Zoe Ackah – This Hen
Zoe Ackah has her new country roots album out this month. It’s entitled This Hen. It’s eight songs full of wit, wisdom and “the tenderness and lightheartedness still expected of women.”
”It’s about producing eggs under capitalism, trying to lay a golden one,” she explained with a chuckle. Her struggle to incubate the music was, after all, somewhat informed and inspired by her situation as a working mother in downtown Toronto.
“It’s very much about what we, as women and mothers, do. And how it feels to be trapped by motherhood. Still to this day, I spend 90 percent of my free time managing the lives of my three big kids. I’ve spent the last 20 years in the kitchen. I don’t know how many hilarious, catchy songs I sang into the kitchen sink.”
Her kitchen, at a glance, is sparkling and well-stocked, and on the counter sits her grandmother’s elegantly floral teapot full of ginger tea, which has been brewing for an hour and a half. It is, like Zoe, rich with flavour and not just a bit tangy. Well-steeped.
As we sip, she elaborates upon the metaphors of “This Hen,” the title song.
“It’s not just that but there are deeper issues that I allude to, that if you’re listening, you’ll hear. One of them is this whole idea of creating life. With your eggs. For the consumption of others. When you don’t own land, when you don’t have a homestead, you are basically throwing your kids into the world for other people. Where are they going to work? For someone else. Who is going to benefit from that toil? Mostly someone else. And then, because my children are racialized people – their father is African, and I’m Jewish – there is always the concern that my children are not safe. They’re at risk, like chickens on a farm. So although I’m laughing about it, about being bird-called and being squawked at by the rooster, I also mention the farmer, the system we are under, the one who decides who the haves and the have-nots are. It’s like a joke that I took waaay too far. I also talk about shacking up with an owl eventually, but then I’d have to leave my chicks and who wants to do that?”
The song itself is abruptly danceable and powerfully plucky, if you will, and extra finger-lickin’ good, thanks, in large part to the spirited spurring-on of some articulate guitar picking.
“A lot of the reason this record is so good is Kevin Breit,” Zoe admited. “All of the finoodling in the arrangements; what a phenomenal guitar player. The secret to being a great producer is just to get the very most talented people you can. And every note is magic. Just beautifully done.”
Her production acumen is also evidenced in her selection of the rhythm section of local heavy lifters Davide Direnzo and Ian de Souza and the horn enhancements of the effervescent Rebecca Hennessey. With her point of view nailed down by her domesticity, Zoe’s range of creative stimulation still seems boundless. There is a song full of dad jokes inspired by the curated journals of her late grandfather entitled “I Miss You (But My Aim Is Getting Better),” the streetwise portraiture of “Just A Trickle, Just A Nickel,” and a bona fide Patsy Cline-worthy hit called “Gotta Stop Loving You (But I Can’t).”
“Besides baking bread, one thing I’m also really good at is writing earworms,” Zoe said. “I Think that’s because I am a child of the 80s when everything was sold with a jingle, so I like to be really clear about what the hook is. That song is about a guy who wouldn’t commit, but he’d call me every day, didn’t want to be my boyfriend, and it went on forever, and I think in this day and age when Tinder and Bumble like to make you feel like there’s an infinite number of options for you, and people have such a hard time settling down – slow down folks. The grass is not greener on the other side. The grass is green where you water.”
With the record out and a launch scheduled for May 31 (tonight, 6-8pm) at the Cameron House in Toronto, Zoe will not be reclining in her accomplishments any time soon.
“I have a fire,” she declared. “My goal is to record 50 songs and put out three or four more records in the next five or six years. Once I’ve made a record I don’t look back. My real joy in life is creating songs and making a recording of them, and I now have a massive backlog.”
And with her career and family obligations, there is no worry that she will fly the coop anytime soon. This Hen is available HERE.