The Agora Awards 2019 competition was hosted by free-to-use photography app Agora on November 6th and received over 130,000 submissions from 193 countries.

More than 500,000 votes have been counted: the photo ‘Songs of Freedom’ by Ghanaian photographer Michael Aboya was voted Best Photo of the Year and wins Agora Awards 2019 competition, awarding the self-taught photographer the grand prize of $25,000 (22,445€).

With photos portraying a cheerful and optimistic representation of the life around him, Michael Aboya aims to inspire a change in the way people perceive Ghana and the African continent in general:

“I believe that when BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Colour) tell their own stories, they can present the country and continent differently to the world, showing the love, peace, and harmony, and making the bright side a little bit more, putting the dark side behind it. I created this image to emphasize the fact that we have the power to free ourselves from any form of mental, physical, spiritual and emotional captivity.”

‘Songs of freedom’ – Best Photo of the Year

Image credits: agoraimages.prowly.com

The vision for ‘Songs of Freedom’ came to Aboya while he was at home, listening to Bob Marley. When ‘Redemption Song’ began playing, he immediately wanted to bring the legendary song to life with his camera.

The photo has had a particularly strong impact among the african diaspora, as it symbolises more than just a photo to them: the end result visualizes an unspoken struggle for freedom and belonging, conceptualized through the violin, which Aboya describes as an instrument of the soul.

Octavi Royo, Agora’s CEO and Co-Founder said: “Songs Of Freedom is a striking image, with strong contrasts and an intelligent composition. A topless african child plays the violin under a wide sky that indicates a sunrise or sunset; the beginning or end of an era. Behind him are four more children with their fist raised and their eyes closed, enjoying the melody played by their companion. A melody that sounds like the conquest of a just future, that gives off intellectuality, pacifism, effort and dignity. It is an image full of symbols that declare that Africa is awake and will be the protagonist of a hopeful future. For me, Sounds of Freedom is an intelligent visual manifesto of a current reality and, at the same time, an optimistic and dignified message about the future.”

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Songs of Freedom’: Behind The Scenes

‘Songs of Freedom’ was shot in Labadi, one of Ghana’s oldest neighborhoods located in the coastal part of Accra, the country’s capital. The local kids from fishermen families who live on this beach have always been a source of inspiration for Michael.

In order to bring his vision to life with his camera, Michael gathered the group of kids while a friend of him who had brought a violin taught them the basics. One kid in particular had the most expression amongst them all and became the focus of the image.

Michael said: “Just one day before the shoot, I met Rockson, a friend I had made on the Agora platform who happened to visit Ghana, his home country. Surprisingly, he had brought his own violin with him, so I asked him to bring it along the next day for a shoot I had planned. We got to Labadi the next day where we met the 5 young amazing boys. In order to get the image as real and natural as possible without losing the most important aspect of who they really are, I asked my friend to teach them the basics on how to hold the violin, the perfect hand positions and I saw that one of the boys had the strongest expression with the violin, which was perfectly aligned with my vision for the photograph.”

Michael Aboya: The man behind the camera

Michael is a 24-year-old self-taught photographer from Accra, Ghana. Born and raised in Nigeria, he moved to his father’s homeland, Ghana, when he turned 13.
Michael’s passion for arts and photography unfolded back in 2014 when he was studying software programming. When he abruptly lost his dad to cancer, he realized that life was too short to spend it doing something he didn’t enjoy and therefore decided to pursue his dream of becoming a photographer. Shortly after dropping out of programming school, Michael gathered all the little savings and funds he had at the time (those were meant to pay for his school fees) and got himself his first professional camera.
“After I purchased my first camera, the next step was to join a photography school, but the fees made that impossible. So I invested a lot of time reading about photography and watching YouTube videos on how professional photographers shot and used different kinds of lighting to their advantage. I would then go out with my camera to practice by shooting anything I found interesting, and then go home and do some editing. I kept doing this over and over again until I gradually started getting good at it.”

With his $25,000 prize, Michael plans to invest in getting photography gear, learning videography, and travel through Africa to capture its people and their colorful stories.

Discover below a selection of Michael’s portfolio from his Agora page:

‘From a long line of strong black women’

Michael celebrates the love he feels for his country through powerful photographs that portray a cheerful and optimistic representation of the life that surrounds him.

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Quality not quantity’

His work is mature, simple, yet wonderfully eye-catching: one can almost feel music and laughter in his images.

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Look into my eyes, listen and hear what my mouth is not saying, for my eyes speaks louder than my voice ever will’

With his photos, Michael aims to inspire a change in the way people perceive Ghana and more generally the african continent.

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Smile and Enjoy the Fruits of your Labor’

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Kick off, the sunset won’t wait’

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘When two or more women gather an economy is built. When there is equality, there is quality of life.’

(Michael Aboya/Agora)

‘Big Happy Six’

(Michael Aboya/Agora)