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Image via TONL

On Behalf of My Unborn Son: Thank You African Male Artists

African men's openness towards exploring different kinds of masculinity gives me hope for the future.

First things first: I'm not pregnant. But, like many people, I contemplate the world I'll be bringing my children into whenever they so choose to arrive. I don't know who or what their father will be. Ghanaian-Swedish? Haitian-Italian? American – who knows? What I do know for certain is that any son I have will be, at least, half black.

I've long struggled with the seeming paradox of the black imagination. One the one hand, our creative conscious imagines entire lifestyles into existence. We create global trends in fashion, music, dance, language, poetry and literature. Our minds are ground zero for creating entire cultures. But when it comes to ourselves, we seem to be unable to imagine being seen as whole human beings. I feel like even in our imaginations we don't dare to imagine ourselves truly respected and truly free because that freedom might threaten others. It's a problem I have in myself, it's a problem I'm not proud of.

So when I imagine the world my son will enter, I'm hesitant about bringing a son into a world that won't make room for the multitudes he will contain—that all of us contain. I worry that he won't know that he can be all the things he needs to be and be black.


I worry that he'll be afraid to be all of the things he'll discover he is. I worry he'll feel he has to parse himself and hide his truth in order to be palatable.

For a long time, I found solace in the existence of Prince—a black male who took no effort to explain himself to the world because the world "getting him" was not his concern. His concern was his craft and being true to himself. But then we lost Prince, and with that I lost my solace. I lost someone I could point to as an example.

Then one day, on a YouTube binge, I found it again. I started to noticed a pattern. Male African artists are filling that void. They are projecting their multitudes. And I am here to applaud it.

"These modern African artists are taking their personal dimensions—mental health, depression, the psychological effects of colonialism—and projecting them boldly, calmly and beautifully. "

By this I don't mean to exclude female artists, as they are a source of an incredible amount of strength. But I feel that nuanced female figures are easier to come across and have long shown the many facets of their personhood (whether the world chooses to acknowledge that is a whole different essay). I don't feel the same trepidation when I think about my unborn daughter. Perhaps because I, too, am a black woman and I, too, had to learn what that meant, I'm not worried about lacking tools to teach her that there are many ways of becoming. For this reason, I'm putting the ladies aside. This letter is for the men.

African male artists are the vanguard for what I call a "redefinition of male elegance." A new aesthetic and culture promoting the nuances of personhood—of manhood. An embrace of a new sense of style, an acknowledgment and celebration of depth in emotion, an exercise in vulnerability and honesty without compromising strength.

There's a feeling coming from all crevices of the continent that has a sort of forceful grace. It is an ease and pride in people being so incredibly and completely themselves. These type of artists can be found elsewhere (Frank Ocean, Benjamin Clementine and Yasiin Bey come to mind) but the concentration of those coming from the continent is impressive. Acts like Petite Noir, Kwaye, Alexandre Francisco Diaphra, Imraan Christian and so many others. For them, I am incredibly thankful.

Why? These artists are framing the conversation around what the modern male looks like and demonstrating how elegance and grace are not antonyms to masculinity. Their work hints at vulnerabilities that open up a conversation instead of promoting internal struggle.

In an era when the phrase "toxic masculinity," can be casually overheard, this is not a trivial thing. Public discourse about perceived weaknesses attacks larger issues—both personally and socially. Half the species suppressing itself is not good for the species as a whole. Through good and honest art we find throughways in which we can tackle topics like mental health. Strong art and bold artists open up that doorway because they challenge monolithic ideas. By artists presenting work that reflect their own emotional range and experiences, we begin to enter ways to discuss depression, mania, anxiety and myriad mental states in a much more approachable setting.

Often, this helps people to realize that some problems aren't problems as much as diagnoses or different ways of thinking and being. These problems can be overcome, re-positioned and lived with. Art can lead to people realizing that they are not an anomaly in the world, that others share in their pain and they have a tribe. It exposes discussing mental health and seeking help or a diagnosis as an intelligent and practical step as opposed to a taboo.

Image via TONL

When that opportunity doesn't exist and people cannot see various aspects of themselves and their being reflected or embraced by society, they feel ashamed simply for being themselves. Shame is a powerful feeling and it tends to bury itself deep within us and fester—eventually morphing into another type of sickness and yet another source of shame.

If I bring it back to Prince, part of his greatness was the way he made his complexity a non-issue. People inquired about his sexuality, about his feelings on race and gender roles, sure. But he seldom answered questions about his personal life in ways that the public found satisfactory—preferring to be an enigma and let the music speak for itself.

This was effective, but it was effective for him and the ambiguity may have been necessary for the time. By contrast, these modern African artists are taking their personal dimensions—mental health, depression, the psychological effects of colonialism—and projecting them boldly, calmly and beautifully. They are reckoning with dualities and multitudes and the "unsavory" aspects of human beings publicly and poetically. That becomes contagious. It turns the public sphere into a safer place. In my own circles, I see men becoming more comfortable with themselves and who they are in ways their fathers never could.

So, to all those artists, I thank you. I thank you because graceful men are not threatened by strong women. I thank you for doing your best to embody the wholeness that tends to escape the black imagination. Thank you for leading this charge by doing and being yourselves and translating that into your many artistic mediums. Thank you for always making it look and sound and feel so damn good.

You are challenging the idea of black manhood. And, as the melanin-blessed tend to dictate society's global cool, they are challenging the idea of manhood everywhere. It gives me great joy, it gives me great pride and, on behalf of my unborn son, it gives me great relief.

So, once again, I thank you.

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Still from "Kasala!"

Meet The Nigerian New Wave Director Behind the Film 'Kasala!'

One of Naija cinema's new wave, Ema Edosio talks about what it took to film her exciting new film in the streets of Lagos.

Ema Edosio is the director of "Kasala", a comedy set in present day Lagos and centers on the lives of four young men who go on a joyride to a party in a Honda Accord one of them has taken from his boss Taju without permission. Their evening is ruined when one of them crashes Taju's Honda breaking the windscreen and denting the car's body. With just four hours before Taju returns home, all four boys hustle around Lagos to raise money for the car repair.

Taju, who is a struggling butcher, is faced with a big problem of his own: his debtor has just given him an ultimatum to pay back money he's long owed. Bitter and frustrated, Taju's retribution will be double-fold, if he returns home to find his Honda is damaged. The four friends do not need more another reason to expect the worse from Taju if they're not able to fix his Honda before gets home in the next four hours.

"Kasala" is a vivid portrayal of contemporary Lagos and a riotous combination of physical comedy, inventive turns of phrases combined with fluid camera work and committed performances from some of the young and bright African acting talents.

Written by Temi Sodipo and directed by Ema Edosio—who is also the cinematographer and editor—"Kasala" was chosen for the closing gala of the 2018 edition of Film Africa in London this November, out of a total of 39 films from 15 countries.

Edosio flew into London for the film's UK premier at the Rich Mix cinema to a largely pan-African crowd who lapped up the rollicking comedy. Ahead of her trip to the UK, Okay Africa spoke to Edosio about her debut feature, the joys and challenges of shooting on location in Lagos and the rise of Nigeria's so called "Naija New Wave" cinema.

Photo courtesy of Ema Edosio


The fast pace and energy in Kasala is constant all through the film. Was this a deliberate injection or did it come as a result of the writing?

I worked as a video journalist for the BBC and I would go into the streets of Lagos to film, and I would see everything that made Lagos what it is: the traffic, the smell, the dirt, the vibe, the energy, the people. And I wanted to make a story that is authentic and that is the reason why I decided to make Kasala this way.

All the four friends and main characters jell naturally it would seem. How did you get them to work well together?

When I conceived of the film, I knew that I didn't want to work with any "known" faces. I knew that I wanted unknown actors. So I put out an audition call and these boys worked into the room and I told them to read together. And immediately it was like magic.

Why do you think they're largely unknown to the majority of Nigerian movie watching audience?

I think one of the reasons is there's not a lot of movies written about young people. Most of the scripts are for a certain kind of male character: the superhero who goes to save the damsel in distress, and the hunk and a lot of roles are not written for these amazing actors and that's why they're largely unknown.

Tomiwa Tegbe who plays "Effiong" is a good comic actor and has been in "On The Real (Ebony Life TV)" and "Shuga (MTV)". What does Kasala bring out in Tomiwa Tegbe that these other directors and film material that do not?

The thing that made Tomiwa Tegbe and the rest stand out in Kasala is that I gave them freedom to act and I wasn't micromanaging them. They became very comfortable in order to do their best to the film.

The cast as a whole is largely new and young with Jide Kosoko easily the most experienced. Why did you cast him for the role and not yet another "unknown" face?

The reason is I couldn't afford to hire known faces to work in the film and I honestly didn't have the budget. I [also] wanted to bring in a sense of familiarity and that is why I got Jide Kosoko. Even though they're guys are unknown, and they're are fantastic "here is someone you know who is in this movie playing with these amazing actors" which is why I worked with Jide Kosoko.

The different locations in the film are those of back corners, mechanic garages, meat market, communal flats most of which have the red and brown of rust and decay gives the cinematography a visual harmony. How much attention did you give to finding the right locations?

I think I made Kasala with a vengeance. I've had the privilege to work with Ebonylife tv which was beautiful but Kasala kept pulling me in: the people I met in the streets, the things I'd done on the streets of Lagos, the visual aesthetic kept pulling and I decided to make that. I wanted to see Lagos, I wanted to see barbwires. I wanted to see gutters, I wanted to see the people. I knew that the location was a character on its own. And I wanted to be able to find the right location that would be able to represent that boys and the lives they live in Lagos. I'm forever grateful for the people there who let us film there.

Your camera adopts the often frenetic pace of the film and is rarely still for long. Why this visual approach?

I'm very influenced by Guy Ritchie, Edgar Wright, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. And I would always say to myself that "these characters in their films can be Nigerians". I think that the camera should be fluid, breathe, move with the audience showing us "oh yeah this is a wide, oh yeah this is a close up". My influence by these directors was what I put into Kasala. And this is what made the film dynamic.

Are there any interesting, unplanned events during shooting which you could share with our readers?

Shooting in Lagos is one of the hardest thing to do. You have these agberos [louts] who come to you and literally want to take your equipment. I went with a very small crew and I'm very petite and they would see me and say "who is this small girl? She doesn't have money. Leave her alone, let her shoot". I started bringing them into the film to act and it was very beautiful seeing them react to it. One of the most interesting things is the children in the estates [on location] who act in the film, the joy and the playfulness. In some ways we brought back some joy and some fun into the neighbourhood.


Still from "Kasala!"

Did you worry much about what may be lost to foreign audiences who may not be clued up the pidgin English and "Nigerianisms" used in the film?

You can't come to Lagos and make a film about the slum in English. I felt like the pidgin English was as important as the location. My mind was not about where the foreign audience would accept it or whatever. My mind was "how do I make a film that is authentic to Nigeria? How do I make a film that would show of Lagos?" It would do no justice to use English.

Who are the other key players in Nigeria's "nu wave" film and tv you would like to highlight?

When you talk about new wave key players you're talking about Abba Makama whose film "Green White Green" inspired me to make "Kasala". CJ SeriObasi, ImoEmoren, Jade Sholat Siberi, Kemi Adetiba. So many new directors are springing out nollywood. And they're new directors making amazing stuff. I'm really really excited about the future.

How did you raise the funding needed to make "Kasala"?

When I wanted to make Kasala, it was not the kind of story people would fund. I decided in order to bring this story to live, to use the skills I'd gained over the years—to produce, direct, shoot and edit. Not because I wanted to be in control, because I didn't have the budget. That is the sport of new director coming in now. We're fighting against all odds and it is now beginning to be clear that it's way beyond nollywood. Kasala has been to over 20 international festivals and counting. And there an audience for our films, there's an audience for our voices.

What are you expectations for it at the festival?

I really don't know what to expect. I just hope that they love the film. For the Nigerians in the diaspora,I hope that it brings back memories of Lagos. For black people I hope it gives them a sense of how we are back home to help them connect with us as Africans. For the foreign audience I hope that they see a Nigeria of passion, of community, of tenacity, of brotherhood of love.

"Kasala" will be released worldwide on December 7th

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Indomie: Unpacking a Nigerian Tradition

What does Nigeria's way of preparing this beloved brand of instant noodles say about the country as a whole?

Before I came to Lagos in September to begin a collaborative performance project, I imagined all the ways the place would challenge all I had read and heard about it, and all the ways it might remind me of my home, Trinidad and Tobago. Of all the kernels of similarities I've encountered so far, Indomie is perhaps the most intriguing.

Indomie, a brand of instant noodles originating in Indonesia, has become the household name for all instant ramen noodles in Nigeria.

As a child, I would make Top Ramen, but ours was far less intentionally adorned. I had never seen anyone add anything but Golden Ray. I would try to be fancy with my own and add eggs, but they never quite attained Naruto ramen standards.

Indomie was my first meal in Nigeria. I had arrived in Lagos about two hours earlier. In those two hours I had seen something of the character of the city. In the midst of the clouds of dust and engine exhaust fumes I saw a woman almost fall out the car she was getting into, I saw men sitting atop a truck, like wrinkles in the night sky fabric, I saw selling, so much selling and buying and haggling. It seemed to me that everything was happening here.

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Fela Kuti's 'Zombie' Is Coming Out On Limited Edition 8-Track

"Zombie" and "Mr. Follow Follow" are available in the nostalgic 8-track cartridge.

"Zombie," Fela Kuti's 1976 protest anthem and scathing attack on the Nigerian military, is getting an 8-track re-release.

Knitting Factory Records, Kalakuta Sunrise and Partisan Records have made 300 limited editions copies of Zombie/Mr. Follow Follow which you can pre-order now ahead of its December 7 release.

Fela Kuti's classic song uses zombies as a metaphor for soldiers mindlessly following orders. The song is thought to have triggered the Nigerian government's horrific assault on the Kalakuta Republic, in which the compound burned to the ground, Fela was brutally beaten and his mother, Nigerian feminist icon Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, was murdered.

You can pre-order Zombie/Mister Follow Follow on 8-track now and read more about each song from Mabinuori Kayode Idowu's text accompanying the release below.

Purchase Fela Kuti's Zombie/Mr Follow Follow on 8-Track

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