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These Young Liberians Are Building an Arthouse Movie Theater

The students behind "Image of Liberia" Film Festival are building a new movie house in Monrovia.

Pandora Hodge, project coordinator of Kriterion, Monrovia Courtesy of Kriterion, Monrovia

Before Liberia's two civil wars its capital city, Monrovia, had a lot more entertainment options for young people. Teenagers learned traditional dance at cultural centers. Reading clubs flourished throughout the city. Families took their kids to two movie theaters on the weekend.

All that disappeared and much of it has yet to return in these peaceful times. A few years ago, a group of young Liberians began showing movies across the country to offer people a cultural leisure activity. Since its beginning in 2012, Kriterion Monrovia has done 40 screenings in more than 20 communities throughout Liberia. These screenings were so successful that the founders organized a film festival in 2014, "Image of Liberia."

Now the founders want to make it official and build an independent arthouse cinema in Monrovia. Over the next month, Kriterion Monrovia is running a crowdfunding campaign to raise 50,000 Euros for a cinema. So far the group has raised almost 12,000 Euros.

The Kriterion, Monrovia team Courtesy of Kriterion, Monrovia

"We want to bring the culture back to Monrovia," says Pandora Hodge, the project coordinator of Kriterion Monrovia. "We want to give a new vibe to these people. For us to start this and have people feel like they can go and relax in a cinema— that's showing development too you know," says Hodge.

A team that includes a program officer, finance officer, supervisor, secretary and more than 70 volunteers are working to raise the funds for the cinema.

The cinema will not only show movies that are financially accessible to local Liberians, but it will also be a place for young Liberians gain work experience and plan the future of Liberia. Kriterion Monrovia will be a cultural center for music, exhibitions and social gatherings.

Kriterion Monrovia is based on a cultural project that originated in Amsterdam after the second World War—Kriterion Amsterdam. Students involved in the anti-Nazi movement in Amsterdam started the cinema to fill the void of culture that the war left. Back then it was run as a cultural foundation that helped university students with living costs. In that vein, Kriterion Monrovia is supported by Young Urban Achievers, a Dutch foundation that helps young people around the world to set up their own business in the cultural sector.



The team on the road Courtesy of Kriterion, Monrovia

Like Kriterion Amsterdam, Kriterion Monrovia cinema will be run entirely by students like Hodge. Liberia's economy is improving but it's difficult for young students to study and earn money at the same. Kriterion Monrovia will provide the opportunity to young Liberians to work on an entrepreneurial project so that they can take those skills and create their own businesses in Liberia.

"The important thing about having space is being able to help young people in Liberia," Hodge says . " We will help them to become good entrepreneurs so they can rebuild Liberia and contribute to society."

Watching quality movies in a comfortable setting is almost impossible for locals in Monrovia. The only movie theatre in the city is in an upscale shopping mall marketed to expats. Another cinema that only showed Bollywood movies recently closed. Men sell DVDs on street corners throughout the city but the visual quality of these movies is often shoddy. They are often in other languages like Russian or Chinese. Tiny movie booths dot the city showing these poor quality films.

"It's so hot," says Hodge when talking about the movie shacks. "Everybody is sweating. You can barely understand or see anything. People are falling asleep on you."

Besides lack of a quality cinema, Monrovia also lacks options for leisure activities for young people. For most, a night out on the town includes stopping at a bar for a drink or a restaurant for a cheap meal.

The first film Kriterion Monrovia showed to a large group was "Life of Pi" at the University of Liberia in 2011. For most attendees, it was their first time seeing a movie with good sound. Hodge took the cinema on the road traveling to villages across Liberia to show movies. The movie gatherings became community events attracting the very young up to the very old. When Ebola hit Liberia, Kriterion had to stop its movie showings but the group had developed such good relationships with villages, that it traveled the country implementing an Ebola awareness campaign.

Kriterion Monrovia has the support of engineers and architects from Engineers Without Borders, who will design the cinema of their dreams for free. Young Urban Achievers and SPARK will support them with their business model and organizational structure.

A poster for their Kriterion, Monrovia's crowdfunding campaign.

Listen to Some Fela Kuti Rarities In These New Videos

Fela's manager Rikki Stein and Stephen Budd share their Fela rarities including Colombian cumbia covers, first pressings and much more.

On the week of Fela Kuti's birthday it's only apt that we get some new insight into some of the rarer records from the king of afobeat.

The official Fela Kuti Youtube channel is now sharing three new videos that feature Fela's longtime manager, Rikki Stein, visiting the home of music industry executive Stephen Budd (OneFest Festival/Africa Express/NH7 Weekender), who happens to be an über Fela fan.

"There are a lot of people who are fans of Fela, nobody that I know reaches the heights that this man reaches in terms of seeking out rarities," mentions Rikki Stein.

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Ethiopia's New Cabinet is Made Up of 50 Percent Women

The move is the latest sweeping change made under "reformist" Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's leadership.

In an unprecedented move towards gender inclusion within the Ethiopian government, the country's lawmakers have announced a new cabinet made up by 50 percent women.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed—who has been described as a reformist, due to landmark changes that have occurred under his leadership—made the announcement on Tuesday. "Our women ministers will disprove the old adage that women can't lead," he said in Parliament. "This decision is the first in the history of Ethiopia and probably in Africa."

During the speech he also stated that "women are less corrupt than men," reports BBC Africa.

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Op-Ed: Kanye West In Africa Is Music Marketing At Its Worst

Scream all you want. Feel the euphoria of Kanye moving to our drums, but don't forget he's here for marketing.

One of the most interesting parts of the music industry is the marketing of an album. In developed music markets, accomplished professionals and creatives sit in a room and decide how best they want to sell the music. It's the norm. Many people deliberate and develop a roll-out plan that is improved until it's perfect for execution.

When JAY-Z rented out billboards for 4:44, with everyone wondering what it meant around the world, that is marketing. Mr Eazi drawing a towering mural of himself and Giggs in London, was another marketing tactic to push his single "London Town." Falz created an entire movement filled with conventionally attractive men, and named it the 'Sweet Boys Association,' because he had a single that needed to be sold to fans. Perhaps, what takes the cake in the world of African music marketing is one crazy move by a little known Nigerian artist named Skibii. You see, this guy died and rose again from the dead, just like sweet biblical adult Jesus. He had a single somewhere that needed the attention. Death and resurrection was his thing.

Kanye West is in Africa for marketing. The US rap superstar is holed up at the Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, surrounded by his friends, colleagues and family. He is here because he has an album to release named Yandhi, and somehow, he found his way to the Motherland, where's he's built two outdoor domes, as his working studio. He isn't working from inside a house like a mere mortal. He's in the wild, connecting to Mother Nature and nourishing foliage. This is Africa, Kanye West is an African-American. His ancestors came from this part of the world. He has a claim to this soil.

Kanye West was supposed to drop his ninth studio album on Saturday, September 29. After two days of waiting, three Saturday Night Live performances, one tweet from Kim Kardashian-West and an appearance on TMZ Live, Yandhi was pushed back to Black Friday, November 23. West admitted that he "didn't finish" the album in time, and a member of his management staff suggested pushing the release back.

"I started incorporating sounds that you never heard before and pushing and having concepts that people don't talk about," West said. "We have concepts talking about body-shaming and women being looked down upon for how many people that they slept with. It's just a full Ye album and those five albums I dropped earlier were like superhero rehabilitation and now the alien Ye is fully back in mode… We're going to Africa in two weeks to record. I felt this energy when I was in Chicago. I felt the roots. We have to go to what is known as Africa."

In Africa, Kanye West hasn't laid low. Photos from his arrival hit the internet, and somehow, he was filmed listening, dancing and vibing to African music. Those songs include Mystro's "Immediately," and Burna Boy's "Ye." The videos have gone viral, Africans are wowed by Kanye's interaction with their music, reactions and takes, Africa is moved by Kanye West interacting with our music. Somehow, I used to think we are over this type of event. The event where an an American superstar, who has a huge fan base in Africa, dances to our music, and we lose it. But I was wrong. This content format still has power.

Scream all you want. Feel the euphoria of Kanye moving to our drums, but don't forget he's here for marketing. His album is about to drop, and he's publicly alerted the world that he needs to be in Africa and its strong cultural influence to complete the project. Everyone is watching, the conversation has global traction, and Africans are supporting him. Since Kanye got heat for his infamous "Slavery was a choice," comment, I knew Africa will become a part of that story. The past week has seen him visit President Donald Trump at the white house, and further moved away from the love of his African-American base in the US. Black people are not behind Kanye West right now. The media is tearing him to shreds. Celebrities are in a social media race to dissociate themselves from him. Many fans aren't proud of their icon. But he is in the Motherland, dancing to its native music, and we can all cheer.

"I'm in Africa recording," he says in a 9 minute video on Twitter about mind control free thinking and his greatness. "We just took them to the future with the dome. The music is the best on the planet. I am the best living recording artist. We, rather, because the spirits flow through me. The spirit of Fela, the spirit of Marley, the spirit of Pac flows through me. We know who the best. We know."

On the surface, Africa appears to be a gimmick. A play by a great artist to expand the story of his album for marketing talking points. Yandhi is already anticipated, and generations after us will study his art and point to this project as the one where Africa played a direct role. This black continent is a marketing tool for Kanye. Son of Fela Kuti, Seun Kuti, has already disassociated Fela Kuti's spirit from Kanye's claims. "On behalf of the Kuti family, I want to state that the spirit of Olufela Anikulapo Kuti isn't anywhere near Kanye West," Seun announced on Instagram.

Perhaps marketing isn't Kanye's only reason for his African trip. Maybe, the world is too harsh on Kanye West and his new level of introspective vibrations. Maybe we aren't seeing the bigger picture. Oh gosh! We might all be victims of this grand mind control programme that West talks about! What if Kanye West is on these shores for some actual influence? Africa has a rich spectrum of sounds, laden with enough culture, soul and character to influence any type of music. From Cairo down to Lagos, there's enough music to add colour.

A clear way for justification of his African trip is perhaps for Kanye West to give back. He is connecting to the 'roots' after all. He is soaking in the energy for inspiration. Perhaps he might actually get to work with an African artist while on the continent. Already, Perhaps Africa's contributions to the project will be anchored by an African. Already, in his creative dome, Ugandan producer extraordinaire, Benon Mugumbya, has been pictured. If he gets some of that Yhandi shine, it wouldn't hurt.

Kanye officially has to be the first hip-hop star to make a trip to the continent for direct inspiration since Africa began to hug the spotlight as an interesting market for global music players. Recent years have witnessed the penetration of African music into global pop spaces. Africa has become the new cool. And as her sonic influence grows, more artists would continue to find new ways to interact. Kanye is making a splash with this. Perhaps, he will be the inspiration for more exchange between Africa and Europe.

Perhaps, his music isn't his true reason for this trip. Maybe Ye just wants to get away from the madness from the USA, and go find Wakanda. Maybe he will discover Ye-Kanda. Either way, only the final version of Yhandi will contain the answers that we seek, and Kanye West's true intention. For now, he is already winning. All those marketing points are already helping the project.

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