News Brief

Nigerian Literary Icon Gabriel Okara Has Passed Away

The famous writer is regarded as the first "Modernist Poet of Anglophone Africa."

Nigerian literary giant, Gabirel Okara, known as the first English language African writer, passed away in his sleep in Port Harcourt on Monday. He was two months shy of his 98th birthday.

Okara, referred to as the "Nigerian Negritudist," for his involvement in the Francophone-led intellectual movement, rose to prominence in 1964, following the release of his celebrated debut novel, The Voice, an experimental book in which he translated his native language of Ijaw into English. He was also a poet, playwright and a scriptwriter for national broadcasts. According to The Sun, many of Okara's manuscripts were lost during the Nigerian Civil War.


The writer was born on April 24 1922 in the present-day Bayelsa State of Nigeria, He went on to study journalism at Northwestern University in 1949, before discovering his talent for poetry in 1953 when he won an award at the Nigerian Festival of Arts for his poem The Call of the River Nun, according to BBC Africa.

Amongst his most celebrated poems are Piano and Drums, You Laughed and Laughed and Laughed, and The Fisherman's Invocation.

His death is a major loss to the African literary world, and the second this month following the passing of the prolific Ivorian writer Bernard Dadié, a leader in the negritude movement.

Tributes from fans and readers, including Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, have been pouring out in remembrance of the renowned writer all morning. Many are sharing personal memories of how his work has influenced them.







Interview
Photo: Schure Media Group/Roc Nation

Interview: Buju Banton Is a Lyrical Purveyor of African Truth

A candid conversation with the Jamaican icon about his new album, Upside Down 2020, his influence on afrobeats, and the new generation of dancehall.

Devout fans of reggae music have been longing for new musical offerings from Mark Anthony Myrie, widely-known as the iconic reggae superstar Buju Banton. A shining son of Jamaican soil, with humble beginnings as one of 15 siblings in the close-knit community of Salt Lane, Kingston, the 46-year-old musician is now a legend in his own right.

Buju Banton has 12 albums under his belt, one Grammy Award win for Best Reggae Album, numerous classic hits and a 30-year domination of the industry. His larger-than-life persona, however, is more than just the string of accolades that follow in the shadows of his career. It is his dutiful, authentic style of Caribbean storytelling that has captured the minds and hearts of those who have joined him on this long career ride.

The current socio-economic climate of uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrusted onto the world, coupled with the intensified fight against racism throughout the diaspora, have taken centre stage within the last few months. Indubitably, this makes Buju—and by extension, his new album—a timely and familiar voice of reason in a revolution that has called for creative evolution.

With his highly-anticipated album, Upside Down 2020, the stage is set for Gargamel. The title of this latest discography feels nothing short of serendipitous, and with tracks such as "Memories" featuring John Legend and the follow-up dancehall single "Blessed," it's clear that this latest body of work is a rare gem that speaks truth to vision and celebrates our polylithic African heritage in its rich fullness and complexities.

Having had an exclusive listen to some other tracks on the album back in April, our candid one-on-one conversation with Buju Banton journeys through his inspiration, collaboration and direction for Upside Down 2020, African cultural linkages and the next generational wave of dancehall and reggae.

This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.

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Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

[Op-Ed] Speeka: “‘Dankie San’ brought me closer to kasi rap”

A personal reflection on one of South Africa's most influential hip-hop albums, 'Dankie San' by PRO.

Ed's note: South Africa's national channel SABC 1 recently aired a 2-part documentary on the making of Dankie San, the late South African rapper PRO's 2007 album which is considered by many as his magnum opus. The album is considered a "kasi rap bible." In this Op-Ed, South African hip-hop producer and powerhouse of kasi rap, Speeka reflects on the album's impact on the South African scene and his own life.

2007 was a strange year for me. I had matriculated the previous year, and, thanks to succumbing to peer pressure, was studying I.T.. I eventually dropped out because instead of doing my Programming assignments, I focused most of my energy on being a hip-hop head and making beats.

I cared very little for anything outside hip-hop culture. I was deeply entrenched into both American and South African hip-hop—listening to everything from Mr. Selwyn to Kanye West, Morafe, The Roots and PROkid.

Of all the South African MCs I was listening to at the time, PRO (then known as PROkid) was right at the top of my list. He was one of the few MCs who was able to spit in English and vernac (IsiZulu and South African township slang known as tsotsitaal) with the same lethal precision – both written and freestyled.

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Interview
Photo courtesy of the artist.

Interview: Bumi Thomas Was Given 14 Days to Leave the UK

We speak with the British-based singer-songwriter about her fight against a "hostile environment policy" and the release of her latest EP, Broken Silence.

There's a lot of vulnerability and soul packed into Bumi Thomas' latest EP. Given the surrounding context of a legal battle, Broken Silence was released, in Bumi's words, "at a time when microcosms of institutionalised racism have garnered so much momentum highlighting the domino effect of systems of oppression that have led to this powerful, global resurgence of the Black lives matter movement."

The inspiration behind this EP came at a time when Bumi faced a legal battle to stay in the UK, after receiving a letter from the UK Home Office to leave the country within 14 days. Understandably causing huge stress, this case turned from an isolated incident to national news, with 25,000 people signing her petition and raising money via crowdfunding for legal fees.

We spoke with the British-based singer about all of this below.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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I Would Rather Breathe Than Think Outside the Box

South African artists were already working for little to no pay, but the pandemic has unleashed a flood of exploitative work requests right when we need money the most.