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Electro R&B artist Akua talks swimming in Florida swamps in a mermaid suit

Posted by Greg / June 1, 2013

20130601-Akua.jpegWith all the solo/DYI musicians out there these days, very few of them play R&B, and that doesn't make much sense after listening to Akua for about two seconds. Her electro-soul meets something-resembling-folk stylings feel so natural it's easy to forget how original they are. The fact is, there's no one quite like Akua. This will become even clearer with the release of her debut EP One's Company at Le Belmont on Monday. But a couple weeks ago, she debuted the music video for one of the EP's songs, "Gravity," and completely blew me out of the water. That was... well, a pun, since the entire thing was filmed with her donning a mermaid suit and swimming around Florida's oceans, everglades, and motel pools.

Watch the absolutely spellbinding video below and keep scrolling to read my interview with Akua on what exactly went into making it.

Why did you go all the way to Florida to film the video? What did that add?

After deciding on a "mermaid" concept for the video, we deemed the mid-November climate of Quebec "unfit" for pulling off a shoot of this nature...so we started exploring options. After learning the mermaid tails were made in Florida and that an old family friend had a condo in Miami, we figured Florida's temperature, clear water, and unique flora and fauna might suit the concept we were going for.

Was it more than just Disney World and Miami?

Funny you say that, because before this trip, those were pretty much the only things I've associated Florida with. Whereas I saw Florida as being sunny and perhaps a bit tacky, my brother (the Director) saw the potential in the tropical, murky everglade characteristics of the state. Also, we heard that Florida's pretty damn cheap. Once we got there we drove north of Orlando through Orange county..what a trip. People motorbiking on freeways with no helmets on, spooky-looking "weeping elm" trees, confederate flags, trailer homes converted into pop-up churches, etc. We were definitely "down south." Trust, this was definitely no trip to Disney. Also we had to book it down to the Florida Keys to get clear and warm water and track down an old aluminum boat. The Florida Keys were nuts. Some of the places we stayed were frozen in time. We drove through miles and miles of little retro motels and independent motels and bars. I would have loved to shoot a whole movie down there! It was such a weird, sleepy, vibe everywhere we went. Everything about it was novel. I felt like we went back into time! I'd say a highlight of the Keys was arriving to the dock where we arranged a boat rental to learn our guide was a sleepy-eyed 13 year old boy named Devon. Also bartering for props with a crusty old fisherman named Joe.

What was the inspiration for the video? Where did you get the idea for it?

Initially my brother proposed a "gothic mermaid" concept as an idea for my album cover. I was intrigued, got my Google on, and quickly learned that there was a guy down in Florida who made these really crazy mermaid tails for a living. The idea was too fun to pass up.

Fun aside, the more I thought about the concept and read up on mermaids I realized the powerful symbolism of independence and mystery which they've come to represent in folklore (an alternative to the sexy, chasity-bound bikini wearing mermaids which have come to dominate our popular imagination). My upcoming EP is called 'One's Company' ...it speaks of our tendency towards loneliness instead of celebrating our solitude. The independent, mysterious and fearless nature of mermaids seemed pretty appropriate. More specifically, Gravity is a song about the misfortunes of incompatible circumstances which prevent people who want to be together, from being together...hence the whole land & water, man & mermaid dichotomy.

Where did you get the mermaid suit? How much does one cost?

The tails run from around $2500-5000 if you intend to own one, obviously pricey for a one-time use scenario so we negotiated a rental rate with him for the week.

Was it easy to use? Does it make swimming easier and faster?

The first day of swimming in the tail was a total disaster. Despite my "intense mermaid training regime" at the YMCA pool prior to the shoot, the tail was really hard to swim in. You'd be shocked to feel how heavy the thing is out of water. It's so well made that it's actually like some sort of sci-fi prosthetic. It's tight, and thick and sticky silicone that you can't just slip on so I went through countless bottles of KY-jelly to slide the thing on (the Mertailor's recommendation) and taped sponges between my knees and ankles to avoid bruising It essentially feels like your legs are saran-wrapped together. After the failed first attempt I slowly got the hang of the tail in time to nail our big open water shoot on the 3rd day. Once I got the hang of it, it was totally nuts. I literally felt like a fish. The fin is so big that with one big kick you'll rip through the water. It was nuts. If only I could hold my breath for longer, it'd really be

How did you get all those great underwater shots? Did you ever get
tired of holding your breath?

The underwater shots were definitely the most challenging. The main underwater shoot we did was literally in open ocean in the middle of the day under the beating sun. Communication was the hardest part because we were far away from one another with big waves all around us. Obviously once you're underwater there's no verbal communication between me and the Director. He couldn't really direct or prompt me in any way so we just had to shoot as much as possible and hope we caught something solid. As for holding my breath, I'm not really good at that, but i really pushed myself to just always hold it for longer than i felt comfortable. Pressure was also on the 2 camera operators to be able to also hold their breaths and sink long enough to capture each shots. AH! I'm stressed just remembering this part of the shoot!

As someone who is more or less terrified of dangerous animals, I gotta
ask: did you ever have a run in with an alligator of giant snake when
you were chillin in the swamp?

Shiversssss. This was definitely on our mind. The first day shooting we went to a State Park and shot in fresh water...ie...gator territory. The whole place was spooky too. Spooky but really beautiful. Gators were obviously on my mind the entire time. There's one shot in the music video where I am perched in a tree. I learned 10 minutes after shooting that I had been sitting just 4 feet above the "gator den" where a 10-footer sleeps each night (according to state park rangers). All I was told was that because it was "winter" in Florida, the gators often find the water of the springs a bit too cold and so instead they nest or go to the brackish water (where fresh and salt water meet) where it's warmer. Regardless, I was totally spooked during that part of the shoot...and then upon avoiding a gator encounter, quickly shifted my concern to the sharks we might see during the deep sea shoot. ah!

See Akua's EP release show this Monday at Le Belmont
Watch a video about the making of "Gravity" below

GRAVITY
Video by HANDLEBAR www.handlebar.ca
Conceptualized and Produced by Kofi Carson and Akua Carson
Starring Irwin Eydelnant and Akua Carson

Cinematography:
Kofi Carson
Zsofin Sheehy

Camera Operator
Zsofin Sheehy
Kofi Carson

Assistant Camera:
Zsofin Sheehy

2nd Unit Camera Operator: Kristen Mico
Editor: Kofi Carson
Directed & Written by: Kofi Carson
Assistant Director: Zsofin Sheehy
2nd Assistant Director: Kristen Mico
Production Assistant: Kristen Mico and Irwin Eydelnant
Script Supervisor: Kristen Mico
Production Design: Akua Carson and Kofi Carson

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