Popular
Photo by C Brandon/Redferns for Getty Images.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Linton Kwesi Johnson performs on stage at the Roundhouse on May 15, 2016 in London, England.

Jamaican-British Poet Linton Kwesi Johnson Shares 2020 Literature Prize with Amanuel Asrat

This year's winner of the PEN Pinter Prize, Linton Kwesi Johnson, has awarded the 'International Writer of Courage' honour to Eritrean writer, Amanuel Asrat, who is still believed to be in prison after 19 years.

Veteran Jamaican-British poet Linton Kwesi Johnsonhas been awarded this year's PEN Pinter Prize with the judges having described him as a writer "whose impact on the cultural landscape over the last half century has been colossal and multi-generational". Johnson subsequently announced that he was sharing the prize with Eritrean writer and journalist Amanuel Asrat and awarding him with the "International Writer of Courage" honour. Johnson says this is an act of solidarity for Asrat who is still believed to be in a maximum prison following his arrest in 2001 although his exact whereabouts over the past 19 years remain unknown.


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

Speaking about his decision to honour Asrat with "The Writer of Courage", Johnson says the following:

"Keeping a citizen incarcerated, incommunicado, without charge or trial for nearly 20 years is the kind of egregious brutality that we associate with totalitarian states and dictatorships. As a gesture of solidarity from a poet of the African diaspora, I have chosen the Eritrean poet, songwriter, critic and journalist Amanuel Asrat."

Asrat, who was the was the editor-in-chief of Zemen, was arrested after the Eritrean government issued a ban on private press on September 18th, 2001. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Asrat's "whereabouts, health, and status remain unknown as the Eritrean government repeatedly has failed to provide credible answers to questions about imprisoned journalists, or to allow visits from family or lawyers." His family has also since pleaded with the international community to intervene on Asrat's behalf following his recent win and acknowledgment.

The PEN Pinter Prize is reportedly awarded on an annual basis to a writer from Britain, the Republic of Ireland or the Commonwealth who casts an "unflinching, unswerving' gaze upon the world, and shows a 'fierce intellectual determination … to define the real truth of our lives and our societies". The literature prize was established back in 2009 and is awarded in honour of the Nobel-Laureate playwright, Harold Pinter.

Interview

Fireboy DML On Embracing His Inner 'Playboy,' Stepping Outside & Learning to Let Go

On Playboy, Fireboy moves further away from his previous records and embraces the mainstream afrobeats sound hinted in recent hits like "Peru" and "Bandana." We sit down with the Nigerian star to talk about his new album.

“I would like to discuss my forthcoming album only, nothing else. That is where my headspace right now.”

Nigerian superstar Fireboy DML draws up the rules of engagement as soon as we get on a Zoom call. The notoriously reticent singer, fresh from enjoying the biggest year of his musical career, powered by the international breakthrough of his single "Peru," is checking in from London. The city has become somewhat of a second home for him of late and it is here that Fireboy is ensconced while getting ready to kick off promotional activities for his third studio album, Playboy, which arrived last Friday.

The 14-track album comes almost two years after Fireboy’s last pop effort, Apollo ,which in turn was released about nine months after his stellar debut, Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps. On Playboy, Fireboy moves further away from his previous records and embraces the mainstream afrobeats sound hinted in recent hits like "Peru" and "Bandana," with newbie Asake.

He tells OkayAfrica about putting the album together below.

Keep reading...Show less
Culture
Image courtesy of the artist

Spotlight: NK Is The Future and Star of His Own Show

We spoke with the 18-year-old visual artist about creating art from his surroundings and empowering his generation.

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 Ghanaian digital artist NK. The self-proclaimed Afrocentric visual artist's love for drawing and sketching at a young age pushed him to explore the many ways in which modern technology supports and advances creativity. Simply playing around with a popular photo editing app propelled the young artist into a world of self discovery, empowerment, and a keen understanding about how big the Universe we call home actually is. As the digital creative puts it, "I think my interest in space and what could exist outside the world we live in also had an impact on my desire to incorporate futuristic technology with cultural art." Armed with a keen interest in all things Afrofuturist, NK's futuristic eye has gained the teen artist recognition from some of his industry faves, too.

We spoke with the 18-year-old visual artist about creating art from his surroundings and empowering his generation.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.


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

I grew up with an interest in art and drawing. I loved to draw and sketch, usually with both pen and pencils, whatever was interesting around me. I would make compositions of items within my surroundings and paste them on the walls of my parent’s rooms. My interest in the digital world peaked around the ages of 14 and 15 -- I've always been intrigued by astronauts and futuristic technology. I started digital art in 2017 when I created 2D pieces on the PicsArt app on a phone at home. Eventually, I gained access to the Adobe Photoshop software.

Artists like David Alabo, Beeple, Basquiat, and Juan Carlos Ribas inspired me and also made me think of what I could achieve if I tried. I spent a lot of time watching tutorial videos and related content online to be able to develop my skill. Initially, I created my pieces by combining a number of stock images and online resources to create an entirely new fictional scene. Around early 2020 I had a creative block and was desperate to find new sources of inspiration. Over time I came to the realization that my inspiration surrounded me and that I shouldn’t have to force creativity. I did more research on Afrocentric art and stepped out of my comfort zone to create my first Afrocentric pieces, “Gateway to Paradise” and “Modernization”. These pieces attracted a lot of attention and also the smArt magazine which granted me my first interview and magazine feature opening the door to new relationships in the creative industry, various opportunities, and collaborations.

What are the central themes in your work?

My work is mainly centered around the expression of development in the Black experience and empowering African Culture. I try to factor in Afrofuturism and Afrocentrism in making my pieces whether it’s how my models are dressed, their accessories, or represented by items that surround them. My pieces are intended to put forward the message of creating brighter futures and realities where Africans thrive. This helps give my pieces in themselves an identity.

How did you decide on using a digital medium for your art?

Even though I do draw and sketch, I also feel very comfortable using digital software which to me offers endless possibilities. I believe that using digital media as an African artist helps bridge the gap between technology and cultural art, directly falling in line with my field of interest, Afrofuturism.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

The start of the pandemic in 2020 was devastating. A lot happened during that period. It was during the lockdown that I made the decision to transition into creating Afrocentric art. We were made to take a break from school, which freed up a lot of my time. I had the time to research, watch tutorials and practice more. It might have been one of the most defining years for me as an artist. It also granted me a larger audience as everyone was made to work from home. I actually learned a lot and worked hard during that period and this led to my work improving massively.

Can you describe your artistic relationship with ‘Afro-futurism’?

Afrofuturism is a theme I can really relate to as a young African. It's our responsibility to contribute to our development as a people. I think my interest in space and what could exist outside the world we live in also had an impact on my desire to incorporate futuristic technology with cultural art. I like to think of what we can achieve, the seemingly impossible things, and then I pour out those thoughts and ideas into my art and that is why I immediately fell in love with Afrofuturism. We are the future, the stars of our own show.

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

The most dominant figure in my pieces is usually the black figure/model which usually stands out as the main subject. Regarding the backgrounds, I usually try to make a scene with colors to create a particular mood or in some of my pieces to complement the clothes of the model, usually African prints. They range from solid backgrounds to gradients and various sky textures. I use different cultural accessories both for beautification and also to provide that Afrocentric feel and message. I love to use various beads, bracelets, and traditional cloths with interesting textures to convey these messages of who we are as Africans and where we come from.


Artwork by NK

"Cultural Adornment"

Photo Credit: Mous Lamrabat

Mous Lamrabat’s New Exhibition Captures the Necessity Of Peace, Women’s Rights and Humor

The Moroccan-Belgian photographer uses his new exhibition to express thoughts he has always wanted to express

Belgian-Moroccan photographer Mous Lamrabat is a world builder. In his new exhibition, Lamrabat found solace in a perfect place in his head where he calls his very own “Mousganistan,”

The exhibit, titled “Blessing from Mousganistan”, opened in the Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam (Foam) in June and will run until October 16. The exhibit expresses contrasting vibrant color, obscure symbols and bold utopia. For Lamrabat, aligning creativity with his identity has always been his greatest signature. And not because he’s keen on highlighting the innermost Moroccan part of himself, which can be viewed from a myopic lens. But he’s more than just Moroccan, African and Muslim. In the last couple of years, Lamrabat has been one of the prominent photographers bringing his culture to the forefront of fashion editorials including Vogue, GQ and Fucking Young. His ideas are simply refreshing, new and audacious.

In this new exhibition, Lamrabat reels people into his world and past experiences — both stereotypes he has always wanted to deconstruct and stories he has always wanted to share. Lamrabat invites viewers into past experiences of growing up in Belgium and watching the reactions of people towards his mother and sisters because they wore hijabs. He also captures that melancholic pain but from a triumphant narrative.

OkayAfrica had a phone call with the photographer and he spoke about the exhibition, what it meant to him, working in the fashion industry and building an audience.

Mous Lamrabat headshot

Photo Credit: Dimitri Bekaert

You are one of the prominent photographers from Northern Africa, how did your journey as a visual artist emerge?

I feel my journey as an artist is still starting. I studied interior design at the KASK & Conservatorium / School of Arts Gent, Belgium. My father was a creative person and that's why I wanted to enter the academy and do something creative but when I arrived at the academy, I realized that I wasn’t actually as creative as the other kids who grew up having their parents take them to the museum and who were in touch with their innate creativity at an early age. I didn’t have that kind of opportunity because my parents were first generation immigrants. They didn’t go to museums or even know what art actually was.

When I went to school there, I felt at home because there were kids in the hallway painting. There were some people playing music and I really felt like I belonged there and I really wanted to prove that I belonged there. I learnt very fast how to be creative and how to become the expectation of my teachers. It felt like I was infected with the creative virus, I wanted it to be so good. When I finished my study, I was asked by an architectural company to come join their team, but I didn’t do that because I wanted to be creative every day. Architecture is a little bit of creativity and the rest is technical and I didn’t want that for myself. So I declined all the job offers and I went to assist a local photographer as an assistant

Your work revolves around stories of identity, especially life as a Moroccan. Can you say more?

Growing up Moroccan, African, and muslim in Belgium, I wanted to belong and be part of a group. Every person in the Western world has this crisis with sticking to their roots or joining mass of people, that feeling of leaving behind heritage. For me , I didn’t have to choose between these things because it’s like society tells us the truth but we basically don’t have to choose. That’s why I started doing my own thing within photography, showing who I am as a person, what my interests are, and how I grew up. I mean I am African, I am Moroccan, I am Muslim but I also grew up in a world where I use to love playing basket ball, listening to hip-hop — all these things made me who I am and the total of it made me strong. Inside the house, we were Moroccan, we took off our shoes, the house looked Moroccan but outside was Belgium.

Mous Lamrabat

Photo Credit: Mous Lamrabat

What was the inspiration behind “Blessings from Mousganistan”?

"Mousganitan" started off as a bit of a joke. I always felt like if you wanted to do something different from everybody else and not be judged, then you don’t necessarily need to share that idea because we all do have ideas. For me, when you tell people your ideas, people always have an opinion and you tend to adapt to what they say which affects your creativity. I feel like every creative person needs to have a made up place where they create raw ideas of what they want to do without being affected by the outside place. So my Mousganistan is a place I go to become creative because there are no opinions from people.

Mous Lamrabat photo durags

Photo Credit: Mous Lamrabat

In one of the portraits, a star sign can be seen on the muses’s head. Is there a meaning to this?

Everything I do is always personal and it also revolves around things happening in the world that bothers me and have an effect on me and my creative process. When there was a lot of unrest in the Middle East between Pakistan and Israel, it was really something that tore us apart. Jewish and Islamic people have always been brothers biblically because we are children of the book. This is why sometimes I put together things to have that message out. For me that photography was putting Judaism and Islam in one image to bring it back together and have conversations about it. I wanted people to see the unison between both religions and understand that photographic intent of promoting peace.

Was the series a means to emphasize on women’s rights?

When I talk about women’s rights, I mostly speak about my own experience. Experiences about my mother in the supermarket because my mother wears a hijab and how the people react to her is uncomfortable. It hurts me to see that people treat and see them as less and this is something I will always contribute my work to, to give people like my mother and sister a representation.

There is a portrait in this exhibition of two boys catching a grip of flowers. Was that your attempt to speak about masculinity and what it looks like in Morocco?

It’s not exactly like masculinity because the series was inspired by old paintings and I was looking through the inspiration of my past work and it gave me the aura of trying something new from the old. I never explain my work in exhibitions. Most of the time I hear a lot of people talk about my work and their interpretations, and I learn so much from them because I realize there is more to my work than I expect it to be. So that’s why I love that you interpreted the photo to be a view on masculinity. Maybe it resonates with you as a person or maybe it makes you think about masculinity.

Mous Lamrabat clown

Photo Credit: Mous Lamrabat

The collection had a portraiture of clowns, was this an inclination to capture humor.

I was always intrigued by clowns because I love emotions. Clowns have always been an inspiration because they exude happiness and joy. But I always found clowns sad sometimes but that’s not what they are invented for. I love playing with clown photos because there are so much emotions there. I always try to put humor in them because if you make someone feel something when they look at your photo, they would remember it because of the emotions in the photos. And my favorite one is humor because laughter is important, and I want to put messages inside my photos but I always try to do it on a positive note.

Mous Lamrabat mother

Photo Credit: Mous Lamrabat

Have you ever had to compromise or wrestle with toning down your Arabic imagery in your photography to please certain eyeballs?

I would be lying if I said no. I never took the audience as an issue. If I ever had a reaction, it has only been on social media because whenever I do exhibitions, the people that come have a certain intelligence to understand the scenery of my exhibition. It’s not just one photo that they see in an exhibition, it consists of the total. But on social media, when I post a photo, people always have something to say about my work or share their opinion. I didn’t compromise that much honestly because I felt my work was growing quite fast. I don’t want to compromise but if I don’t, I get these reactions that don't sit well with me because I’m kind of a soft person. When a person talks bad about my work, it feels like they talk bad about my children. I’m very passionate about what I do. I feel like I would compromise more but I hope I won’t.

Would you say the creative world has been more accepting of photographers like yourself or do you face certain barriers?

I think so, yes. The creative world is in need of inspiration and when you do something refreshing and new, people get attracted to it. If I see some people’s art which sometimes I love and sometimes I don’t but if it’s something super refreshing, I automatically respect it whether I like it or not. That’s also the part of the respect I get from the creative world because my work was something people never saw before and that’s why they respect me and want to exhibit me.


Interview

Interview: Ajebo Hustlers Are Port Harcourt’s Latest Cherished Export

We talk to the rising duo about breaking into the Nigerian mainstream with hit tracks like "Symbiosis," "Barawo," and "Loyalty," and their upcoming project, Bad Boy Etiquette 101.

It’s easy to forget the dark realities that still plague most African countries when looking through the lens of their rising global stars. The fame of artists like Wizkid, Kizz Daniel, and Olamide, is also said to cloud the economic, social, religious, and civil problems that affect everyday citizens and their harsh realities.

Artists emerging from these harsh realities bring a different essence to how they create, crafting their stories with vivid detail, eager to share with the world what they’ve been through and why they should be heard. Their talent is being fueled by a rage to escape what they’ve seen. Coming from a nation that produced one of the most radical speakers of his time, Fela Kuti, it's not hard to understand why music as a form of protest easily runs in the blood of the country’s music veins.

This is why when an artist breaks out from this system, much is to be celebrated especially when you come from heavily exploited regions like Port Harcourt. Indigenes of Nigeria’s infamous home of crude oil often rue the mineral’s presence because of its impact on their land and people. Thick black smoke billows into the sky on a daily basis, polluting the entire ecosystem, and making the Port Harcourt dream to rise above these fumes.

Like phoenixes rising from the ashes, the duo of Piego and Knowledge, known as Ajebo Hustlers, represent hope for a generation of creators from this region. Making music that seeks to probe your awareness of their realities, accompanied with the right rhythms to beckon listeners to move their bodies. They found their sound and stuck to it, following the footsteps of other Port Harcourt stars like Timaya and Burna Boy, who have similar approaches, and have ascended to the famed halls of Nigerian music stardom.

We spoke to Ajebo Hustlers about their come-up, how growing up in Port Harcourt shaped their lives and music, breaking into mainstream Nigeria with hit tracks like "Symbiosis," "Barawo," "Loyalty," and their upcoming project.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Keep reading...Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

Listen: Mádé Kuti Pleas For 'No More Wars' In Latest Single

The Grammy nominated singer-songwriter blends easy listening with a powerful message in his first drop of 2022 so far.

Nigerian-American Jackie Aina Catches Flames For Insensitive New Candle

The s-candle burns bright on Twitter as the Youtuber's 'Sòrò Sókè' candle sparks fury over the political meaning behind the name.

'Ile Owo' Director Dare Olaitan on Exploring the Human Condition Through Film

Director Dare Olaitan talks about his filmmaking process and his attempt to re-educate the audience on the impact of unchecked capitalism.

Listen to Fireboy DML's New Album 'Playboy'

Featuring "Bandana," "Peru," "Playboy" and many more hits.

popular.

The 8 Best East African Songs of the Month (July)

Featuring Zuchu, Bien (of Sauti Sol), Harmonize x Spice, Julixn Drizzle, and more.