introducing serwah attafuah
DISPOSSESSED’s guitarist on using punk to champion Indigenous, queer and black voices.
Most 18-year-olds are unsure about their place in the world, yet Serwah Attafuah seems to know exactly where she's at. As the guitarist for DISPOSSESSED, arguably the most socially driven and discussed heavy metal band in Australia, her music is informed by a staunch political agenda. Outside the band she's also a gifted multidisciplinary artist whose works — like her music — are motivated by a desire to provide a platform and justice to Indigenous, queer and black voices.
We caught up with her to talk about using music to get people more involved in Indigenous issues and why Harry Potter is punk as fuck.
This might be a weird start to an interview. But I really want to know if you name your guitars?
They are really new so I'm still trying to gauge how I feel about them. I'm really into naming my cars though: my current one is called Rude Boy and my last one that blew up was Black Sabbath.
How did your journey as a guitarist start?
I started acoustic when I was about nine. Literally the day I knew my parents were splitting up I bought a shitty red Aston and learnt Elvis and gospel songs from a sheet music. I actually hated it so much so I stopped for a few years. Then when I was 11 I was a huge fan of Harry Potter and I was reading some interview with a list of Rupert Grint's favourite songs and Smells Like Teen Spirit was his number one. I thought it was the sickest fucking thing ever and I knew that I had to play that riff, so that's when I got back into it and started playing electric guitar. It all kicked off from there.
I remember those interviews, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe were always going on about The Dead Kennedys and Sex Pistols.
Yeah! Harry Potter and Ron Weasley as characters too were pretty punk as fuck, fighting against them Death Eaters...so many KKK and Nazi undertones there. But yes, Rupert got me into punk. Now I have a love/hate relationship with it but I guess it's that thing where as a teen I moved out of houses a lot and was homeless for a while but I'd always have my guitar and the most crusty five watt practice amps.
Speaking of music, what's the most rewarding aspect about being in DISPOSSESSED?
I'm able to help amplify and collaborate with Indigenous, queer and black voices. We also help give a platform to warriors on the frontline and the work they do. I like being able to use music to convey ideas, but it goes beyond the stage and the music — we aim to get people more involved in Indigenous issues. Basically, if we can reach someone and make them think about how they can get more involved in showing solidarity and get them to do it then that's amazing shit. People who I would never think to be into politics are starting to shut the fuck up and listen to what indigenous, black and disenfranchised people have to say.
DISPOSSESSED live shows are renowned for being emotionally heavy for the audience, how do you feel when you play?
There isn't really one main emotion, there's times when I feel everything and there's times when I feel nothing. Honestly, playing brings up all kinds of trauma, vulnerability and feelings of dispossession and isolation. I don't shun these emotions either, you have to welcome them otherwise they will eat you up. I can also feel anxiety and self doubt, which you'd think would go away after almost two years playing live music. These days I'm pretty good at identifying when I'm not feeling 100 percent before a show so I take the time to listen to a specific playlist, lots of Denzel Curry and Vince Staples.
Do you have other creative outlets that are less draining?
I like making a lot of art. I mostly do painting but I also draw, do installations and build sculptures. I don't see the point in limiting myself. I dropped out of high school and went on to do set, props and costume design at trade school and produced some mad shit. I like doing art because is the best and most pure way to express myself, it helps me gain a deeper knowledge of who I am
Not to get too existential but how would you answer the question 'who are you'?
My full name is Serwah Ama Gyekyewah Bianca Attafuah and I am an Ashanti/Akan woman from what is now known as Ghana. Ghanaian women have always been on the frontline, women such as Yaa Asantewaa and Queen Nanny. I assert my black and Ashanti pride in everything I do. I couldn't be more proud of who I am today and what I represent. I feel that speaks volumes.
This nation needs more local black and proud women to look up to.
Fucking oath! To me we are all so inspiring and strong but sadly, black women have to work 10 times harder than white women doing the same thing because of negative stereotypes and white supremacy. It's about becoming the role model you wanted when you were younger and to love and support each other working at it, because we are out here. Shout out to all the staunch and talented black and indigenous fam on the grind, I feel it would be counter-productive to list all the dope people amongst it because we all deserve props just for surviving.
What projects are you working on next?I've been working on a lot of raps and writing, which will come to fruition in a project of some kind called Unfriendly Black Hottie. I really want to do some exhibitions this year so I'll be back on my art game. Plus, I have a few hot collabs and projects in the works with international and local acts.
Text Triana Hernandez
Photography Jonno Revanche
Creative Direction Suu-Mei Chew