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Op-Ed: Kanye West In Africa Is Music Marketing At Its Worst

Scream all you want. Feel the euphoria of Kanye moving to our drums, but don't forget he's here for marketing.

One of the most interesting parts of the music industry is the marketing of an album. In developed music markets, accomplished professionals and creatives sit in a room and decide how best they want to sell the music. It's the norm. Many people deliberate and develop a roll-out plan that is improved until it's perfect for execution.

When JAY-Z rented out billboards for 4:44, with everyone wondering what it meant around the world, that is marketing. Mr Eazi drawing a towering mural of himself and Giggs in London, was another marketing tactic to push his single "London Town." Falz created an entire movement filled with conventionally attractive men, and named it the 'Sweet Boys Association,' because he had a single that needed to be sold to fans. Perhaps, what takes the cake in the world of African music marketing is one crazy move by a little known Nigerian artist named Skibii. You see, this guy died and rose again from the dead, just like sweet biblical adult Jesus. He had a single somewhere that needed the attention. Death and resurrection was his thing.

Kanye West is in Africa for marketing. The US rap superstar is holed up at the Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, surrounded by his friends, colleagues and family. He is here because he has an album to release named Yandhi, and somehow, he found his way to the Motherland, where's he's built two outdoor domes, as his working studio. He isn't working from inside a house like a mere mortal. He's in the wild, connecting to Mother Nature and nourishing foliage. This is Africa, Kanye West is an African-American. His ancestors came from this part of the world. He has a claim to this soil.

Kanye West was supposed to drop his ninth studio album on Saturday, September 29. After two days of waiting, three Saturday Night Live performances, one tweet from Kim Kardashian-West and an appearance on TMZ Live, Yandhi was pushed back to Black Friday, November 23. West admitted that he "didn't finish" the album in time, and a member of his management staff suggested pushing the release back.

"I started incorporating sounds that you never heard before and pushing and having concepts that people don't talk about," West said. "We have concepts talking about body-shaming and women being looked down upon for how many people that they slept with. It's just a full Ye album and those five albums I dropped earlier were like superhero rehabilitation and now the alien Ye is fully back in mode… We're going to Africa in two weeks to record. I felt this energy when I was in Chicago. I felt the roots. We have to go to what is known as Africa."

In Africa, Kanye West hasn't laid low. Photos from his arrival hit the internet, and somehow, he was filmed listening, dancing and vibing to African music. Those songs include Mystro's "Immediately," and Burna Boy's "Ye." The videos have gone viral, Africans are wowed by Kanye's interaction with their music, reactions and takes, Africa is moved by Kanye West interacting with our music. Somehow, I used to think we are over this type of event. The event where an an American superstar, who has a huge fan base in Africa, dances to our music, and we lose it. But I was wrong. This content format still has power.

Scream all you want. Feel the euphoria of Kanye moving to our drums, but don't forget he's here for marketing. His album is about to drop, and he's publicly alerted the world that he needs to be in Africa and its strong cultural influence to complete the project. Everyone is watching, the conversation has global traction, and Africans are supporting him. Since Kanye got heat for his infamous "Slavery was a choice," comment, I knew Africa will become a part of that story. The past week has seen him visit President Donald Trump at the white house, and further moved away from the love of his African-American base in the US. Black people are not behind Kanye West right now. The media is tearing him to shreds. Celebrities are in a social media race to dissociate themselves from him. Many fans aren't proud of their icon. But he is in the Motherland, dancing to its native music, and we can all cheer.

"I'm in Africa recording," he says in a 9 minute video on Twitter about mind control free thinking and his greatness. "We just took them to the future with the dome. The music is the best on the planet. I am the best living recording artist. We, rather, because the spirits flow through me. The spirit of Fela, the spirit of Marley, the spirit of Pac flows through me. We know who the best. We know."

On the surface, Africa appears to be a gimmick. A play by a great artist to expand the story of his album for marketing talking points. Yandhi is already anticipated, and generations after us will study his art and point to this project as the one where Africa played a direct role. This black continent is a marketing tool for Kanye. Son of Fela Kuti, Seun Kuti, has already disassociated Fela Kuti's spirit from Kanye's claims. "On behalf of the Kuti family, I want to state that the spirit of Olufela Anikulapo Kuti isn't anywhere near Kanye West," Seun announced on Instagram.

Perhaps marketing isn't Kanye's only reason for his African trip. Maybe, the world is too harsh on Kanye West and his new level of introspective vibrations. Maybe we aren't seeing the bigger picture. Oh gosh! We might all be victims of this grand mind control programme that West talks about! What if Kanye West is on these shores for some actual influence? Africa has a rich spectrum of sounds, laden with enough culture, soul and character to influence any type of music. From Cairo down to Lagos, there's enough music to add colour.

A clear way for justification of his African trip is perhaps for Kanye West to give back. He is connecting to the 'roots' after all. He is soaking in the energy for inspiration. Perhaps he might actually get to work with an African artist while on the continent. Already, Perhaps Africa's contributions to the project will be anchored by an African. Already, in his creative dome, Ugandan producer extraordinaire, Benon Mugumbya, has been pictured. If he gets some of that Yhandi shine, it wouldn't hurt.

Kanye officially has to be the first hip-hop star to make a trip to the continent for direct inspiration since Africa began to hug the spotlight as an interesting market for global music players. Recent years have witnessed the penetration of African music into global pop spaces. Africa has become the new cool. And as her sonic influence grows, more artists would continue to find new ways to interact. Kanye is making a splash with this. Perhaps, he will be the inspiration for more exchange between Africa and Europe.

Perhaps, his music isn't his true reason for this trip. Maybe Ye just wants to get away from the madness from the USA, and go find Wakanda. Maybe he will discover Ye-Kanda. Either way, only the final version of Yhandi will contain the answers that we seek, and Kanye West's true intention. For now, he is already winning. All those marketing points are already helping the project.

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Photo Credit: Patrick Quarm

How Patrick Quarm Uses African Textile to Tell Stories About Identity

Ghanaian Artist Patrick Quarm speaks to OkayAfrica about his mixed media process and his avant-garde approach with African print fabrics.

Growing up in the residential area of Takoradi, Ghana, artist Patrick Quarm had a fascinating thrill for drawing the everyday. His major inspiration was spending the day outside, walking to town, and watching people making do with their routines. As a curious teen, he would sketch and take photographs of them.

After leaving Ghana in 2015 to obtain a master’s degree at Texas Tech, Quarm’s artistic perception took a different leap. He had experienced an identity crisis. He started to question his artistic intelligence and what it was communicating in respect to his identity. In response, he adopted the African fabric to fluidly express that notion of identity in his work.

Quarm’s art is bold, aesthetically African, and possesses a gritty ideology that is just as rare in the art world. With his arts, he is keen to unmask history and how it shapes us in the present. Intuitively, Quarm’s art isn’t what it appears to be from a first glance. He operates with several portrait layerings to express his multidimensional ideas, using shapes like circles to tell the tales of loopholes that rest within African history with colonialism.

OkayAfrica spoke with Quarm about his avant-garde approach and more.

Patrick Quarm painting

Photo Credit: Patrick Quarm

When did your journey as an artist begin?

I would say I was born an artist. As a child, I would pick up my pencil and begin to draw anything I found of interest. I remember in elementary school, I was so good at drawing and it came naturally cause I never took a class in it at that time. I think high school was when I decided to study visual art; the Ghanaian education system gave us the opportunity to pick what we wanted to do. I majored in picture-making which was what it was called then. From there, I did my undergrad at Kwame Nkrumah University of science and technology, I majored in painting. During that time, I used to paint fine realistic art and I did a lot of portrait commissioning but when I looked at the international art world, there was something so interesting about them, they were very simple but possessed so much value, I wanted to be part of that. So that motivated me to apply for a master’s program in Texas Tech which I got into with a full scholarship. The best thing about the program was it gave me a space to isolate myself and meditate on what I wanted to create and how I could polish my skill. That’s when I started working with African print fabric and right after my MFA in 2018, my career as an artist emerged fully, collectors and galleries were so interested in what I was doing because there was a different idea and niche to my art.

Who and what were your biggest inspirations when you started making art?

My inspiration comes generally from living. So I grew up in Takoradi— a small town in Ghana compared to Accra. I grew up in a very residential private area so whenever I went to the town,I would see an influx of people doing a lot of activities, trade, buying stuff and I really took that as inspiring because at an early age, I realized I just enjoyed seeing people in their daily activity and routine. I remember I would walk around with a sketch book and camera, drawing and taking pictures. Just everyday life is my inspiration but looking at my work, I’m more inspired by history, the evolution of Africa within contemporary spaces, thinking of it in terms of past, present and how modern Africa is continually evolving within these spaces.

Patrick Quarm close up painting

Photo Credit: Patrick Quarm

What were your parents' remarks when you chose art as a career?

My parents were very supportive, they weren’t typical African parents that were like, “what are you doing with art?” My mother was very inspirational, she gave me my first studio when I was in high school in Ghana. She really didn’t get what I was doing but she liked the idea that I was doing something and she wanted to support me without questions. I remember my father asking me where I had gotten my talent from because, for generations, there weren’t any artists in our family. One of the profound questions my father asked me when I was young was, “Why is it with everything you do, art is what interests you?” And I told him I loved it, that I couldn’t see myself doing anything else and his response to me was to keep doing it but make sure I got good at it. Those words come to me as comforting when I hit dead ends in my studio.

Why did you decide to use African textile in the development of your work?

It didn’t happen by accident, it’s a matter of choice. I came to the U.S. in 2015 for my master’s program. Before that, I used to paint so realistic but painting to me after that point wasn’t about skill, it was about ideas, conversations, dialogues, experimentations and other things. I kept asking myself what I wanted to say in my work— what should I communicate with my work, what I wanted people to get off my work. So I started thinking about my identity and how fluid I was between all these cultures, and that began my basic concept. The African print fabric was one of the most culturally significant materials I could use to tell that story of identity and knowing its history, I was aware that it was something I could use. Though the African print fabric wasn’t originally from Africa, it came from Indonesia through colonial trade but I wanted to communicate that concept of dual-identity, to establish a conversation around culture and hybridity.

Patrick Quarm artwork

Photo Credit: Patrick Quarm

Did moving to America change something about you and your artistic prowess?

Of course, something changed especially in my artistic style. I used to paint hyper-realistic portraits before I came to the U.S, but immediately I began to establish a language in my work, it took a different style. I went through a lot of thought processes of what my art should communicate and so a lot of processes started sipping into my work like glueing, cutting and other things— but they were very intentional and that helped in the expansion of my ideologies. My studio is like a laboratory to me, I always confront myself with questions and ideas. I just love the concepts I have created and when I look at my work, I recognize an evolution.

Why were you so keen to highlight African identity in your art?

To me, it was always like taking it from the personal and making it universal. Coming to the U.S, I went through the process of merging a new culture to mine. During that time, I questioned my Africanness, who I was and why I was pictured a certain way, and what had shaped me. It became a quest to understand these questions so I started using a visual language to communicate that. Why I highlight African identity is to look at things from a different perspective especially from an African eye, there is no one way of defining things within the world we live today; things are always evolving and taking other forms. When I talk about Africanness and identity in general, I want to visualize it from the new point of view because there is always a different definition of the new from the old. After being in the U.S for six years, I went back to Ghana and I realized that things have taken a new look, people were doing things I had seen folks in the U.S do and it struck me how fluid things could be.

Patrick Quarm textiles

Photo Credit: Patrick Quarm

Aside identity, what other themes do your work as an artist communicate?

My work spans across several ideas and theories. I talk about history in my works interweaving it with our identity as Africans. My works aren’t analyzed by what is on the surface or what people see, there is always an extension to it. This idea comes from my trying to talk about colonialism. Our history from a colonial lens is segmentational. For me, when we talk about African identity, we don’t have to talk about it from now, we have to look at it from the past. My works have layers that slice through history, to analyze the nuances from a complex entity that sprouted out. My works are multi-dimensional, I use circles to illustrate that, circles which signify loopholes or viewpoints through time, where we can have access to the past whilst dwelling in the present, just like saying remnants of the past dwell in the present.

How has your life in the studio been?

My studio is my escape, it’s the one place I run to when there is a lot of chaos around me, it just consumes me. Sometimes when I have so much on my mind, I just pick a chair and stare at my art, it helps me reflect on what to create next. The studio is my lab, it’s a place where I bring in all these ideas. Sometimes when I stroll out and I find an idea, I either have to come and sketch it out or take a picture of it— I just love the space.












Interview
Photo courtesy of the artist.

BOJ Gets Personal with ‘Gbagada Express’

The singer reflects on lockdown, Alte culture, and his present state of mind in this new interview.

From Nigeria to the UK and back, BOJ’s run in the music industry has been nothing short of noteworthy. The trio of BOJ, Teezee, and Fresh L, popularly known as DRB, are revered as pioneers of Alte culture, a widely acclaimed phenomenon in Nigeria that has marked the ascent of artists like Tems, Amaarae, and Tay Iwar. “We were just being ourselves and then we noticed it was turning into something and people are catching it,” he says.

Born Bolaji Odojukan, BOJ spent his formative years immersed in different cultures between Africa and the Western world. This would culminate in a wide range of influences as he cites Lagbaja, Toni Braxton, and Kanye West to have shaped the musician he’s become. His debut album, BOTM (BOJ on the Microphone), and affiliations with Show Dem Camp, Ajebutter, and DRB would catapult the singer as a household name in Nigerian music. His 2018 collaboration with Skepta on “Like to Party” did well to introduce him to the UK but it wasn’t until “Lazarus” alongside Dave that BOJ hits a new height in his career. “It was humbling seeing that many people sing my song word for word,” he recounts performing the song to a crowd of 80,000 people at Park Life.

Upping the ante, BOJ has now shared his third solo album, Gbagada Express, which houses high-profile collaborations with Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, and more. “Now, I’m transcending to the next stage in my life and this feels like the Alte roots to the next level,” he says about the project.

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Photo courtesy of the artist

Spotlight: Mozambican Lizette Chirrime On Stumbling Into Artistry

Chirrime's latest exhibition, Rituals for Soul Search embodies the artist's desire to bring audience members closer to nature, the Universe, and their souls.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Mozambican textile artist, Lizette Chirrime. The self-taught multidisciplinary artist channels her trauma and longing to be whole through her artwork. "These abstract forms evoke the human body and my identity-responsive practice where I refashion my self-image and transcend a painful upbringing that left me shattered and broken. I literally ‘re-stitched’ myself together. These liberated ‘souls’ are depicted ‘dancing’ on the canvas, bringing to mind, well-dressed African women celebrating", Chirrime says in her own words. The artist uses her creations to communicate the beauty in simplicity, and the divinity of being African.

We spoke with the Chirrime about accidentally finding her medium of choice, using color to express emotions, and focusing your energy on being awesome.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.


Describe your background as an artist and the journey you've taken to get it to where it is today.

When I started, I had no idea that I was an artist. I loved to create beautiful environments wherever I went, and when people noticed, they began giving me that title. I was using techniques that deviated from what was common at the time, particularly working with recycled materials, which I think situated me as a creative within my communities.

What are the central themes in your work?

Womanhood, Mother Earth, love, awesomeness, and spirituality.

How did you decide on using textiles to express your art?

It all started when I began working with hessian fabric, mainly, deciding to change the way it was treated in many houses. I gave it more life and a better look, and when the healing was done, I moved on to colorful fabrics in search of joy and life.

In the early 2000s, I began working with scrap materials, having been compelled to create a doll from textiles one evening. I fell in love with the medium and haven’t stopped creating since, though the way in which I utilize textiles continues to evolve.

Can you talk about your use of colors and symbolism in your art?

I use the colors I do — shades of red, blue, and green — because they remind me of beauty. They’re the vehicles I use to both express my feelings and describe certain narratives behind my expression. Symbolically, I look to nature for inspiration and translate the environment around me into symbols within my pieces. Looking to nature helps to find one’s place within the universe, and I want to help people see the value in slowness and simplicity. I hope that my work helps people appreciate how miraculous our planet is and inspires them to heal the earth from destruction.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

I relocated to Mozambique during the pandemic, after living in South Africa for many years, and have felt an incredible shift in my capacity to be present. Being removed from a city and with a slower pace of life, I’ve been able to reconnect with myself and have a direct conversation with my spirit and soul, which directly feeds into my work and the current ideas which I’m exploring.

Luckily, I didn’t feel very affected by the pandemic because I’ve had a few sponsors and continued to sell my artwork through that time. Though I didn’t sell as much as I did prior, I still managed to pay my bills, eat and create — I’m thankful to have met my needs as an artist.

Image courtesy of the artist

African Single Mother, 2021

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