News Brief

Bobi Wine is Officially Running for the Ugandan Presidency in 2021

The artist will challenge President Yoweri Museveni on behalf of the people and champion the interests of the poor.

UPDATE 07/25: Ugandan artist-turned-politician Bobi Wine, real name Robert Kyagulanyi, officially announced that he will be running for the Ugandan presidency at a recent event in Kampala. Wine, who has been a member of parliament for two years, is referring to himself as the "ghetto president" and says that he wants to be the voice for the poor especially, according to the BBC.


Announcing his candidacy, Wine said that, "On behalf of the people of Uganda I am challenging you [Mr Museveni] to a free and fair election in 2021." He added that, "I know the danger I am going to face to challenge Museveni but I have been encouraged by Ugandans that I am the leader they want."

While Wine is particularly popular among the youth, criticisms of his leadership have centered on how he has yet to deliver a concrete plan of action in terms of tackling issues such as unemployment, poor healthcare and education. And although Museveni has been quick to dismiss Wine as a mere "club singer", it goes without saying that this is the first time that the head-of-state's three-decade rule has been seriously challenged.

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After Ugandan artist Bobi Wine was recently arrested on charges of holding an "illegal" anti-government protest last year, he has now announced that he will be running for the country's presidency in 2021. The artist-turned-politician is the leader of the opposition movement called People Power and previously talked about how he was "strongly considering" running for president back in February.

According to Al Jazeera, Wine has spoken about the concern he has for his personal safety saying, "I live every day as it comes, not being sure of the next day. I am not blind to the fact that the regime wants me dead and wants me dead as soon as possible." He also added that, "There has never been a threat to this regime like the threat we pose to it today as a generation."

Wine, who was elected into parliament in 2017, has quickly built up a good rapport with the youth and his popularity has for the first time posed a real threat to Museveni's three-decade rule.

However, Wine's political endeavors have been met with great resistance by the current Ugandan government.

The artist has spoken on numerous occasions about how the Ugandan government has made multiple attempts on his life. Wine referred to an incident which occurred last year and left his driver dead, saying, "[Mr Museveni] gave an instruction that I should be eliminated. I know he will try to block me from running as he has not received any serious challenge in 34 years."

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Photo Credit: Nigel Glasgow

Sungi Mlengeya Uses Her Art to Celebrate Tanzanian and Ugandan Women

Sungi Mlengeya discusses stylistic choices in her art, women as her muse, and her exhibition in The Africa Centre, London.

Sungi Mlengeya has spent the better years of her artistic life refining her visual aesthetic. Opting for minimalism and monochromatic colors, the Dar es Salaam-born artist tries to celebrate the women in her life, exploring every lived moment she shared with them and illuminating the powerful roles of these women to the growth of their societies. Her work often features women in movement, capturing acrobatic poses.

A career in the arts wasn't always apparent for Mlengeya, who is self-taught. After studying finance in university and graduating from Catholic University of Eastern Africa in 2013, she started a career in banking, while selling pieces of her artwork on the side. In 2018, she started working with a gallery and she has been a full time artist ever since.

In her new exhibition, titled (Un)choreographed, Mlengeya explores the essence of dance and the several ways it serves not just as an expression for women but as a means for women’s liberation. Speaking to OkayAfrica, Mlengeya discusses stylistic choices in her art, women as her muse, and her exhibition in The Africa Centre, London, which opened earlier this month and runs until July 24th.

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You switched from working in the bank to an artist. What motivated you to pursue art as a career?

I have always wanted to be an artist but I didn’t know how and when. It was just a pipe dream. I chose to study finance because I thought it would be a general knowledge I could apply in my personal affairs whether it was an art related business or any business or I could either get employed with it. I just felt it was general because I didn’t want something specific like an account which would limit me to a certain career choice.

As a child, were you so drawn to art?

Yes. I remember in kindergarten, we were made to draw people in our homes, and I drew my mother and my Aunty who was living with us, and I rushed home to show them the painting and my mother jokingly said, “this isn’t me.” I remember having this feeling which was so warm and it made me think I captured their essence in a way, even though it didn’t completely look like them, I just felt like it would be a drawing I would always remember. Over the years, from Dar es Salaam, we relocated to Serengeti — which is one of the largest national parks in Tanzania — my parents were wildlife veterinarians so we lived in the park for about 10 years.

There were no electric poles because of conservation purposes so we only had generator power at night so the days were so long because we couldn’t watch TV. We had to come up with other ways to fulfill the days. My mother had these magazines and they had craft sections, so my sister and I will always make crafts from those magazines. Everyday we would make something new from paper or just from cutting and fixing things together and in the evening, we would try out recipes. Most of my childhood was about creating things and I think that has contributed a lot to me becoming an artist because I find so much joy in doing all those things.

Sungi Mlengeya artwork

Photo Credit: Nigel Glasgow

In your work, you’re always keen to document the lives of black and Tanzanian women? Tell me about it.

When I started painting, women were my first muse. I didn’t know why, it was a random decision. I decided to continue painting women as a way of celebrating the women in my life. I usually paint them with strong expressions because I want to inspire a feeling of strength, power and freedom to the women that I’m representing. These are Tanzanian and Ugandan women because these are the places I have a lived experience of and I’m so familiar with those around me which gives me the power to paint the women that I know.

When did you relocate to Uganda?

It was when my gallery invited me in mid 2019. In Uganda I decided to persist with using black and white color in my work. Back in Tanzania I also used the black and white color but I was also exploring other things. But in Uganda, I moved with consistency and my scale of work increased. I think that consistency could have happened anywhere. I’m not trying to insinuate that because of the change of environment. I mean it’s a journey, I keep experimenting with new directions and my art has progressed as well.

Is there any difference between the art scene in Tanzania and that of Uganda

I think it’s more vibrant in Uganda, the galleries here, like mine, are taking part in the global art scene, inviting artists and doing international exhibitions. For my country’s art scene, there is growth. It’s still budding and I’m keen on seeing the several amazing things they do.

Was your minimalist approach to monochromatic colors very intentional?

No, it was not. When I started I wanted to make a painting with a perfect background and I had no clue on what the background would be. So I started painting the face first and, when I finished, I really loved how it looked. There was a contrast of the dark skin against the white background and that was beautiful. It made the painting stand out. But overtime, I have come to attach meaning to it. For me, space means freedom because just deciding to continue to do that meant it was liberating to me as an artist. It helped me focus on what I cared about, which was the women in my art and I really didn’t care much about the background. I was just allowing myself to do what was liberating, and also the women I paint are also in a space where they are free to go about life doing things they want to do, be their true self without the limitations and cultural norms that hinder from pursuing a certain type of life they want.

Sungi Mlengeya event

Photo Credit: Nigel Glasgow


Tell me about your artistic process?

My process is quite explorative, it begins with taking photographs of models. I tell them to pose a certain way or sometimes we get random poses and then I use the photographs to reference. Sometimes I play around with the photograph to add some trick here and there, so that the process is sort of playful. Before it was just turning the photographs into painting but now I play around with the photos so I can put more of myself into the creative process. After that, I use manipulated images for the paintings. Yeah, I think I’m embracing more playfulness because I feel art should be fun. Most times, I don’t plan each painting, I don’t always get the theme but in the process I just relate more meanings to it.

Is your art keen on liberating women in Tanzania against social norms?

When I began, that wasn’t the motivation. It was just creating and expressing myself freely but I guess that is one of the things that adds on how people perceive my work. And that has a bit influenced me to continue focusing on women because I’m so keen on seeing a society where women are treated better. Being able to use my art to speak out that message is very apparent for women, it’s a lovely thing but it’s a secondary reason.

Sungi Mlengeya artwork

Photo Credit: Nigel Glasgow

Tell me about your exhibition ‘(Un)choreographed’

So I love to dance. I feel so good when I dance. I feel like I’m always dancing because when a good song comes up, I will be the first person to stand even though in nature I’m a bit shy and quiet. I have been doing several photoshoots for various works but in every shoot, I end up having some dance poses. I was looking for a theme and a friend of mine told me, “Why don’t you do something about dance, you are always dancing anyway” and it sounded like a good idea. So I brought together all those photographs from previous years and then did some shoot relating to dance and made several paintings from these photographs.

The exhibition is acknowledging the dance moments in my life and then hoping to inspire the viewers to take a moment to celebrate life with dance. I can also relate to dance in real life because my dancing take up spaces and in life we need space for ourselves, space for autonomy to make our decision and I think it’s a basic right. I also relate the movement in dance to a movement in life, taking actions in whatever that you think is important like being committed to your steps despite society. Yeah— so I think I relate those things to dance. Also, there is an idea that a super woman should take care of children, have a job, have a side hustle to make money, do domestic work and all these things but you know, we also need to relax, so it’s a reminder for women to be calm and enjoy life.


Interview
Image courtesy of the artist.

The Punk Rock Electronica of Uganda's Ecko Bazz

We talk to the Kampala-based rapper about his debut album Mmaso and its forward-thinking sound.

Ecko Bazz, the immensely talented 34-year-old Ugandan rapper, is finally having the time of his life. As he goes from stage to stage across central and Eastern Europe, performing to eager crowds enveloped by his cathartic performances, there is a sense that his mission is beginning to take shape. ''I do music to express what's inside me for the world to see," he says, "money has no value beyond paper and digits—I don't need a new car as much as I need to give value for what's real to me".

There is no doubting this Kampala-based rapper's sense of his own talent, neither here nor on his debut album Mmaso, which surfaced this spring on Ugandan underground label Hakuna Kulala. It is ferocious punk rock electronica MC'd by a voice that evokes the religious incantations of a doomy firebrand—a demonic dancehall toaster blasting threats around a mesmerising kick drum, double, sometimes triple time over the beat.

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Interview

The Alluring Distinction of Falz

Falz' contributions to Afropop are masterfully encapsulated on BAHD. We speak to him about his vast scope of sounds on the new album, Nigerian politics and more.

Falz is one of Afropop’s most distinctive figures. His songs have defined several periods of Nigeria’s push into international spaces, formed on the background of rap but possessed with amorphous creativity. With the backdrop of a global pandemic, the 31-year-old musician again found himself staring down the well of reinvention.

Having made appearances across several facets of the entertainment industry, he wanted to move into a new soundscape. He poured that motivation into his fifth studio album BAHD, a collection of twelve songs which show Falz at his most risque and naughty. “To be honest it’s a big mix,” he mentions to OkayAfrica some days after its release. “It’s arguable whether this is actually pop. This can even be looked at as an Afro R&B project, it’s an Afro-fusion project as well. I definitely touched on a few different genres while making BAHD. That was the aim from the beginning: I just wanted to have an album with a vast scope of sounds”.

Each featured guest uniquely broadens his vision. Whether it’s Tiwa Savage on “Beautiful Sunflower” or The Cavemen on “Woman,” there’s a seamless entry into the lush sonics of Falz’s universe. He tells me animatedly that he’s always wanted a song with the iconic Ms. Savage, and already has multiple songs with the Highlife-influenced Cavemen. His curatorial skills are present on “Inside,” combining the unusual duo of Timaya and Boy Spyce to fine effect. Apparently the record was created way before the latter was signed to Mavin Records, pointing towards Falz’s continued inclination for digging deep and leaning into new styles and sounds.

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Photo Credit: Ikechukwu Okonkwo

Korty EO is the YouTuber Documenting Contemporary Culture in Nigeria

Thanks to her confessional-style videos and high-concept shows, Korty EO is one of Nigeria's rising YouTube stars.

There is a stillness in Eniola Olanrewaju’s upscale Yaba, Nigeria flat. It matches the abiding sense of quietness that almost seems to envelop the 24-year-old when she retreats into her world. Eniola, popularly known as Korty EO,is one of the most popular faces in the post-digital creative taxonomy that has swept through Lagos over the last half-decade. In many regards, she is a poster child for the boundlessness that characterizes the grind and hustle of young people in Africa’s most populous city. Over the last four years, she's worked as a graphic designer, writer, content creator, and videographer. Now she is one of Nigeria's brightest YouTube talents, gathering almost 200k followers on YouTube and more than 100k followers on Instagram.

But Korty’s story did not start in Lagos. She grew up in Bodija, Ibadan.

“It was a safe area but my house in Bodija was not around the fanciest sides," Korty said sitting in a rocking chair in her spartan living room last month. "My parents were very protective but that’s because they knew that our environment wasn’t the safest but if you asked me I was proud to say I lived in Bodija because it was a fresh area but I wouldn’t bring you to my house.” Growing up as the middle child in a family of five, Korty was aware of the limitations of her parents and strove to make a way for herself. She started out working as a graphic designer while enrolled in the University of Ibadan after a brief stint at Bowen University. “I saw that there’s a lot I could do and I could even not go to class if I wanted,” she said. “I was just freer and able to do my business.”

Her clarity of purpose meant that she always knew she was going to have to move to Lagos to pursue some of her grander dreams, even if she didn’t know what those dreams were at that moment. An opportunity came in 2018 when a modeling agency scouted her while in Lagos to get a certificate from her IT attachment office. But Korty was reluctant to step into the modeling world. “I said no because I used to think that models were shallow,” she said, half-joking.

Eventually, Korty decided to give modeling a shot. She was grateful for the extra income and the opportunity to explore Lagos’s creative community that her constant visits provided. In the modeling world, Korty was faced with having to navigate a labyrinthine maze of toxic booking agents and haughty designers who treated her poorly. “You can usually tell when someone is not so comfortable in a certain place," she said. "Because I wasn’t comfortable, a lot of stylists did not pick me to walk their shows.”

Mostly observing other models strut their ways on glitzy walkways, Korty started to document their lives in short videos that piqued the interests of her fellow models. Soon after, she joined Zikoko, where she worked as a writer and content creator before convincing her bosses at the time to let her helm a show named HER that was dedicated to showcasing the often-overlooked life of women in Nigeria. In December 2020, after working with Zikoko for close to two years, she left to join Mr. Eazi’s music accelerator program, emPawa, as its head of content. Where Zikoko had a big collaborative culture that emphasized creative cross-pollination, emPawa was more independently structured, giving Korty free rein to pursue projects and create her work in her own image.

It was while handling the YouTube channel of emPawa that Korty began to see the potential of the platform to host the quirky, confessional-style videos that she really wanted to make. “I was always looking at the analytics and understanding how the platform works,” she said. “After a while, I was tired of it and I just left because I realized that YouTube paid."

She, of course, wasn't getting paid immediately. The YouTube channel started taking off with a video documenting the thought process of moving out of her parents’ house and quitting her job at emPawa to create videos for YouTube.

Korty EO pink dress

Korty’s YouTube channel has taken definitive shape, anchored around two shows: Flow, with Korty andLove and Lies.

Photo Credit: Ikechukwu Okonkwo

That was in 2020. In the months since then, Korty’s YouTube channel has taken definitive shape, anchored around two shows: Flow, with Korty, is an exploratory show into the life of celebrities and trendsetters in the Lagos and wider west African cultural scene. While the newer one,Love and Lies, is a dating show that chronicles the drama and comedy that follows setting random people on dates in Lagos. When she shoots her subjects, what Korty aims for is submersion, seeking a way to remove any distraction from their immediate consciousness and get as much information as possible from them.

“I put my camera far away from them so they can even forget that it’s there,” Korty said. “It’s usually me, my cameras, and a photographer because most of the people I film are in some sense celebrities and once they see too many people, they become guarded but if you make them comfortable they can express themselves.” Editing, though, is where it all comes together as she applies her experiences while staying true to the vibe of the shoot. It usually takes place over an active period of one or two weeks depending on the quantity of footage she gets.

The distinctive contours of life in Lagos and the city’s ever-present trans-generational tensions weigh on Korty’s mind and spill into her visual content. “I think Lagos is the center for a lot of things because there’s a lot of people here so it’s easy to find various communities here,” she said. “Sometimes I’m very conflicted about where I stand because I’m old Gen Z. I’m 24 and there are people being 18-year-old in 2022. It often feels like I'm in the middle because where does the class of 1998 fit into it all.” Still, the grind, hustle, and growing fearlessness of young Gen Z'ers’s in Lagos inspire her more than anything. “There’s more evidence of people’s patterns and lifestyles (in Lagos) because of the Internet and that brings more exposure. I feel like the Gen Z culture awareness in Lagos is so strong that it’s being transferred to other parts of the country but Lagos is the pinnacle.”

Korty EO pink dress, white nike sneakers

“There needs to be a better process for how people get monetized in Nigeria," Korty said. "If YouTube says it’s catering for everyone in every part of the world, they need to do that regardless of the difficulties in the country."

Photo Credit: Ikechukwu Okonkwo

Still, existing in Lagos can take its toll, and navigating the YouTube payment model as an independent creator can make it even harder. “It was very difficult,” she said about getting her channel — none of Nigeria’s fastest-growing — monetized. “They have to send a pin to a post office. It’s very easy for people abroad but if you live in Nigeria, getting your pin and money is very hard.” Korty had to make a video detailing her frustration with the monetization process before further relief came and she worries about the next generation of indie creators hoping to share their talents with the world via YouTube. “With newer people coming into the platform, it’s really hard for them because they are confused. There’s a procedure but the procedure doesn’t work unless you get your pin and it’s mentally wrecking.

“There needs to be a better process for how people get monetized in Nigeria, if YouTube says it’s catering for everyone in every part of the world, they need to do that regardless of the difficulties in the country. I know that’s easy to say but that’s just it, it shouldn’t be better in one place than it is in another, and also I guess Nigeria should also care about these things enough to make it easier for everyone.”

Earlier this year, a video documenting Korty’s attempts to schedule an interview with Wizkid over three days in Lagos went viral. And it’s an experience that has only solidified her resolve. “For me, the main thing is that only a few things can stop me in this life," Korty said. "Obviously, the goal I had was to get Wizkid but the real thing was for people to see how if you set a goal and you move towards it, you either get it or move really close to it.”

For all the inspirational themes of her videos and persona, Korty is not a filmmaker that really cares about cajoling an awakening in her audience, seeing her role as more of a guide on the facts of a situation or phenomena. “I think for me, my role is to talk about certain things, shine a light on them and leave people to take whatever they want from the video,” she said. “That’s why I tell people that my aim is not to inspire. If it happens that you’re inspired, that’s on you.”

Despite all her protestations to the contrary, Korty understands the impact of her videos and is warming up to her role as an archivist of Nigerian contemporary culture. “When I do things, I don’t have plans but they start to unfold and people start to see what it can become,” she said. “I’m just trying to make it in life, I’m really not trying to be a culture shifter but I also feel like if that is happening and people are seeing a pattern, it’s now up to me to see if I can accept that responsibility.

"I’m very aware that there is a growing responsibility and, if I don’t accept it, I might not grow, I could just be stagnant."

In many instances, Korty is quick to reject tags or titles and as our conversation comes to a close, I ask what she identities as these days. “I’m starting to say filmmaker,” she said. “A lot of people would say that where do I get the audacity to call myself that because I make YouTube videos but if you put me up next to the YouTubers of today, there’s a clear difference. It’s also why I don’t like it when people call me an influencer because I didn’t sit outside Eko Hotels for three days to be called an influencer. Filmmaking is where I have found myself. In 2018, I was in fashion. Before 2018, I was designing. As time passes, I’ll stumble on something else. I don’t think I can do one thing for all of my life. But whatever I decide to do, I’ll succeed and be competing at the top.”

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