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Mumford & Sons Take Us Inside 'Johannesburg'

Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons on collaborating with Beatenberg, Baaba Maal and The Very Best on the group's new mini-album, 'Johannesburg'

Mumford & Sons had been wanting to play South Africa for a while. But they didn’t want to just go to South Africa, play a show or two and leave, as is the norm for big overseas acts. “We knew we had to go, but it’s just not on the way anywhere. It’s not like playing in Germany where you can just pop over to France” the band’s lead singer, Marcus Mumford, tells me over the phone. “We wanted to make it a bit more of a special kind of tour.”


That desire to make it a whole thing resulted in a six-show South African tour and the “mini-album,” Johannesburg, a five-song love letter of sorts to the group’s travels from Cape Town to Joburg. Or rather, the musicians they met along the way.

The project was recorded in February at Joburg’s South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) headquarters, where the group spent two days and nights in the studio with a who’s-who of artists on the continent assembled by Swedish producer Johan Hugo of The Very Best, whom the band first met in 2010 on their Laneway Festival tour in Australia.

“I don’t think it’s within a certain genre” Mumford tells me of the project. Johannesburg is a collaboration in the truest sense. The sum of its parts being Cape Town indie-pop band Beatenberg, Senegalese legend Baaba Maal and The Very Best’s Hugo and his other half, Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya. And of course the four guys from Mumford.

“It really is a collaboration with different artists” says Mumford.

Though the group has no plans to return to South Africa as of now, they’re excited about when they do. “For us it’s become kind of an iconic trip that we did” concludes the Mumford frontman. “Next time we’ll have to compete with how fun this first one was.”

Mumford & Sons with Beatenberg and The Very Best. Photo: David East. Source: Facebook

Below, Marcus Mumford takes us inside the five tracks on Johannesburg:

There Will Be Time

"Well we wrote that almost two years ago now. With Baaba in the studio in London. We did one day together. Just for run, really. Johan from The Very Best had introduced us. And we did one day in the studio together. And we wrote that song. That was the song that really sent us to South Africa. We wrote that, and we were like 'we should do a whole project around, rather than release it as a one-off.'"

Wona

“'Wona' came about from us getting to Cape Town, picking up some instruments together. And then starting to write. And Matt [from Beatenberg] came over to my hotel, and we wrote some lyrics and some chords together, some ideas we both had. And then we took it to the lads in Joburg and we played it for them, and it became a thing."

Fool You've Landed

"We had a demo called 'Fool You’ve Landed,' which didn’t make it onto our last record. It’s definitely very different from now from what 'Fool You’ve Landed' sounds like on this record. There was like a verse idea and a chorus idea that feature on this song, but then Esau from The Very Best really embraced the verse, and wrote it basically in the studio. And it became a whole different thing to what it was before."

Ngamila

"Ngamila means camel. It was a song that Johan played me a demo of the idea in London, and I sang something on it that we did together in Winston’s apartment in London, when Winston wasn’t even there actually. We then took it with us to Joburg and played it for the guys, and that became something we wanted to work on more. And then Baaba did some vocals on it. That was Esau’s baby, really. And I love that song actually."

Si Tu Veux

"'Si Tu Veux' is completely original from Joburg. We wrote that from start to finish in those two days. It was a very fun song to see being recorded, because it was a lot of candle light kind of vibes, and then Baaba sang this thing in the studio which just blew our minds with how special it was. And then we kind of crafted this cinematic kind of backing track thing. I think it might have been my favorite one, that one."

Johannesburg is out 17 June worldwide. Okayafrica is hosting the Gentleman of the Road: Johannesburg - a South African Experience pop-up exhibition now through 19 June at the Okay Space in Brooklyn, New York. 

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Introducing OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 List

Celebrating African Women Laying the Groundwork for the Future

It would not be hyperbole to consider the individuals we're honoring for OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 list as architects of the future.

This is to say that these women are building infrastructure, both literally and metaphorically, for future generations in Africa and in the Diaspora. And they are doing so intentionally, reaching back, laterally, and forward to bridge gaps and make sure the steps they built—and not without hard work, mines of microaggressions, and challenges—are sturdy enough for the next ascent.

In short, the women on this year's list are laying the groundwork for other women to follow. It's what late author and American novelist Toni Morrison would call your "real job."

"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else."

And that's what inspired us in the curation of this year's list. Our honorees use various mediums to get the job done—DJ's, fashion designers, historians, anthropologists, and even venture capitalists—but each with the mission to clear the road ahead for generations to come. Incredible African women like Eden Ghebreselassie, a marketing lead at ESPN who created a non-profit to fight energy poverty in Eritrea; or Baratang Miya, who is quite literally building technology clubs for disadvantaged youth in South Africa.

There are the builds that aren't physically tangible—movements that inspire women to show up confidently in their skin, like Enam Asiama's quest to normalize plus-sized bodies and Frédérique (Freddie) Harrel's push for Black and African women to embrace the kink and curl of their hair.

And then there are those who use their words to build power, to take control of the narrative, and to usher in true inclusion and equity. Journalists, (sisters Nikki and Lola Ogunnaike), a novelist (Oyinkan Braithwaite), a media maven (Yolisa Phahle), and a number of historians (Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Leïla Sy) to name a few.

In a time of uncertainty in the world, there's assuredness in the mission to bring up our people. We know this moment of global challenge won't last. It is why we are moving forward to share this labor of love with you, our trusted and loyal audience. We hope that this list serves as a beacon for you during this moment—insurance that future generations will be alright. And we have our honorees to thank for securing that future.

EXPERIENCE 100 WOMEN 2020

The annual OkayAfrica 100 Women List is our effort to acknowledge and uplift African women, not only as a resource that has and will continue to enrich the world we live in, but as a group that deserves to be recognized, reinforced and treasured on a global scale. In the spirit of building infrastructure, this year's list will go beyond the month of March (Women's History Month in America) and close in September during Women's Month in South Africa.

100 women 2020

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The African Giant has, over the years, built a remarkable musical identity around the ardent blend of dancehall, hip-hop, reggae, R&B, and afropop to create a game-changing genre he calls afro-fusion. The result has been top tier singles, phenomenal collaborations, and global stardom—with several accolades under his belt which include a Grammy nomination and African Giant earning a spot on many publications' best albums of 2019.

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What to Watch at Home During Coronavirus Shutdown: ARRAY's New Digital African Film Series

The film platform, from director Ava DuVernay, is hosting a weekly movie-viewing experience for the "global online community of cinephiles."

If you're looking for African films to dive into while at home during the coronavirus outbreak, a new digital series from award-winning director Ava DuVernay's film collective ARRAY is a great place to start. The multi-media platform and arts collective is launching its #ARRAYMatinee series, and each film will be available for viewing here.

#ARRAYMatinee is a virtual movie-viewing experience that will screen a string of the collective's previously released independent films from Africa and the diaspora. The weekly series begins on Wednesday, April 1 with a viewing of the 2015 South African coming-of-age film Ayanda. "Viewers will take a cinematic journey to the international destinations and cultures featured in five films that were released via the ARRAY Releasing independent film distribution collective that amplifies that work of emerging filmmakers of color and women of all kinds," says the platform in a press release. To promote a communal viewing experience, viewers are also encouraged to have discussions on Twitter, using the hashtag #ARRAYMatinee.

The five-part series will run weekly until May 13, and also includes films from Liberia, Ghana, and Grenada. See the full viewing schedule below with descriptions from ARRAY, and visit ARRAY's site at the allotted times to watch.

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