The Indie Artist You Need to Listen to This Month: Femi

Get into Femi's latest single "Señorita."

This series features the most exciting independent and alternative artists from Africa and its diaspora. Black artists are complex and multidisciplinary. Every month, we'll introduce the hottest, boldest musicians out there that you need to listen to.

Femi is a rapper/singer/musician who hates being put in a box. His new EP, From Spain With Love, is a fusion of flamenco, jazz and funk inspired by Amílcar Cabral living in Portugal while actively fighting for African countries' independence. It's an EP about dreams, regrets and life outside of a nation's borders in which Femi mixes his Nigerian-Americanness with a multitude of other inspirations to create a unique blend.


As far as musician names go, it's not easy to stand out making Afro diasporan-influenced music when your first name is Femi and your last name not Kuti. Not that Femi cares much about it, "Femi isn't a particularly uncommon name in my ethnic group," he explains. "My music sounds the way it does because I've spent so much of my life in places where Femi is a weird name. I stand out among others and we have to figure out how to relate to each other despite being culturally out of pocket. That said, if niggas can go by 'Miguel' out here (no shade) I figure the world's ready for a Femi!"

How has Spanish music inspired this new EP ?

Flamenco music inspired me to learn guitar in the first place, which changed how I write and think about music. I'd heard plenty of guitar-centered music growing up in the States, from rock to folk, but none had inspired me to learn the guitar until I heard what Paco de Lucía did with a guitar.

I started reading about Amílcar Cabral, the African revolutionary who fought against Portugal for independence for Cape Verde, Guinea, and Angola and was one of the greatest political minds. How was it like for him to live and study in the capital of Portugal, the literal fascist state that controlled his country? Like jazz or funk music, flamenco is also a style of music associated with an oppressed people, especially Romani people. What did he listen to over there, what songs would he have written and what ideas would he have had if music had been his thing? Things snowballed from there.

When did you start making music?

I started making music as a kid as a way of rebelling against learning music the way I was being asked to. My parents had me in piano lessons because they thought it was the respectable instrument to learn. But they had me learning the classical stuff. My piano teacher did her best to encourage it, she even let me perform my own compositions [but] eventually my parents stopped trying and I dropped out of piano lessons.

In high school, I played saxophone in school bands. The deeper I got into jazz band and wanting to learn to improvise, the more I realized that what had really prepared me for that were the piano lessons I had brushed off. So I went back to piano and soon after that wrote my full songs with chords and lyrics.

How would you describe your music?


The most accurate description might be something like "experimental pan-African music," which is pretty far from anything I would have guessed even about myself. I grew up moving between (at least) two very different music cultures: the Nigerian diaspora community where I grew up on one hand, piano lessons and classical music on the other.

In that latter one, music seemed like a specialized thing, largely compartmentalized from other parts of life. When you went to see an orchestra perform, music was something the orchestra was doing. Your role was to sit down and pretended you knew what was going on, then when the conductor gave you the sign, then you clapped.

In the other, music seemed more like a shared everyday thing. It was tied intimately to dancing and the rhythmic organization had to be at least somewhat consistent and decipherable for non-musicians—the philosophy of groove. Song and dance could be led by anybody, musician or not, and it could happen anywhere: bible study, parties, funerals. It was built by everyone who was singing or dancing. It seemed to me to connect a lot of really geographically distant styles of music like Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Cuban music, genres from the UK pioneered by Africans and West Indian producers, highlife.


What's your inspiration when it comes to lyrics?

From Spain With Love was a concept album about immigration. Each track covers a section of the main character's life, and each song was a letter sent home at different points of his life after emigrating from Cape Verde to Spain. For this project, I thought about my parents immigrating to the States from Nigeria, what dreams were deferred to chase this one and what they must have thought about the families they built here and the families they left behind.

Writing lyrics is a place where we can try to speak about our lives with the kind of honesty we might not be willing to in actual interactions, when relationships and reputations are on the line. A lot of pop music, especially hip-hop, has gone in the other direction: we sing along to songs about experiences fewer and fewer of us have any real sort of access to.

How did you come up with the visuals for the music video Señorita?

The director, Rob Rodriquez, did a great job of representing the overall story and themes of the whole EP using just "Señorita." The water theme was especially powerful: Cape Verde is a chain of islands and served as a midway point on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and I had always imagined the protagonist immigrating by sea.

What are your future plans, music wise?

I like the idea From Spain With Love started me on, of organizing my music around places. I've got a couple other EPs in the works in that vein: From Indiana With Love where I concentrate on more of the soul and Americana influences, and From Mars With Love where I focus on the jazz, funk, and fusion sides of things and play with the sort of space-y Afrofuturist aesthetic those cats were on. Down the line I'd really like to do a Cuba-themed project.

There are some remixes coming out with Señorita, produced by DJ Broso, a friend and longtime collaborator. He's a first generation kid like me—of Garifuna heritage, now based out of Honduras, and produces tropical music with influences from throughout the diaspora. He always has a fresh and unexpected take on whatever we listen to or make together and these remixes are definitely no exception to that.

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Photo still courtesy of YouNeek Studios.

The Official Trailer for 'Malika: Warrior Queen' Is Here

Malika surely means business in the clip that sets the scene for YouNeek Studios' newest animated pilot.

After much anticipation, the new trailer for Malika: Warrior Queen, starring Nollywood's own Adesua Etomi, is finally here.

In the trailer, we already see the Warrior Queen fearlessly stand up to defend her people against enemies who have set their sights on seizing her expanding empire of Azzaz. Facing threats of invasion by foreign cultures, Malika now has to decide how to fight a war both inside her kingdom and outside of it.

"War is coming," she declares.

Malika: Warrior Queen was executive produced by Niyi Akinmolayan of Anthill Studios. The series has been three years in the making, with a two-part comic series already available for reading; and even more so in line with YouNeek Studios' mission to create stories inspired by African history, culture and mythology.

Joining Etomi in the cast are Femi Branch, voicing Chief Dogbari, Deyemi Okanlowon, voicing the WindMaker and King Bass, Blossom Chukwujekwu as Abdul and Sambassa Nzeribe, voicing General Ras.

Check it out below.

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All photos courtesy of Remi Dada

Afropreneurs: Meet the Designer Reinventing Nigerian Workspaces

Remi Dada's Spacefinish is shaking up design to create futuristic work environments for African companies

In the digital age when a fancy rectangle in our pockets can find us whatever we want, customize it and deliver it to our door, it's odd that the same thought process isn't also applied to physical space. Why does every parking lot feel exactly the same? Can waiting rooms be designed to make time pass more quickly? How can we bring these new standards of personalization into the areas where we live our lives?

Nigerian designer, Remi Dada, is doing just that. With both architecture and business degrees, Dada started his career in tech working in user experience and product marketing–eventually ending up at Google Nigeria. Once he started working in the office however, Dada didn't find it to be an environment that sparked inspiration or productivity. It felt more like rooms with tables and chairs rather than a place that nurtured new, progressive ideas. Luckily, the perfect project presented itself: redesign the office. Dada jumped at the opportunity to meld his practical knowledge in user experience with his love of design and architecture–and the result turned some heads.

Thus Spacefinish was born, a pioneering design company based in Nigeria that works with companies to transform ordinary office space into beautiful and functional environments that increase productivity and employee satisfaction. I spoke with Dada about the purpose of Spacefinish, the importance of design in the workspace and the unique properties of designing in Nigeria for Nigerians. Read on for insights from the design entrepreneur on the impact of spaces and what the future holds for the company.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Nereya Otieno for OkayAfrica: In your experience, how important is workspace environment in Lagos? How is it viewed?

It hasn't been prioritized. A lot of employers do not invest heavily in their employees and you can see that in work spaces all over the world. Now, people are also beginning to understand that high-performing employees–especially millennials–want to work in a space that inspires them and with people who inspire them. Right now in Nigeria it is still very new.

We've been able to measure how companies have been performing prior to us renovating their space and afterwards. What we've seen consistently is that our spaces help with employee retention, they help with collaboration and they help with inspiration. One important thing that we always measure and that we try and add to our design is what we call 'PIC.' PIC is the measure of productivity, innovation and collaboration–now we can track that within a workspace. These three key things are the pillars of how we create better work spaces.


A sketch showing plans for a space in the PwC Experience Centre, Lagos.

With that data, it's probably pretty simple to pitch Spacefinish to a company. But what was it like in the beginning to try and sell the first Spacefinish idea outside of Google? You're essentially coming into a stranger's space and saying 'you're doing this wrong.'

True. We were very lucky in that the first space we did was a Google office. It's Google. Everyone aspires to have a workplace like Google and people visiting the office were curious about how a space like that could exist in Nigeria. So there was a lot of interest but no commitments. Our first real commitment came from a company called Andela, a tech startup aspiring to be like the spaces you see in Silicon Valley. But they were looking to create a space just to meet their capacity and meet their head count, that was all. They thought they wouldn't be able to afford what we'd done for Google.

I went and pitched for them to do something different instead of creating the standard, generic workspace that we've all seen. Then I took our approach: connect the expense and cost of that project to the potential output of the team working there and how that could affect the company's bottom line. When we do that, it becomes an easier conversation to have. Once we are able to connect with the key decision makers and give them metrics they actually care about—like it's not about having a pretty space but about having a space that will allow people to achieve their short and long-term goals—they tend to be more receptive.

A meeting room at the Google offices in Lagos.

Do you feel like a bit of a disruptor or trouble maker?

I would say when we started we didn't feel like a disruptor. For me, it felt very natural because it was in line with what I was hired for and the world I was coming from. When you work at Google, you tend to live in an innovation bubble. So we didn't feel like disruptors while it was happening, but when we got people's reactions—the industry's reaction—then we realized that what we were doing was actually groundbreaking and very new to that part of the world.

Okay. And then what do you do after that? You just keep poking at that nerve?

Yeah. [Laughs] So what happens after that is the floodgates open up and we start to see a lot more demand than we can handle as a company. That gave me the confidence to quit my job at Google and do this full time. We are now starting to figure out how to do it to the best of our capacity at the same level, and sometimes surpassing, what our peers are doing across the world.

What do you find is the most important element within the workspace? How does Spacefinish highlight that?

People are the most important element in the workspace. One CEO said that his team was very unruly—weren't well composed. There is a mentality that we all subscribe to, especially coming from Nigeria where you see people at the local airports not obeying the rules. But those same people, as soon as they land in Heathrow, they're suddenly very compliant. They're the same people. The only thing that changed is their environment. New spaces can cause people to change their behavior—they morph into the space. For that client, the leadership was very happy that their team members began acting in the way they wanted them to act when we changed the space. The psychology of the whole thing is very interesting. That's why we take a human-centered approach to design, with a lot of qualitative and quantitative research before we begin.

View of the Vibranium Valley warehouse workspace in Lagos.

I'm originally from California and I grew up in Silicon Valley–it's a very peculiar place simply because of the concentration of resources. There are surely different challenges for a developer in Nigeria versus one in Silicon Valley. What is the most unique thing for you, after all your travels and experience, that makes designing for Nigeria special?

That's a really good question. You rarely find imagery of inland Africa that is progressive and modern. The first time in recent times was the Black Panther movie and that's why it was so huge. Kids could see a different version of what Africa could be in their collective imagination. I'm making this correlation because that is what I think is different for us, from a design standpoint. For example, the Google office in Nigeria looks very Nigerian. It has a lot of cultural nuances and it is locally relevant to the region, however it is a very sophisticated and modern space with all the right technology. There's videoconferencing, micro-efficiency, access control and security but with the backdrop of an African space. When people see that, it feels very fresh and new and there is so much content that we can use to inspire–from artwork to traditions–and we infuse all those things in to the spaces we're creating.

Do you have a favorite space you've done?

All the spaces we've done have been fantastic. But I think my favorite to date is the PwC office, it is an innovation hub and a huge cultural departure for PwC. They are more or less known as a rigid, stoic brand and they wanted a space that defied all of those things. So we created an innovation hub that was super, super, super futuristic and the first of its kind in West Africa. Anyone who knows interior fitouts understands that lines are straightforward but curves are complicated. This space has a lot of curves. That's difficult to do anywhere in the world but 10 times more complicated in Nigeria because we just don't have access to the right tools and technology that you will find elsewhere. But it came out very well and that has been my most exciting space so far.

A look at the PwC Experience Centre, Lagos

Was it also the most challenging?

It was, yes, because of the design ideas we wanted to achieve. We have things like revolving doors that were inspired by the hobbits' shire in Lord of the Rings and a single workstation that extends across the entire space. There are a lot of lights, floating elements and Nsibidi—an ancient African writing system that we used to create a new language. The artwork is very deep and gives a timeline of different instances in Africa where technology has inspired innovation. It was a very involved and challenging project. But we do the challenging things because we feel it allows us to move forward and push boundaries.

Sure. It's exciting for you and everyone you work with but also, I'd say, for the local contractors and artists doing the artwork.

You know, that is something that we do differently. Most architecture firms just design but we design and build. We do that because, when we started, no one in the market really understood what we were doing. We were asking for materials that didn't exist so we had to create our own. Also, everything we do is local, we don't import anything–which can be an even bigger challenge. But we want to know that we are helping to build industries here in Nigeria, we want to help fix the lack of resources in this part of the world. We could import but it doesn't help the community and economic infrastructure in the long run.

A meeting room in Vibranium Valley

I think the first time our impact hit me was when we were building a place called Vibranium Valley. That's been our biggest project so far: a 2,000 square meter office that was built in a massive warehouse. I went there on a Wednesday one day and we had over 200 people working in the space. And for the first time I was like, "Wow, we really have the ability to create jobs as well." It put things in context for me.

Are there any plans to venture outside of offices and corporate workspaces with your human-centered approach? Classrooms, waiting rooms, etc.?

We are actually about to embark on our first non-office project. We are designing and building the interior of two international airports in Nigeria: Lagos and Port Harcourt. Two very massive projects that we couldn't say no to because...no one says no to international airports [Laughs]. So it's a good way to toss us into things outside of the workspace. So everyone should come fly to Nigeria and check it out when we're finished.

Catch Nereya on her Instagram here.

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Still from 'Harriet' trailer.

Watch Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman In the Moving New Trailer for 'Harriet'

The highly-anticipated biopic about the life of the iconic freedom fighter is due out on November 1.

Back in 2017, it was announced that Tony-winning actor and singer Cynthia Erivo would be taking on the role of the iconic freedom fighter Harriet Tubman in the upcoming biopic Harriet. We've been anticipating its release ever since, and today, the trailer for the buzzed about film has finally arrived.

The moving and climactic trailer sees Erivo delivering a convincing performance as Tubman. The film follows the hero's journey from escaping slavery to becoming a legendary abolitionist and freedom fighter. Here's the official description of the film via Shadow & Act:

Based on the thrilling and inspirational life of an iconic American freedom fighter, Harriet tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman's escape from slavery and transformation into one of America's greatest heroes. Her courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.
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