Staying Grounded with Akua

For artist and doula, Akua, and her music-executive partner, Jimmy, the great outdoors act as a place for grounding, rejuvenation and inspiration -- especially so during the pandemic. With their new baby boy in tow, we sit with them to talk through how they seem to find balance and calm within all the chaos of life as new parents (who've just made a cross-country move no less).

How would you describe your relationship to the outdoors?

  • I need the outdoors to stay sane...more specifically, time in nature has always been a requirement in order for me to feel grounded.

Akua, as a woman of colour, are there any noticeable differences in your outdoor experience here in the US vs Canada or Ghana? 

  • I would say that as a woman my experience outdoors has always felt tempered by the fact that outdoor space doesn’t always feel like it’s a place where I can be safe. Sometimes I want to explore places at night but then look around and there’s just men everywhere on the corner, men in the streets, everywhere!

    I think part of the beauty of the outdoors is the ability to feel free and empowered by what these natural environments might bring out in us….and at times my status as a woman, and more pertinently , as a woman of color,  has inhibited my ability to feel that, no matter where I live or travel. Being a person of color makes navigating every space a consideration.

"I think part of the beauty of the outdoors is the ability to feel free and empowered by what these natural environments might bring out in us."

You've recently moved from Los Angeles to Rhode Island in a very stressful time. What role did leisure time play in this transition - if any? Did you discover any new benefits from being outside? 

  • When the pandemic hit and Los Angeles went into lockdown, we found ourselves newly-pregnant and basically confined to our cute-but-tiny apartment in Koreatown. With most spaces closed, outdoor activity was our only outlet. Fortunately both of us had gotten really into running so finding parks and trails in and around LA felt really accessible and was keeping us sane.

    That said, within weeks of everything closing, outdoor spaces became absolutely saturated to the point of frustration and apprehension. There were so many unknowns and a lot of collective fear and anxiety at that time, and being pregnant only exacerbated those feelings for us in the city.

    We decided to temporarily relocate to Rhode Island to be with family and suddenly found ourselves dropped into nature. The transition from walking around the hot, littered streets of Koreatown in a mask to breathing fresh ocean air was stark and undeniably a better option for us.

    Getting out of the city required us to adjust our mindset and the pace to which we had grown accustomed. After a few months out of the city I noticed a drastic change in my was like a pressure valve had been released. The literal and figurative space allowed for so much reflection and recalibration for us as a couple transitioning into becoming a family. Down-time/leisure against the backdrop of a tragic pandemic allowed us to reconnect with ourselves and each other and re-examine what was most important to us. Living amongst nature has become a central value of our new family and we feel grateful and privileged to have had this past year to define and accept this for ourselves.

Akua, in creating music - what impact has the outdoors / leisure time had on your creative process?

  •  It’s taken some time to realize and accept how much the city seems to only serve as a distraction for me and what I aim to create. I absolutely love being part of a creative community and am inspired by my friends yet at the same time, I have found it harder to connect with the part of myself that makes my best work. Before the pandemic, I would usually take a little self-imposed retreat-meets-residency at some point each year...the last trips being in Running Springs, CA and Ojai, CA at the beginning of 2020. I would load up all my music gear and get an Airbnb in the woods for a few days and just stay alone to write and would always feel so starkly different than being in the city. I would take more breaks during the day to hike and explore my surroundings, yet somehow accomplish so much more. I found that replacing the stimulus of the city with the stimulus of nature activated my creative mind in a different and more- generative way. There was time and space not only to  create but to also step away from what I made , reflect on it and then revisit it and make it better.

As well as a big move in the midst of the pandemic, you welcomed more change into your life with the birth of your beautiful son. What role do you want the outdoors to play in his life? 

  • We were planning on raising our child in the middle of Los Angeles. We’ve had to recalibrate our expectations several times this past year and it’s been a great exercise in surrender and resilience.  Our ideal would be for our child to be fully immersed in nature/the outdoors or at very least to have regular access to it. I like the idea of replacing a lot of modern stimulus with the natural stimulus of the outdoors.  As a new parent I often get competing information about how to approach certain challenges and milestones with our child. One exercise that has helped me is imagining what child-rearing looks like in other cultures and physical environments and also what it has looked like in the past, before the onset of modern capitalism….Why is there so much noise and information around us? What do children really need? Why is there so much fear and gear involved in modern parenting? How can we simplify our lives to make more space for imagination, exploration and creativity?  Imagine some of the terrains children are actually capable of navigating! If I think about child-rearing from a more natural, primal context, suddenly things feel a lot more simple.

Do you have any concerns or fears when thinking about him exploring the outdoors? What changes in attitudes or behaviors would help diminish these fears? 

  • I think one of the most profound things about the outdoors is how quickly nature humbles us. I grew up going to a camp which taught me about plant and animal identification, weather patterns, mapping and camping skills such as building a fire, tying knots, first aid etc. I think it’d be so incredible if our child was equipped with some of these skills.  But beyond this ,  I think it’s important to understand the responsibility that comes with interacting with our natural environment..I mean this in terms of assessing risk and understanding our individual limitations but also in terms of the requirement for stewardship and replenishment. I think whether intentional or not, too many of our human interactions with nature are based on extraction rather than interaction. I’d like my child to understand that nature is something to have reverence for; it’s something we need to actively work towards protecting…  and that one may need to actually forgo their individual desires in order to protect it. Nature is often best when it’s left alone. There’s a quote Ive heard which says “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”.. I love the way it pulls us into the narrative of responsibility and sustainability and acknowledges the imperative to think about the future and not just the past.. It’s ethics like these which I’d love to impart.

 First three big adventures you want to take him on? Near or far.

  • We gotta get to Canada to visit where I’m from. The pandemic has made it hard to see family there. Our baby was born in the U.S but to me, he’s partly Canadian as well (working on Citizenship lol). There are huge fresh water lakes and gorgeous national parks that I’d love to show him one day.

    My parents took me to Ghana when I was ten and it changed the scope of my reality entirely. It was so fascinating to see a different culture through my childhood lens…The trip expanded my world by introducing me to a different way of life at a young age. I tore around barefoot , fed my auntie’s goats and saw a chicken get its head cut off …went to church, choked on hot peppers and saw children bestowed with an immense sense of responsibility at a young age. I understand why it was so important for my dad to show us that and I’d like to do the same for our child.

    Camping in the woods around the Northeast...I’ve never camped with a small child so I feel like there are new needs and requirements which we’ll have to consider but that feels like an appealing challenge. I also daydream about a lazy beach vacation( which has never really appealed to me until the pandemic hit). Now I’m kinda daydreaming about a babymoon in Jamaica…

Jimmy, you’ve really leveled up your cooking skills this past year. What’s in your picnic? 

  • Jimmy has entered the chat ….and he says - “a great baguette , one good hard cheese, one good soft cheese, a jam, a tin of sardines and a bottle of wine”…for me (it’s me, Akua again) I’ve been pushing a “coastal cheeseboard” concept  lately lol…smoked oysters, Nori, strong aged cheese, almonds , olives, spiced hummus, roe, crackers ….served with a nice chilled white wine or a crisp ale.

Music plays a big part in both of your lives. Thinking of beach days and road trips. What’s the soundtrack? 

  • This is too major of a question for us lol...But yeah, we listen to NTS alllll the time and have countless favorite shows. A great go-to show for beach days and road trips is ‘Bumpin on Sunset!’

What's your idea of #TimeWellSpent? 

  • I have a lot of ideas but at first thought it’s spending time with people I love, drinking great wine and playing cards.