Interview

Modenine: "The Ones That Are Against Me Tend to Overlook My Skill & What I Can Do"

In an exclusive interview with OkayAfrica, the Nigerian rap legend talks about his process and expectations for his new album, The Monument, career longevity, and the place of boom-bap in the age of trap.

Nigerian rapper Modenine's new album, The Monument, is a testament to longevity and a lifetime dedication to one's chosen craft. It is also the tale of a rap legend who is puzzled that his vitality has somehow marginalised him, while a continuing stream of weaker or newer rappers are celebrated on account of their youth and ever changing trends.

This is the eleventh studio album by the rapper, whose output includes six mixtapes and numerous singles. The new record is entirely produced by Nigerian producer, Stormatique, whose brother MCSkill Tha Preacha is the only featured artist on the album.

The sole production work and sibling association suggests an organic assembly of all of the eight songs that make up The Monument. This is not the case. Five of the songs were recorded in 2012 for a different project and in conjunction with a German producer who delayed further work on it. As a result, the project was brought to a halt and the songs subsequently vaulted for six years.

"I was like, 'man, I'm tired' " Modenine recalls his exasperation.


Modenine (Check For Me) www.youtube.com

Fed up of waiting, he passed on the verses and hooks in a cappella form to Stormatique who then built around them instrumentation that is faithful to boom-bap beats—a recognisable template of scratches, samples and a combination of bass and snare drums that defined '90s hip hop in the East Coast of the US.

Speaking over the phone in London, where he moved two years ago from Nigeria, Modenine is both a patient listener and combative speaker, if prodded. It should come as no surprise from a renowned battle rapper. But attendant reasons contribute to his intolerance of lazy interview questions or disregard for his art—real or perceived—much of which is steeped in the lore and idiom of a rap era that would seem positively alien to a teenage trapper in 2019.

Two songs carry Modenine's present career frustrations. One is "Lyricist Woes" where he complains: "fans desert me, few show me love, the rest cut me off curtly." He emphasises similar sour points on "Check For Me" where he sneers at fickle fandom: "they hit me up say they don't fuck with iTunes, begging for a free link to download my tunes."

I ask Modenine just how frustrated he is with the respect fans and the industry in Nigeria show to some of his recent releases, to which he says, "mostly the industry not the fans. Jimmy Jatt [a foremost Nigerian DJ] is an industry guy and he's showed me so much love and a lot of guys have showed me love. It's not all of them that are against Modenine. The ones that are against [me] tend to overlook my skill and what I can do."

Modenine _ Samuel Peter (Viral Video) www.youtube.com

It comes as a little relief to hear of those who have been stalwart to the legendary rapper. But Modenine is also quick to consider his own faults in some of his broken relationships when he adds that "sometimes I can be a little bit standoffish, I like to keep to myself for the most part because of the way people have a Judas mentality. It's very rampant in the industry."

The fourth song on The Monument is "Ghetto," a survivalist tale of growing up disenfranchised, and not one which Modenine claims for himself. Born Babatunde Adewale to Nigerian parents in east London, his family moved to Lagos when he was a pre-teen. The switch from Hackney to Agege opened up vistas of new experiences for the young Adewale.

He talks with renewed wonder of witnessing for the first time, haphazard traffic, open air cooking with firewood, public arguments and skirmishes between bus conductors and passengers: "it was just like a mini-movie, like going home every day from work or going to school and going back from school. It's just like a movie every single day".

The descriptive cataloguing in "The Ghetto" makes for a vivid portrait of these formative years. It is also, for this writer, reminiscent of Sticky Fingaz' own song of the same title. Modenine admits no knowledge of this song but he acknowledges two figures synonymous with the ghettos of Lagos in singer Daddy Showkey and Vocal Slender, a bin scavenger turn performer, and the subject of a BBC documentary in 2010. These are not shout outs to bring authenticity to the song but the result of long running relationships he's had with both totems of ghetto survival.

On the album's second song, "Your Bad,", a former lover is refused when she returns after the rapper has signed a deal and is enjoying life as a touring musician. "Reptilian Vixens" is about gold-digging models at his video shoots, while "Mystery Girl" starts out as an ode to the perfect woman, but takes a narrative twist towards the end.

Of the three aforementioned songs, not one is an out-and-out attempt to court a real or imagined female audience. Creative instinct would seem to come before thematic considerations in this instant. In the rapper's own words, "the type of women that listen to my music, they will break down the lyrics I didn't know existed in my own songs. Everybody knows and I used to tell producers 'listen, refrain from giving me your hard beats, give me your musical beats.'"

The release of The Monument marked new changes for Modenine, not least in the precise way he writes and records his vocals. Where he's always written lyrics on paper, for the first time in a long career "I was on the go, right? And so, I was typing everything." For 17 projects until now, he stood up to voice in the vocal book with the producer on the boards as was customary. For this album (and perhaps henceforth) he chose to sit each time because "I found out that it sounds much better and it's easier for me to edit."

Our interview led to an unexpected revelation. Modenine is now seriously pursuing music production, or rather more than he'd done in the past. Sensing my surprise, he proceeds to educate me on his considerable yet unshowy body of producer credits beginning with Asphyxiation, an EP he produced for Aina More, a female MC and poet. The list goes on: "150 Bars" (Malcolm IX, 2004) "Gentle Wind" and "Legal State of Mind" (Pentium IX, 2006) "Regular Guy" and "Spectacular" (E' Pluribus Unum, 2007). "Why I feel like I'm a new producer is because I bought hardware" says the rapper of the MK3 and MIDI Controller production equipment he recently purchase, after years of using computer-based softwares.

Modenine may yet convince as a beat maker and his continuing relationship with boom-bap from the '90s may place him at great odds with trap or "drip drip music" as he calls it. But by virtue of lyrical vitality and considerable body of work, he remains a one man rap institution.

The Momument is available now.




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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

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

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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:





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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 www.youtube.com

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.

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(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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