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Recap: Freshlyground x Nneka x Blitz The Ambassador Light Up Harlem

Africa Now! brought Freshlyground, Nneka, Blitz the Ambassador, and Lokua Kanza to the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem last Saturday night.


Africa Now! was an inaugural two-day event that wrapped up with a main stage concert on Saturday night at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem New York. Organizers, including the World Music Institute and the Apollo Theater, chose a quartet of acts that showcased a range of styles to represent contemporary Africa.

South Africa’s Freshlyground (whose latest video for "Take Me To The Dance" we premiered ) kicked off the show to an enthusiastic crowd. They offer a sophisticated take on pop anchored by charismatic lead singer Zolani Mahola, whose flexible voice stretches from an edgy alto to a growl to sweet high notes. “Apollo, I brought you a baby!” she said, showing off her baby bump - but you wouldn’t know it from her tireless energy or dance moves.

They hit all the right notes for the crowd, who were up on their feet dancing by about the second song in. With a sound that ranges from pure pop to smooth jazz, colored from time to time by the bright melodies and harmonic guitar work of South Africa, they add a rich instrumentation that includes violin, flute and sax.

From contemporary pop to classic Congolese melodies; Lokua Kanza, a longtime favorite in his native Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo) was next up. The singer/songwriter plays guitar and the band includes a younger brother on small percussion (including talking drum) and occasionally bass plus two back-up singers - one of them his daughter. Their lush four-part harmonies fill out the sparse instrumentation, topped by his very expressive multi-octave voice, and they had the crowd mesmerized. It was his first visit to the U.S. in a decade. “You don’t see it but you can’t imagine how much I’m shaking,” he said. He has a personable stage presence that added an intimate note to the evening.

German-based Nigerian singer/songwriter/ guitarist Nneka fronts a tight rock band that leans heavily on what you’d call a polyrhythm section. She intrigued the house with a unique sound that blends shades of 1970’s arena rock, reggae and golden era West African guitar grooves with her sweet, breathy voice. Her songs are melodic and feature thoughtful lyrics and she performed a cool version of African dance to her version of Afro-rock.

Ghana-born Brooklynite Samuel Bazawule, aka Blitz the Ambassador, whose moniker is all about his mission to be a bridge between Africa and the U.S., was a fitting end to the show. An African kid who grew up listening to hip-hop, he’s been called ‘the future of African music’ (by Rolling Stone Germany). His seven-piece band includes a horn section and offers up a kinetic show with a unique blend of hip-hop, funk, Afrobeat, highlife, soukous and rock guitar licks.

He’s a storyteller, sometimes in rap and sometimes straight up and his act itself pays tribute to hip-hop and African influences, including classics like Fela and Miriam Makeba along with Ghanaian rappers Osirisa.

It was the first Africa Now! event but organizers promise to continue and said that planning for next year is already underway.

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Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images.

Ozwald Boateng's Fashion Show at the Apollo Was an Exploration of Authentic Identity

The Ghanaian-British designer presented a new collection inspired by his African roots and the Harlem Renaissance.

Ozwald Boateng, the Ghanaian-British fashion designer known for his meticulous bespoke suits, recently held a fashion show at the iconic Apollo Theater in partnership with social networking platform, Vero.

When he made the announcement of the show, the designer floated around the abbrevation "AI" which we all know as "artificial intelligence," but this time, however, it was intended to stand for "authentic identity," CNN reports.

The models casted were a diverse multigenerational array of who's who in fashion, music and in Black Hollywood including Michael K. Williams, Jidenna, Adesuwa Aighewi, Aldis Hodge, Jo-Ani Johnson and more. They donned Boateng's classic three-piece suits as well as silk ensembles with wax print-inspired ensembles, Ethiopian-inspired jewlery across hues of greens, blues, earth-tones, grey and white.

"We live in a time where Authentic Identity is becoming a crucial part of who we are and the journey we are on," Boateng says to CNN.

Take a look at a few of our favorite looks below.

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Photo still via ARRAY.

Blitz the Ambassador's 'The Burial of Kojo' Is Heading to Netflix Very Soon

This is the 22nd acquisition for Ava DuVernay's film collective ARRAY.

After a successful world premiere at the 2018 Urbanworld Film Festival, even more folks will have the opportunity to experience the whirlwind of Blitz the Ambassador's debut feature film, The Burial of Kojo, very soon, Deadline reports.

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Wizkid is the First African to Reach 8 Million Monthly Listeners on Spotify

African artists continue to smash records with their music this year.

Although Wizkid is still to release an official single for this year, he's been on a great run in terms of some dope collaborations. Beside working on the Lion King: The Gift album with Beyoncé and their subsequent epic collaboration on "Brown Skin Girl", arguably one of this year's biggest anthems, the talented Nigerian artist has also hopped onto a number of tracks alongside GoldLink, Kojo Funds and Skepta. After having been nominated for the 2019 Afrikan Muzik Magazine Awards (AFRIMMA) and performed at the inaugural Afro Nation Festival in Portugal earlier this month, it comes as no surprise that he's recently made history on Spotify as the first African artist to reach 8 million monthly listeners on the streaming platform.

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Still from NPR's Tiny Desk Concert

Watch Nigerian-American Rapper Tobe Nwigwe's Tiny Desk Concert

Joined by his wife and seven-week old daughter, the Houston-based rapper brings his Southern sounds to NPR's Tiny Desk.

Houston-raised, Nigerian-American rapper Tobe Nwigwe is the latest artist to grace NPR's TIny Desk Concert Series.

The artist performed a 5-song medley, backed by a full band and four talented backup singers. The artist was also joined at the desk by his wife Fats Nwigwe and their seven-week old daughter.

READ: Tobe Nwigwe Is the Southern Rapper Making "Purpose Popular."

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