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Niniola Is the Nigerian Queen of Afro-House

Niniola's combination of an inimitable voice and confident songwriting shine in her debut album, This Is Me.

Niniola started out as a ballerdeer, a good one too, judging by her live performance of "Itura," an original composition she sang as a contestant on the 2013 edition of Project Fame West Africa. But that was until she "met Sarz and that's when all that changed," she mentions.


Sarz is the mercurial producer who made "Come Closer" for Wizkid and Drake, and with whom Niniola has worked to establish house music in the Nigerian pop consciousness with a handful of releases that include with "Ibadi," "Soke," and "Maradona," the crown jewel in the pot of gems that is This Is Me, her debut album released in October.

Earlier in August the "Queen of Afro-House," as she's been nicknamed, won Choice Female Vocalist of the Year which was followed by a nomination, in September, for "Maradona" in the Best Artiste in African Electro at the All African Music Awards (AFRIMA).

Niniola's combination of an inimitable voice and confident songwriting were going to always serve her well, one comes to think, even if she hadn't entered for Project Fame West Africa. But she did and came third runner up, by which time her talents had won the hearts of many viewers.

Speaking from her base in Lagos after a recent promo tour to London, Niniola says writing comes naturally to her but she is not opposed to asking for assistance from other writers. "It's just that right now I don't think i have exhausted what I have upstairs, so I still want to do it myself," she says.

All 13 songs that made the final cut for This Is Me were written by her, a feat that is even more impressive considering how free from monotony they appear. The album opener "Moyo" which in Ekiti Yoruba means "to rejoice" is a worship song, defined by soft guitar pluckings. "Oyin," which simply means "honey," is even mellower and full of passionate heart-renderings to a lover, ending with unexpected additions of trap-like chants, bringing forward a soundscape that used to be a staple of radio R&B.;

Terry Apala, who features on "Bale" continues to make good on his proclamation "I dey do anything with apala music," as his voice adds rough texture to a song about being at peace with God's work in one's life.

On "Dola" the most memorable English lyric, "I do my crying in the rain," is beautifully ambiguous and could mean reassurance or dejection, but what gets to your guts is when Niniola holds a note high, one that would float away if it wasn't tethered to the tight groove on the beat made by ODH, who also made "Bale" and "Gbohun." "We have a lot we are working on at the moment so stay tuned" she says of ODH who, after Sarz, has the larger share of work on This Is Me.

"Gbohun" literally means "voice carrier," a title perfectly suited to Niniola but it's purpose is not of self-praise but of self-preservation, she explains, "what I am saying is let my enemies not prevail over me."

As for Sarz she says, "it is simply a perfect match and because all these started with him, it's easy. Sarz understands me and his level of creativity too makes it work. You guys have no idea what that guy is capable of, trust me." Except that we do and Sarz himself has made sure of this since titling a single as "Beat of Life", a beastly big body beat which took some of Wizkid's best singing and writing to tame.

"Maradona," which was made by Sarz, is one of the most elegant beats to have come from the afro-pop sphere this year, and one which Niniola recalls happened on a "blessed day." "I went to meet Sarz and I told him I wanted a mad single and 30 minutes into Sarz making the beat we could feel it was it. The second I said 'oh Maradona,' Sarz said that's your chorus."

Excited, they both continued to "vibe" before arranging and recording the song, whose title takes after the Argentine footballing maestro's dribbling skills which she likens to a cheating lover's deceitful ways.

Many artists, when asked, are quick to tell of the long list of songs they have filtered through before arriving at a final tracklist. Niniola makes it clear this is not the case: "Honestly I won't sit here and tell you we had 100 or 150 songs, but know that if I wanted to give you three dope albums, i had songs to do that. But i didn't want to pull a Chris Brown move on you guys," she says with a laugh.

This Is Me may have only 13 songs, but the aim it has set out for itself is larger than one of consolidating dominance in afro-house. Niniola's debut is tasked with establishing afro-house in Nigeria, a genre that is rooted and has flourished in South Africa.

Niniola's decision to adopt house and adapt it to Ekiti Yoruba and Nigerian-English was a clever move that has distinguished her from what is often a homogeneous lot in Nigerian pop which, like many pop markets, slavishly pursues newer, trendier soundscapes, the most recent of which is Pon Pon. This borrowing, the latest filch from Ghana, is a dominant sound in Nigerian pop coming after azonto and al kayida.

House music, however, has had a slower but continuous intake. Some of the notable house releases have been "All For Love" off Wizkid's Sounds From The Other Side; "Sugarcane" from Tiwa Savage, and "Fasta" by Kah-Lo who earlier this year received a Grammy nomination for her other "Rinse & Repeat."

"In Nigeria i can't actually mention one artiste that does house," said Niniola, also adding that "outside Nigeria I am so feeling the South Africans, and the way they have accepted my sound. You'll be sure to hear a lot of collaborations from me and my people down south."








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From Chale Wote Street Art Festival 2016. Photo by Ofoe Amegavie.

5 Ghanaian Creative Spaces Doing Afrofuturist Work You Need To Know

These Pan-African outfits are actively visualizing and creating realities for black people that are better than the ones we inhabit now—get to know them.

In her praise for Octavia's Brood (an anthology of science fiction stories from social justice movements), filmmaker dream hampton quotes these words of adrienne maree brown, a co-editor of the anthology: "All social justice work is science fiction. We are imagining a world free of injustice, a world that doesn't yet exist." A respectable appropriation of brown's statement would be: all pro-Black/African activism is afrofuturism in praxis.

In that frame of social justice activism being twined with the useful framework that afrofuturism is—envisioning and exploring viable realities for black people all over the world—here are five Pan-African outfits out of Ghana who're doing advocacy work, and variously tasking our imaginations to visualize an existence for black people other—and better—than the one we inhabit presently.

Accra [Dot] Alt

Photo courtesy of Accra [Dot] Alt.

The "Alt" in Accra [Dot] Alt stands for alternative, which should say much about this organization's orientation: an invested interest in facilitating the alternative. To that end, A[D]A creates programs which provide spacial and other forms of support for the expression of alternative thought, and also for spawning boundary-breaking art. A[D]A's most popular initiative, the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival, since its inception in 2011, has been thematically preoccupied with imagining and creating existences that are more humane and fulfilling—particularly for black people.

The African Electronics Trilogy exemplifies this. Between 2015 and 2017, the Chale Wote Festival's themes, African Electronics, Spirit Robot and Wata Mata—have altogether exhorted festival participants to "tap into a super power grid [and] create a new encounter with reality that is entirely of our choosing and construction." The theme for this year's festival, Para-Other, does not stray from this visionary mission. A[D]A partly describes Para-Other as an order "embracing of a black labyrinth and establishment of an aesthetic that captures our cessation of flight and transit into a non-contested existence."

Last time the statistics were checked, in 2016, over 30,000 people were at Chale Wote; which is a more than 6,000 percent increase from the number that attended the first edition of the festival. Talk about possibilities.

African Women's Development Fund (AWDF)

Photo courtesy of the AWDF.

This grant-making foundation, Africa's first pan-African women's fund, was co-founded in 2000 by three African women: Hilda Tadria, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi and Joana Foster, who passed in 2016.

Since setting up, the African Women's Development Fund has funded and supported close to 1,500 women's rights organizations and women-led initiatives in countries all over the continent.

In April 2017, the institution launched their ground-breaking AWDF Futures Project. The initiative is basically composed of projections on the future of the continent as seen through an African feminist lens. These projections are based on a mix of data/trends analysis and sheer imagination.

The AWDF Scenario Stories is one aspect of the project. It comprises of four short stories imagining four different kinds of futures—desirable, undesirable, wild card, transitional—for African women, in Africa. The protagonist in each of these scenarios (set in August 2030) is Mariam; a queer, intelligent and free-spirited young woman in a wheelchair.

The full narratives of Mariam navigating each of these four futures can be accessed, in both text and animated audio-visual formats, on AWDF's website, together with the Futures Africa: Trends for Women by 2030 report.

What will Africa be like in 2030? What would we see if we looked through the eyes of a woman? The AWDF Futures page holds a number of possible answers to these questions.

AfroCyberPunk Interactive

Photo courtesy of AfroCyberPunk Interactive.

Sci-fi writer and self-proclaimed afrofuturist, Jonathan Dotse, created AfroCyberPunk in 2010. Then, it was a blog whose focus was on "exploring the creative potential of African science fiction and speculative narratives."

Almost a decade after running as a blog, AfroCyberPunk morphed into AfroCyberPunk Interactive—a digital hypermedia content developer and publishing house—in 2017. Still, the preoccupation with "exploring the future of Africa" (as went the blog's tagline) remains prime. A part of what could be referred to as their mission statement reads thus: "Our roots in afrofuturism continue to inspire the recurrent themes, motifs and aesthetics of our publications. We aspire to [...] address the global imbalance in the representation of marginalised peoples and perspectives."

Founder Jonathan Dotse is himself at work on his debut novel, a cyberpunk mystery/ psychological thriller set in Accra, Ghana circa 2060 AD.

All of the above certainly do echo these words offered by Jonathan in a blog post titled Why Africa Needs Science Fiction: "As Africa marches onward into the future it is important that we as Africans begin to critically visualize the development that will take place on our own soil, and our vision must be based on our own unique reality, cut from the cloth of our own societies and tailored to our specific needs."

Drama Queens

Photo courtesy of Drama Queens.

This feminist and Pan-Africanist theatre organisation optimally embodies the idea of Sankofa: an examination of heritage to select and use, presently, the positive and helpful values, in the ultimate service of creating the future.

Drama Queens is founded on the ancient Egyptian philosophy of Ma'at—which adjures for justice, balance and harmony as ways of being. The world being as it is now—generally unjust, imbalanced and disharmonious, against black people specifically, and more specifically against marginalized black communities—renders Drama Queens' work futuristic.

To ground this, they are avowedly working towards "a just, balanced and harmonious world where highest respect is given to nature and all nature creates."

This year, for instance, is Drama Queens' year of "contributing to an end to homophobia towards the African LGBTQ+ community" through various activities such as theatre productions, facilitating queer film production workshops, social media discussions and talk events.

Nana Akosua Hanson, founder and director of Drama Queens has said in an interview that her organization aims, ultimately, "to end oppression by changing mindsets through the use of cultural tools, to revolutionalize thinking and bring forth the existence of an Africa without heteropatriarchy, and a continent free from the exploitation and destruction of racist nations." Sounds about Afrofuturist.

Squid Magazine

Photo courtesy of Squid Magazine.

Comics, games and animation are probably the most popular media through which creators indulge in futuristic thinking. Add to this the truism that critical, intellectual engagement and documentation are of lifeblood importance to the efflorescence of a culture. Put together, it adds up to the fact that Squid Magazine (simply, Squid Mag) is doing essential afrofuturist work.

Started in 2015 by Kadi Yao Tay and Kofi Asare, Squid Mag is dedicated to the "exploration, critique, promotion and archiving of African creativity manifested within comics, games, animation..." As it happens, Squid Mag is one of the very few, if not only, platforms on the continent that wholesomely covers African output in the above mentioned media.

There's a rather poetic resonance as to why this outfit is named 'Squid.' Here's the import of the name, as explained on their website:

The name is inspired by squids, sea invertebrates that release ink as a defense mechanism. We find it poetic how such a mechanism can be a metaphor for painting a people's realities and dreams fluidly in an ocean of canvases. An ocean that is threatened to be overrun with narratives that exclude us.

So now you know, if you didn't know before, where to go in search of a sea of narratives—of realities and dreams—that include us.

*

There is a great deal more than can be said for the imagination—and exercising it. It begets creation, after all. Thus, what these and other entities are doing—engendering alternative socio-political imaginaries for all peoples of African descent—is such a needful venture. But after all is said and visualized, the ultimate challenge, most probably, is to act, to create. Blitz the Ambassador puts it succinctly on his afrofuturist song, "Africa Is The Future" (long since renamed "Africa Is Now"): There ain't no future unless we build it now.

moshood lives in Accra, from where he writes across genres. He has recently taken on painting. He tweets here: @thehamzay

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Following Government Suppression, Sierra Leone's 'People's Popstar' Is Finally Allowed to Perform

Emmerson's music has influenced past elections in Sierra Leone. Here's why his performance at the National Stadium is a win for artistic freedom.

Early December 2017, a flyer was circulating on Whatsapp in Freetown announcing one of the most exciting concerts of the year. Sierra Leonean superstar Emmerson Bockarie, stage name Emmerson, was going to perform live alongside two other popular artists. The concert was to be held at the National Stadium, Freetown's foremost and largest concert venue where the likes of Timaya and Wizkid have performed in the past.

One week later, with no further explanation, the concert was cancelled.

Rumours went wild. The then ruling party, All People's Congress (APC), was seen by many as the culprit. Elections were just around the corner and Emmerson, with government-critiquing lyrics, was not to perform to an audience that could reach 36,000 people. It was a recurring story; Emmerson has not been able to perform at the National Stadium since 2012, all during the APC reign.

Now, a month after the change of government, Emmerson held his concert, called Finally, on the April 28.

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The Prince and Princess of Lesotho Were the Only Foreign Royals At Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Wedding

The Basotho and British royals have a long-standing bond.

While Prince Harry and Meghan Markle avoided inviting politicians and foreign royals to their wedding on SaturdayBarack and Michelle Obama were noticeably absent—the couple made an exception for one pair of royals: Prince Seeiso of Lesotho and his wife Princess Mabereng.

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