Osekre: Poetry, Hustling, and Musical Genre-Bending

In 2014, I stumbled upon a song unlike any I had heard at the time: “Why Are You Here,” by Osekre and the Lucky Bastards. The combination of horns, highlife sound, and energy like a punch in the gut was thrilling, and I immediately had to listen to it again, tweet about it, etc.

In the spring, the band came to Boston for its edition of the Aputumpu Music Festival, where I watched them and a diverse set of other bands. Later, I sat down to chat with the band’s lead singer, the musician, poet, and entrepreneur Osekre. In addition to creating two albums with his band, “No Turning Back From Here,” released in 2009, and the EP “Why Are You Here,” released in 2014, he’s also the founder of the Aputumpu Music Festival and the associated blog.

My notes from the conversation:

  • how having a talent and being willing to share it with others can get you quite far
  • the fascination of a certain subset of Ghanaians for Ivy League schools
  • the ways that people can make surprising shows of generosity, yet you still have to ask or put yourself out there in order to be in a position to receive, which takes courage
  • how you often feel like your creation is telling you what it wants to be
  • how your attitude toward an art form can change over time
  • physical proximity to other artists be an important influence on your work, despite internet-fueled location-independence
  • the new often comes from mixing existing things in new ways and how outsiders are often in the best place to see those possibilities
  • creating things for yourself can lead to things that help others, like a music festival (maybe all creation is ultimately selfish)

To find Osekre on the internet:
Website: osekre.com (website)
On twitter: @oskere
On Facebook: osekreandtheluckybastards
On Bandcamp: osekre.bandcamp.com
Aputumpu Music Festival and blog

Questions, comments, or guest suggestions? Send them to feedback@africantakeover.com.

Arthur Musah: Engineering Education, Film School, and an African New Wave

Early in 2015, I spoke with the filmmaker and engineer Arthur Musah. He was trained in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, and film at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and has gone on to work on fiction and documentary shorts, including What to Bring to America, Refuge, and Color Blind. He is currently working on two feature-length documentaries focusing on Africa and Africans in a globalized, technological age.

What was special about this conversation is that it’s the first African Takeover interview. There’s something about asking someone to tell their story that often leads to fascinating places. Even if you know the person, you are almost guaranteed to be surprised. Part of the reason that I’ve been interested in listening to interviews, reading interviews, and now, conducting interviews, is that I always love that electric jolt of astonishment, and that point in the conversation when the person says something that makes you rethink some aspect of life.

Some things that struck me about this conversation:

  • the way that knowledge gets passed down in an institution: the kids at Arthur’s secondary school have a system for getting into American universities
  • as always, it’s fascinating how people start off in one place and end up somewhere completely different, yet appropriate
  • the way that art affects us differently at different stages of our lives
  • how diving deeply into one perspective or style of a thing (here, film) can make it easier to notice the characteristics of other styles
  • learning how to play all the roles can be extremely valuable, even if you eventually delegate them to others

I’m excited to see Arthur’s films, and like him, I’m interested to see what interesting stories come out of the African experience.

To find Arthur on the internet:
Website: One Day I Too Go Fly (website)
On twitter: @pidgincinema

Questions, comments, or guest suggestions? Send them to feedback@africantakeover.com.

Nnedi Okorafor

Nigerian + American writer and professor, b. 1974

Science fiction/fantasy has an image of being white, male, and Western—certainly not African. Yet there are many writers challenging this, creating alternative stories and worlds. One of the most prominent of them is Nnedi Okorafor (probably the only African SF writer whose books you could find in an airport). She writes stories about Africans, with African settings, but from an outsider’s point of view.

Outcasts, freaks, the disfigured, the grotesquely enhanced…I write their narratives. [1]

Take for example, Who Fears Death (2010, winner of World Fantasy Award for Best Novel), a story about a young sorceress named Onyesonwu who is shunned because she is a child of rape. It’s an epic quest and coming-of-age story, one that begs to be made into a movie. And it will be, although it is hard to see how a story that disturbing could be filmed.

Some of her other novels include Zahrah the Windseeker (2005, winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize), The Shadow Speaker (2007), Akata Witch (2011), and more. She has also written many short stories, and a collection of them, called Kabu Kabu, will be released in fall 2013.

More:
official website
blog – for updates and interesting (often African) SF news
Who Fears Death: The Movie
“Spider the Artist,” in Lightspeed Magazine
Nnedi Okorafor on The Africa Channel’s “Behind the Words,” part 1
twitter: @Nnedi

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Proprioception, by Nnedi Okorafor

Tatenda Mbudzi

Zimbabwean filmmaker and comedian, b. 1987

If you watched the Oscars last weekend, you may have spotted Tatenda Mbudzi among the group of students who, as winners in the Oscar Experience College Search, got the chance to go on stage and hand the statuettes to the presenters.

In describing how he will change the future of movies, he said:

I’m going to tell stories that globally connect. As a foreigner, I know what it’s like to be an outsider, and I want to tell stories that help people believe in themselves, and believe in others, too. [1]

Mbudzi is currently a student in the Producer’s Program at the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA, where he also performs comedy. We’ll see what kinds of interesting things he produces in the future—this exposure should definitely help.

More:
Twitter: @ta10da
Film student prepares for his Oscars debut – UCLA Today

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Tatenda Mbudzi’s video submission

Ikenna Azuike

Nigerian + British journalist, b. 1979

What’s Up Africa? (“The best damn African comedy news show on the planet!”) is a hilarious African news video blog hosted by Ikenna Azuike, a journalist at the Africa desk of Radio Netherlands Worldwide. He stands in a corner of a room plastered with African news magazine covers and delivers sometimes incredulous, often sarcastic analyses of African news stories. There is usually at least one music video featured in each episode. It’s fast-paced, heavily cut, serious and critical, as well as funny and light-hearted.

WUA is not just about pointing out good stuff I use my show to be critical about serious issues, comedy is undoubtedly a powerful tool to change people’s attitudes.[1]

Azuike is also co-founder, with Mette te Velde, of Strawberry Earth, which started as a design blog “for creative people who care about the planet,” but now also includes a service where you can get deals on products and services from brands that they like, and events like the Green Film Making Competition, the Strawberry Earth Film Festival, and more.

For more:
What’s Up Africa?
What’s Up Africa on Facebook
Strawberry Earth
Twitter: @WhatsUpAfrica

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Interview with Africa is a Country

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Nigerian novelist and writer, b. 1977

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells stories. Stories about war, stories about post-colonial life, stories about life in a new country, and more.

Her books include two novels, Purple Hibiscus (2003), which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and Half of a Yellow Sun (2007), which won the Orange Prize in 2007, and has been made into a film that will be released later this year. She has also published many short stories, several of which are in her collection The Thing Around Your Neck (2009). In 2008, she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a.k.a., “genius grant.”

The thing you notice about her prose is how hands-off it is. She puts you deep into an individual point of view, whether her own or that of a fictional character, describing perception and reactions without judgment. Things just are.

That suspension of judgment is in part a recognition that events and situations can always be seen from multiple perspectives. Many stories can be told about a single event. She discusses this in her TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.”

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.[1]

Without many stories, it is easy to fall back on stereotypes, mistaking them for reality, the whole truth. It becomes inconceivable that those people in that other place could be anything like you.

But having many stories requires both that people are willing to tell their own stories, and that people are able to find these stories. Adichie’s prominence in the modern literary world is because she has seized the opportunity to tell her stories, and their truth cuts through the vague generalizations of the news to present complex human experience.

She uses that influence to help others to tell their own stories. She is a trustee of the Farafina Trust, a non-profit organization “established to promote reading, writing, and a culture of social introspection and engagement through the literary arts.”[2]

The organization’s goals and activities include writing workshops, donating books to public schools in Nigeria, helping editors in Nigeria develop their skills through an exchange program, creating an online community for African writers to discuss their art and industry, and the publication of a magazine.

For more:
Official site
Farafina Trust
The Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Website
TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story.”
“Why Are You Here?” in Guernica Magazine

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. TED.com, “The Danger of a Single Story.”
  2. Farafina Trust : About Us

Ozwald Boateng

Ghanaian + British menswear designer, b. 1967

When Ozwald Boateng opened his first shop on the venerable Savile Row in London, he was part of a new generation of innovative tailors out to transform the street and the industry.

I knew the concept of Savile Row on one hand and I wanted to breathe new life into it, and I knew it had something unique and should be on the global stage for menswear, and I knew what to do to make it be that. It just needed more of a designer approach.[1]

He has gone on to become one of the most well-known and influential tailors in the world, dressing high-profile clients like Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, P. Diddy, and many more. It’s almost a certainty that you’ve seen his work somewhere, as they are part of the aesthetic of the modern high-budget film. His clothes make the man.

His sleek designs are striking for their use of bright colors, and some more recent designs incorporate African fabrics.

For more information:
official site
Tumblr – see some of his work and the people he dresses
Facebook
twitter: @OzBoateng

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. The Story of Ozwald Boateng at lifeandtimes.com

Whys and wherefores

I am an American, but I am also Ghanaian. It’s difficult for me to have a conversation with a new person without Ghana coming up. My face is Ghanaian, my name is Ghanaian, I understand Twi (but speak less fluently than I once did, because I forget how to say things). Fried plantains and bean stew, nkatekwan with goat, and fufu are comfort foods for me.

I grew up in central Pennsylvania, far from the urban centers that Africans in the United States tend to congregate in. Partly because there weren’t many black people, and partly because of my parents’ efforts to instill ethnic pride in me and my siblings, I always thought of myself as Ghanaian. Our gatherings were filled with Africans from various countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, and more.

I spent some time in school in Ghana and England, which made me see at a young age that many things about culture are arbitrary. Just because Americans don’t let 6-year-olds use knives didn’t mean that they couldn’t be trusted to sharpen their pencils with razor blades in a school in Ghana. The identical cereal could be put into different boxes with different mascots in it by the same company in different countries, and it would still be the same cereal.

It wasn’t until I was 15 years old that I really began to think of myself as an American. That shift was extremely dislocating for me, because although I had spent almost all of my life in the United States, there were so many things that I couldn’t relate to. I no longer knew where I belonged. As far as I was concerned, I belonged nowhere.

When I went to college, I became even more aware of something that I had noticed but never really had to deal with–a divide between Africans and African-Americans. I was friendly with people on either side, but never really felt comfortable with either group. I felt not African enough for Africans, and not “black” enough for African-Americans. It didn’t help when one guy asked me, in sort of a condescending way, why I considered myself African. I couldn’t think of an answer.

I realized that I felt most at ease with people like me, people who had grown up in multiple countries, or at least with a tie “back home.” People with whom I never had to explain myself, and could just be who I was. It didn’t matter if they were Nigerian, Indian, or Chinese.

But because of their numbers, Indian- and Chinese-Americans had a presence in popular culture. It certainly wasn’t all good, but people knew they existed. It frustrated me that Africans seemed to be left out of the political discourse about black people in the United States. To me, it felt like Africans were invisible except as starving people in war-torn areas who existed only to be pitied or mocked for their backward ways. None of the talent, generosity, and humor of the Africans I knew was visible.

At the same time, I began seeing and hearing African names all over the place: in the credits of movies, read at Ivy League graduations, by-lines of newspaper and magazine articles, the NCAA basketball tournament, and more. I started keeping track of them, mentally and on paper, realizing that we were all over the place.

And so began a dream to make everyone see what I saw. Years later, I came across a description of “The AfroPolitan Project” on Racialicious, which linked to this essay:
“What is an Afropolitan?” by Taiye Tuakli-Wosornu.

While the term Afropolitan made me uneasy, the essay described that sense of feeling in-between and having to define your own identity. Searching for that term allowed me to plug back into what had been going on while I’d been sleeping: we were taking over. I felt a new urgency to start the project that has been stewing in my mind for probably more than a decade, because otherwise, it would get to the point where there would be too much cool stuff for me to keep track of (and it may already be too late for that).

Tuakli-Wosornu writes, “And if it all sounds a little self-congratulatory, a little ‘aren’t-we-the-coolest-damn-people-on-earth?’ – I say: yes it is, necessarily. It is high time the African stood up.”

I agree. So here begins a chronicle of the African Takeover.