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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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Joseph Otisman and Cynthia Dankwa as Kojo and Esi. Photo by Ofoe Amegavie via 'The Burial of Kojo's' Kickstarter page.

'The Burial of Kojo' Is Ghana's First Golden Globe Entry

Blitz the Ambassador's debut film is being considered for the Best Foreign Language Film nomination at the 2020 Golden Globes.

Blitz Bazawuke, also known as Blitz the Ambassador's critically-acclaimed directorial debut The Burial of Kojo is officially in the running for a Golden Globe nomination, making it the first Ghanaian film ever to be considered for a nomination.

The musician, writer and director took to Twitter on Friday to share the news along with a picture of the list of contenders for the Golden Globe's "Best Foreign Language Film" award, which also includes Senegal's Atlantics (which is also in the running to become the first Senegalese film nominated for an Oscar) and Malawi's The Boy Who Harnessed Wind. Ninety-five films from 65 different countries are being considered for nomination in the category.

READ: In Conversation: The Cast & Crew of 'The Burial of Kojo' On Representation, Power & Filming in Ghana

The mystical and visually striking movie, which premiered at the Urban World Festival in NYC last year, tells the story of two brothers through the eyes of its young protagonist Esi, played by Cynthia Dankwa. The film takes viewers on a surreal journey exploring family bonds and the complexity of life and death. "Usually movies about Africa are very dystopian, more about survival mode. We never get a chance to break down our people," the director told OkayAfrica in an in-depth interview last year. "We just end up with a war, and in a war you can't show nuance in family relationships—the film is about survival. The hardest thing to do is humanize a people that has little history in cinema. Hopefully this film brings father and daughter closer, especially back home."

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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 by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for AFI)

Cynthia Erivo Earns Golden Globe Nomination for 'Harriet'

Check out the full list of 2020 nominees (and the snubs).

Award-winning actress, Cynthia Erivo has earned a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman in Harriet. She's earned a nomination for Best Original Song for 'Stand Up."

She's nominated in the "Best Performance by an Actress In a Motion Picture—Drama" alongside Charlize Theron, Scarlett Johansson, Renée Zellwegger and Saoirse Ronan.

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Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

CNN Names Ethiopian Innovator Freweini Mebrahtu This Year's 'Hero of the Year'

Freweini Mebrahtu designed a reusable sanitary pad to help keep girls in school and has fought to end the cultural stigma around menstruation.

Last night, Ethiopia's Freweini Mebrahtu was been named CNN's "Hero of the Year". The award was in recognition of her work on menstruation and keeping girls in school as well as fighting to end the cultural stigma still attached to menstruation. Mebrahtu was also awarded USD 100 000 to help in expanding her work.

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