially in terms of racism, it’s one of the few sports that really goes hard in terms of trying to claim some kind of dialogue around the world about race. I appreciated the global support for it being hosted last in South Africa and hope that continues.
Kwame Nkrumah is really high on my list, but I think I would put it right there with someone like [Patrice] Lumumba who I shout out on my record “Free Your Mind.” I think Africa today is still suffering from the loss of those guys so early.
For Lumumba, I think he was in office for two months, he didn’t get a chance to be president. Today I can get up and talk shit in terms of how I feel about the world. Back in Lumumba’s day, those were the days where to do that, you had to be a great man–because the world–they would take you out and have no qualms about it. These guys, their bravery, we don’t even rank close to them in terms of stepping up to colonial rule and fully ride with their people to the end.
I talk about Nkrumah mainly because of his vision, which Ghana is still trying to catch up to that 50 years later. The hospital I was born at was built by Kwame Nkrumah, the only real highway in Ghana was built by Kwame Nkrumah, the airport was built by Kwame Nkrumah, the company that provides electricity to Togo, The Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso was built by Kwame Nkrumah. It’s almost like after him it all stopped. It was really the vision in terms of understanding in Europe, and Europe really understood where he was coming from because he was an industrialist, and understood that Africa’s wealth had to form the basis of our industry, and not just be mere raw material providers where nothing is made in Africa, it’s all shipped out and made and sold to us at prices that we can’t even afford. So he had plans to build car-manufacturing plants.
His plans were pretty up there in terms of starting Ghana and the rest of Africa into a very industrialized world that could compete globally, because that’s what the European colonizers at the time were so scared of. The Europeans were thinking “Yo we’re taking all of this stuff for free, okay, if you start owning it you still can’t make nothing, and you’ll always be in debt to us.” That was the structure that they were coming from, and he had it in his mind to just break that down and start making things. And that’s when they were like “oh, you got to go.” They took him out quickly. Those are the kinds of people that when I’m writing I’m thinking about. They can still take you out, they still do take you out from time to time, but it’s a much different world, and if there’s ever a time to speak about these things, it’s now. Yeah, Kwame Nkrumah is up there, the concept of a United States of Africa, was born out of his psyche, of course collaborating with a lot of great thinkers at the time. We are still struggling as a continent. Nkrumah, Lumumba are big on my list. I think that Africa is really suffering from a lack of leadership right now. Those are the people that have greatly influenced me.
Interview by Boyuan Gao and Nora Ritchie