Interview
Courtesy of Amanda Black.

In Conversation with Amanda Black: 'I've grown incredibly from the girl who wrote 'Amazulu''

The South African artist speaks about what she learnt from her debut album, being back in the studio and her challenge to South Africans this Women's Month.

Amanda Black burst onto the South African music scene with her debut album, Amazulu, back in 2016. The Afrosoul album, which included the hit songs "Amazulu", "Kahle" and "Sinazo", did incredibly well, and four years after its release, is still one of the highest streamed albums in South Africa. Then 23-years-old, Amanda Black sent shockwaves throughout the music industry with her seamless ability to create relatable anthems to which the whole country was singing along.

Following the release of her debut album, she went on to collaborate with a number of South African musicians including Sjava and Vusi Nova. "I do", the laid-back and dreamy track which she worked on with LaSauce, had South Africans undeniably in their feels for months on end. At the 2017 South African Music Awards (SAMAs), Amanda Black showed everyone that she'd been in top form the previous year and went on to take home the awards for "Album of the Year", "Best Newcomer of the Year," "Best Female Artist of the Year" and "Best R&B Soul/Reggae Album." She was also nominated for BET's "Viewers' Choice: Best International Act" in the same year.

Amanda Black has set her sights not only on becoming a musician of note in the country or on the continent, but the world as well. Earlier this year in February, she dropped the single "Thandwa Ndim" ahead of her upcoming album, Power, which drops at the beginning of October. Alongside the likes Shekhinah, Sho Madjozi, Lady Zamar and Simmy, Amanda Black is currently one of the most streamed women artists in South Africa and has been highlighted by Apple Music as part of their Visionary Women campaign.

We caught up with her to talk about her upcoming album, the inevitable pressure that comes with releasing a sophomore album as successful as its predecessor and what changes fans can expect in her new music.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


You've had a tremendous amount of success with your debut album Amazulu. Close to three years later, what would you say about that body of work?

I put a lot of my heart into it. I remember when I was making the project and telling some of my stories, I had to relive some of the things that I went through. I had to go back in my mind and try and remember certain feelings. I had to try and remember how I felt when I got my heart broken, but at the same time, the journey songs were also where I had to remember where I was coming from, and my hopes and dreams before that. So I was really, really proud. I'm still so proud of Amazulu. I never actually anticipated the success that came with it. I had no expectations once, because it was my first project. My only hope was that people would like it.

What are some of the current musical projects that you're working on?

I'm actually working on my sophomore album and that is going to be released later this year. It's dropping on the fourth of October. I have a date already. The title of the album is Power.

Is there any pressure to produce an album that is as successful as Amazulu?

Yeah, like a lot. I've heard a lot about the sophomore slump. I've felt a lot of pressure because of the success of Amazulu. I've had people coming to me and saying, "How are you going to top Amazulu?". I'm like, "Please guys, can I just make music?" I had to remove myself from that so I can make the music, you know? There's always that pressure of making the next big song, but I've had to remove myself from it so that I can make the music that I want to make.

Amanda Black - Amazulu (Official Video)www.youtube.com

Besides the success of your debut album, what would you say has been different with you being back in the studio and working on the second album?

I'm different, for one. Even the way I write is different. It's not like completely different, but I just feel like I've grown. Three years later, as a twenty-three-year-old, who was experiencing and writing Amazulu. I've grown from that girl. I've grown from that person. As much as people will compare, I'm also comparing myself to myself. Like yeah, "Okay, that one was great. How did I make that one?", and then the self-doubt creeps in. I listen to those choruses and think, "Can I even write anymore?" I did the whole thing of being in album mode. It puts so much mental pressure on you and the challenge is now literally going through the writing block. That's one of the challenges that I have encountered.

Would you say that your sound has stayed the same or do you sense an evolution?

I've experienced new things, new challenges and new emotions as I'm going along so the sound has evolved but has also stayed Amanda Black. Music changes, music evolves, music grows—grows really fast these days. The times are also changing, you know? What people are listening to, the sound that I'm also influenced by, are not necessarily the same sounds I was influenced by three years ago. When you hear the next project, you will hear the difference and the growth as well.

Amanda Black - Thandwa Ndimwww.youtube.com

What are some of the artists that you're looking forward to working with in the future?

There's a lot of people who I respect right now, respecting their artistry and them just being genuine people. I'm like, "Yes, I want to work with them". Definitely Anatii, I'm really loving his vibe right now. Shekhinah as well, I love her. Africa is like crazy with talent. I love what's happening in the music space, where we are all now collaborating with each other and basically just becoming one. It's incredible.

Apple Music has highlighted you as one of the most streamed women artists in South Africa. How does that acknowledgement feel?

It's incredible. Some people may know what I've been through, where I live and the challenges that I've been through in the past two years during this sort of quiet time. A lot has been happening emotionally and psychologically when I wasn't releasing anything. I felt I was being quiet and feeling a little bit forgotten. I was incredibly overwhelmed seeing Apple releasing the most streamed album in four years and I was there; Amazulu was there. For me, that was such validation. That's what I take away from it. I'm like, "Yeah, I'm here, I'm still here". So that was incredible. I'm so overwhelmed by that, being among such great women who I respect and admire like Shekhinah, for instance.

You've created a playlist for Apple Music. Tell us about that.

I have a couple of new songs and new artists that I really love to listen to and who also inspire me. They're all the friends that I grew up listening to, the songs that inspired me to do what I'm now doing. The playlist has a couple of my favorite songs from women who I really adore.

Listen to Amanda Black's playlist on Apple Music.

South African women are in crisis in this country. Personally, and as an artist, what do you want to be the focus for this Women's Month?

I feel a month is just not enough. I think what's also part of the problem and hypocritical of us to do is to simply wait for August to celebrate women while also not actually implementing changes in terms of gender-based violence and stuff that South African women are going through. We just make it so pretty, everything is pink. In my space, there are so many shows that are named after women, but the money doesn't even go to women or women initiatives.

"Women in the country need to be a priority and I feel, they sort of come after a lot of things."

That's my opinion. But I'm also actively, like I said, trying to help. A year ago, I started trying to do a pad drive where I donate pads to schools. At the moment, I'm still pretty much doing it on my own, and I'm in the process of planning to get sponsorship and doing it on a larger scale and more frequently. There is a problem and there are people who have the power to just basically fix the problem, but it's going to take a long time for us to get there.

What are you looking forward to most at this point in your music career?

Musically, I obviously want to grow. I want to become a continental songwriter and vocalist. I'm also just working on myself, basically to become a better musician. I also want to take my music globally. I want to be the voice of the voiceless because I do believe my music speaks for people that can't speak for themselves.

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Photo Credit: From Taamaden

10 Upcoming African Films to Look Forward to in 2022

From Nigerian thrillers to South African documentaries, here are 10 African films we are looking forward to in 2022.

The glitzy and glamorous Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) recently returned for its 43rd edition. The eight day festival, which took place in Durban (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), featured an embarrassment of riches on the program, from around the world. The festival is a good indicator of what we can expect from African cinema for the rest of 2022.

The 10 films on this list were all screened at the festival. These films managed to stand out for reasons that have been explained below. (One of those films, Robin Odongo's Bangarang from Kenya, won the Best African Feature Film award at DIFF.)

Do not miss these movies when they come to a theater or streaming platform near you.

1960 (South Africa)

This pleasant, King Shaft directed period musical centers a heroine who may have been inspired by the life of the late South African icon Miriam Makeba. 1960 opened the Durban festival this year and set the tone for what would come after. Lindi (played by both Zandile Madliwa and Ivy Nkutha) is a singer who in her twilight days digs back into her past to shed light on the murder of an apartheid-era police officer when his remains turn up in Sharpeville some six decades after the infamous massacre of 1960.

African Moot (South Africa​)

There are plenty reasons to be hopeful for the future of the continent. According to Shameela Seedat’s African Moot, the educated youth are leading the way. This fly-on-the-wall documentary follows a group of bright law students who are participating in the annual African Human Rights Moot Court Competition. Seedat, a human rights law specialist turned filmmaker, heads to the University of Botswana with her subjects. Her film details the interesting ways the students approach the fictional case of a people crossing fictional African borders to escape oppression.

​Bangarang (Kenya)

Inspired by true events, Robin Odongo’s chaotic feature expounds on an earlier short film. Bangarang’s protagonist, Otile (David Weda) is a graduate of engineering who has failed to secure decent employment a decade after university. He makes a meagre living as a bike rider instead. When election violence erupts after the disputed Kenyan presidential elections of 2007, an embittered Otile leads rioters on the streets of Kisumu. Before long, he is on the run from the law, accused of murder.

Collision Course (Nigeria)

A frustrated young man collides with the brutal power of the police force. Can a tormented official stop the descent into carnage? The third feature length title from Nigerian director Bolanle Austen-Peters (The Bling Lagosians, The Man of God) is a propulsive thriller set over the course of 24-hours. Starring Daniel Etim Effiong and Kelechi Udegbe, Collision Course digs into the underbelly of urban crime, law enforcement gone rogue, and the desperate victims that suffer the consequences.

The Crossing (La Traversee) (Burkina Faso)

After years in Italy, Djibi returns to his native Burkina Faso and begins to mentor a group of young people whose sole purpose is to leave for Europe. Djibi prepares them for this crossing through a tasking physical and intellectual program that helps bring them personal achievement and may end up neutering their resolve to migrate. Can he make this difference? Irène Tassembédo’s social drama embraces the complicated nature of the immigration experience.

Lesotho, the Weeping Motherland (South Africa)

Told interchangeably between South Africa and Lesotho, this Lwazi Duma-directed documentary engages with the effects of climate change on the agricultural sector, a key income earner in the region. Duma follows Khethisa Mabata as he attempts to revive his father’s farm. The film uses Mabata’s personal story as an entry point into the larger national crisis that has taken Lesotho from a thriving food basket to one suffering extreme drought.

Skeletons (South Africa)

Conceived as an experiment in theatre-making during the COVID-19 lockdowns, this magical realist expression was re-written for film and now sits somewhere as a hybrid between theatre and film. Set in the heart of the Maluti mountains, Skeletons grapples with the issue of land and ownership as told through the lives of four characters. In an environment of scarcity, these four people wrestle to break free from the vicious cycle of oppression. Skeletons confronts notions of home, belonging, and identity.

Streams (Tunisia)

Amel, a married Tunis factory worker is imprisoned on charges of adultery and prostitution following an assault. Upon release, she attempts to put back the pieces of her life and reconnect with her teenage son whose life was derailed by the scandal. Director Mehdi Hmili comments on the decay, contradictions, and hypocrisies of contemporary Tunisian society with this engaging drama about the breakdown of a working-class family and the state’s unwillingness to protect the vulnerable.

Taamaden (Cameroon)

In Taamaden, Mali-born filmmaker Seydou Cissé paints a uniquely intimate portrait of immigration and zeroes in on spirituality. Taamaden, which is the Bambara word for traveler or adventurer, presents two different points of view. The first is that of Bakary, a young Malian preparing for yet another attempt at crossing over to Europe. The other is a motley crew of West African immigrants struggling to survive in Spain. They are united by their ties to their spiritual clairvoyant.

You’re My Favorite Place (South Africa)

Jahmil X.T. Qubeka (Of Good Report, Knuckle City) is one of the most exciting and original cinematic voices on the continent. His latest, which closed the Durban film festival, is a change of pace attempt that also carries some of Qubeka’s slick imprint. On the last day of high school, the young heroine of You’re My Favorite Place and her three friends embark on an unforgettable road trip. They steal a car and head to the remote Hole in the Wall, a landmark that according to Xhosa legend, enables communication with the dead.

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(YouTube)

The 10 Best South African Songs of the Month (July)

Featuring Blaq Diamond, Sliqe, Blxckie, Mlindo The Vocalist, Mellow & Sleazy and more.

Here are the South African songs and music videos that caught our attention this month.

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Images: Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images; Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage; Photo by Burak Cingi/Redferns

This Year's Lost In Riddim Music Festival Is Canceled

The music festival was canceled by organizers as they prepare to come back even bigger and better in the New Year.

Update 08/17: And another one bites the dust.

This year's Lost in Riddim international music and art festival has been canceled, according to a statement shared via the event's official Instagram page. What would have been the Bay Area's delicious groove fest to end off of summer 2022, the raincheck has left both concert-goers and event organizers, Sol Blume, in distress. Performances from the likes of Burna Boy, Wizkid, Major League DJs, Davido, legendary Jamaican rapper Sean Paul, were set to set the stages on fire over this year's Nigerian Independence Day weekend. We trust that they'll come back even stronger after some time to regroup.

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Photos
Image courtesy of the Institute Museum of Ghana

Spotlight: Nigerian Artist Festus Alagbe Is Unmasking Your True Identity

We spoke with the visual artist on identity and letting your intuition guide you to success.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Nigerian visual artist Festus Kehinde Alagbe. The painting major comes from a family of creatives and entrepreneurs and uses his life experiences and understandings to reflect messages back to the society to which he belongs. Acknowledging his strengths and choosing to focus his energy on his creative pursuits, Alagbe uses the concept of 'masking' to reveal the hidden meaning behind the norms that society has placed upon us. Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem 'We Wear The Mask', acts as a great inspiration for the young artist, as his understanding of human nature led him to portray his artistic subjects as unmasking and masking whichever expression they believe will suit the mood. Alagbe's work also illustrates how the everyday person copes with the harsh realities of life on Earth.

We spoke with the artist about his current spot in Ghana's Noldor Artist Residency, allowing yourself to learn more about your craft, and the pressure that comes with identity.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Describe your background as an artist and the journey you've taken to get it to where it is today.

My artistic journey began in childhood: I was born into a family that holds entrepreneurs and creatives in high esteem. And we're all creative -- my parents were fashion designers, and, likewise my twin brother.

I’m an instinctive artist. I have always wanted to express my imaginations and experiences in a visual form -- either on a two-dimensional surface or in three-dimensional form. That which I can not express with words, I want to express as messages that people can learn from, relate with, and encourage society. But, knowing that instincts aren't enough, I joined The Polytechnic, Ibadan's Department of Art and Design as a painting major to be mentored and become a professional Artist. I became a full-time artist when graduated from school.

I’m currently a Visiting Fellow at the Noldor Artist Residency in Accra, Ghana.

What are the central themes in your work?

I capture different bisected facial expressions to represent time and seasons in the form of masks. I believe that the range of expressions that a face creates is not the true identity. Facial expressions are subject to the situation of society. “We wear the mask that grins and lies, it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,” says a poem titled “We Wear The Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

The true Identity is hidden inside every individual. The characters you exhibit will be determined by the kind of seeds you sow into yourself -- either love or hatred. I use flowers to capture love, passion, seasons, and transient time. The elements I use in the back are biomorphic and fluid in shape, depicting structures and institutions in the world. I also capture and depict Black bodies bursting through with floral elements, referring to the optimism that lies with the pain of being Black, depicting a sense of growth and resilience in the face of ubiquitous racial prejudice and adversity largely faced by people of color. And the flowers bursting through different genders captures different emotions and expressions.

What is your medium of choice, and why?

I use various mediums to express myself, like acrylic, oil, charcoal, etc. I use different mediums as a professional artist because I don’t want to be limited to a medium before I can express myself.

Recently, I uses oil to detail my subject (faces) and acrylic for the background because it dries faster and can be controlled easily.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

It has actually affected me in the area of market value and the unavailability of materials to work. But all glory to God for today.

Can you describe your artistic relationship with ‘Afro-futurism' and 'Surrealism’?

I’m a surreal artist of African origin. So, my artistic practice is based on surrealism from an African perspective to address some situations or issues in society at large. I strike a balance between realism, fantasy, and imagination. Afrofuturism addresses themes and concerns of the African diaspora through technoculture and speculative fiction, encompassing a range of media and artists with a shared interest in envisioning Black futures that stem from Afro-diasporic experiences. While Afrofuturism is most commonly associated with science fiction, it can also encompass other speculative genres such as fantasy, alternate history, and magic realism. These are what make my practice relate to Afro-futurism.

Can you talk about your use of colors and jewelry in your art?

I use dark skin tones and colors to depict Black faces with bodies, and I use monochrome colors to explore abstract landscapes as my background. And the abstraction elements in the back are biomorphic and fluid in shape which is the representation of structures and institutions in the world and society.

Image courtesy of the artist

'Split Intent' 2022


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