I am nervous. It is not something a journalist should admit out loud. I have just received word that the famous K Brothers (Kwame Boateng, Kofi Siriboe, and Kwesi Boakye) have arrived for the interview, and are seated in the lounge to the left of our office. As I take those ten steps, I am muttering an incoherent verse; maybe a prayer, maybe a Kanye West rhyme. I’m trying to cleanse myself of this disquiet. Now!
Why am I nervous? Why should anyone be? I mean, it’s only the K Brothers, the “First African family of Hollywood” who are highly sought after models, who together, have amassed credits from several critically acclaimed silver and small screen projects: Liza Liza Skies Are Grey (out next month),40, Kicks, Sketch, Queen Sugar, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, I Am Potential, Not Easily Broken, Flaco, The Amazing World of Gumball, CSI, Lincoln Heights, Punk’d, The Looney Tunes Show Everybody Hates Chris, Girl Trip (scheduled for release July 21), The Mentalist, Hawaii Five-O etc., who have been associated with such television/entertainment giants as Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Erykah Badu, Steve Harvey, Rosario Dawson, Terry Sanders, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Ava DuVernay, Regina Hall among others, who embody royalty from the very center of Ghana (they’re of Jwaben/Ashanti lineage –the most powerful of all Ghanaian kingdoms).
Born to Ghanaian parents in Los Angeles, they’re home for the Christmas holidays and should return to the chaos of Hollywood after New Year’s. It’s their first ever trip to Ghana, and there’s an extensive itinerary they plan to exhaust while here: media engagements, the Elmina Castle and other tourist sites, a visit to the Asantehene, charity work, exploring Accra’s famous nightlife.
I make it to the lounge. Kofi Siriboe, the second oldest and star of hit OWN series Queen Sugar, is sprawled on the floor (on the floor!), with his back to the glass window which offers both a startling view of all eight floors below and ample vertigo. He dons an oversized t-shirt, pants and boots –all black. I’m scandalized. “You’re sitting on the floor”, I point out pointlessly, but he quickly assures me it’s not a problem at all. There are other components to their entourage –warm company consisting their parents, Kwame “Mr Swift” Farkye (veteran on-air personality, label boss, and coordinator of their media schedule), Sheila (and another lady whose name I don’t now remember, to my shame), and a gentleman I assume is security detail because he’s dressed in a sharp suit and bears a tag. It’s a long day for them, and there isn’t time for proper pleasantries…just quick handshakes. I join Kofi on the floor and set my laptop and recorder in front of me. Kwame sports regular shades and flip-flops. He’s sitting in the yellow leather sofa to my right, and it takes me a minute to make him out (I’ll explain later). Kwesi Boakye, because of the position of the chair he’s in, has to turn sideways to be properly part of the conversation. I like the informal texture this meeting is assuming…it helps me muster much-needed composure. That’s good.
Earlier on Accra-based Live FM, they allude to the significance of purpose, identity, and sharing one’s craft. I find it a good point to start the conversation and request more light regarding these.
The concept of identity is recurrent in this entire conversation; because of the very nature of this trip, because of their varying opinions on jewellery, because of, well, their identity. This question, like all those that follow, unconsciously bounces to Kofi, and then to his brothers. “It’s so easy to get lost in all the different things the industry has to offer you the world has to offer you”, he starts. His responses are peculiarly interior…ascetic, even – (maybe it’s all that Oprah he’s been consuming directly these past few years). He’s certain, as he reveals to me later on, that he meeting Oprah is due to his own curiosity about purpose and identity –“I think I met Oprah because I’m passionate about purpose and identity. [Like him], she believes in purpose and identity deeply]…we’ve had four-hour conversations walking around her house”) – “but the more you know what your purpose is in the midst of it, and you have your identity locked in, it makes it a lot sharper, a lot more laser point – it’s easier for you to filter through all the opportunities so you can know exactly what you’re trying to say and use your voice for”.
Just 17, Kwesi Boakye is already an expert in Hollywood affairs, and readily admits to growing up in Hollywood (his credits begin from as young as ten months old). Therefore, his observations of the industry carry great command. He observes that the industry is rife with people who are quick to put aside their uniqueness in the quest for accomplishment; “I feel like, in this industry, a lot of people are trying to be someone they’re not, they’re trying to be what will make them famous. I don’t think that’s the way to go about it. I think it’s all about just being yourself –being an individual and just owning who you are. I feel like people will gravitate more to you if you do that.”
Kwame clears his throat before his every submission –maybe he’s coming down with the flu –but there’s also a majestic quality about his method of doing it…like big men do before they talk. He is a big man –Kwame. The oldest of the K Brothers, “Kwam the Don,” is also CEO of the creative collective The Boateng Group. He’s been described as a tastemaker and influencer. His persona depicts opulence, and he holds an exceptionally firm grasp on the capital of his heritage. “We created this!” he would remind me fervidly as the discourse progresses, making reference to what goes into our kings’ fashion: gold, kente, etc. He agrees with his brothers: authenticity is key —“show people the real side of you”, he insists. It’s how he connects with his fan-base, an abiding support system which gave him the idea to start his series The Plug in the first place.
Aside from this being a family vacation, it’s also a solemn search for self-identity. America feels entitled to them, but so does Ghana –they bear powerful indigenous names, their ancestry here is rich –and they look forward to reconnecting with that aspect of their story.
“Right now, I’m on a big search for my truest identity, beyond all my accomplishments, beyond my first twenty-two years of life”, Kofi submits. To him, discovering where his parents are from and what that means to him and his culture helps in the whole search of purpose and identity, which should help “amplify” his work in the States and beyond – “my purpose will find me if I allow it to. It’s all about truth, and to get to your deepest truth, you have to be okay with searching through your identity” –what he otherwise terms as the “ABCs of being alive.”
Kwesi too describes it as ultimately, a “learning experience,” especially an earlier trip to an orphanage (they donated, among other things, a bouncy castle). These kids, who have been deprived of so much, still possess significant awareness of happiness and gratitude for the little gifts they receive in seasons like this. It’s an experience which he reveals, has inspired more gratitude in his own self.
Because of the internet, they’re as much celebrities here as they are in the U.S and other places, and to Kwame, “it’s really cool and exciting to meet the people behind the usernames”. He also notes that this trip (aside all other intents), also proves how alike we all are, no matter where we are in the world. Here, he cites their stop at a local bar and interaction with “fellow teenagers” from Accra. The culture that he’s collecting from this trip is what the real prize is to him.
While they’re three men with plain ideological differences, they’re also a well-oiled apparatus. Like siblings, there’s a tangible bond among them; they admit to learning from one another, complement one another’s efforts like is the case on a basketball court, and complement one another’s feats. In effect, there’s the absence of the dreaded “sibling rivalry”. “Friendly competition” is how Kwesi would rather define their relationship. They’re too focused on contributing their part to the greater legacy, and sibling rivalry is unnecessary. “How much of a rival can he be as my brother?”, Kofi inquires rhetorically. He admits to being inspired a great deal by Kwesi (whom as far back as 2009, was described as Hollywood great, Tyler Perry’s “latest protégé” for playing Manny in I Can Do Bad All By Myself). While they may be in the same craft and occasionally go up for the same things, they’re still very “different in so many different ways”, Kwame believes.
This comradery (like their careers and this trip) is fostered and overseen by their mum, who also contributes managerial duties to their vocations. An international media strategist, she’s described by her boys as simply “a rock”. “For her to facilitate our careers and be able to do it so seamlessly, I just think that it’s an ode to where she’s from. I mean, Ghanaian women are no joke. It’s just…we’re lucky; she’s educated, she’s spiritual, she’s emotionally adequate…she feeds us so much without us even knowing.” The Ghanaian woman –and by extension, the African woman –has been subject of endless praise in our folklore and music for instance –for how expertly she balances keeping a happy home, raising exemplary kids, possessing key entrepreneurial skills and practical wisdoms, and managing the many expectations of society. “She’s like the team captain, if she drops the ball, we all drop the ball”, is the general consensus. She’s also to be credited for how in touch they are to just “a normal life” in spite of the fact that they’re not “normal”. Kwesi attended public school at a point, despite his stardom, and it contributed to him finding himself, and Kofi reiterates the need for continual grip on reality: “I don’t ever want to personally get to a point where I can’t be normal –normal meaning just a human being living my life, exploring, making mistakes, failures, lessons, etc. I just always want to have that touch on reality”.
Their father, on the other hand, is responsible for their sleek fashion sense. He’s a fashion guru with over 25 years’ worth of expertise under his belt, and an essential factor you why Kwame insists “you gotta be fly!” Superior fashion, and incorporating only top quality materials into design have always been a part of the African way, which is the beginning of all civilization anyway. Egyptians buried their dead pharaohs with gold; Mansa Musa (king of the medieval Mali Empire) has been called the wealthiest person in the past millennium for how much grandeur was part of his reign (he is depicted in a 1375 Catalan atlas wielding a sizeable gold nugget). His 1324 pilgrimage to Mecca is also historic for reportedly causing the value of gold to plummet because of how much he gave away as gifts during that trip. There are accounts that even shackles used during his reign were fashioned from gold. Insisting on only the best has been integral to our royal culture, and embracing your wealth as an African merely means you’re embracing your heritage. It is a philosophy that has deeply sat with Kwame, as his impassioned take on this matter suggests: “Why not? Why can’t I? I don’t feel like we should dumb ourselves down. We created this, you see the Ashanti kings, the kente, the gold…everyone wants to take from our culture, so why don’t we do our culture to the best?”
The actual question I asked, which provokes this outburst, has to do with appearance, and its significance to their image (their biceps, like their sparkly skin tone and talent, are widely cherished around the world). Kofi’s resorts to a religious approach: “it goes back to the bible, your body is your temple… so make yourself as amazing as possible”, and the power of spiritual luxury: relationships, simplicity…that kind of thing, again alluding to their trip to the orphanage.
It is important to note that Kwame’s position about his opting for a luxuriant lifestyle not only has a strong bearing to his heritage but is also based on an altruism, because it proves motivational for his young fans: “I feel like we represent more than ourselves”. Finally coming into tandem with your identity leads to living life to the fullest, but as he so convincingly explains, so is insisting on Gucci.
Without doubt, they’re abiding by that axiom –experiencing a full life. They have taken on Hollywood and have prevailed. They’ve been held in place by a robust family mechanism, believe in the power of ambition, and are fascinated by daily miracles: “Anything is possible. Any day, your life could change, so just keep grinding and keep motivated”. But what else is there?
Spirit! Ace filmmaker Ava DuVernay (who also worked on Selma, the compelling 2014 film starring Oprah, David Oyelowo, rapper Common, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tim Roth etc.), during a promotional tour of Queen Sugar series, divulges her casting technique: there are a lot of talented people in Hollywood, but there aren’t that many talented people with spirit …with whom it would be pleasant to be on set with for months, she observes. Kofi possesses spirit, for he landed a role as Ralph Angel, and receives wide praise (and significant female attention. Check his Twitter) for his execution of the character.
So to the pertinent question: what is the K Brothers’ spirit? What does the word mean to them?
“Because talent to me, and being cool, and being, you know, shii shii (shii shii is Twi for ‘belligerent’, and while they’ve used chale –Ghanaian pidgin for ‘fellow’ constantly in their time here, the specific use of shii shii is especially significant, for it’s peculiarly indicative of local awareness) –that, sometimes, could be a façade, because people use that as a cover-up [when] they don’t have spirit [and] they haven’t done the work to actually be in-tune with their identity and purpose, which I’m going to continue to repeat”…if she [Ava] sees two thousand people…ten thousand people, how do you shine? By trying to shine, or by being yourself and letting that shine?”
Kwesi nods in agreement: ‘it’s important; it plays a role in everyday life”. What is Kwame’s spirit, aside from a firm belief in God? “Positive vibes” chale.
This has been a powerfully enriching twenty-five minutes; all this is life-changing. I am unable to ask about upcoming projects like Jump, or Girl Trip, or what the progress is with The Plug for example, because they have to be elsewhere…“but we’ll talk”, I’m promptly assured—“you can always email me questions.”
In the end, conversations thus, energies thus, maketh a man. “Life comes down to a few brief moments –this is one of them”, rapper John Forte proclaims on Blitz the Ambassador’s compelling 2009 record “Dyin to Live”.
A real nightlife connoisseur, Kwame’s final words in this conversation are exactly how all deep discourse should end: “We gon turn Ghana up!”