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Nigerian Recording Artist Iyanya Speaks In London

Okayafrica talks to Nigerian recording artist Iyanya in London.


Iyanya is the Calabar-born entertainer behind some of Nigeria's most infectious dance ballads, like "Kukere," "Ur Waist," "Sexy Mama," "Away," and "Le Kwa Ukwu," since making his full-length debut in 2009. With two solo albums and a recent collaborative LP with his Made Men Music (Triple MG) label now under his belt, the Nigerian recording artist is set on making waves internationally. Okayafrica contributor Jacob Roberts-Mensah caught up with Iyanya last week in London, where he recently set out on a UK tour with his Triple MG family...

Jacob for Okayafrica: First of all, congrats on the new single ["Mr. Oreo"]:

Iyanya: Thank you

OKA: What was it like filming the video out there in NYC?

Iyanya: I was on tour and found that everyone started spitting the words of the song left right and centre everywhere and we just thought yeah people like the song so let’s just do a video but let’s do something different because we are in the states, let’s take it easy and simple

OKA: Do you have many connections out there in the states?

Iyanya: Oh yeah I’m cool with everybody

OKA: We know that you are trying to break into the mainstream, so what moves have you been making to make this happen?

Iyanya: There’s a couple of songs that I’ve done with Angel and I’m also looking at doing collaborations and productions with other UK artists, like Sneakbo and Wretch 32. I’m just trying to reach out and I believe God that by the end of this year or next year we’re gonna be working with one of the labels over here [in the UK].

OKA: Are there any artists from NYC that you reached out to while you were there or would like to work with?

Iyanya: No not really… In ATL yeah

OKA: Which artist from ATL?

Iyanya: Future…yeah a couple of guys in ATL.

OKA: Were you able to get in the studio with Future?

Iyanya: Oh no I didn’t say I met Future, I said in ATL he’s someone I wish I met. But I met R.Kelly. It was his birthday but we didn’t do anything in the studio, but I would definitely like to work with him on my album.

OKA: Oh wow I think I read that he was one of your influences.

Iyanya: It was a blessing to meet him, and to be at his party it was like a dream come true for me.

OKA: Do you always try to top the success of "Kukere" with every new song you drop?

Iyanya: Hey bro I’m just doing music man, I’m just trying to make sure that I’m out here for as long as I can be. I can’t just wake up everyday saying “my aim is to make a song that beats Kukere,” then I’m just gonna be on that for a long time but if you make good music it will always speak for itself.

OKA: You started off with rap, R&B and now "afrobeats." What made you move through these sounds and genres?

Iyanya: It’s me challenging myself and also knowing that every artist has to be versatile, and the place that I worked too, where I did karaoke, also exposed me to a lot of genres– rumba, salsa, all that stuff. I was singing all those songs, all that Frank Sinatra, Opera and stuff, so I am just ready to do anything right now.

OKA: What are your top three songs to perform?

Iyanya: Okay top three… "Flavour," "Le Kwa Ukwu" and "Kukere."

OKA: How do you find your reception over here in the UK?

Iyanya: Every day I’m adding more fans. More African fans more UK fans… it’s just a blessing.

OKA: What's your favourite city to perform in?

Iyanya: So far... London holds it down. But everywhere I go it’s the same love, but I’m just saying London always holds it down.

OKA: What exactly is your involvement with Made Men Music Group?

Iyanya: I co-own Made Men music with my manager. We have Selebobo, Tekno Miles, we have Baci, we have Emma Nyra.

OKA: Can you tell us about these artists?

Iyanya: Everyone on there is signed and doing well for themselves and they are dropping hits. Selebobo is one of the baddest producers in Africa, and he has written and still writes for a couple of known artists in Nigeria, including myself.

OKA: Do you have a supervisorial role? Produce?

Iyanya: I don’t supervise, we all work as a team. They give me ideas, I give them ideas, we all just come together to make sure it’s a good song/album.

OKA: What was the process like for this album [The Evolution]?

Iyanya: I’ll say shout out to Selebobo on this one because he produced like 90% of this album. Most of the time it was just him saying “oh I did this beat, come and hear it and put a verse on it” which just made things easier for everybody.

OKA: Was there an overarching theme? With a name like The Evolution I thought it had something to do with how you guys are about to change the music industry or something like that?

Nobody said “The Evolution” album was to change the scene. We all said The Evolution album was an album put together by a group of guys that have come together to make history. It’s just what it is. We didn’t put it out to compete with other labels. It’s just us doing our music.

OKA: How long did the album take?

Iyanya: A couple of months

OKA: Where did the name Made Men Music Group come from?

Iyanya: It was me and my manager saying “yo we got nothing right now but we are made still.” It was all a dream and we are label owners now and doing big things.

OKA: What moves do you feel you are making to push the culture of Nigerian and African music forward?

Iyanya: The only thing I am doing is being me, staying original, and working on my sound. Recreating it. Maintaining it. That’s the only thing I can do to represent African music. And also look out for young people that I inspire and say I can help them maybe with collaborations, productions, with lyrics…whatever

OKA: What young artistes have you seen that are good and that you would like to shout out or help out now?

Iyanya: Man… there’s too many… The talent back home is incredible, I don’t want to mention any names right now but trust me there’s a lot of young guys out there doing stuff.

OKA: Who do you study when you're trying to get to the next level? Who inspires you?

Iyanya: Jay-Z because his confidence is just incredible and you have to be a boss to have that kind of confidence. Kanye too, he’s bold and he says how he feels. Ryan Leslie is too talented he’s one of the world’s greatest songwriters, producers, and performers… these are people that I watch. Also Tyrese… doing good with his music and his movies. People like Don Jazzy. I’m not saying that for people like Don Jazzy I know (exactly) how he started, but I know the story. So you have to respect him and look up to him. He is a big brother and he is humble too.

OKA: What are your favourite Jay-Z and Kanye West records?

Iyanya: My favourite Kanye West song, "Good Life" definitely, and my favourite Jay-Z song is "Holy Grail." It’s reality man.

OKA: With guys like Ryan Leslie that’s a very good, but also very interesting choice, just because to the layman he hasn’t dropped anything new. Although he’s still a genius in the studio...?

Iyanya: He doesn’t need to drop anything new to be Ryan Leslie, he is Ryan Leslie. He will always be remembered because he is incredible bro! This guy plays all the instruments, he records himself, he does his harmony by himself, he writes his songs himself he writes hits for other people... what else? He dresses well, he carries himself well, he’s just…he’s amazing.

OKA: Last thing... what's your work ethic in the studio. Are you the kind of person that’s there all the time and doing 5, 6 songs in a row?

Iyanya: That’s me man!

OKA: Or do you drag it out?

Iyanya: I just go in! So many times some songs that you record won’t make sense, but as an artist just never stop recording, that’s what I believe. No artiste has any excuse as to why he should be away from the mic for long. It's your life. It's the choice you’ve made. So the only way you can be better is, “oh yeah I recorded this,” and it’s nice and you play it to somebody and they go “oh so you can actually change this?” That’s how you make hits.

Made Men Music's 'The Evolution' is out now and available on iTunes.

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Image courtesy of 'The Spread'

'The Spread' Is the Sex-Positive Kenyan Podcast Offering a Safe Space for Women and LGBTQIA+ Issues

'The Spread' is the podcast dedicated to "decolonizing" the way Africans talk about sex and sexuality, say it's creator Karen Kaz Lucas.

Karen Kaz Lucas is the revolutionary brainchild behind Africa's best-known sex positive podcast, The Spread. Three years in, the 52 podcast episodes, covering a range of diverse topics including: The Male-Female Pleasure Gap, Sex positive parenting, LGBTQIA+ issues, Kink, Reproductive Rights, and Porn vs. Reality, has listeners ranging from 6,000 to 21,000 and episode on SoundCloud.

Recently, The Spread had its first major event TheSpreadFest, a day-long event attracting over 600 people with diverse panels, workshops and more. It's been hailed as a truly safe and inclusive space for people of all sexual identities. Okayafrica contributor, Ciku Kimeria speaks to The Spread creator Kaz on her journey to decolonize sexuality, her motivation, and her hopes for the continent relating to matters of sex and sexuality.

Read the conversation below.

Karen Kaz LucasImage courtesy of 'The Spread'

What made you start The Spread podcast?

It was to address the key gaps in discussions around sex and sexuality and to create a safe space to discuss them. Younger people were either learning about sex from porn or on the flip side from a religious standpoint or the education system, where the focus is on the risks of engaging in sex (teen pregnancy, STIs etc). As such they were either getting information from a fear-based system, shame-based system or porn that has very little to do with real life sexual situations and intimacy. I wanted to create a safe space where people could talk about all issues related to sexuality but in an open, accepting and enlightening way. For me, this is an informal form of sex education that allows people to explore their sexuality from an unbiased perspective—no judgement, no shaming.

What's the reception been like so far?

The reception has been overwhelmingly positive. I had no idea that the podcast would grow and be as successful as it is now. People are hungry to meet similar people and have discussions without judgement. Of course, there are also people who react negatively to my work and say that this is a result of "Western influence." To those people, I say that they should know that the majority of my work is focused on decolonizing sexuality.

Great transition. I first saw the term "decolonizing sexuality" in your Instagram bio. What exactly does that mean?

Prior to Western intrusion, we already had our own sexual culture. I'm trying to remind people that certain things we embrace as "African" and defend when it comes to sex and sexuality, are elements that came to us through religion, Westernized education etc. The shame associated with sex and sexuality on the continent are remnants of Western teachings.

Prior to colonization many ethnic groups had religious healers who were neither considered male nor female but were gender fluid or intersex. There were ethnic groups that didn't base gender on anatomy but on energy. Gender fluidity on the continent was observed even more than you would find in the most liberal country right now. For some, you could physically have male features but possess female energy and live as a woman. Some people worshipped androgynous or intersex deities and believed that the perfect human being is both male and female. Certain tribes did not ascribe a gender to anyone until the age of puberty. In other communities, their priests were transgender, and they were the only ones who could conduct certain spiritual ceremonies. There is evidence that for several ethnic groups gay and lesbian relationships were not taboo. Unfortunately, a lot of this history has not been publicized or it is being revised as it does not fit in well with the idea that the continent is trying to now uphold as a patriarchal, heteronormative society. That is why the work of decolonizing sexuality is extremely important as we now have a generation that is open to questioning themselves. The generation of our parents lived in a time of oppressed and suppressed sexuality (among other things) as they themselves or their parents had suffered the colonial rape and pillage [both literally and metaphorically] of their lives. All they could carry was anger and fear. To survive they had to conform to what the oppressor enforced on them through religion, western education etc.

[Recently deceased] Kenyan writer and gay activist, Binyavanga Wainaina clearly outlines how it is only former British colonies that have anti-sodomy laws, which came during colonial times from the fear that British soldiers and colonial administrators would be corrupted by the natives while they were away from their wives. The law, the fears by the British government at the time, really are proof that some of the natives were already practicing sodomy.

Image courtesy of 'The Spread'

What for you is the link between sex positive work and women's empowerment?

The average person might think that the type of work I'm doing is frivolous, but the reality is that when a society believes they have any right over women's bodies, we see all the terrible things that happen to women: rape, rampant femicide, violence against women and more. Reclaiming your sexuality as a woman is about asserting your own authority over your body—declaring the right to fulfilling, consensual sex of your own liking, the right to having children, or not having children if you don't want to, postponing or terminating a pregnancy. Once we accept the policing of women's bodies, it's a slippery slope.

Feminism is about women having equal rights and opportunities as men, and that also extends to their sex lives. My body, my choice. For those who are always ready to bash feminism, seeing it as women somehow trying to take over, dominate men, oppress men etc. They should realize that the only reason feminism exists, is because we live in a patriarchal world. Women are at the bottom of the rung, oppressed in thousands of ways. All we are trying to do, is get the same rights that men take for granted. Of course, to the ones who hold power, it will feel like a loss of power.

This is the reason why the topics we cover span everything from women's sexual pleasure to gender-based violence to LGBTQIA+ rights to women's reproductive health. All these discussions must happen in tandem.

Let's talk about the state of affairs in Kenya around various key issues, starting with female reproductive rights.

I'm working very closely with two organizations working on women's reproductive rights and abortion rights. The problem in Kenya is that there is so much misinformation. I plan to release a video very soon on the topic. I only recently found out all public hospitals in Kenya provide post-abortal care. Even though, abortions are illegal except in certain circumstances, post-abortal care is available throughout the country. Lack of information makes women especially vulnerable to the influence of quacks, back-alley doctors, or police who threaten them with imprisonment if they don't pay exorbitant bribes. The Kenyan law is that you are not allowed to administer an abortion unless the health of the mother or child is in danger. Health also includes mental health. As such, people with severe depression or suicidal thoughts do legally qualify for abortions, but most people don't know this.

Image courtesy of 'The Spread'

What about on the issue of sexual violence against women and children?

Sexual violence against women and children isn't taken as seriously as it should be. Sensitivity training across police stations is still lacking. Rape is extremely underreported in the country as most people don't expect to be treated with discretion, sensitivity or any consideration once they do get into the system. I did a whole video series years back interviewing female rape survivors and their experiences highlight the challenges with our police system including the trivialization of the crime by police officers who consider rape almost routine, given how often this happens. The statistics are masking the issue, rape survivors don't know who to turn to and feel completely isolated. The issues of male sexual violence against men isn't even spoken about as the survivors fear further shunning and stigmatization from society. Kenya doesn't yet have the right structures—including mental health structures—to deal with the normalization of rape and sexual violence against women.

In 2015 three men gangraped a teenage girl as she was on her way home from her grandfather's funeral. After the attack, they dumped her in an open sewer, leaving her with a spinal injury that has confined her to a wheelchair. When the men were taken to the police station, their punishment was to cut the grass around the police station. The incident made it to the news, sparking international outrage, resulting in a signed petition and leading to protests in the country demanding #justiceforliz. As a result, the men were eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison. While we can celebrate this particular win, it also makes us reflect on all the other hundreds of thousands of cases, where the survivors remain silent or seek justice, but never get it.

What about LGBTQIA+ rights?

The definition I adhere to for this group is actually a longer, more confusing acronym, but also one I hope makes more people feel included. LGBTQQIAPPK, which is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual & transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, polyamourous, pansexual and kink.

We have some cause for celebration, but also a very long way to go. We were hopeful recently when the High Court reviewed the key law banning gay sex, but unfortunately, they chose to uphold it. Last year, we did have a small win when the courts deemed unlawful the use of forced anal exams to test whether two men had sex.

The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights commission of Kenya are doing a really great job in trying to get colonial era penal codes repealed. They are the legal team behind the court cases for the repeal of these laws. From a legal standpoint it's great, but from a social standpoint, it's still so sad that our binary understanding of gender is tied to what the colonizers forced on us. The worst argument is when people say that any deviation from the heteronormative narrative is "un-African." My question then is "Do you really know your history? Are you willing to educate yourself and to take off the yoke of colonialism and even consider the idea that what you consider normal is based on systems that came to you through oppression and repression?

For a country that is so progressive in many ways, this particular issue still remains an uphill battle.

Image courtesy of 'The Spread'

What about women's sexuality, sexual pleasure?

All the events we have are 95% women. Men are scared to admit they might not know it all. Society paints them to be macho and [makes them think] that they should somehow know it all, but they are scared to learn about their sexuality as they feel that it will take away from their masculinity. For women, it's empowering. Men are frightened about women learning and embracing their sexuality.

I want to be a part of this revolution, spearheading it on the continent.

Finally, tell us about The Spread Fest and your plans for it?

Our objective for the festival is to foster learning, inspiration and wonder—and to spark conversations that matter. The aim is to be more empathetic about our diversity, but also to leave people knowing more about sex and sexuality. This year we had 600 people in attendance, 5 panels, one workshop and it was a full day event. Next year, we plan to double everything.

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Photos by Getty Images for BET.

Africa at the BET Awards 2019: Dispatches from the Blue Carpet

We talked to Burna Boy, AKA, DJ Cuppy and more about representing their people and remembering Nipsey Hussle.

We were at the 19th annual BET Awards this past Sunday to check out the ceremonies and chat up the international artists walking the blue carpet.

BET is the world's biggest platform for Black music and it has officially gone global. If you've never been, there's a feeling of organized chaos in the air that makes you feel like you're a part of something big. Artists from Africa and the diaspora have come a long way at the award show—once relegated to a non-televised role, the "Best International Act" award is now part of the 3-hour televised main ceremony for the second year.

This year the nominees contained many of OkayAfrica's favorites, including this year's winner, Burna Boywhose award was accepted by his mom, with a message of connectedness to the continent: "Remember you were Africans before you became anything else."

READ: The Internet Doesn't Know Mama Burna At All

Held at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, the BET Awards hosted over 30 artists from the African continent. We caught up with many of them on the blue carpet including AKA, DJ Cuppy, Mr Eazi, Nomzamo Mbatha and Monalonga Shozi just to name a few. Under the June heat, African performers, presenters and nominees came to show out.

One of the big themes of the night was honoring slain Eritrean-American hip hop star Nipsey Hussle's life and legacy.

Burna Boy and Stefflon Don at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

When we asked him about it on the blue carpet, Burna Boy—dressed in an elegant Dolce and Gabbana two piece ensemble in emerald green and golden overtones—says:

"You never stop wanting to hear the work of black artists do you? After Nipsey's death, it was both an inspiration and a wake up call. This is the time to spread positivity and love because you never know man, you could be gone tomorrow. He left behind a great legacy and we're just going to carry it forward."

"Nipsey's death was really felt all over Africa," South African personality Mbatha tells us. Dressed in an original full floor length A-line dress made by South African designer Loin Cloth & Ashes, she remembers, "It wasn't just that he was an African, which he was, but he showed us that we still have flames in our community that we hope will never burn out. Thank God that flames like Nelson Mandela lived for as long as it has, because each generation picked up that flame and was able to believe we can make it out and when we do make it out, we can fight to make other people's lives better."

Nomzamo Mbatha at the 2019 BET Awards 2019. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

AKA at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

South African rap superstar AKA tells us just before the opening to the ceremony, "With me coming from South Africa, BET is all about black excellence and of course Black excellence is all about Africa. Everybody is on a wave right now recognizing the importance of African culture and the importance of where it comes from. Africa is the source of Black excellence."

The Nigerian Afro-fusion star Mr Eazi, another Best International Act nominee also met up with us outside. "As long as music is being made by Black people, African people will never stop being brilliant," he told us. "Most of the people from Africa that come to the BET Awards, about a good 60 percent come from Nigeria. I feel like this needs to be a Nigerian awards show. Maybe next year we'll just buy it up and make it a Nigerian show."

Mr Eazi at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

DJ Cuppy at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET.

Nomalanga Shozi at the 2019 BET Awards. Photo by Getty Images for BET

Another big Nigerian name, DJ Cuppy, acted as a blue carpet host. "When I travel around the world," she says, "I feel like people are more invested in their roots. People are more engaged with where they come from and where they families come from and they're interested in learning about other cultures like never before."

"I'm all about taking Africa to the world but it think its just as important to bring the world back to Africa," Cuppy continues. "It's important that we're stressing connecting and do what we can to keep a strong community and making sure people know that we're all in this together."

TV personality and actress, Nomalanga Shozi tells us, "You have to recognize yourself as who you are. Honor yourself first then you can project that to the world. I think it's very important for us to honor ourselves and the BET Awards does that is such a grand fashion every year."

In the BET International section of the blue carpet, Nigeria-native Alex Okosi, the head of BET International shared a final thought on the important of awards shows. "It's a platform to elevate our people," he says. "Being able to showcase to the world our true power which is the power of Black culture is as important now then ever before."

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Seba Kaapstad Is the Genre-Bending South African Jazz Band Spreading a Message of Optimism

We speak to two of the quartet's members about their latest album 'Thina.'

This profile is part of OkayAfrica's ongoing series on South Africa's new wave of young artists shaping the future of the country's music scene. You can read more profiles and interviews here.

Thina, Seba Kaapstad's sophomore album, is an anomalous body of work that smudges the lines between genres effortlessly. It's a huge departure from the South African four-member jazz group's debut album, 2016's Tagore's. "We are people that are genuinely interested in music and the impact that music has, and we are people that love to experiment and explore," says group member Zoë Modiga. "With Pheel (the group's newest member) hopping onto the band for production, it created so much more color than there was before."

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