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Photo by Brad Ogbonna, courtesy of Ibra Ake.

Ibra Ake Is On a Mission To Show African Creatives the Value of Ownership & Telling Honest Stories

The Nigerian-American visual artist speaks further on his influences, his experience working with Childish Gambino, writing for 'Atlanta' and more.

Ibra Ake is a Nigerian-American visual artist, creative director and writer based in Los Angeles, California. Living in cities around the world from Lagos to New York has played a major role in his unique approach to visual art.

From shooting covers of magazines to being the creative director for artist's like Childish Gambino as well as writing on the hit show Atlanta, Ake is no stranger to expressing himself through different mediums. Having been introduced to art through animation and drawing, he later picked up photography through a class in art school before he decided to leave, and go into creating full time.


While Ibra has spent most of his life in America, he credits his Nigerian upbringing for allowing him to understand the value of documentation and storytelling. "Every time I'm looking for a picture of Nigeria in the 70s, I'm never like, 'let me check National Geographic.' I'm always like, 'What pictures did my parents take?' It's always true to their eye and what is important to them, which is definitely a different value, but I think there's something very authentic about that," he says. Although growing up in a Nigerian household can breed pressure for many artists, Ibra saw opportunity beyond traditional spaces and knew creating was something he wanted to invest in from an early age.

Photo by Ibra Ake, courtesy of the artist.

Photo by Ibra Ake, courtesy of the artist.

"I went to school originally for animation, flat dropped out, but I used to watch a lot of cartoons as inspiration. And my pops—probably more than my mom—encouraged me to draw," Ake says. "I think even a lot of Disney movies were super influential on me. I was consuming images pretty intensely at an early age and that's how it began. My dad was a big movie buff and had good taste, which influenced my taste in film. I was watching Casablanca, Marx Brothers movies, and Paul Newman movies, and I had a lot of weird mixture of references from him, so I just remember watching stuff that was way before my time."

After leaving school and working a full time office job, Ibra was a freelance photographer and landed a gig to shoot Childish Gambino while he was still a rising artist. Although Gambino was expecting the photographer to look like most he had encountered, Ibra was a pleasant surprise to him. "I took his picture and he was like, 'Shit, I thought you were going to be a white guy,' which was funny to me," Ake says. "After the shoot we became friends and we just bounced ideas creatively back and forth. I would do photography and design stuff, and we just kept in touch and that led to going on tour and working. Then as he got bigger, stuff just got a lot crazier."

Since meeting, the two have collaborated countless times from album covers, music videos, creative direction, production and screenwriting. This exposed him to the power of teamwork, persistence and believing in the people around you. "We've had good teachers and we've also just believed in each other. I've always thought Donald was the funniest person," he says. "We're super critical, but not just critical for [being] critical—we're super analytical in everything and I think we're pretty funny people. I think it was just about putting the steps into place and letting the universe present that for us. We've made jokes and things, but at the core of it, I think we're just writing what we observe with good taste and good restraint."

SZA on the set of 'This Is America." Photo by Ibra Ake, courtesy of the artist.

Photo by Ibra Ake, courtesy of the artist.

For him, creating is more than just storytelling, but also identity and politics. This is a major driver in projects he's been involved in, such as music videos including "This is America" and even personal photo projects he's shot in Nigeria, Cuba and more countries around the world. "With 'This is America,' for example, It's fun to see the reaction because the distribution is so large; it's so weird to see your ideas disperse on such a large format," he says, "but then again it's kind of crippling sometimes, because everything feels super high stakes. I think we've learned a lot. I think the whole experience has been not normal for sure. I don't want everyone to think what happened is a normal career move. It's been very affirming just to see your ideas, especially in the first time, work out because none of that is the norm. We want to make sure that we're learning constantly and that's important to us."

While Ake's been able to see success in creative spaces and expose new narratives, he understands that growing up in America has given him both privilege and responsibility. One of his goals is to make sure young African creatives are educated not just on the craft but also the value of ownership and importance of exposing honest narratives. "It's been great to see that with cell technology I'm more connected than ever and there are so many amazing stories being told, I can't even keep up," he says.

Photo by Ibra Ake, courtesy of the artist.

"And I'm glad the barrier to entry has finally lowered and I think that has been super important and just exciting personally. I think my biggest concern really is just making sure that ownership is still coming from us. If I'm naming some of the most famous contemporary African work in photography, for example, there are actually a lot of white South Africans. I want to make a genuine push to fund and support artists through successes and failures. I think that is my biggest concern because I have already known these trends to lift the face without understanding the culture. I think we are doing a good job of finding the real ones and with time there will be a boom of young ideas and young people popping here and there."

Ake's goal is to use both his work and resources to further push the envelope and inspire young artists to also be true to themselves. He recognizes that the future of the next generation relies on what we do now. "I want this for my kids one day. This is the world I wish I grew up in. Those people influence us. It's a big circle and I can't wait to see what I can make," he says. "[After] watching Black Panther, I realized it's easier for me to tell an African story to the world now because those flood gates are coming down—I'm just excited of what the earth looks like after everything floods the market."

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Photo by Michael Kovac/Champagne Collet for Getty Images.

Cynthia Erivo Responds to Stephen King's Tweet on Diversity

The British-Nigerian actress begs to differ with the veteran author's tweet on diversity and 'quality' in this year's Oscar nominations.

British-Nigerian actress Cynthia Erivo has responded to veteran author Stephen King's recent tweets on the issue of diversity and this year's Oscar nominations.

King has been subject to considerable backlash since his controversial tweet about how he would "never consider diversity" when it comes to evaluating art of awards citing that, "It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong."

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Nnedi Okorafor attends the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Nnedi Okorafor's 'Binti' Is Being Developed Into a TV Series at Hulu

The award-winning novella is coming to a screen near you.

Binti, the acclaimed book by award-winning Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor, is being adapted into a TV series, set to premiere on Hulu. The Hollywood Reporter was the first to break the news.

The three-part, science fiction novella will be adapted for screen under the studio Media Res. The script is being written by both Okorafor and writer Stacy Osei-Kuffour, who has previously written for Watchmen and The Morning Show amongst others.

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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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