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We speak to the inimitable Angélique Kidjo who shares some of her refreshing thoughts on Africa Day.

Angélique Kidjo on Africa Day: 'We demand not to be at the mercy of our circumstances anymore.'

We speak to the inimitable Angélique Kidjo who shares some of her refreshing thoughts on Africa Day.

Today is Africa Day and while primarily a commemoration of the formation of the African Union (AU) back in 1963, it has also become an opportunity to unapologetically celebrate Africa while providing a moment for reflection on how far we've come as a continent and as a people.

With this year's theme focused on "Silencing the Guns in the context of the COVID19", there has never been a more important time for deep reflection on our collective present and future as Africans.

And who better to share in that reflection than the legendary and inimitable Beninese musician Angélique Kidjo? A fierce African and artist who has paved the way for many of her contemporaries including Burna Boy, Davido, Thandiswa Mazwai, and several others, the four-time Grammy award winner emphasises the urgent need for unity among Africans. 'It's about time that people start realising that Africa is a continent. I've been saying this my entire career,' she says passionately.

OkayAfrica spoke briefly to Kidjo who shared some of her refreshing thoughts on this year's Africa Day.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


What are some of your thoughts on Africa Day and some of the celebrations going on?

I don't know what took us so long for Africa Day to be celebrated in 2020. But I say better later than never. I hope we'll do this every year to incorporate new coming artists and give them a platform. We Africans have the knowledge and the capacity of doing and [bringing] the attention of the world to the vibrancy and creativity that come from Africa. Music is easy to do but we should be able to do it with a free form of art that is there. We could do music [Africa Day], a fashion one, a literature one, contemporary art. We have a massive amount of art that is not known even in Africa, let alone the rest of the world. And I think this is very crucial for us to do for the young generation to be proud of their continent and to be able to find meaning to be alive.

READ: Angélique Kidjo on Success

What do you think are some points for reflection for Africans across the continent on this particular day?

What we should be thinking about right now is how, after this pandemic, we reset the button about Africa and pan-Africanism.

"We've seen throughout the centuries that being divided has never benefitted us. It benefits people outside."

The important thing we should realise in order for us to stand on both our feet and to to be counted, we have to be united. There's no other way we can do it. And also, for civil society to be a force that politicians have to reckon with, we have to be heard. In order to develop our countries, we need infrastructure for us to be able artists who can perform every where in Africa. Anyone would be welcome but we would walk our own road. No one should impose to us how we should do it. That needs advocacy from the social entrepreneur, lawmakers and everybody to make sure that we are protected in every way, shape or form: artistically and economically. We demand not to be at the mercy of our circumstances anymore.

When you think of this particular day, what artists or songs come to mind in the way of celebrating Africa?

My favourite one is always the traditional music that brings us to realize how we have impacted the music of the world. That's where everything started. We tend to think that we have to copy music that comes from another part of the world. No, we are centre of their music. Their music exists because of Africa. And so I celebrate the music of my continent. I celebrate its vibrancy, tolerance towards other cultures. We never we never discriminate and welcome every music and we use every music. Music should be that. It has no nationality, no boundaries. I'm proud of being African because of what we brought to the culture of before. And that's the thing, we have to educate the younger generation for them to realise that if they like music from from Jay-Z, from anybody, Africa is at the centre of it. We have nothing to envy and have something to bring to the table.

"Celia" wins Best World Music Album | 2020 GRAMMYS www.youtube.com

For the longest time, the narrative has been about Africa and African artists going to the world but everyone is starting to realise that Africa has always been at the centre. What do you make of that?

"Well, it's about time."

It's about time that people start realising that Africa is a continent. I've been saying this my entire career. I've had some frustrating interviews throughout my career where I've always had to justify that where I come from is not a pigeonhole but a continent with a lot of things that you have been consuming. The sugar you put in your coffee, without Africans, you don't have it. I mean, the wealth you are enjoying today, we are part of it. I think that we have to take pride in the fact that despite all the obstacles and all the hurdles on our way, we managed to exist.

We have a new genre of music that is appealing to everybody. How did Latin Americans' music make it to the whole world? Everybody started playing it in Latin America and abroad. The Afrobeat that is out there, we all have to start incorporating it so that it becomes our signature. It doesn't mean that that Afrobeat is putting aside our traditional music. Being creative and using one type of music that is really recognisable by everybody in the world can help us map Africa, musically, to the point that everything else that comes in, it flows. Without Afrobeat, there's no funk or reggae, everything.

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Watch Burna Boy Close Out the Billboard Music Awards

The Nigerian star played a medley of "Last Last" and "Kilometre."

The 2022 Billboard Music Awards returned last night, Sunday May 15, broadcasting live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

In the big slot of the night, closing out the award ceremonies, was none-other-than the African Giant himself Burna Boy.

The Nigerian superstar, who's coming off a headline-grabbing sold out show at Madison Square Garden, jumped onstage to perform a medley of his brand new single "Last Last" (which just dropped last Friday) and the high-energy "Kilometre" backed by a full band and a drum line.

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Film poster courtesy of EGM NY Management

You Can Now Watch the Documentary 'Bigger Than Africa' on Netflix

Award-winning Nigerian Director Toyin Ibrahim Adekeye's first feature film is out this Friday, the 13th exclusively on the global streaming platform.

Netflix's investment in original African stories has seen a hoard of brilliant minds and their creations gain access to global audiences. The latest creative to share their narrative on the global streaming platform is award-winning Nigerian director Toyin Ibrahim Adekeye and his first feature film 'Bigger Than Africa'. The film, produced by Los Angeles-based Motherland Productions is available on the streaming platform this Friday, May 13th.


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Spotlight: Mozambican Lizette Chirrime On Stumbling Into Artistry

Chirrime's latest exhibition, Rituals for Soul Search embodies the artist's desire to bring audience members closer to nature, the Universe, and their souls.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Mozambican textile artist, Lizette Chirrime. The self-taught multidisciplinary artist channels her trauma and longing to be whole through her artwork. "These abstract forms evoke the human body and my identity-responsive practice where I refashion my self-image and transcend a painful upbringing that left me shattered and broken. I literally ‘re-stitched’ myself together. These liberated ‘souls’ are depicted ‘dancing’ on the canvas, bringing to mind, well-dressed African women celebrating", Chirrime says in her own words. The artist uses her creations to communicate the beauty in simplicity, and the divinity of being African.

We spoke with the Chirrime about accidentally finding her medium of choice, using color to express emotions, and focusing your energy on being awesome.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.


Describe your background as an artist and the journey you've taken to get it to where it is today.

When I started, I had no idea that I was an artist. I loved to create beautiful environments wherever I went, and when people noticed, they began giving me that title. I was using techniques that deviated from what was common at the time, particularly working with recycled materials, which I think situated me as a creative within my communities.

What are the central themes in your work?

Womanhood, Mother Earth, love, awesomeness, and spirituality.

How did you decide on using textiles to express your art?

It all started when I began working with hessian fabric, mainly, deciding to change the way it was treated in many houses. I gave it more life and a better look, and when the healing was done, I moved on to colorful fabrics in search of joy and life.

In the early 2000s, I began working with scrap materials, having been compelled to create a doll from textiles one evening. I fell in love with the medium and haven’t stopped creating since, though the way in which I utilize textiles continues to evolve.

Can you talk about your use of colors and symbolism in your art?

I use the colors I do — shades of red, blue, and green — because they remind me of beauty. They’re the vehicles I use to both express my feelings and describe certain narratives behind my expression. Symbolically, I look to nature for inspiration and translate the environment around me into symbols within my pieces. Looking to nature helps to find one’s place within the universe, and I want to help people see the value in slowness and simplicity. I hope that my work helps people appreciate how miraculous our planet is and inspires them to heal the earth from destruction.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

I relocated to Mozambique during the pandemic, after living in South Africa for many years, and have felt an incredible shift in my capacity to be present. Being removed from a city and with a slower pace of life, I’ve been able to reconnect with myself and have a direct conversation with my spirit and soul, which directly feeds into my work and the current ideas which I’m exploring.

Luckily, I didn’t feel very affected by the pandemic because I’ve had a few sponsors and continued to sell my artwork through that time. Though I didn’t sell as much as I did prior, I still managed to pay my bills, eat and create — I’m thankful to have met my needs as an artist.

Image courtesy of the artist

African Single Mother, 2021

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Photo Credit: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Woolmark International Pty Ltd

Mmuso Maxwell Designers on Winning the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation

We met up with Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko, the duo behind South African brand Mmuso Maxwell. We spoke about their upbringing, winning the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, and more.

After a two year internship with veteran South African designer David Tlale, Mmuso Maxwell was born. The brand, founded by the young duo Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko, has since established a name for themselves in the African fashion industry. With successful works with A-list artists like Beyoncé — on her Black is King album — they continue to set the bar on what it means to be a successful emerging designer brand.

The duo first started to make noise in 2017, when they won the South Africa’s Fashion Week’s Sunglass Hut New Talent Search. Two years later, they came second at the 30 Under 30: The New Stars Arise Fashion Show competition held in Lagos, Nigeria. The duo walked home with $50,000, helping them establish their presence on a global landscape.

Last month, Potsane and Boko won the biggest award of their career: beating out 200 designers throughout the world, they took home the The Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, after presenting a Merino wool collection for their Autumn/Winter 2022 line.

After their big win, OkayAfrica was able to meet up with the duo and chat about their upbringing, winning the Lagerfeld Award, and more.

How would you describe your Mmuso Maxwell brand?

Maxwell Boko: I think that the perfect description of our brand is that it is inspired by African heritage, but, the most important part is that it is mixed with contemporary culture. It’s basically our point of view of our heritage. We’re modern young people who are living with technology and science, and are influenced by those things. So even if it’s still our African heritage, it’s still our own interpretation.

Mmuso Potsane: Our brand is a modern interpretation of who an African woman is. Our brand sees itself as a global brand, and we do not want to limit it to look like an ordinary African brand, but it is positioned to be like a global brand, while maintaining our African roots, interpretations and experiences.

How did the collaboration between the both of you start?

Potsane: We met during the internship from 2015-2017. At the end of the internship, we decided to bring our pieces together to make one collection because we had similar aesthetics. From there, we just decided to continue onwards as a brand.

That’s interesting. You know, the fashion industry can most times be more competition than collaboration. How are you navigating the times you might have contrasting ideas?

Boko: I think that the reason why we joined forces together is because we had similar tastes in general. What has worked for us over the five years is that we’re not dramatic about our approach to things. It’s not “this or nothing." We’re always open to each other's critiques. We also do not question our individual strengths at all.

Potsane: Yeah, we’ve sort of found a way to agree to disagree. We have somehow found a way to come together to have one vision and objection. So for us, if any of us feels strongly about something, we just give it a chance to see how it plays out. If it doesn’t, we find a way to navigate it.

Mmuso Maxwell designers with Saul Nash

Saul Nash, winner of the International Woolmark Prize, and Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko of Mmuso Maxwell, winners of the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, celebrate with models wearing their designs.

Photo Credit: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Woolmark International Pty Ltd

How about winning the Woolmark Karl Lagerfeld Innovation Award? How did that happen?

Boko: I mean, we applied, even though I said to Mmuso that Woolmark is something that’ll happen to us, maybe two, three years down the line, and that’s because it’s generally for established designers. I always figured that it’ll happen at a later date for us. So when they reached us to inform us that we were finalists, I thought, “that’s crazy.”

When I saw the other finalists, I thought that there was no chance to win; But as we progressed in the program, I saw why it was the right time for us. It helped us as a brand in terms of making our products. The eight months were very challenging, but the thing that I enjoyed the most was working with local artisans. I think that it’s even one of the reasons we won.

And just on the side, I think it’s very hard for us to see from inside how much of a big deal winning the award is. It’s always our loyal people who help us see and understand it.

How has winning this prize influenced your brand? I mean, how important do you think platforms like this are?

Potsane: I think it’s important because it allows you access to spaces in the industry that are very out of reach for a lot of African brands. It influences and helps us to think more/differently, and just on that level, play by the rules. You’re no longer thinking locally, but internationally. It’s made us more serious about our business and how to run it. People take your work more seriously, so that makes you take it more seriously too.

In terms of funding, it’s something that’s been a struggle. I mean, as a designer, you have to showcase your work and that requires a lot of money for stuff like shows, showrooms, and so on. With the help that we’re getting from the people like Birimian — some sort of investment group for African brands — it helps you ease the stress this induces.

And what are some of the challenges you’ve faced during this? Are there ways you’re now navigating it?

Boko: When we started our brand, there was no initial capital for us to start our brand. But we got a little support, and that made our next challenge be sustaining our coming collections; but recently, our major challenge has been fabric sourcing and production. There are no facilities to produce the quality we aspire to.

Potsane: To navigate these challenges, we really just go with it one step at a time, and also speak with those who can assist with things like this, such as Birimian. In terms of production, we have to come to a compromise to ensure getting the quality we want.

You're a sustainable brand. What are some of the practices you’re doing that makes it sustainable?

Potsane: We utilize local crafts and local artisans. It’s something we’ve always been passionate about since we started our brand. We use homegrown yarns for production, and working with artisans makes us follow the route of slow fashion.

Boko: We’ve always had an affinity for natural fibers since we started. As an African creative, you’re inherently sustainable because we’re not prone to waste. It’s not something we can afford. When we buy fabrics, we buy exactly what we need, and all the things we’ve done so far have been in pre-orders. We do not produce with hopes that someone will buy what we’ve made. All pieces go to our clients.

Are there creatives that inspire the work that you do?

Potsane: The people that inspire our brand, we already currently work with. So people like Tatenda Chidora, a photographer. We also love Tony Gum. She’s an amazing artist. Same as Chloe Andrea and Daniel Obasi. We totally love these people, and are highly inspired by them.

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