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Diaspora Eats: 9 of Chicago's Best African Restaurants

Here are some African spots to check out the next time you're in the Windy City!

The diaspora is brimming with a variety of restaurants that offer savory dishes that'll remind you of mom's cooking.


In our Diaspora Eats series, we highlight these many eateries, and offer recommendations for the best African food in whichever major city you might find yourself in.

Whether you're looking for options to fit your dietary restrictions or you're simply looking to stuff your face with quality eats, there's a spot in the city that will cater to your palette. Below are 7 African restaurants to check out while you're in Chicago.Check out some of the best African food in L.A, Houston, London, New York, Paris, and Washington D.C., Amsterdam, Toronto and Madrid and Los Angeles and Lisbon.

When it comes to African restaurants, Chicago is no Paris or London, where fancy eateries and humble spots coexist. Chicago's African restaurants are all still family-run businesses that to tend cater to Africans seeking an affordable taste of home.

The variety may be limited but Chicagoans take care of their most cherished spots. Most of the restaurants below have been open for 10 years or more and will surely see at least another decade or two.

Below we give you nine of the best African restaurants in Chicago. Enjoy!

1. Yassa African Restaurant

When I returned to Chicago in 2004, I spotted a Senegalese food stand dishing out yassa poulet (onion chicken) and Thieboudine (tomato, fish and vegetable stew) at the annual African Festival of the Arts. Senegalese food had finally arrived in Chicago. For the next decade I often trekked to the far South Side to Yassa's standalone restaurant. The neighborhood had seen better days but this didn't prevent people from seeking out the best African restaurant in Chicago. A couple of years ago, Yassa moved to a more gentrified black neighborhood. The dining is more refined but the food still tastes the same—damn good. Check out the live entertainment every 2nd Sunday.

2. Gorée Cuisine

Senegalese entrepreneur Adama Ba launched Chicago's third Senegalese restaurant right next door to his first African clothing shop. In the morning, locals come for pastries, coffee, and tea. By lunchtime, Senegalese dishes like maffé (peanut stew), thiou boulette (fish meatball), and yassa poulet (onion chicken) take center stage. His grandmother also runs a restaurant on the Gorée island.

3. Ethiopian Diamond

Ethiopian cuisine is plentiful in Chicago and Ethiopian Diamond is one of the best. The menu includes meat and vegetarian stews, all served on a platter of injera. The menu is naturally gluten-free, reflecting a cuisine noted as one of the world's most ancient and healthiest. The restaurant is able to cater to gluten-free folks, vegetarians, and vegans. Communal dining makes the restaurant a great date spot too.

4.Vee-Vee's African Restaurant

Vee-Vee's African Restaurant is often the first African restaurant that many Chicagoans come to know— it has been the only African restaurant at the Taste of Chicago culinary festival for the last 20 years. The jollof rice, sautéed goat and egusi are the best in Chicago. Like many African restaurants in Chicago, this one also serves Caribbean food, often jerk chicken and plantains. Sunday's all-you-can-eat-buffet draws a big crowd.

5. Denden Eritrean Restaurant

Chicago's lone Eritrean restaurant serves dishes that would be recognizable to fans of Ethiopian cuisine alongside Italian pasta dishes—as influenced by the country's Italian colonization. One of the most unique dishes is a chicken stew served with boiled eggs—derho. Diners say that Eritrean food has more herbs than Ethiopian food, making it taste fresher. Check this spot out and decide for yourself!

6. Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

Demera and Diamond Ethiopian restaurants compete with each for the title of best Ethiopian restaurant in Chicago and Demera appears to be winning. Visitors often claim that it's the best Ethiopian food that they have EVER had. Even the Michelin Guide recommends the restaurant. One of their best dishes is Ye-Shrip Wot, which comes with a whole, pan-fried fish seasoned with onion, garlic, jalapeño, awaze and a special Ethiopian spice. The owners recently opened up a nightspot called Safari Lounge on N. Clark St.

7. Grace's African Restaurant

A condensed menu of Goat, pounded yam, spinach stew, jollof rice, and plantains allow diners go travel to Ghana without the visa. This is Chicago's only Ghanaian restaurant and it's still a family affair.

8. Mogadishu Restaurant

Mogadishu Restaurant is a leftover from the pre-gentrification era of Near North Chicago. What is this hole in the wall restaurant doing in the middle of a street with designer clothes shops and whole foods? The restaurant originally catered to Somali taxi drivers looking to fill up on the cheap between shifts. But now well-heed locals often wander in. For $13, you can get a plate of Somali rice lentils, sauteed chicken, fried fish fillets, cabbage and salted carrots. Don't forget the banana.

9. Barwaqo Kabob

Barwaqo Kabob is located in a strip mall and offers a global menu that spans east African and the middle east. The menu includes flatbread, basmati rice, spicy chicken, lamb, canjeero (pancake-style bread that is similar to a crêpe), nafaqo (seasoned potato stuffed with hard boiled egg) and sambuusa (fried or baked pastry with a spiced potatoes, onions, peas, lentils). The watermelon juice is another delectable treat.

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This Afro-Feminist Marching Band Is Challenging Negative Stereotypes of Black Women In Paris

30 Nuances de Noires is fighting the erasure of black women in public spaces one march at a time.

If you stroll through the streets of Paris and its suburbs and stumble across a parade of black women wearing shiny outfits, singing and dancing, consider yourself lucky: you've just come across the Afro-feminist marching band '30 Nuances de Noires' (30 Shades of Black).

The band was created by dancer and choreographer Sandra Rose Fanchine. Tired of the erasure of black women in the public space and of the negative stereotypes associated with them, Fanchine has brought women (and a few men) together in this project. Professional and amateur singers, dancers and musicians, they have all accepted to embark on this journey and use their talents to launch this much-needed conversation in France.

Sandra Rose FanchinePhoto by SEKA photography

The band's musical coordinator, Célia Wa, is a flautist, singer and composer. When Fanchine invited her to take part in the project, she was very enthusiastic to have the opportunity to play alongside other black female musicians and take part in something that portrays black women in a positive light and in a flamboyant way. She was also keen to play alongside other black female musicians and coordinate them, outside, in the public space, where music is accessible to everyone. But it wasn't easy going. "It's hard to find women who play wind instruments" she explains. "But especially black women. So, we decided to incorporate a few black men musicians—men who understand the meaning of the project and support us. They don't try to dominate the space, they wear dresses and headwraps, they really blend into the group."

Célia WaPhoto by SEKA photography

Wa hopes the project will encourage many young girls to become professional musicians by showing them that being a fulfilled woman, having a music career and a family life, is possible.

Awori is the singer of the band Kamiawori, and a singer and dancer in the parade. She accepted Fanchine's invitation to join the band because she realized a brass band made of women—especially black women—was something unique that she wanted to be part of. "Throughout history, women had been forbidden to play wind instruments because blowing into those instruments was assimilated to a sexual act", says Kamiawori. "As a result, nowadays, the majority of people playing these instruments are men, so the fact that Sandra was looking for black women only was really appealing to me".

Earlier this year the band had the chance to travel to French Guiana to do a performance with black Guyanese women. This is the kind of future she wants for the project. "I want us to go to places in France where there aren't many black people, as well as to the former French colonies and the French overseas territories," she says. She hopes the project will start conversations everywhere, and empower black women to talk about their issues in their own words and organize their own emancipation.

AworiPhoto by SEKA photography

***

Read on for our conversation with Sandra Rose Fanchine. This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Can you tell us about yourself and your background?

I'm 51 years old, I was born in Martinique and grew up in Côte d'Ivoire. I'm a hip-hop dancer and choreographer. I first came to France 22 years ago to study graphic design but along the way, I found hip hop and started dancing out of passion. With my background in graphic design, I knew I was going to be a choreographer eventually, I was convinced I could use hip hop beyond its performance aspect, bringing my visual artist's knowledge to it and using it to promote a narrative. So, when the age of maturity came, I became a choreographer. My first work considered the social construction of femininity, and I then created a piece which dealt with the memory of the black body. 30 Nuances de Noires is my third choreographic work.

Where did the idea of "30 Nuances de Noires" come from?

It came from my professional frustration as a black woman. When I was looking for a job after my studies, my graphic design work was very culturally influenced by my life in Martinique and Côte d'Ivoire. I was proud to show the aesthetics and the colors, to me it was beautiful but it wasn't seen as such, it was seen as something unworthy and my work was always devalued.

I also had to face that devaluation in my personal life. I wanted to partner up with a black man, but I could see that black men didn't value me, didn't give me space and in general chose to have solid relationships with white women. I am light-skinned so I used to pass black men's colorist filters, but this privilege stopped as soon as commitment was mentioned. I looked around me and saw a pattern in the way black men treated black women, in the way people in general treated black women, how we were looked down upon. I wanted to create something about that topic.

Photo by SEKA Photography

Why did you choose that name?

I chose that name to criticize the movie 50 shades of Grey, which from a feminist point of view is a sexist and misogynist movie, that glamorizes violence against women. Moreover, black women, in the global conception related to sexuality and sentiments, are continually eroticized in a very specific way: animalization, exotification and fetishization. I chose to reclaim these stigmas, just as Audre Lorde writes about in the chapter of her book Sister Outsider named "the use of eroticism, and the use of anger: the response of women to racism."

How did the people around you react to this project?

At first, I wanted to do a piece about sexuality, love and the neocolonial aspects of interracial unions but I faced a backlash from people in the cultural institutions and people in the hip hop industry. Whenever I talked about my project I was completely shut down and called a racist.

After all that rejection and denigration, I went back to university and studied gender studies for two years, and around the same time I became an Afro-feminist activist. In the meantime, the project evolved. I used to work at festivals where there were many brass brands and I already wanted to create a marching band with hip hop dancers so I just mixed the two ideas: highlighting black women's issues and creating a marching band.

After equipping myself with the relevant intellectual tools, surrounding myself with other black women and realizing we were all going through the same things, I was capable of demonstrating the systemic nature of what I was talking about and the barriers fell. I was finally in the right place at the right time. I found the artists very easily, the first musicians I met brought other musicians, the first dancers brought other dancers, it all happened very organically.

Photo by SEKA Photography

What type of women were you looking for?

I was looking for women who were strong enough to embody and address those issues unapologetically. They had to be capable of dancing on the streets with an attitude that says "I am standing up straight, I am black, I am glowing, I am shining and you will look at me and ask yourself how you really see me because I am not all those stereotypes you believe I am." Naturally, it first attracted feminists, women who were already aware of those issues. The women who later joined us and weren't aware of those issues are now more conscious and politicized.

What are the musical and aesthetic inspirations behind the project?

I really wanted visuals inspired by the aesthetics of the 70s and 80s because the dances present in the parade—locking and waacking—emerged at that time. For the musical aspect, I looked for songs that talked about black women and their issues: sorority, colorism, equality and resilience.

Photo by SEKA Photography

How do you see the project evolving in the future?

I want to do a world tour, I want us to dance with Beyoncé and Solange, I want to take this message of empowerment everywhere there are black women who need to exist, shine, go outside and assert their presence in the public space. Because of harassment, sexism and prejudice, it's still pretty complicated for women to simply exist. I consider myself lucky because I can see that the band does what I wanted it to do: it really empowers black women and seeing that happening gives me a lot of strength to take it further.

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Seyi Shay. Image provided by the artist.

Seyi Shay's 'Electric Package' EP Is All About Love & Positive Vibes

We talk to Seyi Shay about her new EP, an intimate mix of different afrobeats blends topped off by Gqom.

Talented Nigerian singer and songwriter Seyi Shay recently dropped her brand new music project, the Electric Package EP Vol. 1.

It's her first project in three years, since the release of her debut album, Seyi or Shay, in 2015. The EP, an intimate mix of different blends of afrobeats, contains six tracks, topped off at the end by the Gqom brand of South African house music.

The project features artists from different corners of Africa, including rising singer King Promise from Ghana, Afropop songstress Vanessa Mdee from Tanzania, and rapper and producer Anatii from South Africa, giving it a pan-African outlook.

However, she didn't forget her fellow Nigerian acts, as seasoned highlife singer Flavour, young Afropop superstar Kiss Daniel, and fresh act Slimcase are also on the bill.

Several DJs were also involved in the project, hosting different songs in mixtape fashion; DJ Spinall, DJ Consequence, DJ Neptune, and DJ Cuppy from Nigeria, Vision DJ from Ghana, and DJ Tira from South Africa. The songs were produced by Killertunes, DJ Coublon, Krizz Beat, Lush Beat, Anatii, and Chopstix.

We caught up with the singer to discuss Electric Package. Read our conversation below.

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Photo courtesy of Nike.

OkayAfrica & Nike Present: Naija Worldwide

We're linking up with Nike to celebrate Nike's fire Nigeria kits and to send Team Nigeria off to the 2018 World Cup with style.

Partner content from Nike

We've teamed up with Nike to bring the Naija spirit to the world with "Naija Worldwide," an epic bash to celebrate Nike's triumphant Nigeria kits as we send Team Nigeria off to the 2018 World Cup with style!

Join us on Saturday, June 2, from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at The Well in Brooklyn as we mark the occasion with music by DJ Tunez, DJ Moma and DJ Moniki. The vibe also includes art by Laolu Senbanjo, Nigerian cuisine, and a surprise performance by one of Afrobeats' finest.

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