By Holly Reed
With beautiful melodies and catchy beats, each song by Olympia artist James “Afrok” Bowman hooks you in and hits you with lyrics that are both genuine and timely. “It’s one hundred percent real and honest and it speaks about the world around me,” says Afrok. His honesty, speaking right from the heart, rings deep through his lyrics. Drawing the audience in with powerful truths, his music informs and inspires with depth and gravity.
“Hip-hop has been called the CNN of the streets,” says Afrok, paraphrasing an oft-repeated statement made by Chuck-D, member of the influential rap group, Public Enemy. “In order to speak our truths, and get our point of view out about what matters, hip-hop is the perfect vehicle for that,” adds Afrok.
Afrok started as a DJ when he was 14, but it wasn’t long before he outgrew just playing other artist’s songs to creating music of his own. “I realized I had a voice too. I had a lot to say,” he says. He began writing his own songs at 16. “I started by writing poetry and lyrics, so it was an easy transition to making my own music,” he explains.
Over the years, Afrok has performed in a number of local venues and beyond, including Tacoma, Seattle, Portland, and various other locations across Washington and Oregon. Besides in-person performances, the availability of internet music platforms has made it possible for him to share his music with fans across the country and even around the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected various industries, and music was not immune. While the world ground to a halt, Afrok continued working. Writing and recording, inspired by his experiences, he continued to share them with the world from his home studio in Olympia. “There’s a lot to write about during these times, good, bad, or ugly.” In response to the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, Afrok wrote a song in response, “This Way.”
Then, amid the stay at home order, a video surfaced of the death of George Floyd. Though Floyd’s death was far from the first, it brought issues of police brutality to the forefront of national and international awareness. Massive social movements followed. “The music that I’m releasing is timely to what’s happening within the Black community and what’s going on with police brutality,” he says. Afrok’s newest song became even more relevant. The song and the accompanying music video are both timely and real. “It’s my way to articulate and describe what I’m seeing and what I’m feeling,” he says. “I won’t censor my true feelings about what matters. I won’t waiver.”
The music video for “This Way”, filmed and directed by Colin McGee, couples Afrok’s heartfelt lyrics with visuals from around Olympia interspersed with newspaper and videos of current events from across the nation. Expressing his feelings and his concerns about the current social movement, he asks, “Will you stand for Black lives when it’s not popularized?”
Afrok knows his music might not be for everyone. “As artists, we can be compromised, we want people to dance and have fun, and there are times for that music too. But I feel like, at this time, the music that needs to be released is the soundtrack to a revolution.”
“There’s more to me than just music,” he says. Afrok is deeply involved with activism within the community, speaking at rallies and events. “I want to make sure that this small three percent of Olympia is heard and has a place in the community.” Census data shows that Black and African American individuals make up just 2.8% of Olympia’s population. “We have a voice,” he adds.
Beyond his music and involvement in his community, Afrok is a husband of 18 years and a father to three. “I’m a family man, and I like spending time with my wife and my kids,” he says. He is also big into barbeque. Not just in the summertime, he makes it a year-round affair. “I even branded my own BBQ sauce,” he adds.
Looking ahead, Afrok is excited about the upcoming release of his next album, A King with Words, produced by BigBoxx. You can check out his music on various platforms, including iTunes, Spotify, Google Play and Bandcamp. Follow what he’s been up to, including announcements of upcoming shows, on Facebook and Instagram.