Arts + Culture

This Pre-Colonial African Warrior Queen is Your Next Favorite Superhero

Malika: Warrior Queen is the newest addition to Nigerian animator Roye Okupe’s African superhero universe.

As Marvel’s cinematic universe continues to unfold–and bring in its first African character–an entirely new universe of African superheroes and supervillains is just jumping off.


Roye Okupe, the Nigerian-born, Maryland-based animator, writer and founder of YouNeek Studios, is on a mission to put Africa on the map when it comes to telling superhero stories. In doing so, he's set an entire universe of African heroes in motion.

"We have so many people with a wealth of creative and appealing stories on the continent, but they never really get the proper commercial exposure," Okupe told Okayafrica in a 2015 interview. "I believe if done properly–great script, good production values etcetera–Nigerians, Africans and people all over the world will be receptive."

After making his graphic novel debut with E.X.O.: The Legend of Wale Williams–a superhero story set in a futuristic Nigeria–Okupe has his sights set on pre-colonial Africa through the lens of one particularly kick-ass warrior queen.

The “YouNeek Youniverse” officially expanded this week with the introduction of Malika, a fifteenth century West African queen and military commander. The forthcoming two-part historical fantasy series will tell of Malika's exploits to keep the peace in her ever-expanding empire (in present-day Nigeria). "You basically get to see how an African queen lived her life back then," Okupe says of the book, which though fantasy, will draw largely from history.

Malika: Warrior Queen. Courtesy of YouNeek Studios.

I asked the graphic novelist to expand on his interest in pushing a female African protagonist. “When it comes to action, superhero or epic stories like this, a lot of people shy away from female leads. How many superhero movies were released before we got the Wonder Woman movie announcement?” he responded.

With the popularity of Jessica Jones on Netflix and Supergirl on TV, Okupe says people are finally starting to warm up to the idea, though he adds that female leads are still few and far between in comparison to male leads. “And let's not even talk about black [and] African female leads, which seem pretty non existent.”

The depiction of a strong and powerful queen, Okupe mentioned, is something everyone, especially young girls, should be seeing more of.

Malika's story will set the tone for all the other stories in his universe, of which the 20-something Nigerian superhero E.X.O. (aka Wale Williams) is the flagship character. Malika, meanwhile, will serve as a foundation upon which everything else will be built. “In a way, she is connected to everything,” he says.

Part one of Malika: Warrior Queen is a 150-page book due out in spring 2017. To coincide with the launch of a crowdfunding campaign for the series, Okupe has shared the book's first chapter, which you can view for free over here. For more, check out the Malika Kickstarter campaign.

Malika: Warrior Queen. Courtesy of YouNeek Studios.

Malika: Warrior Queen. Courtesy of YouNeek Studios.

Malika: Warrior Queen. Courtesy of YouNeek Studios.

Malika: Warrior Queen. Courtesy of YouNeek Studios.

Music

6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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