Photo by Bird Lambro

Bebe Zahara Benet speaks about her upcoming EP 'Broken English'.

In Conversation With Cameroonian Drag Artist Bebe Zahara Benet: 'You Don't Stop Doing Your Work'

The U.S.-based Cameroonian artist speaks to us about her upcoming EP, Broken English, and how she's navigating the world of music amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Bebe Zahara Benet is three things: fierce. fabulous, and a force. For avid followers and fans of the reality show RuPaul's Drag Race, you may remember Bebe Zahara Benet as the winner of the inaugural season of the program back in 2009. Since then, she's gone on to star in TLC's Dragnificent and more recently, has been back in the recording studio working on her upcoming EP, Broken English.

Last week, she dropped "Banjo," the first single o the EP. It's a fun, energetic and uninhibited number that likens romantic pursuits to the sweet harmonies of the stringed instrument. Naturally, the accompanying music video is just as vibrant and light-hearted.

The Cameroonian drag artist moved to the United States when she was 19-years-old and has grown to see herself as belonging to two homes. She's put out a ton of music including including the EPs Face and Kisses & Feathers, as well as a number of singles including "Fun Tonite", "Get Fierce (Lose Yourself)" and "Starting a Fire." Currently based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she says that it's been two years since she's put out original music and it's time to give her fans what they've been asking for.

We spoke with Bebe Zahara Benet on lockdown from her home in Minneapolis, and got to hear more of what went into creating her upcoming project, the challenges of being an alternative artist from a conservative African country and how she's navigating the world of music during the coronavirus outbreak.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Bebe Zahara Benet.Bebe Zahara Benet pictured above. Photo by Bird Lambro

You're set to drop your debut EP Broken English. In light of the coronavirus outbreak, how are you navigating that space as an artist who still needs to put out music?

Many of us artists have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus. And many of us make our living from performing live shows and from touring. It's definitely presented a challenge to our livelihoods. And I can say that personally, but I think a lot of artists would say the same thing. What I always say though is that we are not strangers to hardship or adversity. We are banded together and we have managed to still make meaningful connections with our fans while sharing our art with the world. The internet now is becoming our best friend. There's always a way that we work on staying connected with the fans, and the supporters, and just spreading the love and positivity, until things get back to the norm.

How would you describe your state's response to the outbreak as well as the broader response from a national government point of view?

Well, I don't know if enough is ever enough when you're dealing with a crisis because there's always a new development every day. There's always something new, so I don't know. But one thing I would say, especially with Minneapolis or Minnesota, the state in general, they are doing everything to take precautions, to follow the rules––we are quarantining ourselves. They're really putting things in place. We're actually on a lockdown as well too where you can only go to essentials which would be the grocery stores, and the pharmacy, or the doctor, and that's just open for a certain amount of time. So, all the precautions are still being taken and we are very aware as well too.

Back to the EP. When did your love affair with music begin?

Music has always been part of my DNA. Growing up as a child, music was always part of my life. I sang in choirs, I directed them when I started getting older, and later on, I started teaching music. I would say it's a thread that has continued throughout my life. It's in my veins. And to be very honest with you, I'm very hands-on with all the songs that I create. All the musicality, the songwriting process, the mixing, and my background is what makes me so passionate about it. I always tell people that I've always been a student of music. I remember growing up my dad played the guitar and my mom [sang], they were not always the best singers, but the West they love to sing. And sometimes it's not about hitting the notes, it's all about how the music moves you. It's what makes you want to sing and the joy that it brings.

BeBe Zahara Benet - Banjoyoutu.be

Do you feel that your individuality and the kind of music that you're making right now, especially coming from a conservative country like Cameroon, contributes to more diverse voices being heard?

It's been challenging, but it should not be challenging. I feel like my culture has a huge part to play with who I am as an artist, and I want people to be able to see it, and celebrate it, and love it, and be aware of it, be aware of where we come from, the richness of where we come from. But I think that when it comes to the culture itself, because it's so conservative, there are a lot of artists like us that are scared of even being who we are and being the kind of artists we want to be. But as an artist, you don't stop being what your gift is that God has given you to do. You don't stop living your purpose regardless of the challenges, because even being here in the US, it doesn't mean that I don't have my own challenges as the kind of artist that I am. You don't stop spreading, or creating beautiful art, beautiful work and raising the flag of wherever you are coming from.

You recently released your single "Banjo." What inspired that song and how did you connect it to the visuals that we see in the music video?

"Banjo" is the first single of my upcoming EP Broken English. I wanted to flip the standard-issue love song on it's head. "Banjo" is about someone who isn't impressed by cliche pickup lines, flashes of wealth or smooth talk. I wanted a song that was a feel-good song about knowing who you are, being confident and dismissing anyone who's not willing to approach you on your own terms. People always want to give you the sweet talk, and you're like, "No, no, no, no, no. Don't give me the sweet talk."

A banjo is a West African guitar. You create such beautiful music when you play the instrument. And that's why you juxtapose that as the people that come with the "sweet music" and then you're like, "You want to play me like a banjo?" When you look at the visuals, it's a fusion. It's very colorful and very bright. It feels as much as the lyrical content, it's about what we're saying, but it feels happy. It does something to you that just instills more confidence, and it definitely makes you want to move and dance.

"You don't stop living your purpose regardless of the challenges."

What went into the naming of the EP, Broken English, and how do you feel it stands out?

It's been two years since I released original music. What inspired me, it's like I wanted to create a body of work that represented the two homes that I have, which is my birth home, which is West Africa, as well as my chosen home, which is America. So, I wanted to create this fusion of where you felt like it was a melting pot. It involves Caribbean melodies and afrobeats rhythms with pop sensibilities.

Broken English is a body of work that represents all my experiences like that, but also things like, "Hey listen, we all come from different places, and we all speak differently and I will speak like this. I'm going to pronounce this like this and that is that." If people who don't know anything about BeBe Zahara Benet, when they listen to the work, they are just going to love it. My fans and supporters will discover new things about the work; something fresh.

In terms of the process of making this EP, what would you say was one of the highlights and equally, some of the challenges?

I set out to create a project that really spoke to my love of global music. I wanted to create something which was feel-good and authentic to me, while relating to my audience. I partnered with a Nigerian producer based in Minneapolis and we worked to create such an eclectic set of tracks. I worked with a few songwriters to help me capture the stories that I wanted to tell, and the creativity just took over. It took a few months to complete it, and to be very honest with you, I'm so thrilled about how it turned out.

In terms of the challenges, I think one of the biggest challenges was time. Time was the biggest challenge for me I would say because at the same time I was working on the EP project, I was also shooting a reality television show with the network TLC. So, I would have all these long days I would have to travel and shoot, and then have to come back and go right into the studio to record.

What are some of the artists you'd like to collaborate with in the future?

I would love to collaborate with people like Tiwa Savage and Yemi Alade. I would love to do work with Angelique Kidjo. When I was growing up, Yvonne Chaka Chaka inspired me. I grew up listening to her music. There are so many artists that are up-and-coming and that are established that I would just love to work with. Davido is a good one as well too. I would love to collaborate. Why not?

Photo Credit: Amazon

Watch the Trailer for 'Gangs of Lagos,' Amazon's First African Movie

Amazon's Gangs of Lagos will premiere on April 7th.

Nollywood is coming to Prime Video.

On Monday, the conglomerate announced that it would be releasing Gangs of Lagos, its first original African movie, on April 7th. The project, which is directed by renowned filmmaker Jáde Osiberu, features Nigerian stars like Tobi Bakare, Adesua Etomi-Wellington, Chike Osebuka, Chioma Chukwuka, and Iyabo Ojo.

The movie will follow the lives of a group of friends as they navigate the bustling streets of Lagos.

In a press release, Wangi Mba-Uzoukwu, head of Nigerian Originals at Prime Video, described the movie as a story that highlights the importance of friendship and family.

"Gangs of Lagos is a unique story about family and friendship, against the action-packed backdrop and striking set pieces of the streets of Lagos,” Mba-Uzoukwu said. “As the first Nigerian Original to launch on Prime Video, Gangs of Lagos sets the tone and standard, with the authentically Nigerian storyline in a genre that is so popular around the globe, making it a movie for our audiences at home and abroad.”

Gangs of Lagos - Official Teaser | Prime Video Naijawww.youtube.com

Located on the country's southwest coast, Lagos is the largest city in Nigeria. Over the years, the vibrant city has become known for its bustling economy, eclectic culture, and rich history. The crime drama promises to showcase the nitty gritty rumble and tumble of Lagos, as well as the authentic elements that make it one of the most renowned cities in the world.

Ned Mitchell, head of African and Middle East Originals, Prime Video said that with the roll out, Prime Video was hoping to connect with original voices.

“At Prime Video, we are looking to work with original voices to create spectacular stories and events that audiences can connect with wherever they may be,”

Mitchell said. "Gangs of Lagos launching will truly be a global cultural moment that marks the beginning of a new era in storytelling, where audiences everywhere can see the full power of Nigerian and African voices and the depths of our continued commitment to the local TV and film industry.”
Credit: Lokol Kye.

Get to Know Kengol DJ’s Cameroonian Drill Music

The 32-year-old is blending drill and coupé-décalé—all from a prison in Cameroon.

Kengol DJ, born Magloire Noumedem, entered a world of suffering when faced with intense stares from the shadows of the notorious Central Prison of Douala—a place which operates more like a small walled city than a high-security jail.

"Arriving in prison is exactly as you might imagine — I can only laugh now, everyone half-naked, and the voices ringing out...it was terrifying." Kengol is an emotional man. Over two hours in his presence, he acts out his life experiences rather than recount them. It becomes an interview that is as much a performance, where Kengol lays himself bare—spitting bars wide-eyed one minute, singing his heart out the next, gesticulating wildly as tears run down his face.

The 32-year-old's latest single “Ca Va Aller' (It's Gonna Be Ok),” his cry of survival, is a fresh take on Drill that "Cameroon has never seen before--I call it Atalaku Drill,” Kengol explains, “I've crossed it with coupé-décalé." It was released this month on Jail Time Records, a label set up in prison to rehabilitate talent fallen to the wayside.

Noumedem was, by his own admission, lost to the streets when he was arrested for possession of drugs and sentenced to a term of 6 months: "Not many go inside to find the light, but I started to have visions. I could work day and night on my music, my God-given talents were no longer lost.”

Keep reading...Show less
Photo by Alex Wong via Getty

‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Paul Rusesabagina to Be Released From Prison

Paul Rusesabagina, who became renowned for his heroic portrayal in ‘Hotel Rwanda’, has received a presidential-ordered prison commute and will be released.

Paul Rusesabagina, the former hotel manager who saved over 1,200 Rwandans during the 1994 genocide and who was the inspiration behind the 2004 Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda, will be released from prison on Saturday (March 25th). Following a request for clemency, Rwanda’s government commuted the prison sentence of Paul Rusesabagina, who is now 68.

In 2020, the Rwandan government arrested Rusesabagina in Dubai and later transferred him to Rwanda, where he faced charges of terrorism related to his alleged involvement in a rebel group. Following the charges, the Rwandan court sentenced him to 25 years in prison. His sentencing triggered controversy, with some supporters alleging he had been unfairly targeted. In 2022, Rusesabagina’s family sued the government of Rwanda for $400 million, stating that they had "abducted" and illegally imprisoned him. Following Rusesabagina’s conviction, several people speculated that he had been detained because he had previously criticized Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame’s politics.

During Rwanda’s genocide, Rusesabagina worked as a hotel manager at the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Despite the violence and chaos surrounding him, Rusesabagina used his influence and resources to protect and shelter over 1,200 Tutsi and moderate Hutu refugees from the Hutu extremists carrying out the genocide. Hotel Rwanda was based on Rusesabagina’s experiences during the genocide, and the film's release catapulted him to fame. In the movie, Rusesabagina was portrayed by Hollywood actor Don Cheadle.

According to spokesperson Yolande Makolo, the sentences of 19 others convicted alongside Rusesabagina will also be released.

"Under Rwandan law, commutation of the sentence does not extinguish the underlying conviction," Makolo told Reuters. “Rwanda notes the constructive role of the US government in creating conditions for dialogue on this issue, as well as the facilitation provided by the State of Qatar."

As reported by Reuters, Rwanda’s ministry of justice also stated that the commutation could be revoked if any released prisoners repeated the offenses.

"If any individual benefiting from early release repeats offenses of a similar nature, the commutation can be revoked, and the remainder of the prison sentence will be served," Rwanda's justice ministry said.
Photo by Matt Crossick

Davido Is Bringing ‘Timeless’ to These Cities

The Nigerian superstar has announced ‘A Timeless Night with Davido’ in Lagos, London and New York.

Davido has shared on social media that he will be bringing his Timelessalbum to New York, London, and Lagos, dubbing the mini-tour “A Timeless Night With Davido.”

In the post, the singer wrote:The support for Timeless over the last few days has been incredible! Thank you for the love. I'm so excited to bring this album to life and share it with you in person. London, New York City, Lagos join me for ‘A Timeless Night,' a special live event, where we'll make memories that will last forever!”

The DMW boss shared dates for the events; noting that in the first week of April, he will take the stage in New York and London, at Irving Plaza and Koko London, respectively, before returning to Lagos to perform at Tafawa Balewa Stadium in Lagos later that month.

In a viral social media post on Tuesday, the Nigerian singer announced that he will be releasing his latest studio album Timeless on March 31. The announcement spurred a lot of excitement and expectation from fans, who had been curious about the singer’s well-being after the extended hiatus that followed the tragic loss of his son, three year old Ifeanyi Adeleke.

Throughout Davido's 11-year career, he has become a staple in Afrobeats and has contributed significantly to pushing the sound, helping it resonate with fans globally. The singer has released several studio albums throughout his career, including Omo Baba Olowo (2012), A Good Time (2019), and A Better Time (2020).

Timeless will be his fourth studio album.

get okayafrica in your inbox


The Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring new African music from Burna Boy, Amaarae, Major League Djz, Kwesi Arthur, Victony and more.

In her Debut Film, Angela Wamai Confronts Trauma and Seeks Healing

The Kenyan filmmaker chose to explore the heavy subject of sexual abuse for her first feature but that hasn’t stopped audiences from engaging with the film’s pressing themes.

Ghanaian Rapper Kwesi Arthur Shares Visuals For ‘Pain Interlude’

Watch Kwesi Arthur’s inspiring new video for his latest single “Pain interlude.”

Places in Lagos to Have Fun this Weekend

Discover weekend events in Lagos, from beach parties, film screenings, and art exhibitions to nightlife.


Joshua Baraka Is Ugandan Music’s Next Big Thing

With the hit song "Nana," Joshua Baraka has solidified his position as a rising star in the East African music scene.