Nana Adjoa is a Dutch-Ghanaian singer, songwriter, bass and guitar player. Raised in Bussum, The Netherlands, she started playing the guitar and writing songs at a young age. Throughout her youth, Nana was involved in various musical projects before moving to Amsterdam to study bass guitar at the prestigious Jazz Conservatorium. While playing as a bassist for several successful Dutch acts she began working on her own material and took part in a prestigious singer-songwriter talent contest the Grote Prijs van Nederland. As runner-up, Nana’s alternative/indie pop songs immediately drew attention. All of Nana Adjoa’s songs come from a deep place. The multi-talented Nana Adjoa is hard to capture in one genre, but her soulful yet groovy songs can be traced back to the nineties, specifically to her love for British trip-hop. With a warm voice that encompasses itself in the tones of soul, combined with her compact and poetic lyrics, Nana manages to be melancholic without losing joy.
Religion first came into my life through my father. After my parents got divorced, he found, I guess, solace and support in the Bible. He started reading from a “kids Bible” to my sister and me when we were both somewhere between five and seven (my baby brother was too young for it); I remember really enjoying this. The books were full of pictures and drawings, and the stories were all very epic. Before this time, neither of my parents were religious at all, and I realize now that I didn’t understand then that my dad actually believed these stories were real and had happened—I just felt he was reading bedtime stories to us. Looking back, these stories are maybe what got me into reading at an early age. A little bit later on, in high school, history became my favorite subject. I just loved listening to stories (I had nice teachers who made it fun to listen).
My dad, I learned later, used to look down on “The Church” in Ghana because its roots are also very much connected to materialism—very different from the European Calvinism kind of faith, maybe more like some U.S. churches. It’s basically very shiny bling all over the church—not in a ceremonial Catholic way, but more in a modern wealthy kind of way. The priests are driving the best cars and church-goers are wearing their nicest clothing on Sunday. I guess in an environment with common poverty, this division is even more clear. Years later, my father (living through a lot, including a very chaotic divorce with my mother) changed his mind and he took us to church often on Sundays—Ghanaian church in the Netherlands, which means nice food, live music, dancing, and a priest screaming very loudly into a big PA system. He was preaching half in English, half in Twi (the Ghanaian language), so I didn’t understand anything and I just enjoyed it more so than being interested in the church.
In my late stages of puberty, my mom also decided that Christ is our savior. Maybe “her savior” would be a better description. She lost a lot in her life: various broken relationships; her father, whom she adored very much, died when she was in her early 20s; she even got shot at some point, also in her 20s. A tumultuous life. So something that promises to heal not just one wound, but all wounds, is very tempting to believe. The base to believing, in my opinion, is that you think that you and, eventually, all other people in the world need saving. I don’t believe we all need saving. I think the cornerstone should be “Naastenliefde,” a word that kind of translates into something of love and respect for your fellows. I believe that can go hand in hand with strong religious beliefs, whether you’re aware of it or not. Well, that’s what I believe now, in this phase of my life.
Given my age at the time that my mom went full-on into Christianity, I was ready to debate and not really ready to listen. At this point in high school, history and philosophy were my favorite subjects. Studying them felt like I was constantly opening a door in my mind to other possibilities, and understanding more and more the big differences between people. It felt like my mind was expanding. For someone to be so sure of one thing felt narrow-minded and naive (I was pretty naive myself, of course). I was very interested in religious Greek Mythology, its similarities and differences with Christianity, especially in their stories, miracles, and epic plots. It was like a hobby, and if I hadn’t gone to study music at the conservatory, I probably would have delved even more into it.
Living at home with my mother, religion grew into a subject I tried to avoid because I knew we didn’t agree and we were both very stubborn, believing the other person was wrong. This is obviously normal for a mother-daughter relationship, but going into it on a philosophical level is just too much. Willingly and unwillingly, I learned about Christian beliefs and the Bible, which is full of so many archetypes and themes that it has become a source of inspiration for me. The Bible contains every theme or situation you could write a song about: love, birth/life, death, lust, the blues, family, women, men, whatever. There is always a part of my brain that connects dots through the stories of the Bible, or other historical tales that have stuck with me.
Although it’s not really heard in my own music, I’m very happy that I also got to know a little bit of Black Gospel while growing up. My parents had shared love for “Black Music,” and that also translated into a love for Black Gospel. I really feel like this specific type of music is so, so, so powerful. It might be the total opposite of what I’m making now in many ways; it’s very loud, very in your face, very exaggerated, but it’s so true to its goal: to worship something that you don’t understand but feel is greater that you and better than you. I love the typical functional harmonies and the deep soulful vocals. So many great singers and musicians are born in these U.S. churches. I believe music and faith, not only in Black churches but also in classical music, go hand in hand perfectly. It’s infinite, all-encompassing, deeply emotional, filled with rules (which you can follow or break), feelings that are beyond words, and a way to connect to other people.
The records Jeff Tweedy did with Mavis Staples are some of my favorite records from the last ten years. I love his subtle voice, his words, his honesty. While the things he says are so big, he brings it in a way that feels calm. Then you have Mavis—her voice is so deep and goes straight to your body and soul. As a performer, she is a real force. She’s a true gospel singer, spreading the good news above any other musical goal. They’re perfectly balanced, subtle and in your face all at the same time. It really touches me in a very pure way. It almost makes me want to believe. But I just don’t. But my interest in religion will never fade, and it will continue to inspire me.