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Animated Film "Bilal," Inspired by Ethiopian Slave Who Became "Voice of Islam" Gets US Release

The film staring Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, hits theaters on February 2.

Back in 2016, we reported on the animated film Bilal which tells the thousand-year-old story of the freed Ethiopian slave, Bilal Ibn Rabah, who went on to become Islam's first muezzin and a close adviser to the Prophet Muhammad. Nearly two years after its release, the film is finally making its way over to the States.


The movie, written by Ayman Jamal, stars actors Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jacob Latimore, Ian McShane and China Anne McClain who all voice main characters in the film, which is the first feature film by Dubai-based production company Barajoun Entertainment.

Here's a recap of the film, via Shadow and Act:

"A thousand years ago, one boy with a dream of becoming a great warrior is abducted with his sister and taken to a land far away from home. Thrown into a world where greed and injustice rule all, Bilal finds the courage to raise his voice and make a change. Inspired by true events, this is a story of a real hero who earned his remembrance in time and history."

The film took a total of eight years and a team of around 250 animators to complete, reports Shadow and Act.

"My inspiration was my kid, and myself," says Jamal. "When I watched movies like Braveheart or Malcolm X when I was in my late 20s and early 30s, I was inspired. Why wasn't I inspired when I was 10, I asked myself? I asked my 5-year-old son what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said: 'Superman'. I love Superman, but I wish he'd said something possible, and I wanted to create this. To inspire kids with a real human superhero that they can aspire to. Superman is the reason I did this. I had to save my kid."

He also spoke more about the tedious process behind the film's creation.

"We've paid serious attention to detail. We hired 11 researchers, including doctors from universities, to research the history of the story, and we've taken all the characters' descriptions from at least 17 different historical sources. We hired two forensic scientists to model the characters based on these descriptions and what we know about the tribes of the time. It took six months to design each character and we're really proud of it. We're showing the characters exactly as described in historical texts, not just using our imagination. We've spent 5,000 hours of research to develop clothes and props too."

Judging from the trailer, it certainly appears as thought the filmmaker's stringent efforts paid off. Bilal hits theaters in the US on Feb 2, watch the newest trailer for the film below, and check out some cast interviews underneath.

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Listen to 10 Great Songs From Johnny Clegg

Here are some of the best songs to remember South Africa's son of the soil.

Yesterday, it was confirmed that South African musician, Johnny Clegg, passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Understandably, heartfelt tributes have been pouring in ever since. Long before it was cool (or even legal) to be in close proximity to blackness and anything attached to it in South Africa, Clegg, a white man, was doing just that. That is exactly why he was given the endearing title of South Africa's "son of the soil."

Growing up during Apartheid, Clegg was taught how to speak the Zulu language by a domestic worker named Charlie Mzila. In his teenage years, his appreciation for the Zulu culture continued and he soon learnt the traditional dance styles known as isishameni and also learnt how to play the Maskandi guitar. Clegg's music was a beacon of light during a very dark time in South Africa's history and his songs about Nelson Mandela (at a time where songs were banned for merely mentioning the name of the late statesman and other key struggle activists) brought the country together.

It is irrefutable that a music giant has fallen. However, Clegg leaves behind a wealth of music featuring other great South African artists and groups such as Zakwe, Brenda Fassie, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Juluka/Suvuka, among several others. His music undeniably brought South Africans and people all around the world together.

We've picked ten of our favorite songs from the late musician's discography in honor of a life that was lived to the fullest.

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Stonebwoy in "Tuff Seed"

The 12 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Stonebwoy, Mahmoud Ahmed, Tiwa Savage x Zlatan, Africa Express, Juls x Mr Eazi and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our Best Music of the Week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's new playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Beyoncé Wore These 2 African Designers in Her Music Video for 'Spirit'

Queen Bey continues to include and give a nod to African talent in her visuals.

As we draw even closer to Disney's The Lion King opening in theaters this week, Beyoncé continues to lead the way with her new music video for "Spirit"—the first single off of the film's album she produced and curated, The Lion King: The Gift.

Shot in the Havasu Falls in Arizona's Grand Canyon, Beyoncé and her legion of beautiful dancers are one with nature and its various elements as she beckons us to be brave and hear the calling of spirit. As we noted when she announced the album, the track opens with a call and response in Swahili that translates to "Long live the king": Uishi kwa mda mrefu mfalme—uishi kwa.

Keeping our eyes peeled for African influences in the music video, it's evident that is seen in the choreography. We even spotted our extended fam with the afrobeats moves—the AVO Boys: Stephen Ojo and Caleb Bonney—as two of her dancers in the video.

Beyoncé continues to also give a nod to African talent through the looks she donned in "Spirit" styled by her mainstay, Zerina Akers.

Take a look at the two African designers she wore in the video below.

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