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An African Minute: African Lookbook Shop


Aaron Kohn and Phil Sandick developed The African Lookbook out of a desire to not only provide contemporary African threads online for purchase, but to also build a space for the important narratives behind those creations. Part documentation of African artistry, part online shopping gem, The African Lookbook is garnering attention from folks interested in unique products with a story. OKA contributor Kate Bomz spends "An African Minute" with the shop's co-creator, Aaron Kohn, about his team's new endeavor. 

1. The African Lookbook shop isn't just another online shopping portal for African goods, it has an intellectual twist to it. What compelled you to add a space for oral histories, why is this important to you two?

Phil has an MA in Oral History, and I always obsess over how African artists are represented, so African Lookbook actually started off as a space for oral histories of African creatives. Then we realized people would want to get their hands on the stuff talked about in the interviews, and that we were in a position to help bring those products to market.

In October, we’re co-presenting an academic paper at the American Popular Culture Association annual meeting that problematizes this particular project: both the challenges of doing oral histories with African creatives and the challenges of curating an online shop of cool African stuff. We’re trying to take ourselves seriously...but not too seriously.

2. How did you two link up?

Phil headed to Bostwana to work at a secondary/high school (Maru-a-Pula) in Botswana after he graduated from college. In 2008, I headed there as an exchange student. Phil had a bunch of South African art books and magazines laying around, and a propensity for talking to strangers. We’ve been working together on stuff ever since.

3. We love how vibrant the Lookbook is, What other Africa-related creative collaborations have you done thus far?

We’ve both done various things in Africa - freelancing for NGOs, research, exhibitions - but we were constantly distracted by the artists we’d meet and read about. Virtually all of the various projects and papers we’ve done together have either been our own creative output or about the creative output of others.

4. What is the most amazing item in your shop, in your opinion?

All of the lines are different in their own awesome ways. If we had to pick one, though, it would probably be the Babatunde Pith Helmet (pictured below), which is a playful but firm appropriation of one of the main symbols of African colonialism. Even the “African” fabrics that Babatunde uses were really imported by Europeans...from Java, one of their other colonies.

5. What should we look out for in the coming weeks?

More oral histories! We’ve got almost ten that are in the transcription and editing process. Also, more products will be in stock as soon as boxes arrive from South Africa. We’re playing around with some large-scale collaboration ideas, but we need to see what our designers/artists think before we spill the beans.

Shop the African Lookbook here.

Check out our previous African Minute with photographer Martin Kharumwa here.

This YouTube Account Is Sharing South African Audiobooks For Free, And We Are Here For It

Listen to audiobooks by Steve Biko, Bessie Head, Credo Mutwa, and more.

Audio Books Masters is a YouTube channel that uploads audio versions of South African books and short stories.

Recent additions include Life by Bessie Head, Crepuscule by Can Themba, Indaba, My Children by Credo Mutwa, among others. South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, who passed away three weeks ago, also gets read. You can listen to his poem No Serenity Here. More books you can stream include I Write What I Like by Steve Biko, Africa is my Witness by Credo Mutwa, among others.

Audio Book Masters was started by two friends, Bonolo Malevu (24) and Hahangwivhawe Liphadzi (23).

Malevu is a University of Pretoria BA Drama graduate, who is currently doing his LLB. Liphadzi is an LLB graduate, who is completing his LLM this year.

"I found a hobby of narrating books to craft my art skill after reading Credo Mutwa's Indaba, My Children," says Malevu in an email to OkayAfrica. "After reading the prologue, I knew that this book was meant to be converted [to] many different formats such as stage plays, series, movies and audiobooks."

Then came the idea of creating a YouTube channel. That was when Malevu teamed up with Liphadzi.

They both bought themselves high quality recorders, and started reading, recording and uploading.

Authors from the olden days such as RRR Dhlomo and HIE Dhlomo, whose audio versions of their books are available on the channel, are older than 50 years and their copyrights have since expired.

The rest, though, Liphadzi and Malevu say they are trying to get in contact with the publishers, but it's not easy.

"We have contacted the Department of Trade Industry (DTI) regarding this issue," they say. "We have been in contact with various copyright holders and we are still in the negotiation process. However we are finding it difficult to contact certain publishers, and the consistent uploading of their books is to attract their attention."

The two friends say they started the channel to bring books closer to people who otherwise wouldn't have access, and to get people to appreciate literature, especially African authors. "We want to bring such literature to the digital age in the form of storytelling which has been a unique African form of literature," they say. "The channel also helps develop our voices as we are a voice company that offers all kinds of voice services. We also identified how South African authors lack audio books, and found that there is a gap in this market, and this could really create many job opportunities in South Africa."

The two are currently developing stories in indigenous languages for children in English medium schools. "This is drawn from the fact that in such schools, a lot of African students struggle to speak their own native languages. So we approach various schools to sell them such literature. We are freelance voice over artists who also do radio, content production, news reading and radio adverts."

We are so here for this.

Subscribe to Audio Books Masters' YouTube channel and follow them on Twitter.

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Nigerian Actor Sope Aluko On How She Landed a Coveted Role in ​'Black Panther​'

Marvel's Black Panther is already on the brink of being a blockbuster, as it already broke box office records within the first 24 hours of it's pre-sale. Beating Captain America: Civil War's record in 2016, Fandango reports results from a user survey, stating Black Panther was 2018's second most-anticipated movie after Avengers: Infinity War.

One up-and-coming actor who will star alongside Lupita Nyong'o, Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan (to name a few) is Sope Aluko. Come February 16, we'll see the Nigerian-born actor play 'Shaman' in the film. Her previous credits include recurring roles on Netflix's “Bloodline," NBC shows “Law & Order SVU" and “Parks & Recreation" and guest appearances on USA Network's “Burn Notice" and Lifetime's “Army Wives."

Her film credits include supporting roles in feature films including Identity Thief, 96 Minutes, Grass Stains, The Good Lie and more. Raised in the UK, Aluko studied acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). Aluko speaks four languages, including her native language, Yoruba, French, and Bahasa, an Indonesian language.

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Music

Femi Kuti Spreads Some Much-Needed Peace In the Video For 'One People One World'

Watch the music video for the first single off Femi Kuti's upcoming EP "One People One World."

Femi Kuti drops the music video for his single "One People One World," the title song from his forthcoming 10th studio album.

The energy boosting music video sees Femi Kuti delivering an electrifying performance in the Kuti family-owned New Afrika Shrine in Lagos.

On the track, the accomplished musician promotes an unwavering message of peace and unity—things that the world could perhaps always use more of, but especially so in today's Trump-dominated political climate. His message of positivity is illustrated with graphics that appear throughout the video, showing various country flags and symbols of love and peace.

"Racism has no place, give hatred no space," Kuti sings atop brassy instrumentals. "Let's settle the differences, it's best to live in peace. Exchange cultural experiences; that's the way it should be," he continues.

"One People One World," (the album) is a plea towards global harmony and solidarity. When you look at what's going on in Africa, Europe and America, it's important to keep the dream of unity alive," the artist told OkayAfrica in November.

"When I was a boy, I listened to funk, highlife, jazz, folk songs, classical music and my father's compositions, so you will hear those things in the music."

"One People, One World" by Femi Kuti and his band, the Positive Force, drops on February 23 via Knitting Factory, and is now available for preorder.

Femi Kuti, 'One People One World' cover.

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