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Photo by Abdi Ibrahim.

Dress: Emily Eanae | Earrings: Stylist own | Shoes: Balenciaga.

Elsa Majimbo's Over Being a Comedian - and Wants You to Be, Too

Four years after becoming a viral social media sensation, many of her fans want to know where the “old Elsa” is. But Elsa Majimbo’s not bowing to anyone else’s expectations or pressure.


Elsa Majimbo is beaming.

Standing in the doorway of an old convent, she cuts a majestic figure – draped in a dramatic black, ankle-length coat, with a gravity defying Afro and gold jewelry shimmering in the blinding New York sunlight. On location to shoot the OkayAfrica digital cover, Majimbo is quietly enjoying a small break when suddenly cries of “Elsa!” fill the air.

A gaggle of school kids has seemingly appeared from nowhere, and they're now filling up the road outside the building. The pre-teens point and jostle each other as they try to get a better view of the 22-year-old Kenyan. “Elsa’s inside!” some shriek – and who can blame them for their excitement? After all, it’s not every day that a social media sensation shows up on your neighborhood doorstep. Majimbo looks on, unfazed by all the commotion, the bemused smile on her face suggests she has become accustomed to being at the center of a frenzy. As the youngsters grow louder, the scene playing out seems surreal – a 15-time chess champion catapulted to global fame and the attention of the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna, thanks to her lo-fi videos shot during the pandemic lockdown – now driving a group of youngsters wild in a tucked away corner of Queens. Though in listening to Majimbo’s accounting for her meteoric rise, there is no place for randomness or luck in her life story. She believes it is all the work of God. “I’ve got Gen Alpha on my side,” she says, as she waves back at the raucous crowd, with a twinkle in her eye.

When the photoshoot resumes upstairs in a spartan room, gone is Majimbo’s playful demeanor and in its place is now a penetrating, steely gaze. She moves with ease and grace; cycling through different poses without any hint of uncertainty, while a cast of lighting techs, makeup artist and hair stylist all look on. That trademark Majimbo confidence is once again on full display.

An image of Elsa Majimbo wearing a pink dress, draped across a couch.

Dress: Quine Li | Shoes: Victoria Beckham.

Photo by Adbi Ibrahim.

By now, anyone who has ever heard of Elsa Majimbo is familiar with her comic viral videos. The cheekily brazen ruminations of the-then 18-year-old brought much needed levity to millions who felt trapped in their surroundings, courtesy of Covid. Majimbo’s charm and well-timed laughter cemented her place in the hearts of many as a naturally gifted comedian. But these days, being labeled a comedian no longer works for Majimbo – as she makes plain in conversation; she now wants to be known as a model. No more eating potato chips on the bed, no more sunglasses perched awkwardly on her face. The comedy has gone. “That’s a phase of my life that was there, but I’ve left it behind,” Majimbo later explains over lunch at her Williamsburg hotel. “That was just to get me off the ground. We’re off the ground now,” she adds.

Her life has certainly ascended to dizzying heights, since the pandemic ended. The fame and fortune she openly longed for in those videos have arrived, and she is now living in Los Angeles. Her social media feed is a catalog of micro-outfits, shopping sprees and glamorous events. There have also been features in Forbes Magazine, and covers for Teen Vogue and GQ South Africa. In 2022, she signed to IMG Models and WME, and since then has appeared in campaigns for Valentino and Coach. These days her online videos showcase her applying generous amounts of body oil and perfume, while recounting an anecdote about her new fabulous life. Though the change may be jarring to some, Majimbo never hid her aspirational desires, “I told everyone, ‘Love "broke Elsa" while you can, she’s not coming back.’”


An image of Elsa Majimbo sitting on a bed wearing a black coat.

Coat: ITA The Label | Shoes: Saint Laurent | Flower anklet: Stylist's own.

Photo by Abdi Ibrahim.

Hours later, standing tall in an eye-popping royal blue gown, she completes another round of poses. When she is done, Majimbo takes a step back and claps her hands in glee. She studies the images on the photographer’s monitor, clearly liking what she sees. “I knew what I came to do, and I did it!” she gleams, before triumphantly strutting off to her next outfit change. In many ways, the location for her cover shoot – a former convent with crucifixes adorning every room and the occasional light fixture with the invocation, “Bless this house, O Lord we pray/Make it safe by night and day” – is a fitting milieu for Majimbo, the second youngest in a family of four. She makes no secret of her Christian faith and how many of the major life decisions she has made have all been predicated on her firm belief in the divine – like dropping out of school to pursue the fickle path of becoming a content creator. “I'm a testimony,” she says. “God brought me here.”

And she is going to need that faith for what lies ahead because what Majimbo is attempting to pull off in the world of modeling and high fashion is a far more difficult proposition. Countless other models have tried and failed to attain significant and lasting success in an industry renowned for its racism and misogyny. The uncertainties abound, and they include making and keeping high profile friends, as Majimbo’s very public falling out with supermodel Naomi Campbell clearly demonstrated. Although she is reticent to talk about this any further, she is outspoken about her experience navigating the world of celebrity and Black Hollywood at large. “I think for me one of the biggest shocks is white people have actually really been there for me,” she says. “White people have given me a lot of opportunities; they’ve really stuck their necks out for me. And I expected the opposite. Most of the pitfalls I’ve gotten in my career have been due to Black people, which is so disheartening. Because, I was like, ‘Oh, you know, Black Hollywood, Black Hollywood, it's all about each other.' But not everything is what it seems."

An image of Elsa Majimbo wearing a multicolored string dress with blue shoes, leaning to the side a little.

Dress: Lilach Porges | Shoes: Rochas.

Photo by Adbi Ibrahim.

There have been hurtful attacks from her fellow Kenyans. The online blows came quickly, as she garnered more and more public attention in those early days. The commentary about her took a nasty turn and she transitioned from being a charmingly irreverent dilettante to the subject of sustained misogynoir in her home country. The backlash would eventually prompt her to leave Nairobi and head to South Africa. “It was middle aged men and women coming to attack me – at the time I was 18,” she recalls. Four years on and the online criticism continues, but Majimbo is adamant that she is now totally unbothered by it all, “When I’m in Kenya everyone I meet in person: ‘Oh my God, I’m your biggest fan,’” she retorts sardonically.

In fact, she now appears to delight in taunting her critics with details of her shopping excursions and international shopping sprees, “Why would what User299780 say matter to me?” she responds to the question of whether any of the blows hit. “I don’t even look at my comments because I don’t have the time. I have parties to go to, lunches to go to, flights to catch…The comments you see online, that’s just what they are, comments.” That may be so, but she isn’t above oiling her arms and making a video to address them. Is it all part of some kind of plan to stay relevant? Remaining at the center of attention would ultimately benefit the growing bank account she is always talking about.

Despite all the flaunting and her near constant talk about having money, Majimbo says she doesn’t fear not having any. “Even when things are going to shit, I’ve never been financially insecure,” she says, crediting her parents for all the money she has amassed so far. They instilled in her a sense of financial literacy and urged her to get into the Kenyan property market. “I know no matter what happens, I'm not going broke. It's a fantastic feeling.”

An image of Elsa Majimbo in a red outfit, standing in a closet doorway.

Bodysuit: Quine Li | Shoes: Christian Dior.

Photo by Abdi Ibrahim.

In almost the same breath, her talk of earthly pursuits gives way to exhortations of religious faith. “Being spiritual has helped me stand up to people, especially those who have control and power,” she says, steadfastly. “I serve a living God, you’re not above Him.” But before long, her unflinching self-confidence returns, “No one from where I came from has been able to do what I have done, in the amount of time, [and] how I’ve done it. The only other Kenyan in Hollywood is Lupita [Nyong’o] – and even she had to do two decades of work to get where she is," she breezily proclaims. In reality, it’s only been a decade since the Oscar winner sprung into the spotlight, just shortly after graduating from Yale’s School of Drama. But who needs facts when there’s such outsized confidence at play?

Majimbo wants to be a force in the world of modeling and entertainment, which perhaps explains what some might describe as an unlikely friendship between herself and Steve Harvey, whom she refers to as her mentor. She is clearly in awe of how Harvey has successfully translated his comedy prowess into a media empire. “The way he takes ownership of his content, that's how I want to have ownership of my content,” she reflects. That goal extends to projects in front of and behind the camera, with Majimbo sharing that modeling aside, she is also exploring opportunities in production and acting, following the release of the self titled documentary short, Elsa, back in 2023. This time around she is clearly going after more, “[I don’t want] 'Oh, look at Elsa’s show,' but in reality it's not Elsa’s show, Elsa’s getting paid least on the show,” she astutely explains. “I just don't want to be in a position like that. If I say we're doing this, I'm gonna own some of it.”

There is a keen sense of cognizance that her sustained trajectory of wins is not guaranteed – perhaps Majimbo may stop short of any runway work or fail to achieve the success she envisioned in working in film and TV. But she says that as long as she remains in control, however, she will be at peace with the outcome. “If it's meant for me it will find me – if it’s not, no problem. Maybe I'll end up a lawyer,” she muses, briefly wincing at the thought. “Oh, God forbid,” she says, before once again letting out that infectious laugh.

Additional reporting by Shamira Ibrahim.

Credits:
Abdi Ibrahim - Photographer @abshoots
Tiffany Bloomfield - Executive Producer/Artist Rep @insidetheglow
Karely Pérez-Cruz - Producer @peluaproductions
Fallou Seck - 1st Photo Assistant @myowndad
Wendell Cole - 2nd Photo Assistant @wendellcole
Haren Mehta - Digital Tech @harenmehta
Tyler Okuns - Wardrobe Stylist @tyleeresosa
Rose Grace - Makeup Artist @rosegracemua
Rachel Polycarpe - Hair Artist @rachelpolycarpe

Photo from Dye Lab website.

15 Ethical and Sustainable African Fashion Brands You Need to Know

These brands are preserving traditional craftsmanship and supporting local artisans, while using eco-friendly materials and transforming the fashion world’s impact on the environment.

The fashion retail industry significantly impacts the environment, from materials sourcing to production and disposal. This is especially true for fast fashion, which contributes to pollution, waste, and resource depletion. Choosing sustainable materials, supporting ethical brands, and prioritizing quality over quantity can help preserve our environment and promote sustainability.

Sustainable fashion isn’t just about saving the planet; it’s also about fostering community and promoting humanity. In recent decades, numerous African brands have embraced ethical and sustainable practices, emphasizing handmade craftsmanship, minimal waste, and locally sourced materials. From Cairo to Cape Town, and Nairobi to Abidjan, below are 15 African fashion brands leading the way in ethical and sustainable fashion.

Autumn Adeigbo

Autumn Adeigbo is a Nigerian designer renowned for her vibrant and fashion-forward creations. Her mission revolves around empowering women of all cultures while ensuring fair wages for global artisans. Embracing sustainability, she produces garments on demand, reducing waste, and promoting environmental cleanliness and safety.

lemlem

Ethiopian supermodel Liya Kebede established the resortwear and swimwear brand, lemlem, seventeen years ago, driven by her discovery of traditional weavers losing jobs in her country due to diminishing demand. lemlem is an artisan-driven, Africa-made brand that celebrates women and nature, characterized by vibrant colors and stripes. Kebede describes it as offering “casual and chic pieces easy to wear on all occasions.”

Tongoro

Tongoro is a Senegalese brand that works with local tailors and sources their materials on the continent. Launched in 2016 by Sarah Diouf, it has since gained international prominence with notable figures including Burna Boy, Alicia Keys, and Beyonce.

Dye Lab

Dye Lab, a small craft brand, specializes in dyeing techniques to churn products that blend practicality with artisanal charm. Embracing slow fashion principles, it minimizes waste and operates solely on a pre-order basis. Founded in 2021 by fashion consultant Rukky Ladoja, Dye Lab showcases tie-dye colors and designs inspired by the Yoruba people of Nigeria.

Kente Gentleman

Ivorian brand Kente Gentleman designs their clothes hand-in-hand with local artisans, then produces with a fashion philosophy that is as stylish as it is ethical.

MAXHOSA AFRICA

MAXHOSA AFRICA, an acclaimed knitwear brand, was founded by award-winning South African designer and creative artist Laduma Ngxokolo. Inspired by Xhosa culture, the brand aims to celebrate the beauty, color, and diversity of the Xhosa people. Since its establishment in 2010, MAXHOSA has emerged as a prominent figure in African luxury and lifestyle.

Mimi Plage

Founded by Ghanaian American designer Mimi Plange, the eponymous brand prioritizes creativity, craftsmanship, and textile recycling. Established in 2010, the brand has collaborated with notable figures such as Manolo Blahnik and LeBron James, among others.

Ahluwalia

Priya Ahluwalia, the London-born Indian Nigerian designer behind the upcycled menswear brand, Ahluwalia Studio, went from a stint at Beyoncé's IVY Parkto pursuing a masters in menswear from the University of Westminster. While there, she was challenged to alleviate fashion's problem with waste. Trips to both Lagos, Nigeria and Panipat, India, where she was met with piles of surplus clothes, further ignited a flame in her to attempt to combat the issue. Her Spring/Summer 2019 graduate collection, made in collaboration with the Indian women's union SEWA Delhi, was her answer. The trench coats, oversized denim jackets, and vintage football jerseys were all produced using second hand clothing. She would go on to show at London Fashion Week, be featured in Vogue, win an H&M Design Award, and collaborate with Adidas Originals. Today, she continues to study the application of ethical methodologies to fashion.

Reform Studio

Hazem and HendRiad, the co-founders of Cairo based design studio, Reform Studio, have built a business around the invention of Plastex, a material made from discarded plastic bags. The studio's fashions and furniture are helping to alleviate Egypt's problem with waste and employing women of impoverished backgrounds.

Lukhanyo Mdingi

Lukhanyo Mdingi, based in Cape Town, embraces humanity and sustainability in its garment production. Working closely with artisans from Cape Town and Burkina Faso, their design philosophy revolves around these collaborations, believing that meaningful design starts with human connections.

Hamaji Studio

Founded on the principle of preserving ancient textile traditions and nomadic handcrafts, Kenya-based Hamaji Studio boasts of making all its fabrics by hand, using natural fibers on its textiles, as well as using natural ingredients on its dyes, all while empowering artisans in the region. The brand, whose name means “nomad” in local Swahili, was founded by Louise Sommerlatte in 2017 and draws its inspiration from the everyday charm, natural beauty, and vibrant culture of East Africa.

Studio 189

Ghanaian designer Abrima Erwiah co-founded eco-friendly label Studio 189 with actress Rosario Dawson. Together they work with local artisans in Accra to produce garments. The artisans use plant based dye, hand-batik and kente weaving. The brand partners with the United Nations ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative, NYU School of Business and has worked with LVMH and Net a Porter.

Allëdjo

Founded in 2018 by Beninese designer Kassim Lassissi, Allëdjo is a menswear clothing line designed and produced by artisans in Dakar, Senegal. The brand is the merger of the designer's love of travel and exquisite apparel. The print-heavy color palette and free flowing materials used celebrate the renaissance man on the move.

Marrakshi Life

Marrakshi Life is a gender-neutral Moroccan fashion label. With their signature colors that are as soft as they are vibrant on jumpsuits, scarves and caftans, Marrakshi Life prioritizes handweaving by an in-house team of artisans, and boasts a zero-waste production style.

Lafalaise Dion

Cowry shells are one of the most recognizable symbols in African culture—utilized as a form of currency as early as the 14th century, and even as a religious and cultural symbol. In the 17th century, cowry shells were used as a means of embellishing hats and headdresses dawned by titleholders in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Kuba Kingdom. In western Côte d'Ivoire, the Dan ethnic group also dons these shells for rituals. Today, creative Lafalaise Dion has repurposed them for fashion. Her headpieces made with sustainably farmed shells are both powerful and mystical.

Film + TV
Photo courtesy of Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Lisson Gallery, Lia Rumma, and Barakat Contemporary

At the 60th Venice Biennale, Wael Shawky Invites Us to Reflect on Past Fictions and Myths

Representing Egypt, the artist Wael Shawky will exhibit two musical films, blending historical fact and fiction to invite urgent conversations about our present at the 60th Venice Biennale.

I call Wael Shawky in Venice, where he is in the last preparations for his showcase at the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, but he might as well be picking up the phone in his hometown Alexandria. As he walks around the exhibition space, trying to find a quiet place and better reception, he greets several people, asks them how they are doing, tells them he’s doing well.

He finds a suitable place, gets comfortable, says “Alhamdulillah. All is going well. Things are working,” and begins telling me about the Urabi revolution.

“It begins with a small story in Alexandria,” he says and clarifies that we cannot know if the event actually took place or not. In 1882, there was a Maltese man who hired an Egyptian makari, “like Uber today,” who took people from place to place on a donkey. Upon their arrival, the two men fought over the fee and the Maltese killed the Egyptian, triggering a street battle between British, French, Greek, and Maltese foreigners and Egyptian locals. Almost 300 people were killed.

Screengrab of Egyptian artist Wael Shawky\u2019s musical film Drama 1882.

Wael Shawky Drama, 1882, 2024

Credit: Wael Shawky. Courtesy of Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Lisson Gallery, Lia Rumma, and Barakat Contemporary.

“This fight started the whole issue,” says Shawky. “Because one month later, Britain decided to occupy Egypt, saying that they have to protect their subjects.”

At the time, Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire and ruled by the Khedive Tewfik, but the empire was weak and the country, suffering from corruption and financial ruin. Ahmed Urabi, a colonel in the Egyptian army, led a revolt against the monarch and, by extension, the foreign powers. In a historic moment, the Battle of Tell El Kebir, European forces defeated Urabi’s fighters and Britain began its seven decades-long colonization. Today, Urabi is widely remembered as a national hero.

Shawky wanted to create a stage for this history, so he turned it into a musical theater play, directed, choreographed, and composed by him. The play has eight scenes, each telling part of the story, including Urabi’s battles, the fight happening in Alexandria, and a colonial conference in Istanbul where six countries fought over the rights to enter Egypt. For the Egyptian Pavilion, he rendered the story into the film Drama 1882.

Screengrab of Egyptian artist Wael Shawky\u2019s musical film Drama 1882.

Wael Shawky Drama, 1882, 2024.

Credit: Wael Shawky. Courtesy of Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Lisson Gallery, Lia Rumma, and Barakat Contemporary.

In his research-based multimedia practice, which spans film, music, performance, painting and sculpture, Shawky explores notions of national, religious and artistic identity. His work narrates stories that interlace fact, fiction and fable, and which are inspired by historiographical and literary references.

“Instead of trying to comment on what’s happening today in the economy or in politics, I prefer to go back to 1000 years ago and try to make a translation for written history, to think of it as human creation,” he says.

When he was invited to represent Egypt in Venice, he initially wanted to show a project he had made in Pompeii, reflecting on the creation of the universe at the intersection of Greek and Egyptian mythology. “But then, after a lot of discussion, I thought that it’d be more appropriate to analyze our contemporary political situation in Egypt and the region by going back to 1882.”

In Drama 1882, he was interested in analyzing the moment right before British colonization. “Because of the written analysis today, everybody thinks that the fight was already planned. But we don’t know and we’ll never know,” he says. “This is the history I like to talk about, where we don’t know what the myth is. This is the gap in which I create the artwork.”

Screengrab of Egyptian artist Wael Shawky\u2019s musical film Drama 1882.

Wael Shawky Drama, 1882, 2024.

Credit: Wael Shawky. Courtesy of Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Lisson Gallery, Lia Rumma, and Barakat Contemporary.

Shawky’s presentation at the Egyptian Pavilion offers an important interpretation of this year’s La Biennale theme: Foreigners Everywhere. “This theme carries a lot of debate. I like the simplicity of it, it’s very interesting,” he says. “From the point of view of someone living in Egypt now, if someone from Europe is saying ‘foreigners everywhere,’ does it mean the same to me? Absolutely not.”

He expands: “In this film, foreigners are occupiers, not immigrants. During 1882, Britain was really everywhere. It was almost normal that all these first-world countries occupied other countries. Today, even though there are a lot of foreigners in Europe, they are not occupiers. We know that in the end, the authority is not in the hands of the migrants.”

In the Egyptian Pavilion, Drama 1882 is accompanied by vitrines, sculpture, paintings, drawings and a mirror relief made in Murano. The conversations Shawky hopes to spark are around questioning how we frame reality based on our telling of events.

“In the end, I don't believe in this history. I believe that translating this history into a different format allows us to analyze it,” he explains. “I don’t think it would be possible to present Urabi, the leader of the army, as a hero today, if we were not controlled by the army.”

He gives the example of Egypt’s main newspaper Al-Ahram labeling Urabi a terrorist after he was arrested. “History is written by the winners. In 1882, nobody condemned the British for what they did, or what the French did to Algeria. And it’s not about saying this is good or bad, it’s just about analyzing how someone like Urabi was a terrorist one day, and then was a hero.”

Screengrab of Egyptian artist Wael Shawky\u2019s musical film Drama 1882.

Wael Shawky Drama, 1882, 2024.

Credit: Wael Shawky. Courtesy of Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Lisson Gallery, Lia Rumma, and Barakat Contemporary.

The Egyptian Pavilion will open to the public on April 20, 2024. Opening concurrently with the Biennale, Shawky's 2023 musical film I Am Hymns of the New Temples will be the subject of a solo exhibition at Museo di Palazzo Grimani.

In this film, he takes a different approach to a similar idea: trying to get to the core of what justice means to societies, and how our understanding of it changes or is influenced by our worship of power.

Hearing Shawky recount this revolutionary history and his observations of its afterlives, I get the sense that he is truly an artist of the people, a creative mind that offers itself as a mirror to how we live and think. He is proud to be representing his country at this time of upheaval, and humbly says: “It’s extremely important for me and I just hope that I can say something meaningful in the end.”

Film + TV
Photo from 'Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti' trailer, YouTube.

What is Behind the Rise of Nollywood Blockbusters?

As movie theaters in Nigeria thin due to price increases, the future of Nollywood appears to be in danger despite the many blockbusters emerging in recent times.

In early June, just a few weeks after the release of Bolanle Austen-Peters’ highly anticipated biopic Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the Nigerian Box Office account — dedicated to tracking film performances in Nigerian theaters — released interesting data. The account disclosed that since February, the Nigerian film industry, known informally as Nollywood, has recorded a blockbuster every month this year.

Films like All’s Fair In Love,a syrupy romancestarring Timini Egbuson and Deyemi Okanlawon, the epic Beast of Two Worlds, Austen-Peters’ Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, and the wildly hilarious star-studded comedy, Ajosepo. All these films grossed over ₦100 million ($66,065), with the highest being Beast of Two Worlds with ₦250 million ($165,163).

On the surface, this data bodes well for an industry that’s gradually growing. According to the Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria, Nigerians spent over ₦6 billion (almost $4 million) at the movies in 2022. The highest-grossing Nigerian film of that year was Jade Osiberu’sBrotherhood, while Black Panther: Wakanda Forever came in as the highest-grossing film at Nigerian cinemas. Fast forward to 2023 when Funke Akindele’sA Tribe Called Judahraked in over a billion naira ($660,654) at the box office, the future of Nollywood saw a revival, but for experts and moviegoers, that may not be entirely borne of positive circumstances.

Daniel Okey, a Nigerian film expert, researcher, and co-founder of In Nollywood, tells OkayAfrica that while these impressive numbers are a welcome change, as Nollywood typically only gets numbers like these during festive seasons, the steep ticket prices and declining admission numbers at the cinema tell a different story.

In a chart released by the Nigerian Box Office, the weekly average cinema attendance admissions rate was as high as 35,000 in 2020. Fast forward to just last year and that number dropped to 19,733 still the box office is said to have recorded ₦2.25 billion in revenue in the first quarter of 2024.

Behind the numbers

Leo Osoh, a 27-year-old based in Lagos, has been a regular cinema-goer since he was in secondary school. Leo, who works as a recruiter, remembers visiting the Ozone E-cinema in Yaba, a Lagos suburb, when it first opened around 2008. “They had a unique offering of ₦500 ($0.33) tickets for students and I took advantage of that,” he recalls. “I would sometimes go there in my school uniform after school. When I graduated secondary school, I had a gap year and in that year, I don’t think there was a single week I didn’t go to the cinema. I watched everything showing irrespective of genre.” The most important thing, as he points out is that, “Ticket prices remained the same and so financially it wasn’t a burden.”

Now for many cinema-goers like Leo in Nigeria, regularly going to the movies is no longer a sustainable sport. “The last time I saw a movie was last month at Genesis Deluxe Cinemas, Maryland Mall and it cost me a total of ₦14,500 (about $10) — the ticket was ₦7,000 (about $5), popcorn ₦7,000, and drink ₦500,” Leo tells OkayAfrica.

Chioma Muojekwu, a web designer, remembers paying as low as ₦700 ($0.46) for movie tickets as recently as 2020, which sometimes included drinks and popcorn. Muojekwu says the high cost of tickets, which have gone up to ₦10,000 ($6.61), has caused lines to thin at the cinema. “What used to be a packed cinema filled with glee, excitement and anticipation, has become so barren and plagued by a deafening silence of a smothered source of joy, excitement and a good time,” she reminisces. “I could take a picture in the cinema during a blockbuster weekend these days and claim that I bought out the cinema for the whole duration of the movie, and people will probably believe me. Hard not to when I'm the only person in the whole cinema.”

Nigeria’s economy has been reported to be the worst it’s ever been in years, with basic amenities such as food, now difficult for many to afford. This situation leaves many without the means to afford rising movie ticket costs and also adversely affects the profits of filmmakers. For instance, when Funke Akindele’s A Tribe Called Judah first recorded ₦1 billion, the dollar value was $1.1 million. That same figure now converts to just above $660,000 — a heartbreaking decimation of what was a landmark financial moment for Nollywood. If this feat had been achieved just a year ago, before Nigeria’s central bank governor floated the naira, the same figure would be over $2 million.

The way forward?

As Okey sees it, there isn’t much cinema can do to address the real problem — low admissions. “I don’t think cinemas can do anything to mitigate the spike so it’s not their fault, they have to increase prices to balance things with inflation. It’s just them being honest with themselves about how the numbers look because they are charging more for tickets,” Okey says.

The exorbitant ticket prices could seriously affect Nigeria’s cinema culture - potentially forcing people to move to streaming platforms like Netflix and YouTube who, for a month, offer a library of Nollywood and non-Nollywood films at half the price it now costs to watch a movie at the cinema. Additionally, for independent Nigerian filmmakers looking to be seen on the big screen and unable to get their films optioned for streaming platforms, this situation finds them in a difficult limbo.

“It’s a really worrying situation. If someone like me who is deep in film is not very confident about seeing a film, how do you convince [other people] to spend that much money on a ticket? It makes me feel like if it continues, we might start seeing cinemas close down, just as they did before.”

With the state of things, Nollywood might continue to record massive blockbuster numbers but these numbers will only be the reflection of a small percentage of people who have managed to secure pricey tickets, and not a testament to the growing appetite for Nollywood films at the cinema. The likelihood of moviegoers switching to YouTube and other affordable streaming platforms for Nollywood content continues to be a high possibility — that is, as Okey says, if the economy continues to plummet.

Music
Photo by C Brandon/Redferns via Getty Images.

The 100 Best African Albums (According To Our Readers)

Browse through this winding sonic trip that includes Afrobeats, jazz, rumba, highlife, hip-hop and many other classics.

Earlier this year, Apple Music curated their 100 best albums list. It made the news for the grandiosity of their ambition, but also for how it focused on North American and European music, without highlighting many African contributions.

We asked ourselves: what should a top 100 album list look like? What genres and artists should be given priority and why? These questions made it clear to us that judging music is always a subjective activity. With that in mind, we gave the power to our readers in trying to gauge what a 100 Best African Albums of All-Time list would look like, asking them to comment on our social media callout.

From there we gathered the albums with the most mentions and collected them in the list that follows below. We provide blurbs to fifteen of the albums — this doesn’t account for the best among them — but rather seeks to showcase the variety in the list. No countries are represented twice in our blurbs and the albums chosen work in service of the overall list.

Here are the 100 best African albums ever, as chosen by OkayAfrica’s readers.

Sun-El Musician – ‘Africa to the World’  [South Africa]


On his debut studio album, Sun-El Musician called forth the brilliance of his impeccable sonic world. That soundscape often drew from electronic music, but with flourishes that are so original that every song shines with thought and feeling. It’s a depiction of the soulful side of African music, with a composer at its heart who understands the continent’s sonic history but blazes farther, farther to an almost dreamy landscape. A stellar offering, a mesmerizing and nuanced journey.

Orchestra Baobab – ‘Pirates Choice’ [Senegal]


History passes through the sonic prism of this record. Suffused in the grainy, jazz-inflected sound of the rumba, it’s a tender album with no copy. The band’s formation in Senegal is a myth of its own, spawned when the Baobab club opened in Dakar and lured then-established members of the rival Star Band to form their in-house players. The mastery is apparent on Pirates Choice: arranged precisely, it’s a progressively moving album that dazzles to the end.

El Masreyeen – ‘Banat Keteer’ [Egypt]


In the 1970s, El Masyereen arose to revolutionize Egyptian music. Their formation was inspired by similar bands popping everywhere, especially in the West, but the music shunned out-facing influences, rather propelling themes that related to everyday life around them. Often sung in Arabic, the songs in this album possess an unassuming quality, minimalist and cool. It’s an album suited to introspection and quietly dramatic moments.

Burna Boy – ‘African Giant’ [Nigeria]


When Burna Boy got his international breakthrough in 2018, new listeners could be forgiven for thinking he was primarily internationally-focused in songs. Outside was quite experimental, but the album that came after—African Giant—was a masterful nod to several traditions within Nigerian pop. Afrobeat, fuji, reggae, R&B and rap: he did it all, while carrying the weight of being the continent’s giant. A modern classic couldn’t be better written.

Papa Wemba – ‘Emotion’ [Democratic Republic of Congo]


Legendary in many ways than one, Papa Wemba embodies life at its most colorful, freshest, eccentric. Albums crafted from his distinct sensibilities tended to be sprightly, a hallway where the party begins. His sound — oscillating between the Congolese trio of rumba, soukous and ndombolo — illuminates the feeling of revelry, and Emotion takes it a hundred levels higher. A passionate showcase, its classic material comes from its singing and fine arrangement.

Cesária Évora – ‘Miss Perfumado’ [Cape Verde]


Passionate measure was the distinct mark of Cesaria Evora while she made music. Drawing from the coladeira and morna styles, which utilized sensuous guitars, her emotive vocals polishes the sound to finesse. On Miss Perfumado, every performance is a testament to Evora’s ability to relentlessly tug at the heart, with a wizened perspective of universal themes. The album achieves balance, rolling tender as Evora goes deeper into the human condition.

Sauti Sol – ‘Afrikan Sauce’ [Kenya]


It should be undisputed that Sauti Sol are among the best bands to ever come out of Africa. Carving a distinct sound that was beautifully East African in scope, their soulful records and albums occupy a high place in contemporary African music. And of their albums, none occupies a higher space than this collaborative rollercoaster, whose multiplicity of voices didn’t obscure its unifying vision. It’s everything you want in an album: mood, message and that extra magic.

Richard Bona – ‘Scenes From My Life’ [Cameroon]


Cameroonian jazz bassist and singer Richard Bona made a stellar introduction on this debut album. As most artists tend to do, that offering is infused with rich autobiographical material, carrying the musician’s ethos of storytelling and measure through its 52-minutes runtime. Suffused with languid jazz grooves, the Douala singing however gives the album a localized grounding, wherein ancient wisdom spills forth into keen contemporary knowledge.

Oliver Mtukudzi – ‘Nhava’ [Zimbabwe]


Meaning ‘carrying bag,’ in Oliver Mtukudzi’s native Zimbabwe language, this is an album of precision and calculated risks. Calculated in the sense that every meter of sound doesn’t extend past its supposed line, and the singing is masterfully evocative, in the style of the griots. Through this tradition Mtukudzi creates an album that is immersive and singular, unafraid of pulling the listener by the hand as it takes her on a sprawling journey.

Black Sherif – ‘The Villain I Never Was’ [Ghana]


Black Sherif carries the trajectory of West African music in his sound. You hear a lot of Highlife in his vocal deliveries even when the production tends to be drill-streaked, while there’s tints of Afropop influences here and there. On The Villain I Never Was, Blacko cashed in on his generational skills by putting out an album that showcased his heart and art, pristine as it is. A quintessential body of work, there’s an undying quality found here.

Fatoumata Diawara – ‘Fatou’ [Mali]


This self-titled Fatoumata Diawara album moves to the ebbs of personal life. To do so, its soundscape is intricate and intimate, often utilizing the guitar patterns of the Southern Mali Wassoulou tradition to its service. Fatou also calls upon experienced personnel such as Toumani Diabate and Guimba Kouyate to bring its rootsy, dazzling form to life.

Kenneth Mugabi – ‘People of the Land’ [Uganda]


Disarmingly soulful, the music of Kenneth Mugabi offers a wonderful immersion into the motions of being human. His 2022-released third album accounts for the manifestations of life in his native Uganda. Featuring acts from the country, the grandness of the sound and the intimacy of Mugabi’s vocals create an instantly memorable experience for the listener. It’s an album that reminds one of the social duties of the musician as well as the power of song.

Bombino – ‘Deran’ [Niger]


This album, recorded at a studio owned by the sultan of Morocco, solidified Bombino’s standing as a world-renowned guitarist and musician. The five albums that had come before were mired in deep sociopolitical concerns, as Bombino was actively involved in the life and consciousness of the Tuareg people. Deran consecrates earthy experience into ethereal sound; audacious, thoughtful and technically-astute, it showcases Bombino’s flair for the grand.

Tumi and the Volume – ‘Live At The Bassline’ [Mozambique]


Nowadays he’s known as Stogie T, but in the 2000s, it was Tumi and the Volume, the band made up of the drummer Paulo Chibanga, bass guitarist David Bergman and lead guitarist Tiago Correia-Paul, all three instrumentalists from Mozambique. The group’s debut album, Live at the Bassline emerges from the poetry slam tradition in hip-hop, streaked with jazzy instrumentation as Tumi dispenses knowledge about the life around them. A perfect body of work, it launched the group onto the forefront of hip-hop discussions and set them to become all-time greats.

Alpha Blondy – ‘Revolution’ [Côte d’Ivoire]


One of the reggae greats, it’s a blessing that Alpha Blondy is from Africa. He’s made his own peculiar experiences stand out in his music, even while utilizing the roots reggae style prevalent within his generation. As the title infers, Revolution is a searing body of work, incorporating commentary on the modern world from the standpoint of an international observer. Blondy’s music stands out for its wisdom and groove and those qualities are present here, in this stellar album which embodies the vivacity of Africa’s peak reggae period in the 1980s.

Below are the rest of the albums selected by our readers.

Dadju & Tayc - ‘Héritage’ [French Congolese]


Spoek Mathambo - ‘Mzansi Beat Code’  [South Africa]


Bien - ‘Alusa Why Are You Topless?’ [Kenya]


Khaled - ‘Sahra’ [Algeria]


Mayra Andrade - ‘Manga’ [Cabo Verde]


Miriam Makeba - ‘Pata Pata’ [South Africa]


Kamal Keila  - ‘Muslims & Christians’  [Sudan]


Caiphus Semenya - ‘Streams Today… Rivers tomorrow’ [South Africa]


Reniss - ‘Tendon’ [Cameroon]


Hugh Masekela  - ‘The Boy’s Doin It’ [South Africa]


Mohamed Wardi – ‘Live in Addis Ababa’ [Sudan]


Kanda Bongo Man - ‘King of Kwasa Kwasa’ [DR Congo]


Wizkid - ‘Made in Lagos’ [Nigeria]


Osibisa - ‘The Very Best of Osibisa’ [Ghana-Caribbean-Britain]


Brenda Fassie - ‘Memeza’ [South Africa]


Fela Kuti - ‘Beasts of No Nation’ [Nigeria]


Magasco  - ‘Infinity’  [Cameroon]


Danny Thompson, Ketama, and Toumani Diabaté - ‘Songhai’ [Mali]


Salif Keita - ‘Soro’ [Mali]


Jantra - ‘Synthesized Sudan: Astro-Nubian Electronic Jaglara’ [Sudan]

Eddy Kenzo - ‘Biology’ [Uganda]


Khuli Chana - ‘Lost in Time’ [South Africa]


Petit Yero Bantinghel - ‘Mowlanan’ [Guinea]


Fally Ipupa - ‘Droit Chemin’ [DR Congo]


AKA  - ‘Levels’ [South Africa]


Aziza Brahim - ‘Mabrul’ [Algeria]


Tito Paris - ‘Dança Ma Mi Criola’ [Cabo Verde]


Ismaël Lô - ‘Senegal’ [Senegal]


Sona Jobarteh - ‘Fasiya’ [Gambia]


Tamikrest  - ‘Chatma’ [Mali]


Amadou & Mariam - ‘La Confusion’ [Mali]


Femi Kuti - ‘Shoki Shoki’ [Nigeria]


Yemi Alade - ‘Mama Africa’ [Nigeria]


Rema - ‘Rave & Roses’ [Nigeria]


Freshlyground - ‘Nomvula’ [South Africa]


Amaka Jaji - ‘Tidet’ [Libya]


Lura  - ‘Di Korpu Ku Alma’ [Cabo Verde]


Senkulive and Worlasi - ‘World (The Man and The God)’ [Ghana]


Samthing Soweto - ‘Isiphithiphithi’ [South Africa]


Franco Luambo and Tpok Jazz  - ‘Franco et le tout puissant OK Jazz’ [DR Congo]


Styl-Plus  - ‘Expressions’  [Nigeria]


TK - ‘Black Butterfly’ [South Africa]


Mohamed Mounir - ‘Shababeek’  [Egypt]


Takura - ‘Someone Had to Do It’ [Zimbabwe]


Omah Lay  - ‘Boy Alone (Deluxe)’ [Nigeria]


Boubacar Traoré  - ‘Mbalimaou’ [Mali]


Conboi Cannabino - ‘Street Ties’ [Tanzania]


Ladysmith Black Mambazo - ‘Umthombo Wamanzi’ [South Africa]


Blk Sonshine - ‘Blk Sonshine’ [Malawi and South Africa]


Asa - ‘Asa’ [Nigeria]


Habib Koité - ‘Afriki’ [Mali]


P-Square - ‘Game Over’ [Nigeria]


Stimela - ‘Out of the Ashes’ [South Africa]


Sauti Sol - ‘Midnight Train’ [Kenya]


Ata Kak - ‘Obaa Sima’ [Ghana]


Bonga - ‘Angola 72/74’  [Algeria]


África Negra - ‘Carambola’ [São Tomé and Príncipe]


Asake - ‘Work of Art’  [Nigeria]


Awilo Longomba - ‘Mondongo’ [DR Congo]


Magic System - ‘Premier Gaou’ [Côte d’Ivoire]


Tiwa Savage - ‘Celia’ [Nigeria]


Waldemar Bastos - ‘Pretaluz’ [Angola]


David Zé - ‘O Melhor de David Zé’  [Angola]


Letta Mbulu - ‘There’s Music in The Air’ [South Africa]


Davido - ‘Timeless’ [Nigeria]


Yondo Sister - ‘Deviation Sexy Soukouss’ [DR Congo]


2Baba - ‘Grass 2 Grace’ [Nigeria]


Thandiswa Mazwai - ‘Zabalaza’ [South Africa]


Youssou N'Dour - ‘Immigrés’ [Sénégal]


Lucky Dube - ‘Best of Lucky Dube’ [South Africa]


Koffi Olomide - ‘V12’ [DR Congo]


Sarkodie - ‘Rapperholic’ [Ghana]


Christy Essien-Igbokwe - ‘One Understanding’ [Nigeria]


Os Tubarões - ‘Djonsinho Cabral’ [Cabo Verde]


Bongeziwe Mabandla - ‘IImini’ [South Africa]


TKZee - ‘Halloween’ [South Africa]


Zahara - ‘Loliwe’ [South Africa]


Manu Dibango - ‘Soul Makossa’ [Cameroon]


Sade - ‘Promise’ [Nigerian-born]


Tems - ‘For Broken Ears’ [Nigeria]


Azawi - ‘Sankofa’ [Uganda]


Barnaba Classic - ‘Love Sounds Different’ [Tanzania]


Kabza De Small - ‘KOA’ [South Africa]


MC Cairo - ‘King Cairo’ [Liberia]


Nasty C - ‘Strings and Bling’ [South Africa]

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