An aspiring rapper turned debater turned wordsmith fully equipped with the power to conjure up words to stop time, Francine Emefa is an artist that can make the soul cry. Alternately known as King Emefa (pronounced Eh-meh-fa), Asiah and I were ecstatic to be joined by such an amazing talent for an interview on a lovely Sunday in downtown Columbia. Up on The Writer’s Block here at For The Scribes and the inaugural artist featured in the Loose Leaf Sessions, our newest in-the-field segment, is the mighty and regal Francine Emefa.
Willie Kinard: You have such a beautiful stage name. It bounces off the tongue a bit. Where did it come from?
Francine Emefa: So I thought very hard and long that I wanted to be awesome, creative, and find some different name to give myself and I was even encouraged to in performing spaces. A lot of people are like, “This is Soul Breeze, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th wonder of whatever,” but I like my name. To my knowledge, it’s a rare combination of names, both Francine and Emefa. I’m named after the daughter of a generous Jewish woman that helped my mom when she first came to this country as she was cleaning houses. She sends us Christmas baskets every year [laughs]. Emefa is my middle name which means “My peace has come.” It’s of Ghanaian origin. I really like my name. It’s unique and helps me stay honest to myself and keep my work introspective. I’ve spent 21 years as Francine Emefa. I didn’t see why I should go and give myself a stage name if who I am encompasses what I want my work to be.
Asiah Mae: I love that. Why do you write?
Emefa: I’ve written for a long time even though it’s not all poetry. When me and my little sister were little, we used to make a lot of stories, horrible stories. This was when you had family desktop computers. They were usually about princesses running away from home. I wrote passive-aggressive, Lizzie McGuire, Teen Disney-type songs and eventually wrote raps. I think it’s just always been an outlet for me for creativity and expression. I don’t think I’m that well-spoken–I sometimes say everything that comes to my mind. Writing usually helps me get it out because my thoughts are like a cluster, huge shards of gems trying to find each other in my head, so it helps me organize my thoughts and calm my mind. It’s just a better way for me to communicate.
AM: Word to Steven Universe.
Emefa: [Laughs] Right! I also like playing around with writing and finding out what it does. I didn’t always get Shakespeare, but when I did, I thought, “You know this is dope what you did here.” When I listen to stuff, music or play, like the Hamilton Soundtrack, I’m thinking this is so amazing. It’s really fun. I can’t draw, so I might as well write.
I feel like this [body] is my home. Anywhere this vessel is, I’m comfortable.
WK: Where are you a local?
Emefa: This is such a cliche answer, but I really to want to say the world. I find that home is where I am and anywhere that I can be surrounded by people that I can connect to. When I went to Santo Domingo, it took me like three days to get adjusted. I feel like this [body] is my home. Anywhere this vessel is, I’m comfortable. As far as where am I a local, it’s wherever this body feels free.
AM: Going back a bit in your origin story, you wrote raps?
Emefa: Yes, I’ve always been extra as hell and overambitious. I saved my money, went to Best Buy, and bought one of those headset microphones. I’d stay up late after everyone had gone to sleep and had Audacity software, downloaded the instrumental from the YouTube clip and was whisper-rapping in my room. I was the mixtape/mixed CD/mp3 girl in school so I would take your list and put it on there and I’d slide my two little singles at the bottom. I had a MySpace page and everything, but that’s when I first started sitting down and trying to create. For God knows what reason, He delivered me from that life, like “Sweetie, this ain’t for you.”
AM: How’d you get into poetry?
Emefa: A friend introduced me to The Strivers Row, Alysia Harris‘ That Girl poem and got me looking into Def Jam Poetry. I eventually got into Speech and Debate and we did recitation poetry—we couldn’t write it. I had a selection from Brave New Voices called Thinking About You by Mike Taylor and a woven mashup with a piece called Scars by Rudy Francisco. I did dramatic interpretations and won awards. When I got to college, I realized there was no Speech and Debate so I started writing my own, getting into spoken word. The first time I ever performed one of my pieces was in a ballroom with like 500 people for like a fashion show. I was introduced to performance through speech and to wordplay from being a rapper. I don’t know, all the elements came together and I’ve always loved words. It makes me happy.
WK: We really appreciate you not giving us one-word answers and helping to stimulate the organic feel of conversation. Who are some of your artistic influences?
Emefa: I love Nikky Finney and everyone that has inspired her. In taking one of her classes, there was a Nikki Giovanni or Audre Lorde poem called The Last Motherfucker and I love that poem because I love vulgarity. Hearing such a poised, graceful woman like Nikky Finney that doesn’t even curse speak that, was amazing. Anything musically, I’m still on Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book. I’m currently reading The BreakBeat Poets Anthology. I think that these people inspire me not just with my writing, but how I approach my art. Seeing Bey use Lemonade made me think that I need to be more thoughtful and dedicate myself to my work. Listening to Hamilton for the 50th time, I want to go on hold and work on something for like three months. That kind of passion comes through people’s art. I also think that outside of famous people, both my creative and non-creative friends influence me. The people I surround myself with have taught me about putting out positive vibes and getting them back, being very mindful, which feeds back into my art. Creating a spoken word poetry collective in college, First Word Epiphany was just that. Working with folks that had never performed before and seeing them work hard and climb and release major projects a year later has been really inspirational. I feel like I’m behind the scenes to something big that’s about to pop off. It’s all really inspirational.
The people I surround myself with have taught me about putting out positive vibes and getting them back, being very mindful, which feeds back into my art.
AM: Can you describe your writing process for us?
Emefa: My writing sessions are never the same. I never feel like a poem is finished. Sometimes they’re like an immediate stream of consciousness. Sometimes, they’re written an hour before a performance. Other times, I’m in my car, two years after a relationship and I get an email from an ex and I’m hit to write. Two hours later, I have a piece. I’m definitely more of a night owl I’m working on being more consistent in my writing. But, writing sessions for me are never the same.
WK: What do you feel is your purpose? Where do you see yourself and your brand in the future?
Emefa: I definitely want to spend more time on myself first, but one of things that I want to do is once I’m established, I want to use myself as a bridge for other artists and other people. I want to use it as a platform to teach people things. I think that’s my purpose. I love performing and getting on a microphone. I am the person that will never talk to a room full of strangers, but give me a mic and I’m the most engaging, funny, shady host—my personality comes out. I think my purpose is to provide people spaces, to tell people that their voices matter. Seeing people find themselves is just magical and I feel like my thing is to provide you the space to feel comfortable enough to do that. I really want to do that on a bigger level, like an indie space, resources, a website or a talent agency, but for poets. I want to help people make their art the thing that they do. In the future, it won’t be about me. It will be about the community.
Be present in your journey. Not to the point of being boastful, but acknowledge your progress and own it, even if it’s one step.
AM: What words of advice do you have for creative youth of color listening or looking up to you?
Emefa: The thing that I’ve been telling myself and my friends in 2016 is to own it. There gets a point to where it’s easy to be doe-eyed and think you’re working. Going hard, doing things that no one asked you to do and being super ambitious is kind of easy for usually people that want to write. I think that’s the first step in knowing that you have to be a self-starter. But where you stop is where you don’t own it, where you don’t say “Hey, I’m kind of a fucking awesome writer.” It’s really easy to talk about the things that you can’t do and it’s really hard sometimes to give yourself a pat on the back and acknowledge your growth. Be present in your journey. Not to the point of being boastful, but acknowledge your progress and own it, even if it’s one step.
WK: Thank you so much for your time. We’ve truly enjoyed you for engaging with us at FTS. Right before we wrap up, can you describe Francine Emefa in three words for us?
Emefa: Awesome and thank you both so much. Luckily, this is part of my brand: Woman, warrior, wordsmith.
A dazzling warrior wordsmith and a promising Scribe on the Rise, check out her poem Scenes From the Revolution below performed for FTS’s The Loose Leaf Sessions. For more on Francine Emefa, be sure to follow her on Twitter.