Photo courtesy of CSA Global.

In Conversation with Congolese NBA Player Emmanuel Mudiay: 'I want more African players in the NBA.'

The Utah Jazz player talks about being African in the NBA, supporting basketball in the DRC and how 'everybody knows about Burna Boy'.

Inspired by his basketball-playing older brothers, by second grade, Emmanuel Mudiay already knew that he wanted to play in the American National Basketball Association. Then in 2001 his family, fleeing the war in Democratic Republic of Congo, sought asylum in the United States.

In America, Mudiay saw basketball as a way for him to improve his situation. After impressive high school and college careers, he moved to China to play pro ball. Picked 7th overall in the 2015 NBA draft, the now 23-year-old guard has made a name for himself this season coming off the bench for the Utah Jazz.

Mudiay attests to the sport having changed not only his life but that of his siblings. Basketball gave them all a chance at a good education and the opportunity to dream without conditions. Now he wants to see other talented African players make it too.

We caught up with him to talk about his experience as an African player in the NBA, his hopes for basketball on the African continent and who he and his teammates jam out to in their locker rooms.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Last year there were about eight African players who were drafted into the NBA. What do you feel that says about not only African talent but the recognition of that talent when it comes to basketball within the NBA?

I think it's definitely heading into the right direction. Looks like the NBA's just trying to go global, not only Africa, but Europe as well. But I think as far as just Africa, they're definitely heading into the right direction. We're starting to have a plan more so than anything.

I think we're sending a lot more people that know about the game to Africa so they can get kids to start at a younger age and to learn the game at a younger age. So by the time they get a little older, by the time they get to the point where they can come over for college or they can come for the NBA, they'll be well-prepared.

I think the main focus has been just growing the game. Everybody's always been talented in Africa, but it was just the lack of resources. Getting people over there that can teach them how to play at a young age has been the most improvement. And, obviously, they got the NBA Africa over there that's been doing very, very well. They just started up the league, as well.

How would you describe your experience being a part of the Utah Jazz so far?

Everybody here is great people. The organization, they've been very good to me and they're just an A-1 organization. They have a lot of class. Everything is well put together. The preparation, like I said, has been very, very good. This is the first winning organization I've been a part of in a long time. The fact that they have a goal in mind that trying to accomplish it has been great.

Photo courtesy of CSA Global.

What are your hopes for the NBA in terms of representation in the next five years?

Man, I think it's growing so fast. How would I want the NBA look like? I would say me being an African, I guess I would want more African players as well. Like I said, it's just it's going so fast and it's going into the right direction. I think the fans are appreciative of it, and I think as far as just being more involved with the community as well. You can never go wrong with that, and just making people feel as involved as they can with us. So that's where I would like to see the NBA going, and doing a lot more stuff, doing a lot more stuff in Africa as well.

Sport undoubtedly has the ability to bring communities together. Would you say basketball has brought together communities within the African diaspora?

Yeah. You know you say sports in general brings everybody together. Sports, whether it's sports, music, or fashion, has everybody connected because they want to see what's going on. And even here in America, people hear about certain players in different countries as well.

I think sports has always been connected and it's a great thing because it has a purpose, and especially growing up how it gets you to dream as a kid. You get to have a dream, and it's something that you can put in perspective, and it's a goal that you can have in mind to try to target.

Growing up, basketball was something that I always wanted to do and I saw my brothers doing it. And even in Africa, that's where my brothers started playing. Then when we came to America, it was just something that I felt is the only kind of opportunity I had to get my situation better. That's how I looked at it.

"Sports can definitely change lives is how I look at it."

Would you say when you started playing basketball, particularly in school, the goal was always to make it to the NBA?

Personally, the aim was always to make the NBA. My mom, she wanted us to use it as a way to get an education because you know you can make a way from sports getting a free degree and stuff like that to get your school to pay for it. But I have papers, I have letters of me writing in second grade that I wanted to play in the NBA. I think that's always been a dream of mine.

What do you want to see more of in terms of basketball in your home country of the DRC?

Oh, man. That's a good question. What I would like to see more of is just more of us players going back and trying to make a difference in the kids' lives by changing the mentality of what's going on. There's a lot of stuff that the country and the continent has been through. I have a big vision as far as starting up programs over there, whether it's a school program, a basketball program, even food program because there's a lot of people who are dying of not having enough food as well.

My foundations that work there, we definitely have a plan on growing the continent as far as in any way needed, whether that's providing more food, providing more education, trying to get schools going. A lot of stuff that needs to be going on over there, whether building up the streets and stuff like that and getting people in safer places.

Photo courtesy of CSA Global.

Would you say that there is still resistance to basketball on a continent that greatly reveres soccer?

Yeah, for sure. I think the reason why the NBA is pushing for it so much is because you're seeing some good players coming out of Africa now, so there's no question that there's talent there in basketball. It's just a matter of sending the right people over there, and like I said, starting basketball programs up.

Every day in America, kids start camps at six years old, eight years old. In Africa, they don't get the chance to start basketball until probably 14, 16 years old. But I think the main thing is starting up basketball programs like opening up gyms. Like there's no access to indoor gyms. Everything's in the outdoors and stuff like that. When I went over there, there's kids there playing basketball with no shoes or non-basketball shoes.

And then in soccer, it's a little different because soccer is already outside. But basketball, in the NBA, is not played outside, so that's the thing that's a little different.

Do you think it's coincidental that this recognition of African talent (artists, musicians, film makers) across the globe is happening at the same time?

Definitely not. What's funny is me and my friend was just talking about this a couple of days ago. Probably 10, 15 years ago if you told somebody you was African, they would look at you kind of different, look at you kind of funny. But today, when you tell them you're African, they want to know more about it. They want to go over there. They feel like you're somebody special that's from the continent.

I think that's just because there's a lot of great stuff happening and Africa is putting out great stuff like you say with the pop culture and for some reason everybody's listening to Afrobeats now.

Everything is going good for Africa right now. I think that actually it's going in the right direction. And I think a lot of people just wasn't knowledgeable when it came to Africa, but I think with social media. that has helped the way it's been going. There's a lot more positive stuff that's been put out there.

Do you think that the rest of the world is making genuine headway in terms of the perception of Africa outside of tired stereotypes?

Yeah. For sure. Out here [in America] they have these tests that they take to find out what part they're from in a African country. Everybody always comes back to me and tells me I have this type of African in me and then they're trying to figure you out even more about being African.

When you see that, I think that's pretty cool because some of those people are the people that were saying negative stuff about Africans just in general. The minute they find out that that's in them, they want to find out a lot more about it and they think differently, and they start respecting the continent more and they want to dive deeper into the history of their ancestors. So, I think that's pretty cool to see.

To go back to your point on the rise in popularity of Afrobeats particularly, what personal impact would you say African music has had on your own life?

"Right now, I mean everybody knows about Burna Boy."

Everybody keeps talking about him, especially out here. I mean my teammates, American teammates and I even got some French teammates that when you walk in the locker room and they're playing his music and you wouldn't be hearing that four or five years ago.

I think the fact that everybody now is trying to get the Afrobeats thing going is pretty big. And like you said, African music, fashion, even sports, this stuff makes everybody connect. Some of the folks don't even understand some of the stuff Burna's saying but they're saying what he's saying anyway.

If you had to sum up what you want to bring to basketball and to the NBA this year in one word, what would that be?

Growth. I think just growth, honestly. Where life is right now there's so much going on around the country, but I think everybody just kind of got to go with an open mind and I think we all got to just keep growing because staying stagnant isn't good for nobody. There's a lot of stuff that we could change and there's a lot of stuff that can improve for sure so I think growth would be the main thing.

I mean I'm driving myself to being a whole different person than I was a few years ago, two years ago, even a year ago. I think with time, there's going to be a lot of stuff that can be changed and a lot of stuff always going to change. Like I said, now everybody somehow wants to be African.

News Brief
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for MRC)

Watch Burna Boy Close Out the Billboard Music Awards

The Nigerian star played a medley of "Last Last" and "Kilometre."

The 2022 Billboard Music Awards returned last night, Sunday May 15, broadcasting live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

In the big slot of the night, closing out the award ceremonies, was none-other-than the African Giant himself Burna Boy.

The Nigerian superstar, who's coming off a headline-grabbing sold out show at Madison Square Garden, jumped onstage to perform a medley of his brand new single "Last Last" (which just dropped last Friday) and the high-energy "Kilometre" backed by a full band and a drum line.

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Film poster courtesy of EGM NY Management

You Can Now Watch the Documentary 'Bigger Than Africa' on Netflix

Award-winning Nigerian Director Toyin Ibrahim Adekeye's first feature film is out this Friday, the 13th exclusively on the global streaming platform.

Netflix's investment in original African stories has seen a hoard of brilliant minds and their creations gain access to global audiences. The latest creative to share their narrative on the global streaming platform is award-winning Nigerian director Toyin Ibrahim Adekeye and his first feature film 'Bigger Than Africa'. The film, produced by Los Angeles-based Motherland Productions is available on the streaming platform this Friday, May 13th.

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Photo courtesy of the artist

Spotlight: Mozambican Lizette Chirrime On Stumbling Into Artistry

Chirrime's latest exhibition, Rituals for Soul Search embodies the artist's desire to bring audience members closer to nature, the Universe, and their souls.

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 Mozambican textile artist, Lizette Chirrime. The self-taught multidisciplinary artist channels her trauma and longing to be whole through her artwork. "These abstract forms evoke the human body and my identity-responsive practice where I refashion my self-image and transcend a painful upbringing that left me shattered and broken. I literally ‘re-stitched’ myself together. These liberated ‘souls’ are depicted ‘dancing’ on the canvas, bringing to mind, well-dressed African women celebrating", Chirrime says in her own words. The artist uses her creations to communicate the beauty in simplicity, and the divinity of being African.

We spoke with the Chirrime about accidentally finding her medium of choice, using color to express emotions, and focusing your energy on being awesome.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Describe your background as an artist and the journey you've taken to get it to where it is today.

When I started, I had no idea that I was an artist. I loved to create beautiful environments wherever I went, and when people noticed, they began giving me that title. I was using techniques that deviated from what was common at the time, particularly working with recycled materials, which I think situated me as a creative within my communities.

What are the central themes in your work?

Womanhood, Mother Earth, love, awesomeness, and spirituality.

How did you decide on using textiles to express your art?

It all started when I began working with hessian fabric, mainly, deciding to change the way it was treated in many houses. I gave it more life and a better look, and when the healing was done, I moved on to colorful fabrics in search of joy and life.

In the early 2000s, I began working with scrap materials, having been compelled to create a doll from textiles one evening. I fell in love with the medium and haven’t stopped creating since, though the way in which I utilize textiles continues to evolve.

Can you talk about your use of colors and symbolism in your art?

I use the colors I do — shades of red, blue, and green — because they remind me of beauty. They’re the vehicles I use to both express my feelings and describe certain narratives behind my expression. Symbolically, I look to nature for inspiration and translate the environment around me into symbols within my pieces. Looking to nature helps to find one’s place within the universe, and I want to help people see the value in slowness and simplicity. I hope that my work helps people appreciate how miraculous our planet is and inspires them to heal the earth from destruction.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

I relocated to Mozambique during the pandemic, after living in South Africa for many years, and have felt an incredible shift in my capacity to be present. Being removed from a city and with a slower pace of life, I’ve been able to reconnect with myself and have a direct conversation with my spirit and soul, which directly feeds into my work and the current ideas which I’m exploring.

Luckily, I didn’t feel very affected by the pandemic because I’ve had a few sponsors and continued to sell my artwork through that time. Though I didn’t sell as much as I did prior, I still managed to pay my bills, eat and create — I’m thankful to have met my needs as an artist.

Image courtesy of the artist

African Single Mother, 2021

Photo Credit: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Woolmark International Pty Ltd

Mmuso Maxwell Designers on Winning the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation

We met up with Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko, the duo behind South African brand Mmuso Maxwell. We spoke about their upbringing, winning the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, and more.

After a two year internship with veteran South African designer David Tlale, Mmuso Maxwell was born. The brand, founded by the young duo Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko, has since established a name for themselves in the African fashion industry. With successful works with A-list artists like Beyoncé — on her Black is King album — they continue to set the bar on what it means to be a successful emerging designer brand.

The duo first started to make noise in 2017, when they won the South Africa’s Fashion Week’s Sunglass Hut New Talent Search. Two years later, they came second at the 30 Under 30: The New Stars Arise Fashion Show competition held in Lagos, Nigeria. The duo walked home with $50,000, helping them establish their presence on a global landscape.

Last month, Potsane and Boko won the biggest award of their career: beating out 200 designers throughout the world, they took home the The Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, after presenting a Merino wool collection for their Autumn/Winter 2022 line.

After their big win, OkayAfrica was able to meet up with the duo and chat about their upbringing, winning the Lagerfeld Award, and more.

How would you describe your Mmuso Maxwell brand?

Maxwell Boko: I think that the perfect description of our brand is that it is inspired by African heritage, but, the most important part is that it is mixed with contemporary culture. It’s basically our point of view of our heritage. We’re modern young people who are living with technology and science, and are influenced by those things. So even if it’s still our African heritage, it’s still our own interpretation.

Mmuso Potsane: Our brand is a modern interpretation of who an African woman is. Our brand sees itself as a global brand, and we do not want to limit it to look like an ordinary African brand, but it is positioned to be like a global brand, while maintaining our African roots, interpretations and experiences.

How did the collaboration between the both of you start?

Potsane: We met during the internship from 2015-2017. At the end of the internship, we decided to bring our pieces together to make one collection because we had similar aesthetics. From there, we just decided to continue onwards as a brand.

That’s interesting. You know, the fashion industry can most times be more competition than collaboration. How are you navigating the times you might have contrasting ideas?

Boko: I think that the reason why we joined forces together is because we had similar tastes in general. What has worked for us over the five years is that we’re not dramatic about our approach to things. It’s not “this or nothing." We’re always open to each other's critiques. We also do not question our individual strengths at all.

Potsane: Yeah, we’ve sort of found a way to agree to disagree. We have somehow found a way to come together to have one vision and objection. So for us, if any of us feels strongly about something, we just give it a chance to see how it plays out. If it doesn’t, we find a way to navigate it.

Mmuso Maxwell designers with Saul Nash

Saul Nash, winner of the International Woolmark Prize, and Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko of Mmuso Maxwell, winners of the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, celebrate with models wearing their designs.

Photo Credit: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Woolmark International Pty Ltd

How about winning the Woolmark Karl Lagerfeld Innovation Award? How did that happen?

Boko: I mean, we applied, even though I said to Mmuso that Woolmark is something that’ll happen to us, maybe two, three years down the line, and that’s because it’s generally for established designers. I always figured that it’ll happen at a later date for us. So when they reached us to inform us that we were finalists, I thought, “that’s crazy.”

When I saw the other finalists, I thought that there was no chance to win; But as we progressed in the program, I saw why it was the right time for us. It helped us as a brand in terms of making our products. The eight months were very challenging, but the thing that I enjoyed the most was working with local artisans. I think that it’s even one of the reasons we won.

And just on the side, I think it’s very hard for us to see from inside how much of a big deal winning the award is. It’s always our loyal people who help us see and understand it.

How has winning this prize influenced your brand? I mean, how important do you think platforms like this are?

Potsane: I think it’s important because it allows you access to spaces in the industry that are very out of reach for a lot of African brands. It influences and helps us to think more/differently, and just on that level, play by the rules. You’re no longer thinking locally, but internationally. It’s made us more serious about our business and how to run it. People take your work more seriously, so that makes you take it more seriously too.

In terms of funding, it’s something that’s been a struggle. I mean, as a designer, you have to showcase your work and that requires a lot of money for stuff like shows, showrooms, and so on. With the help that we’re getting from the people like Birimian — some sort of investment group for African brands — it helps you ease the stress this induces.

And what are some of the challenges you’ve faced during this? Are there ways you’re now navigating it?

Boko: When we started our brand, there was no initial capital for us to start our brand. But we got a little support, and that made our next challenge be sustaining our coming collections; but recently, our major challenge has been fabric sourcing and production. There are no facilities to produce the quality we aspire to.

Potsane: To navigate these challenges, we really just go with it one step at a time, and also speak with those who can assist with things like this, such as Birimian. In terms of production, we have to come to a compromise to ensure getting the quality we want.

You're a sustainable brand. What are some of the practices you’re doing that makes it sustainable?

Potsane: We utilize local crafts and local artisans. It’s something we’ve always been passionate about since we started our brand. We use homegrown yarns for production, and working with artisans makes us follow the route of slow fashion.

Boko: We’ve always had an affinity for natural fibers since we started. As an African creative, you’re inherently sustainable because we’re not prone to waste. It’s not something we can afford. When we buy fabrics, we buy exactly what we need, and all the things we’ve done so far have been in pre-orders. We do not produce with hopes that someone will buy what we’ve made. All pieces go to our clients.

Are there creatives that inspire the work that you do?

Potsane: The people that inspire our brand, we already currently work with. So people like Tatenda Chidora, a photographer. We also love Tony Gum. She’s an amazing artist. Same as Chloe Andrea and Daniel Obasi. We totally love these people, and are highly inspired by them.

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