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Mills MFA student memoirs queer liberation through music

Nana Aforo (known musically as Lines of Hour) has one microphone, one keyboard, a 2014 MacBook — and now, a full-length album produced with only those materials, “Alphonso Mango”. The 28-year-old Mills MFA graduate student spends hours mixing and mastering his songs, replaying them until the sound and message he wants to convey are just right. His music, he says, is memoir, documenting his journey of coming to accept his queerness and making sense of the sociopolitical forces around him. Aforo cites Jay-Z and Paul McCartney‘s musical storytelling as inspiration. He layers his voice to create haunting harmonies mixed with exciting synths and sweet keyboard melodies.

Aforo’s voice isn’t the only one on Alphonso Mango, however. One song features a heartfelt interview with his mother, and another contains an excerpt from a 1987 Margaret Thatcher speech in which she discussed Section 28, a collection of laws that outlawed the “promotion of homosexuality” by British local government, including in schools. Aforo is telling his own story, he says, but also the history of queer civil rights.

He says, “Where we’re coming from historically is inevitably bound up in the political progression of the country, as it relates to civil liberties and things like that. And so I think it becomes important then to acknowledge political issues relating to the liberation of people, and in this case, liberation [of queer people] directly. And so it’s just trying to understand that and say, ‘look at this’, or ‘don’t sweep it under the rug’, because we need to look at this history so that we don’t repeat ourselves.”

Through the political turmoil, Aforo speaks in the interview of the importance of community for queer people. During his coming-out process, he garnered strength from the words of his father.

“[My father] said something to me that really finally fully liberated me and, any religious affiliation aside, he said to me, ‘God doesn’t make junk’. And when he said that to me, the last little bit of whatever shame was in me was gone.”

In “To Myself”, the album’s seventh track, Aforo uses recordings of the organs at his childhood church in his hometown of Minneapolis. This was a nod to the role religion played in his life growing up, he says. Aforo believes that music is powerful and has the ability to affirm queer people who may feel alone in their identity. Community, he says, doesn’t stop at the people physically near you.

“Music is very powerful. It’s something that goes out into the world and lets the person who listens to it know that they are not alone in their experience and others resonate with their experience, and I think that is key […] There’s music that isn’t afraid to discuss queer themes or anything of the sort. Then you have this liberating experience for queer children that listen to it, and it creates this kind of affinity to to build community, from afar.”

Aforo hopes his music can contribute to a feeling of belonging for queer people near and far, and that his artistic process will inspire others to make honest art of their own, even if it feels difficult at first — as it did for him.

“When you’re writing music for the first time, don’t be afraid to suck in public. […] Do it loudly so that everybody can hear. I had to make [a first album, before Alphonso Mango] that was okay. It had a lot of flaws, but I put it out for everyone to hear. The act of putting it out was liberating in that I allowed myself to take a project from beginning to completion and then didn’t allow quality from [lack of] experience to stop it from coming out. And once I did that, I was able to look at it from an outside perspective and assess it so that I could understand how to improve as a musician and as a maker. Yeah. So don’t be afraid to suck in front of people. It’s important and it’s gonna happen.”

Alphonso Mango” by Lines of Hour is now available on all streaming services.