First Look Friday: The Nostalgia Of Ghanaian Jazz Singer Jojo Abot

Okayafrica's First Look Friday series puts the spotlight on Ghanaian afrobeat and jazz singer-songwriter Jojo Abot.

Photo: Nordic Noir Photography

We were first captivated by the hypnotic vocals of Ghanaian afro-soul and jazz singer Jojo Abot after she released the spellbinding video for "Hex" last summer. The heartwrenchingly cinematic clip introduced us to the vulnerable yet willful nature of Abot's songwriting and it hinted at even greater things to come from the budding songstress. A little over a year later Abot has resurfaced with news of her soon-to-be-released debut EP 'Fyfya Woto,' from which she recently previewed two phenomenal tracks "Lom Vava" and "Aim Straight." Abot's is a familiar face within Ghana's independent creative scene and in addition to her musical prowess, she moonlights as an actress, model and stylist. For the multi-faceted artist who feels most at home behind the microphone, this debut EP is her first cohesive body of work and we were excited to delve deeper into Jojo Abot's world for our First Look Friday series. Read on for our Q&A with the rising songbird.


OKA: Can you give us the back story on the title of your record?

Jojo Abot: Fyfya Woto is based on my grandmother's middle name which I have loved for years. As an Ewe woman coming from a family of interconnected unique and powerful women, I have often times wondered about the lives of women in my family from one generation to the next. I've always been fascinated by the traits and convictions that bind us but even more so, I find that the core challenges and realities of being a woman somehow manage to remain the same. Fyfya Woto means it has just been invented. It speaks of something newly discovered. I believe in order for something to be discovered, it must first exist. Fyfya Woto exists in every one of us- in fragments and [as a] whole and it is what binds us as a family and as women. [My grandmother's] fighting spirit and desire to live a life that breaks the cycle is what inspired this record’s title and story.

OKA: How long did it take you to conceive and develop Fyfya Woto?

Jojo Abot: Fyfya Woto has always existed as I said. The decision to tell this portion of her story in song however had to happen within two months. I had six studio sessions, lasting between six to ten hours each, within which to write and record each song. That was the challenge in reality. At a rate of one song per session we finished the project in less than 2 months.

OKA: What was your creative process as you put the EP together?

Jojo Abot: It became a very seamless process for me once I accepted the fact that what I was considering to be writer’s block at the time was actually an opportunity for me to be inspired to communicate in a different way. My producer Jonas Rendbo and I simply fed off of each other's energy. We tapped tables and made sounds and somehow it came together. Each track on the EP has a different vibe and that was our way of exploring different themes and sounds. We just decided to have fun with it since it was our first opportunity to create something whole together considering the fact that he is from Copenhagen and I had come in from Accra very much Ghanaian. We met each other half way artistically and brought in our own individual essence to create a fusion we could be proud of.

OKA: Is there an overarching message that weaves through the songs on Fyfya Woto?

Jojo Abot: A woman's right to choose. This EP acknowledges the burdens and expectations placed on us culturally and traditionally but to an even greater extent, it acknowledges our right as women to choose and to seek happiness in every aspect of our lives.

OKA: You previewed two fantastic singles off the forthcoming EP. Can you tell us what to expect from the full body of work?

Jojo Abot: In all of the tracks we’ve maintained my signature electronic and afrobeat elements but each song stands on its own with a unique portion of the story. Expect diverse language, harmonies and rhythms. Expect to meet someone new.

OKA: Who are your musical influences?

Jojo Abot: For this particular project: Thandiswa Mazwai, Savage Rose, Seeed, Lucky Dube, and Simphiwe Dana

OKA: You used to live in Brooklyn before heading back home to Ghana to launch your music career. What prompted the move? And how easy or difficult was it to get your foot in the door?

Jojo Abot: I never officially "moved" back home. I still haven't really packed up and moved. I went to Ghana for my grandmother's 95th birthday and never left. I fell in love with Ghana and really just wanted to take the opportunity to explore  my newly discovered interest in art and music. I don't believe that I have gotten my foot in the door necessarily either. For me, the last three years were my incubation period. The journey has only just begun.

Photo: Miggified

OKA: What has your experience within Ghana's creative community been like since you arrived?

Jojo Abot: I owe my decision to stay in Ghana to the amazing and inspiring network of Ghanaian creatives I met when I got back home. Creatives like Gyedu-Blay Ambolley, Ebo Taylor, M3NSA, King Ayisoba, Serge Attukwei, JaHWi, Wanlov, Kyekyeku, Kofi Ansah, Ofie Kodjoe, Nii Obodai, Sir Black, Seton Nicholas, Kobby Graham, Chief Moomen and Kwame Yeboah among others really made me believe that it was possible to find myself in this space as an artist. I stumbled upon a truly powerful underground movement that provoked me in a positive way and I am forever grateful to Ghana for giving me the space and people I needed to blossom.

OKA: Can you tell us a little bit more about your other creative pursuits?

Jojo Abot: It's been very exciting discovering the many ways in which we are able to express ourselves as individuals. I've developed a growing interest in styling, photography and film and so through my work as the Art Director of Vintage Gh, I am able to experiment and create. Having the opportunity to be the stylist for An African City was a wonderful experience so I look forward to styling other productions in the near future.  I'm currently collaborating with photographers, musicians and videographers on various projects in Ghana and Denmark.

OKA: You also played the lead in Akosua Adoma Owusu's brilliant short film Kwaku Ananse. How did that collaboration come about? What was your experience like working on the film?

Jojo Abot: I went back to New York in July 2012 to finally pack up and officially move back to Ghana. While in the middle of that process, I received a message from Akosua Adoma Owusu asking if I would play the role. I was given days to give an answer and head back to Ghana to begin filming. The decision was obvious and easy. Being part of a project alongside living legends Koo Nimo and Grace Omaboe was reason enough to drop everything and head for the hills. It was a wonderful and memorable learning experience. I’m forever grateful.

OKA: When can we expect Fyfya Woto?

Jojo Abot: We are yet to set a release date for the EP. In the meantime, we do look forward to releasing the video for "Lom Vava" next month.

OKA: You're stranded alone on a desert island. Name three items you couldn't survive without.

Jojo Abot: Ewe Bible (gotta keep my vocabulary sharp!), shea butter, Atsimevu (traditional Ewe drum)

Follow Abot on soundcloud, facebook, and twitter.

Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

Photo (c) John Liebenberg


"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.


Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.

The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:

mage courtesy of TIFF

Senegalese Filmmaker Mati Diop Tells a Haunted Story of Migration

We caught up with the celebrated director at the Toronto International Film Festival to talk about her new film, Atlantics

It's been a good year for French-Senegalese director Mati Diop and her film Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story.

The movie got its North American premier at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this month after wowing critics and audiences at Cannes, where it won the prestigious Grand Prix. Diop was the first Black woman to successfully submit a film in the Cannes competition, and naturally the first to win any award at the iconic festival.

In Toronto, the Paris-born director was also honored with the inaugural Mary Pickford Award for Outstanding Female Talent, presented at the TIFF Tribute Gala on September 9. The award is named after Mary Pickford, a Toronto native who went on to conquer Hollywood in the early days of the industry as an actor and producer. Co-founder of United Artists, she was the highest paid woman in Hollywood in her day.

Mati Diop, actor and director, was born in Paris into a prominent Senegalese family, the daughter of noted musician Wasis Diop, and niece of well known filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty. As a director, she has several short films under her belt, including Atlantiques in 2009. Her short films Big in Vietnam and A Thousand Suns screened at TIFF in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story is Diop's first feature, which she directed as well as co-writing the screenplay with Olivier Demangel.

It's in the story of the first Atlantiques – the short – that the new film came to be. "The two films are both connected and not connected," Diop tells OkayAfrica. The short Atlantiques was self produced, and shot on video on a shoestring budget, she explains. Diop was moved by the constant stream of reports, between 2000 and 2010, of young Senegalese taking to small wooden boats and braving the ocean waters in a bid to reach Spain and better opportunities. As she notes, the media tended to treat the phenomenon as largely an abstract issue, one that had to do with economic forces. Diop wanted to tell the story of the real people in that situation.

"I felt that my cinema should be put at the service of their voices," she says. "I wanted to understand." It's part of what motivated Diop to get into film in the first place. While the short was shot documentary-style, she worked the story as fiction. The actor featured in the short had actually made an Atlantic crossing, but was subsequently turned back by Spanish authorities. The way he spoke about the experience connected with Diop; in particular, his determination to try the perilous journey once more. "I am here, but not here," he told her. "Serigne felt it was here [in Senegal] he would lose his life," Diop says. She wanted to understand what drove so many young men to risk their lives. "He felt that his life was vulnerable in Senegal." The actor's words took on even more resonance when he died, while still in Senegal, before he could try again. Diop says he had gone to a hospital after falling ill, but the staff were on strike. After his death, it left her with mixed feelings. "I wondered if I had the right to continue."

TIFF Tribute Gala Mati Diop | TIFF 2019

Diop was left with the poignant memory, and a haunting impression. "When you leave, it means you are already dead," she says. After filming the short, she attended Serigne's funeral, and filmed his mother and sister—the women left behind who would become the focus of the feature film treatment. Diop says that the character of Ada, the protagonist of the new movie, is based in large part on the sister, who, in the short film, does not speak any lines.

In Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story, Ada is 17 years old, in love with Souleiman, but her parents have already arranged a very practical marriage with another—and much wealthier—man. On the eve of her wedding, odd things begin to happen, and Ada learn that Souleiman and his friends have left Dakar in a boat, hoping to reach Spain. Ada and her BFFs anxiously await any word from them, as the mysterious happenings keep piling up.

"The beauty of women comes through marriage," a cleric tells one mother. Ada's story embodies the life of a young West African woman—torn between traditional forces in both her family and society, and the friends who wear Western dress and don't bother with the old ways. The wealthy family she has married into owns a large construction company, the one that didn't pay its workers for months, leading the young workers to try their luck in Spain. She loves Souleiman, but she also needs to find her own path.

Mama Sané plays Ada, the solid heart of the film, as a tangle of emotions and repressed desires. She veers from defiant when dealing with the police detective sent to investigate the strange occurrences, to a wordless expression of longing with the kind of intensity only a teenager can muster.

Diop's directorial vision turns Dakar into a place of both surreal magic and harsh reality. The film immerses the audience in the city's sounds, from the goats bleating outside a window while Ada and her friends talk, to voices in the next room, with the eternal heaving of waves against the shore as a recurring refrain. The original music by Fatima Al Qadiri adds to the effect.

Cinematographer Claire Mathon has shot the film with a poetic eye. There are many images of the shifting surface of the sea, with the open sky and sun above it, each different from the last. The streets of Dakar at night take on an otherworldly edge, framed in palm trees against the artificial lights. The building the young men have been working on is futuristic in design, all glass and steel, and the company owner's neutral modern mansion contrasts with the broken rubble on the streets, from slick sports cars to horse drawn carts. It adds to the sense of the surreal.

Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story was acquired by Netflix after Cannes, and is intended for worldwide release by the streaming service, (with the exception of China, Russia, Benelux, Switzerland, and France.) As part of its new policy, Netflix, which became an official member of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America,) earlier this year, will be giving the flick a "theater-first" release, opening in selected theaters on November 15, with streaming available from November 29 in North America.

The film also stars Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traoré, Nicole Sougou, Amina Kane, Mariama Gassama, Coumba Dieng, Ibrahima Mbaye, and Diankou Sembene. Dialog in the France-Senegal-Belgium co-production is in Wolof with subtitles.

(Photo by Francois LOCHON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images )

Exiled Tunisian President Ben Ali Has Died

The former president had been living in Saudi exile since 2011.

Tunisia's former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, 83, has been declared dead while in exile in Saudi Arabia. Ben Ali became interim Prime Minister in 1987. He ran unopposed and was elected Prime Minister in 1998 and served for 23 years – from 1988 to 2011. He was known for using autocratic techniques, eradicating presidential term limits and altering age caps in order to stay in power. In the beginning, Ben Ali was considered a "people's head of state" and garnered the nickname "Benavie" which loosely translates to "Ben Ali for life." By the 2000s, however, he had become deeply unpopular and prompted protests and unrest against his oppressive rule.

His reign ended when he fled Tunisia on January 14, 2011 amid protests that ultimately led to a string of revolutions dubbed the Arab Spring. He had been living in exile in Saudi Arabia ever since. As France 24 reports, in 2018 Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia by Tunisian courts to "more than 200 years in prison on charges including murder, corruption and torture."

Though there is no cause of death just yet, Ben Ali had been in intensive hospital care for lung cancer for three months. According to Al Jazeera, lawyer Mounir Ben Salha announced Ben Ali's death to news agencies via phone and the claim was confirmed by Tunisia's foreign minister.

There is footage of a Tunisian lawyer taking to the street at dawn celebrating the news of Ben Ali's death.

This past Sunday, Tunisia held free elections advancing Kas Saied and Nabil Karoui (who is currently jailed) as presidential candidates with neither receiving a majority vote. A run-off election between the two will be held September 29.

Tunisians and others are sharing their reactions to the news across social media. Here are some reactions:

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