After being racially profiled twice by German police, Kae Sun decided it was time to speak out

Germany has been a frequent home for the Ghanaian-Canadian musician — but he's ringing the alarm after repeatedly being targeted because of his skin colour.

The musician is ringing the alarm after repeatedly being targeted because of his skin colour

Kae Sun performing in Europe. (Vivenne Gaumand)

Kwaku Darko-Mensah — better known by his stage name Kae Sun — is a genre-defying artist, producer and musician. Sun's sound draws from elements of afrobeat, electronica, hip hop and beyond, and the eclectic combination has been a blessing for the performer. His track "Ship and the Globe" has now racked up over four million plays on YouTube and his third album Whoever Comes Knocking was released earlier this year. For Sun, music has always served as one of many mediums to share his experiences.

"I like to think of myself generally as an artist. I express myself mostly through music, but I do other things as well," Sun tells CBC Arts. "My style is rooted in different textures and ways of expression through story."

Sun grew up in Ghana but moved to Hamilton, Ontario in his late teens.  While he is currently based out of Montreal, over the past four years he has traveled extensively. That travel has played directly into his work: his critically acclaimed multimedia project Oceans Apart — a film/record combination — was created alongside several collaborators in Toronto, New York, the Ivory Coast and Germany.

Germany has been a frequent home for the Ghanaian-Canadian, who has regularly worked out of Iwalewahaus, a contemporary performance space in Bayreuth that focuses on African diasporic art. But during a recent trip across the country, Sun experienced an uncomfortable situation. While traveling on a bus line between Berlin and Bayreuth, two Bavarian police officers boarded the vehicle.

Kae Sun performing in Europe. (Vivienne Gaumand)

"They were asking specifically non-white passengers for their passports," Sun explains. "I noticed that quite clearly because the passenger seated next to me was this young, white, German student. They skipped right over him. Other people on the bus that looked like me — other people of colour — were all embarrassingly checked. So...the police officer asks for my passport. I give it over and he really thumbs through it. He examines the stamp I received upon entry and asks where I got it. I try and explain they gave me the stamp at the border. I remind him that I'm a Canadian citizen. But he holds onto the passport for a long time before giving it back."

This was not the first time that Sun had experienced that particular type of discrimination. In a previous bus trip, at the same stop, the musician was also asked for his passport despite the fact that he was not at a border crossing and other passengers on board weren't being bothered by the authorities.

Kae Sun. (Vivienne Gaumand)

The rationale behind the police harassment is that authorities are looking for people who have entered Germany — and specifically the state of Bavaria, illegally. The checks are coming at a time where German nationalism is on the rise, and for the police officers, the artist's skin colour made him a target.

"There is no travel advisory for people of colour going to Bavaria to carry their passports," says Sun. "If I didn't have my documentation with me, what would the police do? On the bus I felt panicked, but then I felt deeply embarrassed. I was targeted based on my race. If they decided I was suspicious for any reason, I'm not sure what would have happened. It's all very unclear."

Kae Sun performing in Europe. (Vivienne Gaumand)

After being profiled for a second time, Sun's frustration quickly turned to anger. He felt that he needed to speak out on the situation, both as a means of expressing his feelings and also as a warning to other people of colour travelling in the area. So the musician began to post about his experience on social media, and eventually got in touch with the German Embassy back in Canada through Twitter. The Embassy offered an apology and said they would be in touch with the Bavarian authorities. But while the apology was appreciated, it felt like an inadequate response to a larger societal issue.

"To me it should be a diplomatic issue," says Sun. "I imagine a white Canadian would not have the same problem with in the area...but how would you let Black folks or other people of colour take care of themselves while traveling? How can we let as many people as possible know that this is happening?"

"I think a lot needs to change with the way we treat each other in this world," adds the musician. "I'm an artist, not an activist, and it's tiring to repeatedly have to face these situations and know what to do with them. One of the privileges I have as an artist is the ability to speak to the press. I have to use that to the max. Hopefully someone with more power will be able to do more from here."


Graham Isador is a writer and theatre creator based out of Toronto. He trained as a part of the playwright unit at Soulpepper Theatre. Isador's work has appeared at VICE, The Risk Podcast, and the punk rock satire site The Hard Times, among other places.