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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 Giles Clarke/UNOCHA via Getty Images

Cameroon Holds Vigil to Remember Children Killed in School Attack

Residents in Kumba paid their respects to the seven lives lost, and those injured during the attack over the weekend.

In the latest tragedy to come from Cameroon's historically violent clash between Anglo and Francophone citizens, seven children were murdered after attackers stormed a school with guns and machetes over the weekend.

In what has been deemed as the "darkest and saddest day," by Bishop Agapitus Nfon of Kumba, armed attackers stormed the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, targeting students aged 9 to 12. The tragic event saw dozens of children injured, some critically.

The attack has shocked the nation, with both local and international agencies condemning the horrible offense. On Monday, Cameroonian President Paul Biya denounced the "horrific murder" of the school children, and alluded to the "appropriate measures" being taken in order to bring justice to the families of the victims. Prime Minister Dion Ngute Joseph shared his condolences via a tweet saying, "I bow before the memory of these innocent kids."

The Cameroonian presidency and governing body have blamed Anglophone 'separatists' for the attack, though the group claims no part in the attack.

Human rights groups, however, have blamed both opposing parties, as the conflict has led to the death of over 3,000 deaths and resulted in more than 700,000 Cameroonians fleeing their homes and the country.

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Interview: Meet Velemseni, Eswatini’s Queen of Soul

Soul artist Velemseni's music reflects Eswatini culture and aesthetics. "The Kingdom of Eswatini is a magical and mysterious place, and my music aims to interpret and document that mystique, drawing from genres like Swazi gospel, soul, African soul, cinematic and traditional music," says the artist.