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Saxophonist Vee Mukarati in Harare. (Photo: Bongani Kumbula)

Party Dark: Harare Continues To Dance Amidst Worsening Power Cuts

Yael Even Or reports on Zimbabwe's increasing power cuts and nightlife from Harare.

Power cuts have become so common in Zimbabwe in recent months that saxophonist Vee Mukarati didn't even realize the party he was playing at last month had gone totally dark. Neither did any of the other people moving along to his music. "It's like trying to do gigs on Mars," he told me after the gig.


It was Friday night and we were at a backyard party in the Harare suburb of Highlands. Mukarati was playing with DJ Dawee a mix of pop, hip-hop and local jazz. Whenever the sound system went down for lack of power, the audience used it as an excuse to get another drink. By the time the generator came online they were dancing again.

In the past three months Zimbabweans have been suffering from power cuts lasting as long as 18 hours a day. People say the blackouts have been happening for at least eight years now, but that it's recently become much worse. The country is currently producing less than half of the electricity it needs during peak demand time.

Fingers are pointed all over: Some people are angry at the Energy Minister Samuel Undenge for selling Zim's power to neighbouring countries; the opposition party MDC-T slams President Mugabe for that; Mugabe blames the low levels of water in Lake Kariba, which may or may not have been caused by the drought (some say it's overuse); At the same time the most apparent official version is that the current power cuts are caused by the maintenance work at the country's two largest power plants.

And while the situation remains unresolved, Harare's music scene refuses to rest. Right before the rainy season, the city had a number of major events scheduled to take place, including the Harare Jazz Festival, the International Film Festival and Zimbabwe Fashion Week. To deal with the blackouts, producers and business owners rely on diesel generators. But these are costly and suffer from technical difficulties and reliability issues. And so it's common to find yourself in a dark gathering or sitting in a fancy movie theater waiting ten minutes in the dark for the film to resume after the generator stops working.

“We as artists, as promoters, as party planners–when you put something together you know you have to consider that in your budget," says Mukarati. “If it's a paying event, the price of the ticket has to consider that."

Mukarati had recently watched The Martian, a film about an astronaut stuck on Mars. In the movie, Matt Damon's character talks about how everything on Mars is against you, and you just have to deal with things one obstacle at a time. “It's all very closely related to how I feel about the challenges of living and working in Harare" Mukarati explains.

“Everything is against you," he elaborates, “you don't necessarily have the freedom of speech, you don't have electricity, you don't have a constant water supply, you don't have a functional economy."

Despite the difficulties, Mukarati, who launched his debut solo album at the end of October, is not going anywhere. He lived abroad for three years while studying music in Dublin. When asked if it was hard to go back to Zim, he replies: “Not at all! I'm crazy about this place."

“I'm not going to quit my passion and do something else that I don't care about," he explains. “I'll work with the circumstances that I have and be the best that I can be in this environment and be better equipped to work in a functional environment because I just know how to deal with problems now."

Some have an even more positive approach towards the power cuts. One of them is Cox Chipunza, a drummer and music teacher.

“Trust me, I think it's better when there's no power," he says after performing with a German jazz band on a tour, "because you're the only one making noise and everyone else is wondering where you are getting your power.'"

Power envy is a thing these days. Zimbabwe's News 24 recently reported on people organizing to “snitch" on their neighbors who, inexplicably, don't suffer shortages as often. The rationale is—if they'd tell on their neighbors they might achieve “a more equitable distribution of load-shedding." And the authorities are encouraging it.

For Chipunza, if there's power to play music—that's enough. “My dock station got a battery. So every time there's no power—I make noise, literally, like big noise. All the neighbors got to know that that guy has got something."

Unequal distribution of electricity is sometimes explained easily. Some people get continuous power merely because of their proximity to sensitive facilities like hospitals and to VIP households like the homes of ministers and their relatives.

“I'm very blessed that I'm in this area," says Zandi Mubi, the owner and the head-chef of an Afro-French bistro and bar. Mubi opened the place four months ago and has thus far had only three short power cuts. She speculates that it's because of Chez Zandi's proximity to the Zimbabwean Police Headquarters and the State House.

As a new business owner, saving from the costs of a generator and constant fuel supply is a huge relief for Mubi. Her house is a different story though. “Oh, it's terrible," she sighs. “I'll usually call home before going back there to see if there's power and if it's not there—I'll just stay at the bistro and keep on working."

On a brighter note, Mukarati says the electricity shortages have their occasional advantages. At the Harare Jazz Festival in September, he and his band were slated to play a less favorable off-peak time slot, but because of a malfunction with the generator, the set was pushed.

“So we ended up doing a prime time sunset set followed by Tuku," he says enthusiastically. “Oliver Mtukudzi played right after us and it was one the best gigs we had all year and it wouldn't have happened if there hadn't been a power cut."

Saxophonist Vee Mukarati parties in the dark at Tristan's at 14 Aintree (AKA Half Bar) in Harare.

Yael is a writer and radio producer based in New York. She covers the Middle East, Africa, immigration and security. She's the co-founder of the Hebrew language site african.co.il. You can follow her on Twitter at @yaelevenor.

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University lecturer and activist Doctor Stella Nyanzi (L) reacts in court as she attends a trial to face charges for cyber-harassment and offensives communication, in Kampala, on April 10, 2017. (Photo by GAEL GRILHOT/AFP via Getty Images)

Jailed Ugandan Activist, Stella Nyanzi, Wins PEN Prize for Freedom of Expression

The outspoken activist, who is currently serving a prison sentence for a poem she wrote about the president's mother's vagina, won for her resistance "in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her."

Stella Nyanzi, the Ugandan academic, activist, and vocal critic of President Yoweri Museveni has been awarded the 2020 Oxfam Novib/PEN International award for freedom of expression, given to writers who "continue to work for freedom of expression in the face of persecution."

Nyanzi is currently serving a 15 month sentence for "cyber harassment" after she published a poem in which she wrote that she wished "the acidic pus flooding Esiteri's (the president's mother) vaginal canal had burn up your unborn fetus. Burn you up as badly as you have corroded all morality and professionalism out of our public institutions in Uganda."

According to the director of PEN International, Carles Torner, her unfiltered outspokenness around the issues facing her country is what earned her the award. "For her, writing is a permanent form of resistance in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her," said Torner at the award ceremony.

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(Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

Chinonye Chukwu Will Direct the First Two Episodes of HBO Max's Upcoming 'Americanah' Series

Here's the latest news surrounding the highly-anticipated limited series, starring Lupita Nyong'o, Uzo Aduba and more.

Nigerian-American director Chinonye Chukwu is set to helm the first two episodes of the upcoming limited series Americanah, starring Lupita Nyong'o.

Chukwu is the award-winning filmmaker, behind the critically-acclaimed film Clemency, which won the 2019 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, making her the first Black woman to win the award.

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5 Women Doing Amazing Things Behind the Scenes in South African Hip-Hop

Behind every successful South African rapper of the last decade is a woman helping to get ish done. Helen Herimbi spoke to a few of them.

South African hip-hop had a great run in the last decade. As we start a new era, it's important to highlight the women who have played a pivotal role in the growth of the genre.

​Thuli Keupilwe

Thuli Keupilwe is the founder of LAWK Communications, an artist booking and representation agency that now works closely with the likes of DJ Maphorisa and Kabza de Small.

But she's not all about the yanos. Thuli has worked with urban music brands like Dreamteam SA and Homecoming Events, but in 2016, she cast her booking agent net wider and started LAWK Communications where she worked with DJs Capital and Sliqe.

The following year, Thuli received a phone call that would force her to level up. "Boom," she exclaims. "February 2017. PJay from B3nchMarQ called me. I was the one that pushed A-Reece to get onto his first Maftown Heights around 2014 and we're all from Pretoria so I'd known them since forever."

B3nchMarQ and A-Reece were gearing up to leave Ambitiouz Entertainment and when she agreed to be their booking agent, Thuli hadn't anticipated how much it would stretch her. Partly because the artists weren't initially permitted to perform their own songs—problematic for an agent who is meant to book them for gigs.

"I didn't see that coming at all," she says. "I was going up against the big guys, people I looked up to. I realized I needed to get a lawyer." Eventually, the artists were legally permitted to gig. "I had one of my biggest years with Reece after that. I am still with him till today."

A-Reece had managed to amass an enviable fan base size mostly from his online and streaming presence. Thuli works closely with him and counts using A-Reece's "Rich" song in a sync deal with the gambling website BET.co.za as a milestone in their partnership. "It was a good check," she chuckles. "And he was being himself and that's the most important thing to me."

Kay Faith

Authenticity has been the drive behind Kay Faith's work. The Cape Town-based engineer, producer and budding vocalist began her career behind the boards during sessions for the likes of Yasiin Bey, Nasty C and E-Jay.

She put out her own EP, In Good Faith, in 2017, and in 2018, she became the first female producer in the world to be featured on Apple Music's New Artist Spotlight.

She has also given us hip-hop bangers like "Slam Dunk" by Da L.E.S and YoungstaCPT. The latter is a frequent collaborator of hers. So much so that when his album 3T won the Best Album category at this year's South African Hip Hop Awards, she felt it was a win for her too. Especially since projects she'd worked on had been nominated and lost before.

Read: Meet The Woman Engineering Your Favorite South African Hip-Hop Releases

"When we started [the song] 'YVR,' I had this emotional feeling that it would be something big for Cape Town," Kay excitedly says. "From recording to mixing to mastering and featuring as a vocalist on 'The Cape of Good Hope' and 'KAAPSTAD NAAIER,' I was behind all of 3T. I even co-produced the 'Pavement Special' intro and the 'Outro' with Chvna.

"We spent 11 months crafting and him trying to get it to be perfect so it was a surreal feeling when we won Album of the Year. I even sent out a tweet saying: 'Can we just take a moment to realize that the South African Hip Hop Album of the Year was entirely engineered by a woman?'"

Kay's upcoming album, Antithesis is slated for a 2020 release. "It's going to be the first album of its kind, I believe," she says. "And I'm really trying to play with that idea of being the antithesis of hip-hop. I am a woman, an Afrikaans kid, in hip-hop. When I walk in, people don't expect me to be an engineer or a hip-hop producer and when I roll out my accolades, then they're like, 'damn, Kay's got game.' That reaction is what this album is about."

Phindi Matroshe

For Phindi Matroshe, the outside reaction to her work is not the most important thing. Phindi is a publicist and talent manager who owns At Handle, a PR and social marketing solutions firm. She was there before Nadia Nakai became a Reebok or Courvoisier ambassador and before she had sold-out ranges with Sportscene's Redbat.

She was also there when Nadia bagged a Best Female pyramid at the 2019 South African Hip Hop Awards. And she was right beside her when she scooped awards at AFRIMA 2019 for Best Artist, Duo or Group in African Hip Hop as well as Best Female Artiste: Southern Africa.

"Winning awards was never the mission," Phindi confesses. "Honestly, we have never done things to try and get awards. Nadia truly loves what she does and it feels great when that is acknowledged and someone pats us on the back for work we've done. I really love and respect what I do and don't see it as a job."

Having handled publicity for the likes of JR, Tumi Masemola (of Gang of Instrumentals), Shane Eagle, Major League DJs and more, Phindi pivoted to managing Nadia. She says: "Seeing the things we talk about come to life or when we're in the boardrooms signing those deals, those are personal milestones for me."

​Ninel Musson

Ninel Musson has been brokering some of hip-hop's biggest deals for over a decade. She co-owns Vth Season, a boutique full-service entertainment marketing agency with Raphael Benza.

A former party promoter and publisher of the wonted.co.za website, Ninel helped start a record label wing of Vth Season where AKA was their first signee. Together, they turned AKA into a mainstream success that the artist could bank on when he started the now defunct BEAM Group independent record label with Prince Nyembe in 2016.

Recently, Ninel and Benza, together with the Sony Music team, presented AKA with diamond and platinum plaques for several songs at a surprise dinner. "The music we went on to create became some of the best-selling records of all time in South Africa," Ninel says matter-of-factly. "When we started with him, the major labels said SA hip-hop would never go this far. We said we believed it would and then we did."

​Sibu Mabena

Cassper Nyovest seems to make it a point to work with women. In addition to Cassper's sisters running his Family Tree store, several Fill Up dates have seen PR maven, Sheila Afari at the helm. And while it's clear that the Fill Up series was always the brainchild of Cassper and his longtime friend and business partner, T-Lee Moiloa, bringing it to fruition has also included the skills and power of women behind the scenes. Women like Sibu Mabena, a multi-hyphenate creative entrepreneur who owns the Duma Collective.

"The day I landed back home from the EMAs, I went straight to The Dome," she remembers. "I said: 'yo, T-Lee, give me a job. I want to work on this thing.' He was like: 'bra, there's nothing for you to do.'" Sibu stuck around at the Dome, watching the production come together when a lightbulb went on in her head.

Read: Sibu Mabena Works Behind The Scenes in South African Hip-Hop, And She's Kicking Ass

"I thought: 'Cassper has 11 outfit changes. Who is helping him with those?' So Gareth Hadden from Formative, who was building the stage, said they needed someone to help with those changes. I forced myself into the Dome, and the next year I pitched to T-Lee to run the stage at Orlando Stadium. The following year was Fill Up FNB Stadium and there, I got a bigger job to run the talent operations. That's how we started doing the Fill Up Intern Search."

In the next decade of Mzansi hip hop, Sibu has her heart set on parties with a purpose. "All the things I have learnt along the way have led me to contribute to AKA's Fees For All Mega Concert," she shares. "I'm not coming on as just a creative or event organiser or marketer. It's demanding all of me. We're all tapping into a more philanthropic and less commercial role than we usually have so the pressure is that much greater."

There are plenty more women who've got game. From Lerato Lefafa, who has been a part of the team that brought us the SAHHAs and Back to the City to Bianca Naidoo who is a big part of Riky Rick's triumphant trajectory to women like Spokenpriestess, Caron Williams, Azizzar The Pristine Queen, Loot Love and way more who have, in the last decade, used their media platforms to lift up Mzansi hip-hop. In the next decade, women will still be a huge part of hip hop. It'll be interesting to see where that contribution takes the movement next.

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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.

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