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Photo courtesy of MASS Design Group.

The African Design Center is Birthing a New Generation of African Architects and Designers

In this interview, Rwandan architect and designer, Christian Benimana, says that the 'African city' does not exist and suggests that the continent look to urbanizing without necessarily creating cities.

When Christian Benimana left Rwanda to study architecture in China in the early 2000s, he inadvertently bore witness to one of the world's biggest building booms. During that time, China underwent one of the most rapid urbanization in the history of the earth. But behind the glittering skyscrapers and brand new urban neighborhoods, says Benimana, in a TED Talk from last year, is a much darker story. "Behind these facades was the exploitation of huge numbers of migrant workers and the massive displacement of thousands of people that made these projects possible. As countries in Africa undergo massive rates of urbanization, it's these lessons in city building from his time in China that come to the front.

Benimana is the principal at MASS Design Group in Rwanda, a firm that has carried out architectural projects in Rwanda and broader Africa over the past 10 years. He has become the lead in implementing the African Design Center.

The African Design Center, the project-based apprenticeship established by the MASS Design Group, is committed to a more sustainable model of architecture. The ultimate goal is to begin a movement of young and inspired people who will completely upend what we have come to know as conventional architecture. By incubating talent and redesigning curriculums, the Africa Design Center is attempting to envision what development in Africa needs to start looking like outside of the Western conceptions of development being imposed on the continent. Schools are a particular focus for the center as it challenges what schools should look like and how their architecture goes hand-in-hand with the education African children receive.

We caught up with Benimana to talk more about the African Design Center's ambitious vision and his own personal views on the state of cities on the continent right now.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


How would you describe the current state of African cities?

That's a very difficult question. Personally, I don't believe in the notion of African cities. I believe there are cities in Africa, but there's no such thing as an African city. In Nairobi, Kinshasa, Kigali, Jo'burg, Cairo, they're all in Africa. They all have a very different nature in themselves, their origins and identity. I don't think that there could be one blanket that covers what an African city is at the moment. However, I can say that the general understanding I have of African cities, at least the ones that I've had a chance to visit and experience myself, is that they're still not even at that "city level".

Often times they've been promoted as sources of economic transformation and opportunities, but more often than not, they also fail to go back in a tangible way. I keep telling people that we really don't have cities. We have very dense areas, often times it's because of a high concentration of economic activities, but I wouldn't call them cities.

Photo courtesy of MASS Design Group.

Having said that, do you at least feel that there should there be a difference in the way that cities within Africa look versus those in the West?

Absolutely.

"I don't believe that the answer to urbanization is necessarily a city."

In this modern age of technology and advancement in thinking and systems, I think you can urbanize without creating cities. The notion of a city is not new in Africa. It's just that the way we interact with them, the way we deal with them, the way we manage them through time is fundamentally different from how Europeans use them. Right now, we're forcing this concept of either a European or an American city onto our communities and it's creating this deep confusion.

Do you think how most people get around is a big part of how well we can rate the city in which they live?

Definitely. I've been to cities where people can't walk around because the city is designed around this motor vehicle culture that comes from the US, but 99 percent of people in that city cannot afford cars—that's a tension right there. Then what ends up happening is that you have these "hustlers" who know how to seize an opportunity and proceed to go buy these minibuses that can only seat like 12 people. They end up seating like 30 or 40 people, that minibus never sees maintenance in like 20 years and becomes a hazard that kills people day in and day out.

People who are left to rely on that same public transportation are subjected to a condition that is so dehumanizing for such a very long time that sometimes they forget that we're dealing with the consequences of a problem that was created years before.

The next generation of African architects and designers | Christian Benimanawww.youtube.com

What are some of the challenges you've faced with the the Africa Design Center and what it aims to ultimately do?

I think the biggest challenge is a shift in mindset and providing the evidence of what the African continent will look in the next 50 years. There is this rush to, for instance, accommodate this generation that is coming, a generation that is different than the one before it. We now live in a world where it's very clear what's happening to the majority of people. The lack of opportunities that allow certain communities to rise to a certain level of living is creating some problems.

What's lacking in Africa is a public dialogue or a series of discourse that talks about where Africa sees itself in the next 50 years. What does development look like? And in my opinion, there's an opportunity to change traditional notions around what a city and urban living is or could be, what a country is and even what forms of economic opportunities we could have. We have the potential to shape all of that.

"I think if we miss that, I we're going to repeat the same mistakes Europeans and Americans made. We'll be back in the same spot where we are now."

What are some of the successes that have affirmed to you that this is the kind of work that you should continue doing?

The fact that the new generation of people don't need any convincing that something needs to be done [about development]. They already have that thinking. The only thing that we may be required to do is point out the boundaries of the realistic world we live in—but they're ready to go. To me, that was a very big validation that this needs to be done. Young people are already thinking about it, so whether we like it or not, it's going to happen. They're going to do it.

It's just a matter of us supporting them in doing it, and supporting them in a manner that does not hurt them in the process.

What significant projects are you currently working on?

Well, as the African Design Center, we don't have a class of fellows on site at the moment. The last class of fellows worked and finished a public school in the north of Rwanda, but that school is part of a larger study trying to understand what the true value of education is, and what component you have to put in place so that the intended living outcomes are actually attained. In Africa, we also have this tendency of just sending children to schools but nobody really questions the content of that education or the outcome of it. The same with the physical spaces that supports that education.

Ruhehe Primary School. Photo courtesy of MASS Design Group.

And then as MASS Design Group, one of the biggest projects we're working on is a university campus for conservation and culture. It's looking at applying the concept of "one health" in the built environment. So, the principle that human life, animals and ecology are all inextricably linked. Therefore, in all our efforts to create a physical environment, we need to think about that balance very carefully. It's an important one.

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Was Burna Boy Snubbed at the Grammys?

Love, Damini was one of the contenders for Best Global Music Album and his global-charting record “Last Last” was nominated for Best Global Music Performance, however the Nigerian singer lost both awards.

The 65th annual Grammy Awards were held last night at the Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles. As expected, the event swarmed with outstanding artists and personalities with ravishing looks. Before the event commenced, onlookers and fans tipped their favourite artists to bring home the award, especially Nigerians who were hyped to see the likes of Tems and Burna Boyrepresenting the country on a global stage.

Gone are the days when being nominated for a prestigious award like the Grammy Awards as a Nigerian artist came as a shock. Nigerian music has been on a trajectory in recent years, winning over the global audience. In 2021, Burna Boy set history as the first Nigerian to win a Grammy Award as a lead artist in the Global Music Album category (previously Best World Music Album). His latest studio album Love, Damini was again one of the contenders for the Best Global Music Album category this year and his global-charting record “Last Last” was nominated for Best Global Music Performance. However, the singer lost both awards, failing to add to his list of international plaques.

Following the announcement at the award show, when Tems emerged as a Grammy Award winner in the “Best Melodic Rap Performance” category for Future’s “Wait For U” and Burna Boy wasn’t declared winner of any of the two categories he was nominated in, was a trail of reactions on social media.

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Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Africa was Well Represented At The 2023 Grammys​

The West's biggest night in music started off with a bang, a snub, and a whole lot of shimmer.

Music's big night out brought out some of Africa's biggest and brightest to lend their glamour to the red carpet.

Here are the African musicians attending the 2023 Grammy Awards:

Tems

Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

The world belongs to Tems, baby! The Nigerian songstress becomes the first female Nigerian artist to win a Grammy award as she scooped her Best Melodic Rap Performance win alongside American rapper Future and Drake on their hit collab 'Wait For U'. Draped in a custom Viviane Westwood evening gown, the singer continues to break records as she adds the latest win to her abundant collection.

Trevor Noah 

Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images

South African comedian Trevor Noah was tasked with keeping tonight's crowd entertained and in order during the ceremony at Los Angeles's Crypto.com arena.

Rocky Dawuni

Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Ghanaian singer-songwriter Rocky Dawuni brought along his beautiful daughter Safiyah Dawuni to celebrate his nominated single "Neva Bow Down" featuring Jamaican Blvk H3ro. The two-time Grammy-nominated musician lost out on this year's award for Best Global Music Performance.

Yola 

Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

British-born Ghanaian Barbadian singer-songwriter Yola attends the award show for her work in the 2022 musical/drama hit Elvis.

Zakes Bantwini, Nomcebo Zikode, Wouter Kellerman

Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Halala! South African threesome Wouter Kellerman, Zakes Bantwini, and Nomcebo Zikodeshowed up to snag this year's Best Global Music Performance award for their hit single "Bayethe." The collaborator's win set the internet ablaze as they beat Africa's Giant, Nigerian artist Burna Boy.

Doja Cat 

Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Doja Cat is clearly having a ball with her fashion sense lately, this time, the "Woman" songstress channeled her inner femme fatale in a black leather look by Versace. The singer was nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, Record of The Year, Best Music Video, Best Rap Performance, and Best Solo Performance.

Eddy Kenzo

Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Ugandan singer Eddy Kenzo waved the flag proudly this Sunday as he attended as the country's first Grammy nominee to date. The crooner missed out on this year's Best Global Music Performance award for his track "Gimme Love" with American rapper Matt B, but we trust the Masaka-born star will be back with a vengeance.

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Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Nomcebo Zikode, Zakes Bantwini & Wouter Kellerman Win Grammy Award For Best Global Music Performance

The South African artists won for their song "Bayethe" award at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony.


South African artists Nomcebo Zikode, Zakes Bantwini, and Wouter Kellerman, and scored a win for their hit song "Bayethe" at this year's Grammy Awards ceremony.

The three SA artists won over Nigeria’s Burna Boy, Uganda’s Eddy Kenzo, USA’s Matt B, Ghana's Rocky Dawuni, and Pakistan's Arooj Aftab in theBest Global Music Performance category at the Grammy Awards.

The South African winning trio consists of Nomcebo Zikode, who is renowned as the singer in "Jerusalema," singer, record producer and singer Zakes Bantwini, and celebrated flutist, producer and composerWouter Kellerman.

According to ZALebs, during a prestigious Grammy's brunch dedicated to African nominees a day before the award show, both Zikode and Bantwini expressed excitement about the potential win. According to the publication Zikode had stated that she felt like she had already won the award.

“I’m hoping that South African people are going to be proud of me, we’re hoping to take this one but hey, if we don’t take it, it’s OK, I feel like I’m a winner already,” Zikode said at the time.

This is the first time Zikode and Bantwini win a Grammy. Kellerman won the award in 2015 for his album Winds of Samsara.

Previously, some controversy surrounded the song "Bayethe," with OkayAfrica reporting reporting that Zikode would be taking Open Mic Records to court after the singer alleged that the South African record label had told Spotify to take down the song over an intellectual property dispute. It is unclear where the lawsuit currently lies.

Several fans of the record took to social media to gleefully congratulate the South African artists for the accolade.

Watch the music video for the Grammy-winning "Bayethe" below.

“Nomcebo & Zakes just won a GRAMMY for Bayethe 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🌎🌎🌎🌎🌎🌎🌎🌎🌎🌎🌎🌎 #Grammys2023 #Nomcebo #Zakes #Bayethe”

Watch the music video for the Grammy-Winning "Bayethe" below.

News Brief
Photo by Manny Carabel/Getty Images.

Tems Takes Home Her First Grammy Award

Nigerian star Temshas won her first Grammy Award for her work on Future's "Wait For U"—and it's only up from here for her.


Temsjust added "Grammy Award Winner" to her teeming list of accolades. During the 65th Annual Grammy Awards, the Nigerian singer, whose full name is Temilade Openiyi, earned her first Grammy for her contribution to Future's ‘Wait For U,' which also features Drake.

The musical bombshell won in the category of Best Melodic Rap Performance over artists like Latto (“Big Energy (Live)”, Jack Harlow (“First Class”), Kendrick Lamar (“Die Hard”), and DJ Khaled (“Beautiful”). With this win, the 27-year-old fan-favorite just made history as the first female Nigerian artist to win a Grammy after Sade.

Tems, who has made a big impression with her music over the past few years is also up for Album of the Year for her contribution to Beyoncé’s Renaissance. Earlier this year, the "Higher" Singer scored an Oscar nomination at the 2023 Oscars for co-writing "Lift Me Up’, one of the songs on 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

"Wait For U" sampled Tems' song "Higher," which was a record off of her 2020 debut album For Broken Ears. "Wait For U'" was released on May 3, 2022, and was released as the second single from Future's ninth studio album, I Never Liked You.

Shortly after the record was released, Future took to social media to praise Tems' vocal ability. The rest of 2022 would involve Tems getting praise and international recognition for her artistry, and a fleet of projects, including notable collaborations with mega stars like Beyoncé and Rihanna.

Ever since news of the Tems' win broke, several fans took to social media to excitedly congratulate the Lagos-born mega star.

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