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Courtesy of Bonang Matheba

In Conversation with Bonang Matheba: 'I Know What Just One Educated Girl Can Do for a Community'

The TV star talks about getting the presidential nod, her new sparkling wine and sending 300 Black girls to university by 2030.

A few weeks ago, South Africans turned out in droves to vote in the most contested elections the country has had. Bonang Matheba was front and center in efforts to get South Africans to the polls. She even brought President Cyril Ramaphosa on her Instagram Live to talk before urging South Africans to vote for whoever they felt would bring about necessary change.

Bonang's love for the youth is irrefutable and the Bonang Matheba Bursary Fund is proof of this. She was recently named this year's Ultimate Pop Culture Icon by E! Africa and co-produced Public Figure, a documentary film about the highs and lows of social media. The film was screened at the Manchester Film Festival in March and was well-received by critics during a time where there's talk about reigning in the influence of large tech companies. Bonang speaks about how she has personally witnessed the impact that social media has on the youth and felt obligated to document that reality.

Perhaps what stands out most is how Bonang is invested in leaving a legacy behind for the Black community. Sure, she's shattering glass ceilings and making lots of money in the process but she's also set her sights on taking as many punches as she can so that all the Black girls who come after her don't have to. "I want girls to be empowered," she says simply. "I want girls to have the freedom to make their own choices, but I also want them to go to school. That's what I want."

We sat down with Bonang to talk about her new Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) sparkling wine, the House of BNG. We also spoke more on why she's so damn passionate about sending Black girls to school.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Are you surprised by the amount of support that the House of BNG has received?

South Africans, especially Black South Africans have taken it on as their product, their brand and their story. I'm not surprised in terms of the execution because those were things I'd been planning for over a year. The fact that the Cosmo cover came out on the 18th [of March], my launch was on the 18th, and the brand was made available in Woolworths on the 18th—that took a year to make sure that all of that happened on one day.

I think because the execution was so good, and then after the execution, it entices you to want to go and try the product and then the product is really good. I think they love the story behind the product, they really feel like it's theirs. It makes me quite happy.

You talk about how this sparkling wine is your love letter to Africa. Talk a bit more about that.

It's my love letter to Africa. It's my love letter to South Africa because this continent, this country particularly, has been such a great support system for me. The House of BNG's going to be a company that sows back into the community. I'm definitely going to build a school, that's something I want to do. Some of the proceeds with every single bottle that's sold is going to go back into sending young girls to school and paying off student debts—a big passion of mine.

You are the first Black woman to be added to this elite circle of wine producers that, in South Africa, is a very White male-dominated space. How did that first feel?

I'm still nervous! I mean, entering into the wine industry is a different ball game—things are serious, it's not play-play. People take wines very seriously and to be added to the Cap Classique Producers Association is crazy. I'm the only Black person there making MCCs and it's about time.

But I'm also asking myself why it's taken so long when women are leading the proliferation of MCCs according to an article I read the other day. I'm there to find out. I think it's my duty to find out, to ask, to see why and then to hopefully try to change it. And that's always been my thing, if I'm there first, make it easier for everybody else that's coming after you.

Courtesy of Bonang Matheba

Are there certain things that irk you about the wine industry that you want to shake up, change or do away with?

A lot of things. The myth that Black people don't drink wine or that Black people don't do a lot of things. I'm not the only Black winemaker in South Africa. I'm going to meet everybody else and I want to learn from them. I'm new to this industry so I'm not going to come in with all these big ass goals, trying to tell people I'm a celebrity.

First of all, one of the reasons why I wanted to be part of this association was to learn, was to get as much knowledge as possible because when you get into a new industry, you are an underdog. You need to climb up the ladder so that's what I'm doing.

What else do you want to fall under your House of BNG empire?

The reason why I called it the House of BNG is because when you say it in French, it's the Maison de BNG and everything in terms of luxury brands is the house of: the House of Chanel, the House of Fenty. So that's where the inspiration came from. It means that it can house many things. I'm starting with a luxury beverage, after this it's shoes. Underneath that is also my movie, Public Figure, so there's going to be television, there's going to be food and there's also going to be clothing.

Tell us a little about your film, Public Figure.

June is youth month in South Africa and Public Figure, my new movie, focuses a lot around the pros and cons of social media that I've seen with the youth. So I'm bringing the film to South Africa. I'm going to get children from around the country to come watch the film because it's a documentary on how social media's going to change the world, what part you have to play in it and ultimately how it impacts you.

Public Figure Trailer www.youtube.com

You've been in this business for over a decade. What do you think has been one of the major driving forces behind your relevance and your longevity?

I have a wonderful team that I spend a lot of money on. I believe in paying somebody what they're worth because I believe in being paid what I'm worth—number one. Secondly, consistency. People love and trust a brand when it's consistent. When people look to the brand that is Bonang, I want them to know that even wherever I am, I'm going to be number one in building brand trust.

Lastly, evolution. I love Madonna. I find her being able to just change herself all the time but also, when you're really, really good at something, you become timeless. And if you put in the time to be great at what you do, you're going to have all the time to enjoy what you do.

What is your biggest hope for Black girls in this country?

That they go to school. That somebody loves them enough to give them education and if it's me, if it has to be Oprah, if it's the government–whoever it is–I just wish that Black girls had an equal starting point with everybody else. The girl child is always the supporting act because the world is designed to support the man. No one speaks on her behalf but I know and I've seen what happens to a community, a family, when you educate her.

"I just want to hold girls and be like, "Do whatever the fuck you want.""

But make sure it is always your choice and that you are empowered—whatever it is that you choose. I don't care whether the world thinks it's bullshit if you are choosing it from a place of power, it doesn't matter. That's all I want. I want girls to be empowered.

Courtesy of Bonang Matheba

What do you know for sure?

What I know for sure is that I'm on the right path and what I know for sure is that my life is in my own hands and that's the most empowering thing I could ever think of. I mean, my House of BNG, is the official bubbly for the inauguration of the President. I couldn't even think of that. It's not a dream that you could even dream, but all I know for sure is that dreams do come true.

I'm actually reading Oprah's new book The Path Made Clear and it says that all of us have a purpose. What I know for sure if that I have a purpose and what I'm trying to do for the next couple of years, is trying to figure out what that purpose is. And I would urge everybody to ask themselves "What is my purpose?"

Popular
Photo Credit: Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Image

5 Artists We Discovered at Frieze New York

From Ludovitch Nkoth to Cassi Nomandi, here are five amazing artists we took note of at the 2021 Frieze New York festival.

The best way to start Summer in New York City is with Frieze New York.

Celebrating it’s 10th anniversary in New York, with a legacy partner Deutsche Bank, the three day art extravaganza brings artists, collectors, and cultural purveyors from all over the world to Midtown Manhattan at the Shed to enjoy the various mediums of art on display.

We took some time to uncover the fair, noticing the artists with rich cultures and poignant narratives that drove a resonating message for the audience.

Here are five amazing artists we took note of at the 2021 Frieze New York festival.

1) Ludovitch Nkoth

Young and talented, Nkoth, 28, is a trailblazer with the eyes of an old soul. His work was carefully placed next to Cassi Nomandi, bringing forth rich textures and deep colors ranging from reds, blues, and yellows. Originally from Cameroon, Nkoth is inspired by his immigrant experience, using his wand to paint pictures of the black immigrants crossing overseas in the water pulling inspiration from family history, tradition, and the legacy of colonialism. Success is here for the young artist with most of his work sold out and exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, and London.

2) Luiz Roque

Paying tribute to marginalized cultures, Luiz Roque’s film, S, was an outlier at the fair. A film encapsulated in a dim lit room at the corner of the walkway, it created a mysterious darkness that resonated with a few viewers, though many were jaunted by the artist’s rawness of sexuality and queerness. The film kept us curious on what the voguing and vivid imagery meant to Roque. The artist’s 20 year tenure is an exploration of race, class, politics, ecology, modernism, and science fiction.

3) Cassi Nomandi

Originally from Mozambique, Cassi Nomandi, 34, is a woman with a sharp vision yet subtle hands. With her work, she creates a trance of raw emotion and pleasure. Nomandi studied Cinematography at the Academy of Art University San Francisco. She exhibited her first show in 2017 which put her on the map. In 2020, Cassi was commissioned by Vogue Italia to create the cover art for the magazine’s January 2020 Issue, fusing her love for fashion, photography, film, and cultural anthology.

4) Sydney Cain

San Francisco native Sydney Cain, 31, is a mythical being with over a decade of experience creating and expressing herself through art. We spoke with Sydney briefly to learn how it feels to show at a big fair such as Frieze. “It’s exciting to share work in the east coast being from the Bay Area. I want the work to resonate across the diaspora,” Cain said.

Cain drew on her bloodline and ancestry tapping into the things unseen leaning from lightness to darkness, erasing, subtracting, shifting dust away to define clarity for what she wants to convey in her art. Her energy, while drawing her pieces comes from her courageousness to dive into beings of mortality, expressing things that are stuck here in America, spirits that have our back. She is set to start at Yale studying her MFA this fall.

5) Barbara Wagner

Walking into the fair is the beautiful photo compilation by Wagner, hailing from Brazil. The installation catches your eye because of the humans in the shot, real and authentic, Wagner does a great job of bringing the essence of brazillian culture into the person cast. The installation, In Search of Fifth Element, was a show stopper and gave viewers a real glance at the real people of brazil.

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Photo Credit: Netflix

The Stars of 'Blood Sisters' Talk About Becoming Netflix's Biggest Hit

We sat down with Ini Dima-Okojie and Nancy Isime, the actors who brought life to Sarah and Kemi, to talk about shooting Blood Sisters, acting in Nollywood, what's next, and more.

Earlier this month, Netflix's "first original series" from Nigeria was released. The limited series, Blood Sisters directed by Biyi Bandele and Kenneth Gyang, follows two friends, Sarah (Ini Dima-Okojie) and Kemi (Nancy Isime), as they go on the run after the death of Sarah's fiance, Kola (Deyemi Okanlawon).

The show explores familial dysfunction, murder, the meaning of sisterhood, and how valuable friendships can be, with its central premise around domestic violence, a theme known to many.

Since its release, the four-part crime thriller has received praises, with Variety calling its first episode "explosive" and "hard-pressed to walk away." After its first week of release, the limited series sat at number nine on the list of most-watched TV shows globally, with over 11,070,000 hours of viewing, making it a first for Nigeria. This comes after Netflix’s first Nollywood film of the year —Chief Daddy — faced harsh criticisms from viewers and critics alike.

The success of Blood Sisters shows that cinematography isn’t the only selling point of Nollywood. And for Nollywood content to thrive on Netflix, there should be an investment in all areas, from the storytelling down to the marketing.

For Ini Dima-Okojie starring alongside some of Nollywood's big names — like Kate Henshaw, Ramsey Nouah, and Uche Jombo — was surreal because these are the people she watched growing up. "But when it came to filming, it didn't matter if you've been in the industry for just four years or 30 years," Dima-Okojie said. "All that mattered was everyone was ready to work."

Like Dima-Okojie, Nancy Isime also loved acting alongside them, even though it wasn't her first time working with some of them. "I was there for work and understood that it was bigger than just being Nancy Isime. It was me at work."

We sat down with Ini Dima-Okojie and Nancy Isime, the actors who brought life to Sarah and Kemi, to talk about what it was like behind the scenes, acting in Nollywood, what's next for them, and more.

Blood Sisters | Trailer | Netflix

What's one thing you learned while shooting this series?

Ini Dima-Okojie: One thing I learned for sure is that Nigeria is ready to tell its authentic stories to a global audience. We're not just prepared; we're capable of standing behind any industry. I could feel that from being on set, with the professionalism I encountered. I also learned that it is good to be kind, deliberate, and mindful of what people are going through because what we do has an impact.

Nancy Isime: For me, I learned it's possible to have good production in Nigeria. I've been blessed to be in a couple, and this was one of them. And it's a highlight so far. I also learned about the characters.

Nancy Isime,

Photo Credit: Nancy Isime,

What was it like playing your roles, and how did you get it?

Dima-Okojie: When I got the audition file for Sarah, I went on my knees and told God, "I want this." You can tell from the size alone, and I think that has happened to me only three times in my career because it doesn't often happen as an actor. A week or two after I sent in my audition tape, I got an email telling me to send another tape, but this time, it was for a different character, Timeyin. Altogether, I auditioned for Kemi, Sarah, and Timeyin.

I was so excited playing Sarah. I felt so lucky because, at the end of the day, an actor is only as good as the opportunities they are given. So playing Sarah had me go deep into the character, asking questions and putting myself into her shoes.

Isime: It was wonderful playing my role. I had gotten an email asking to read for Sarah, not for Kemi. So I made my tape and sent it in. Then, I was called in for a private audition and read through with everybody. However, I was called back and was told that Netflix wanted me to play Kemi, and I was like, "What is a Kemi?" Because I never read for her. So I was reluctant to accept because I didn't know who the character was and if she'd have the opportunity to show her acting range. But I took it, and when I read the script, I was like, "Yes, Kemi. Yes, baby, let's do this."

What was your favorite scene to film?

Dima-Okojie: My favorite scene? That's hard. I had so many unforgettable moments. However, I think one monumental period I'd like to pick on is probably when Sarah stood up to her abuser Kola and told him, "No!" because that was very big. She barely speaks up and is so used to being bullied, whether for good or bad, even in her beautiful friendship with Kemi, where she's always being told what to do. But in that scene, she had found the strength and was finally able to speak up, even though she knew what his reaction was going to be.

She spoke up for herself at that moment, and I think it was a huge moment for Sarah. It was a huge moment for people who may have experienced [domestic violence] because if there's one thing I realized from research, it didn't matter where people who are susceptible to abuse are from. Whether they were black or white, old or young, it was a triumph for Sarah and everyone going through any form of abuse.

Isime: I loved every single scene of playing Kemi because, as you noticed, there's no scene she's in that is a usual scene. In fact, no scene in Blood Sisters could have been done away with if you noticed because every scene is putting you on edge the entire time. Coming to set every day, I was like, "we're h-a-p-p-y," because yes, I was happy.

Ini Dima-Okojie wearing white sneakers

Photo Credit: Ini Dima-Okojie

What was the most challenging scene?

Dima-Okojie: For the challenging scene, I'll like to break it into physical and emotional parts. It was very physically challenging for Sarah. From when they decided to go on the run, physically, we were in Makoko, running all over the community, jumping from canoe to canoe. We also went to Epe, where we were barefooted. It was grueling as an actor and a character because this wasn't a fit character. Emotionally, I had to understand everything that Sarah was going through. I had to chip away from who I am as Ini to connect with what she was going through, which can be draining. But thank God I was surrounded by amazing people and directors who eased the process and were there to pick me up anytime I was down.

The series is a global hit on Netflix; how does that make you feel?

Dima-Okojie: Honestly, it's surreal. It makes me emotional half the time because, as a performer, all you want is for people to watch your work and for it to resonate. Being an actor, people see the glitz and the glam, but it's a lot of work. You chip away part of yourself to give a character life, but it's worth it.

Isime: Floating. Floating in a bubble, floating in gratitude. It feels so good. Imagine having 11 million hours of watch time in five days? It's no easy feat. I don't think any African show has been able to do that. So for that to come from Nigeria, and for me to be lead? I don't think I'll ever come down from this high that I'm on.

You are both a part of a new generation of Nollywood actors doing amazing if I say so myself. What is that like?

Dima-Okojie: Generally, I think being an actor in the world today is incredible. Nollywood has gone through much because we were in a time where we didn't have financing and institutionally there's no backing. So being able to be in a world today where everything is global, and I can do something here in Lagos, while people from Japan, Belgium, and Qatar, are sending texts telling me they watched me and loved it, I don't think there's a better time to act than now. It's a fantastic time to be a Nigerian actor.

Isime: It feels good to be recognized for something I'm passionate about and love. I feel blessed because Nollywood is bigger than I am. It goes beyond ego and wanting to be the best because we're all part of something way bigger than us. And I'm so happy to be able to contribute to this industry, leave my prints in the sand of time, and say that yes, there was a time I was not just a Nollywood actor, but every single person can confirm. I mean, it's one thing to say you're an actor, and people start asking, "which film you act?" "this one too na actress?" but you can't say that when it comes to me. And it also feels good to be recognized by the AMVCA, which is a huge organization.

Netflix

Photo Credit: Netflix

Now, let's go behind the scenes: did anything funny, sad, or surprising happen while filming?

Dima-Okojie: There were so many exciting moments, not necessarily sad moments. We filmed for over two months at the height of COVID-19, so you can imagine all the craziness that must have happened.

I remember while filming the dinner scene after we had our COVID-19 test, they told us a cast member had the virus, causing us to reschedule. Another moment was when Ramsey Nouah brought a crocodile for us to eat while filming in Epe, and it was delicious. I honestly had lots of happy moments.

Isime: I feel like all these emotions happen naturally because I was happy every day I was on set. But something interesting that happened was the fact that Ini and I got so into the characters that we took it just beyond acting. We felt every emotion that the characters went through. We had one crying scene together, and I promise you that they cleared the room for us because we had to cry to get it out for a while. Because in reality, when something happens to you and you cry, you don't just cry for a bit. You have to let it out, and that was us. We were Kemi and Sarah and needed time to grieve. To let it out. It was an interesting event, and I had so many times I was tired, mentally and physically.

What's next for you? Any upcoming projects?

Dima-Okojie: There are so many exciting things in the works. First of all, I am getting married. Immediately after that, in June, I am going right back to set for the second season of Smart Money Woman. There are a couple more projects in the work that I'm not allowed to speak about yet, but there are exciting times ahead.

Isime: I love that question, and I also don't love that question because I don't know what's next. I'm just living my purpose, taking one day at a time, and grateful for every part of my journey. If you had told me five years ago that I'd be here, I would say it's a lie because I was probably sure that I knew where I was going. So what's next for me is a beautiful life, more projects, and more fantastic performances.

My show, The Nancy Isime Show, is also doing very well and happens to be one of the most-watched talk shows in the country, so I'm hoping that expands better. I'm also hoping to bring about a few more creations to life.

Music
(YouTube)

The 4 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Mavin Records, L.A.X, Moonchild Sanelly, Nissi, Major League and more.

Every week, we highlight the top releases 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.

If you like these music lists, you can also check out our Best Songs of the Month columns following Nigerian, Ghanaian, East African and South African music.

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Arts + Culture
Image courtesy of the artist

Spotlight: Timi Nathus Is Making Digital Art Mainstream

The Nigerian artist NAZQUIAT is on a mission to make his futuristic collection of NFTs the norm in his home country.

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 multidisciplinary digital artist, Timi Nathus aka NAZQUIAT. Nathus's shares his #Afrotroves NFT collection with us, and explains it as "Each NFT was made from sacred artifacts that were previously stolen and haven't set foot in Africa hundreds of years". Nathus and a cohort of digital artists are reclaiming the images and stories that were stolen, and instead using them to empower and inform his own communities. By breaking the mold of traditional art and storytelling, Nathus's decision to establish this collection as a series of NFTS is shifting the power struggle and encourages the celebrations of the old and new.

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