IN CONVERSATION WITH HKB FINN
Andrew Ward goes by the stage name HKB FiNN. He was born in Malta of a Jamaican mother and Barbadian father, and resides in the United Kingdom. Ward is an enigmatic creative force whose work is rooted in visual, auditory and performance-based experiments. Renowned for his genre-defying music, emotive poetry and stunning visuals, he studied film and cultural studies at the University of East London and after graduation in 1996, went on to co-produce and direct documentaries. A chance meeting on a film project with Tunde Jegede, the Nigerian composer ignited his solo music career in 1999, and with his help, he began to focus more on performance poetry and music. In 2004, the University of East London bestowed upon him a honourary Masters degree for his “contribution to contemporary music’’. Ward’s Afro-Caribbean roots and travels are easily discernable in his work. Blurring the boundaries between the arts, he is passionate about celebrating his heritage and creating moving experiences that tell humane stories. In 2014, he started a film company called Just Jazz Visuals and since then, has created several documentary and short fiction films. He is presently working in Lagos on 2 projects; a film for a live performance called AMPLIFIER, where he performs spoken word live while playing a movie in the background, and the final edit of his first feature film STASH, scheduled for release in 2017.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I began my art career as a child poet living in Jamaica and my first paid job was as a camera assistant at the Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) TV, in their new studios. I moved to the United Kingdom in my teens and joined Sound Systems, a South London DJ collective where I remained for 7 years. This helped to strengthen my work as a master of ceremony and a musician. Music got interesting when I graduated to hip-hop with Katch 22. The group rose to prominence making 3 albums along the way but when it was disbanded, I went on to work as a frontman for a number of European hip-hop collectives, classical ensembles, rock groups and jazz bands. I later worked as a cameraman and decided to study film and cultural studies at the University of East London. After graduation, I worked as a documentary filmmaker and met composer Tunde Jegede who loved my poetry and encouraged me to become a solo artiste. Going solo, I wanted to take my hip-hop on a more organic, Afrocentric route, not in terms of African ideologies but more of the melodic, rhythmic and cultural exploration of the origins of our humanity. Instead of sampling funk, I incorporated Afro-Latin, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Anglo sounds and influences to build my HKB FiNN sound world, compose my melodies and rhythms. My poetry is central to this sound and I explore love, faith and societal issues with my words. My music also became quite jazzy but unique. This unusual sound has taken me to 55 countries and hundreds of music festivals worldwide since 2004, like Jazz a Vienne (France), Cervantino Festival (Mexico), Madajazzcar Festival (Madagascar), Nice Jazz Festival (France), Sounderground Festival (Brazil), Martinique Jazz Festival (Martinique), Montreal Jazz Festival (Canada), Mumbai Music Festival (India) and Cheltenham Jazz Festival (UK). This has led to my collaborations with several bands, art ensembles and theatre companies. In between music, I worked as a filmmaker but never had the money to fund my work.
HKB FiNN in performance.
When you set out to be an artiste, did you have parental support?
I did not have much parental support. I had support from art teachers, concert goers, promoters, agents, fans and people who bought products I made. I cannot complain.
Is the name HKB FiNN inspired by the Huckleberry Finn character in Mark Twain’s novel?
(Laughs!) Yes it is. At the time, I was running away from my reggae music background into hip-hop so it seemed apt. I chose HuntKillBury Finn as my name in the nineties when I was the frontman of the Katch 22 hip-hop group. When I became a solo artist, I shortened it to HKB FiNN with a new meaning – Harness Kinetic Bliss, Focus Intelligently, Never Nihilisitcally but that is rather too long to remember so just HKB FiNN (Nihilism is the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless).
When did you start photography?
I started photography is 1993 while studying for my university degree. We did a project on photo journalism and I fell in love with photography after that.
What inspired the Frontlines of Culture documentary series about art and artists?
The richness and diversity of modern art inspired me. Unfortunately, some great artists are overlooked consequently, I made the series to showcase those underappreciated geniuses.
In 2 of the documentary series, you featured a visual artist Jay One Ranier, as well as poet and spoken word performer Toni Stuart. Why did you choose them?
Jay One Ranier was filmed in Paris while Toni Stuart was filmed in London. I thought their stories were interesting and needed to be shared. I am hoping to interview a few Nigerian artists while I am here.
Was your All About Me music video a spoken word performance or rap music, and why your collaborative choice of Tracey Campbell?
My performance on All About Me is a mix of spoken word and rap, which is my vocal style. I love Tracey Campbell as she is an incredible and versatile gospel vocalist. When I wrote the song, I put it in a relative key so she could sing it, and she did us proud.
The music video featured only women of different nationalities, professions and age groups including Nana Ocran, a writer and contributor to several African publications and magazines. What inspired this?
The power, beauty and grace of African women inspired me. I also wanted to make a film that shows how women keep smiling no matter what they are going through.
Your original music compositions cut across elements of jazz, hip-hop, folk and Afrobeat. Can you put a genre to this meld?
I call my music Acoustic Afro Hip-Hop. That is the nearest genre as no one sounds like me.
For one of your 1Take, 1Mic, 1Song web music series, you performed Watch Your Back in acapella style, playing only the udu instrument from eastern Nigeria. What inspired the lyrics, instrument and your collaboration?
For Watch Your Back, I wanted to mix Afro-Caribbean vocal styles, African American vocal styles and eastern Nigerian percussion, to show how harmonious these three disciplines are. I also love the udu as its sound is incredible! Unfortunately, I broke that one after a concert in London. I hope to get new ones here in Nigeria.
For another performance There is Always Time, Shirley Tetteh, Comfort and yourself were introduced as the HKB FiNN Trio. Are they your permanent band mates?
The HKB FiNN Trio changes all the time. I am the only permanent member. Shirley is an amazing guitarist and Comfort aka Ogo is also incredible. I wish I could keep them all with me but they have their own careers, so we collaborate when we can.
Are your singles and albums available in Nigeria, and have you also done live shows here?
Yes. My last performance in Nigeria was in April 2015 at the Satchmo Jazz Festival. It was a wonderful experience sharing the stage with Cleveland Watkiss, Jonathan Butler and Tunde Jegede. My singles and albums are available from the iTunes stores worldwide but I have only a few CDs with me in Nigeria.
Can you tell us what inspired your short film NINA, told in narrative style?
The idea of tradition versus modernity inspired NINA. What if traditionally, you are meant to be a healer or spiritual leader with certain gifts, but because of modernity, you live in the city miles away from home? What happens to your natural skills, and would you still be able to see into other dimensions? Does that mean you are skilled or are just plain crazy?
Do you have any reason for choosing Lagos as the post-production city of your first feature length movie?
I love the vibe of Lagos; it is engaging, vibrant and yet, peaceful. It is a perfect place to relax and work. Victoria Island is the French Riviera of West Africa.
You held your first solo photography exhibition MISOGINY IS SUICIDE at the Hastings Museum and Gallery in London. How did you meet curator Gwyneth Wint who commissioned the works and what inspired the theme?
I met Gwyneth Wint at a poetry event. She loved my film work and asked “Your films look like photographs but then they move, do you take pictures”? I told her I did and that I had an idea for an exhibition of poetry, photos and performance. After a few weeks of discussion, MISOGINY IS SUICIDE was born. The theme came to me after travelling to over 50 different countries and seeing the living conditions of modern women. People treat women badly as if the human race does not depend on them. In the West, Africa is often referred to a monocratic space, ignoring the 750 languages, cultures and communities that exist on the continent. Issues such as child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and the systemic abuse of women are rarely discussed except by Western charities that collect money on behalf of Africans, but legally only have to spend 20% of what they collect. The international conspiracy to degrade and disrespect women is a form of cultural suicide.
What was your experience like on the project and the exhibition, which had an 8-week extension after the planned 4 weeks?
The project consisted of a photo installation sitting next to printed poetry and live performances. The events were well attended and received. We had repeat visitors because they felt the body of work was rich in content and message. This has inspired me to push my art further.
You are involved in several aspects of the visual and performing arts, which one do you find the most rewarding?
I find film the most rewarding because it uses sound, text, philosophy and visuals to tell one story.
Image credits HKB FiNN.
July 15, 2019