Hagan’s Short Film, ‘Textures’, Explores Homecoming, Love and Cultural Identity
In October 2022, south London producer and DJ Hagan released his highly-anticipated debut album Textures via the African diasporic label Python Syndicate. Across 11 tracks, the producer draws upon the past and present of African sounds, blending them with UK genres to create a global fusion that reflects his dual identity as a British-Ghanaian artist. Recorded between London and Accra, genres such as amapiano, gqom and highlife are blended with UK funky, broken beat and jazz.
Alongside his first full-length, Hagan produced a visual accompaniment with the same name. Directed by Mike Calandra Achode and co-written with April Walker, the film Textures is a 12-minute short starring protagonist Yaa Korantema alongside her partner (played by BiQo), her mother (played by Hagan’s very own mother, Ivy Hagan) and the artist himself. A story of love, conflict and homecoming set against verdant greenery and idyllic seascapes, Textures sees Yaa on a quest to find herself; along the way, she fights for agency and grapples with the emotions that arise from family tension. Moments of frustration and inner conflict are heightened in the film with the soundtrack, composed of cinematic arrangements of Hagan’s music. Like the producer’s album, location largely shapes the film, with the characters travelling from Ada Foah to Accra.
Until now, the film has only been shown in physical spaces. We’re excited to be premiering it here today (9 May) for a week online. Watch Textures via the player above, and scroll down for an interview with Hagan and director Mike Calandra Achode.
What’s the message of the film?
Hagan: We started the writing with an interest in the subject of love and separation. But we would like to see the audience extract a message on their own terms, without imposing a unified resolution. The short has explicitly an intention to raise questions across the themes we have mentioned above. It was quite impossible to be resolute in such a short amount of time, so raising questions seemed a better objective overall.
Mike Calandra Achode: Certainly based on the concept of texturality that characterises the album and Hagan's method, it's a short that has to be interpreted and read across different layers; all those layers are a part of the sum and intend to leave a distinct trace in the viewing experience.
How long did it take for you to make this, and where was it filmed?
MCA: It took us one year and a half roughly because of the pandemic and its repercussions on film production. The film was conceived between Accra, Ada Foah, south and east London.
What is the significance of the locations you’ve used?
MCA: The album is a celebration of Hagan's British-Ghanaian heritage, so it was very important for us to centre the story around that context. Either from an artistic and allegorical point of view but also from the production aspect of the movie. Beyond that, there is also an ode to our relationship with water and the Atlantic Ocean in particular. That aspect was explored in the beautiful location of Ada Foah, a fishing coastal town located in the southeastern region of Ghana.
H: Like Mike mentioned, we wanted to explore the concept of water and the fluid music styles presented across the album: seamless transitions into tracks, tracklisting based off of taking the listener and taking inspiration from various musical genres across my years of production.
The protagonist is someone who’s got her family on her mind and is frustrated over the lack of agency in her life. Her mum tells her what to do, her partner makes huge decisions without her. She runs from an oncoming car. Why did you choose to explore this perspective in particular?
H: Yaa, like most of us, is in search of herself. And that quest is sometimes channelled through elements such as dependency, mirroring, acceptance, conflict and disappointment. The short explores those elements to a point of tension and break. Yaa's run in that light is not necessarily running from something but perhaps towards herself. Possibly. Until she realises she’s being followed by something. It's important to notice Hagan's in the oncoming car. That scene suggests unity between him and all the fragments we have seen so far in the story. Yes, the car and the idea of driving towards something is a unifying moment we would say, so what follows straight after then becomes very important.
How did you go about writing the narrative for this? Did you write it around the album or did the visuals come first?
MCA: The short was co-written with April Walker and was written across the different stages of production. The progression in writing from pre-production to the final outcome has been possibly the most difficult aspect of the film. It was my first work with actors so moving from imagination to shooting to editing while striving to remain interesting was an interesting process. The visuals were a response to the album musically and lyrically but the music vice versa also responded to the story. Telha's lyrics for instance is an example of this. The music itself tried to give that cinematic direction to the short. It has to be said that the music used in the short is not the same arrangement you would listen to in the album. I have worked with bespoke stems and elements extracted from the original songs to help the expressive and emotive aspect of the story have continuity and fluidity.
H: This is the first time I've had the opportunity to write music for a film. The album had a cinematic and emotive direction throughout its conception. The interesting situation is that I was producing without any of the footage readily available and only from the extensive discussions Mike and I had about the album themes, how I wanted the album to be perceived and its significance surrounding cultural identity.
Can you walk me through the visual references? What references did you draw upon, and what are some of ones you’ve used in the film itself when the protagonist runs from a car?
MCA: Visually the film is inspired by the foundation of West African cinema. The work of Sembene, Mambéty, Ouedraogo, etc., but it also refers to contemporary African and Black filmmakers. I am also a great fan of Arthur Jafa and Jenn Nkiru's work. I was really interested in exploring experimentally the use of found images and footage as a metaphor of mental fragments and memory. In the same way samples are being used in African diasporic music, the film explores the art of reuse and visual collage as an artistic method. I have worked in the same way you would assemble a zine for example, but with the integration of rhythm and dancing. Oh, there is some Godard too.
Can you explain the link between the album and the film?
H: The film is an extension of the album. It helps expand the conversation that has started in the album. The film also tries to open the album to another audience. It's a wish to adopt as many artistic languages as possible to engage the audiences with something that goes beyond having a couple of songs in your commuting playlists. It also is a chance to digest the music using a different medium. As Mike has mentioned, the manipulation of the original stems has given us the opportunity to play around with track arrangements and given the music a chance to live in that film space.
What is the significance of home in the music and film?
H: Being from the African diaspora, home is a very charged and complex notion. Having an understanding of that notion really helps anyone understand who they are or who they were for that matter. The self is a relational concept and in that concept home is reminder, a totem. Even with its refusal. We can refuse the idea of having a home but that can happen only if we accept the idea of having a home in the first place. A negation requires affirmation. So not being constantly in touch with your home creates a certain consciousness. Or possibly multiple consciousnesses. Complex layers of being. Hagan's music renders that concept so flawlessly and poetically. One moment it's distinctively African music, one moment it's not, then it's club music then it's not and so on. A beautiful metaphor of being on a constant journey but from a particular historicity. In this case, Africanness and Blackness.
What was the casting process like?
H: It was quite complex because it was done remotely during the pandemic. That made it difficult to understand some key elements such as chemistry, body presence and so on. To help shape and develop characters.
What’s the role of your character?
H: Yaa's role channels all the conversations we have discussed above. She helps us navigate all the questions that are being raised scene from scene. It's important to notice that we have a Black woman as the main character but I think it's also important to avoid gendering the character too much. There is much scope for unity between Hagan and all the characters. My mother, for example, is present in the movie and represents herself.
Why have you chosen not to release the film online until now?
MCA: I usually release my stuff online. For this project I wanted to create a physical community around the story. A community based on conversations existing around the story. What I love about storytelling is how it creates relationships. So the film has the intention to bring people in a defined space, spend some time together and have a range of conversations. After all, that's what a home is all about.