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Niniola Is the Nigerian Queen of Afro-House

Niniola's combination of an inimitable voice and confident songwriting shine in her debut album, This Is Me.

Niniola started out as a ballerdeer, a good one too, judging by her live performance of "Itura," an original composition she sang as a contestant on the 2013 edition of Project Fame West Africa. But that was until she "met Sarz and that's when all that changed," she mentions.


Sarz is the mercurial producer who made "Come Closer" for Wizkid and Drake, and with whom Niniola has worked to establish house music in the Nigerian pop consciousness with a handful of releases that include with "Ibadi," "Soke," and "Maradona," the crown jewel in the pot of gems that is This Is Me, her debut album released in October.

Earlier in August the "Queen of Afro-House," as she's been nicknamed, won Choice Female Vocalist of the Year which was followed by a nomination, in September, for "Maradona" in the Best Artiste in African Electro at the All African Music Awards (AFRIMA).

Niniola's combination of an inimitable voice and confident songwriting were going to always serve her well, one comes to think, even if she hadn't entered for Project Fame West Africa. But she did and came third runner up, by which time her talents had won the hearts of many viewers.

Speaking from her base in Lagos after a recent promo tour to London, Niniola says writing comes naturally to her but she is not opposed to asking for assistance from other writers. "It's just that right now I don't think i have exhausted what I have upstairs, so I still want to do it myself," she says.

All 13 songs that made the final cut for This Is Me were written by her, a feat that is even more impressive considering how free from monotony they appear. The album opener "Moyo" which in Ekiti Yoruba means "to rejoice" is a worship song, defined by soft guitar pluckings. "Oyin," which simply means "honey," is even mellower and full of passionate heart-renderings to a lover, ending with unexpected additions of trap-like chants, bringing forward a soundscape that used to be a staple of radio R&B.

Terry Apala, who features on "Bale" continues to make good on his proclamation "I dey do anything with apala music," as his voice adds rough texture to a song about being at peace with God's work in one's life.

On "Dola" the most memorable English lyric, "I do my crying in the rain," is beautifully ambiguous and could mean reassurance or dejection, but what gets to your guts is when Niniola holds a note high, one that would float away if it wasn't tethered to the tight groove on the beat made by ODH, who also made "Bale" and "Gbohun." "We have a lot we are working on at the moment so stay tuned" she says of ODH who, after Sarz, has the larger share of work on This Is Me.

"Gbohun" literally means "voice carrier," a title perfectly suited to Niniola but it's purpose is not of self-praise but of self-preservation, she explains, "what I am saying is let my enemies not prevail over me."

As for Sarz she says, "it is simply a perfect match and because all these started with him, it's easy. Sarz understands me and his level of creativity too makes it work. You guys have no idea what that guy is capable of, trust me." Except that we do and Sarz himself has made sure of this since titling a single as "Beat of Life", a beastly big body beat which took some of Wizkid's best singing and writing to tame.

"Maradona," which was made by Sarz, is one of the most elegant beats to have come from the afro-pop sphere this year, and one which Niniola recalls happened on a "blessed day." "I went to meet Sarz and I told him I wanted a mad single and 30 minutes into Sarz making the beat we could feel it was it. The second I said 'oh Maradona,' Sarz said that's your chorus."

Excited, they both continued to "vibe" before arranging and recording the song, whose title takes after the Argentine footballing maestro's dribbling skills which she likens to a cheating lover's deceitful ways.

Many artists, when asked, are quick to tell of the long list of songs they have filtered through before arriving at a final tracklist. Niniola makes it clear this is not the case: "Honestly I won't sit here and tell you we had 100 or 150 songs, but know that if I wanted to give you three dope albums, i had songs to do that. But i didn't want to pull a Chris Brown move on you guys," she says with a laugh.

This Is Me may have only 13 songs, but the aim it has set out for itself is larger than one of consolidating dominance in afro-house. Niniola's debut is tasked with establishing afro-house in Nigeria, a genre that is rooted and has flourished in South Africa.

Niniola's decision to adopt house and adapt it to Ekiti Yoruba and Nigerian-English was a clever move that has distinguished her from what is often a homogeneous lot in Nigerian pop which, like many pop markets, slavishly pursues newer, trendier soundscapes, the most recent of which is Pon Pon. This borrowing, the latest filch from Ghana, is a dominant sound in Nigerian pop coming after azonto and al kayida.

House music, however, has had a slower but continuous intake. Some of the notable house releases have been "All For Love" off Wizkid's Sounds From The Other Side; "Sugarcane" from Tiwa Savage, and "Fasta" by Kah-Lo who earlier this year received a Grammy nomination for her other "Rinse & Repeat."

"In Nigeria i can't actually mention one artiste that does house," said Niniola, also adding that "outside Nigeria I am so feeling the South Africans, and the way they have accepted my sound. You'll be sure to hear a lot of collaborations from me and my people down south."








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Featuring Sarkodie, Cassper Nyovest, Elaine, Darkovibes, Stogie T, Phyno, C Natty, and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our best music of the week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Watch Niniola's Lively Music Video for 'Omo Rapala'

The "Queen of Afro-house" is back with a fun, Lagos-shot music video.

Nigerian singer Niniola returns with the video for her latest single, "Omo Rapala," which dropped towards the end of 2019.

The upbeat song, produced by popular afrobeats beatmaker Sarz, highlights the singer's smooth vocals as she harmonizes over dance-worthy production.

The colorful music video sees the singer donning several bold outfits, including a dramatic gele and sequined look as she delivers animated performances in various settings in Lagos, including a hair salon, the local village, and eventually at a lively party.

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Photo courtesy of CNOA

These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

Afro-Colombian Populations and the Coronavirus

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

Colombian civil-rights activist insist that undercounting Afro-descendants can have a real impact on the health of Afro-Colombian communities, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."









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Nigerian Officials Drop Charges Against Naira Marley for Violating Coronavirus Lockdown Order

The Nigerian star was arraigned on Wednesday for attending a party at the home of Nollywood actress Funke Akindele.

Naira Marley has been pardoned by Lagos authorities, after being arraigned in Lagos for attending a party at the home of Nollywood actress Funke Akindele last weekend, which violated the city-wide lockdown.

According to a report from Pulse Nigeria, the "Soapy" singer and two other defendants—politician Babatunde Gbadamosi and his wife—were ordered to write formal apologies to the Government of Lagos, give written assurance that he will follow the ordinance going forward, and go into self-isolation for 14 days.

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