Interview
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Sibu Mabena Works Behind The Scenes in South African Hip-Hop, And She’s Kicking Ass

We speak to Sibu Mabena about her agency that works with countless personalities and brands.

As much as South African hip-hop is male-dominated, it has a huge network of women working behind the scenes, making sure your favorite rappers' live shows are A1 and that their craft is lucrative. 26-year-old Sibu Mabena is one such woman and she has a resume that will humble even the biggest egos. She worked behind the scenes on Cassper Nyovest's Fill Up The Dome, Fill Up Orlando Stadium and Fill Up FNB Stadium—some of the biggest hip-hop concerts South Africa has ever seen.


Her creative agency Duma Collective currently employs eight young people, and works with a plethora of South African personalities and brands. Artists and personalities such as Natasha Tshahane, Luthando Shosha, Reason, K.O., Solo & The BETR Gang, The Muffinz, Sne Mbatha and DotCom are all managed by her agency. Mabena, full disclosure, briefly worked for OkayAfrica in 2017.

Mabena, who started out as a hip-hop dancer in high school, has a degree in political science from the University of Pretoria. "While still in varsity," she says, "I was doing SAB conferences and doing choreography for Brutal Fruit and Miller, and going on tours, teaching kids how to dance."

"Then, while still studying, I thought let me register a company so I can invoice properly. Registering my company gave me something to work with. I went to work for MTV Base, fresh out of varsity, I did a 2-month stint with Pop Bottles, where I consulted for them, and they gave me office space."

In 2016, after working for a digital agency as an operations manager, she decided to run her agency, Duma Collective, full-time. She attributes her success to hard work, God, and intense networking. Duma Collective "manages talent, procures talent for events, does social media campaigns, manages influencers and does creative direction for events."

Mabena took time off her intensely busy schedule to chat to us about her work.

What exactly do you do for the artists you work with?

It varies because of the different industries they are in. so for example, with an actress, they will have an agent to get them into TV shows, ads and find all the auditions for them. And then I come from a business management perspective to say, 'okay, fine your craft is acting, and that's how you pay the bills, but how can we build the brand and monetize it,' so plugging an actress with a brand and seeing how that can go forward, from brand campaigns, an ambassadorship or social media campaigns or plugging them into live events, also I will advise if we need PR, a stylist or makeup artist. As the business manager, you basically come on as a CEO of the company that is that artist. I like to treat my artists as companies, versus just seeing them for what they do.

You've been involved in all of Cassper Nyovest's Fill Up concerts. What other events have you been involved in?

I've done the MTV Base MAMAs 2014 and 2015. I've done SAFTAS, 2015 and 2016, the SAMAs, 2014 and 2015, I've been a part of Homecoming Africa and Afropunk. I've worked in Afropunk in Brooklyn and in Johannesburg. I'm currently working on Just For Laughs Africa, which is happening in December. I'm also working on Homecoming Africa, which is happening in October.

What did you do with the Fill Up series?

My role with the Fill Up series changed over the years. With the first one, Fill Up The Dome, I had just come back from shadowing the director of the EMAs (MTV Europe Music Awards) in Milan. I landed, and I called T-Lee (Cassper Nyovest's manager) and said, "T-Lee, you have to give me a job, I have to do something," and he said, "Fine, come to the Dome, we'll see what we can find for you. I got there and created a role for myself. I asked the stage director, Gareth Hadden from Formative, who was helping Cassper change outfits during the quick changes, and there was no one, so I put my hand up and it ended up being me. So I was just making sure that Cassper wore the right things, got to stage on time, in between these changes.

That role grew with Fill Up Orlando Stadium; I came aboard to make sure that talent got on and off stage on time, and that we had the right things happening on time. So I dealt with dancers, the stage team, the technical crew and the show caller. It was a technical job… so stage assistant really.

With Fill Up FNB Stadium, my role grew to head of talent operations, which then means I managed everything that had to do with talent—from the principal, which is Cassper, to the first DJ who gets on stage, making sure that they've been contacted and even know that they are performing. Dressing rooms, dancers, on and offsite rehearsals, catering, tech and hospitality riders, props… a lot, I had a team of 29 people working with me, including interns and some very experienced people in the industry. And I had the privilege of heading up that team and being the coordinator of this big machine.

How did you get into the industry?

I used to wait for my mother to pick me up at school at 5pm. So I started following my friends into a dance class, and eventually I started dancing. I was good at it, and my teacher put me in the SA dance team. With that, we went overseas to compete, and my eyes opened to this big world of hip-hop, like 'wow this is crazy, there's so much more than what we know.' I was 10 the first time I went to compete in Germany. We did well, and I started knowing people so my network grew from there. I eventually joined the crew The Repertoires when I was 16, and was there for a year. I met some people from Clinch (a dance crew which was popular then); so I latched myself onto Clinch to work on Masters of Rhythm (a dance event), as a volunteer first. I've been that person that's just like 'give me a chance to work and I will show you what I can do then we'll take it from there.' I spent three years with Masters of Rhythm. From there, I met Jay Kayembe, who spotted my talent and said, "I can use your skills in the other projects that I do, so we did STR. CRD (a street culture festival), a Flying Fish dance challenge thing. Jay then got an opportunity to do the Miller Boomtown Tour with Kendrick Lamar, so that was my first big gig and entry into the industry. I creative consulted on that team. And then I did the choreography for the tour with dancers Taryn, Sne and Sbu, who were the choreographers, but we gave the creative direction for that. And through that I met people at SAB, interacted with the artists and grew relationships. Reason was on that tour, that's why we're so close today. Khuli was there, too, we very close today. Tumi, same story.


With all these stories from women who have been abused by men in the entertainment industry and just sexism as we know it, how has it been working in a male-dominated industry for you?

I must be very honest, I haven't been a victim of that. I have always had the mindset to let it not affect me. I think the only time I've ever complained about guys and their behavior was when a group didn't wanna hear me, and then I kicked and screamed, and then they called me emotional. But in terms of being kept out of the loop or not having a seat at the table, men working with each other and against us, that thing for me has always been an idea more than it is a reality. So I've always said 'just be so good that they don't ignore you.' Or be so good that you are needed at the table, and it's happened a number of times. It's just like the race thing—a white agency will have more opportunities than black ones, but eventually they'll call on you.

Sibu Mabena (fourth from right) with Reason's band and road crew en route to Oppikoppi festival last year. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

To the young girl who follows you on social media or just sees you and would like to follow your path, what would you say are the biggest misconceptions of your job?

What I put out on social media, more often that not, it's the final product, which is the picture in front of the big stage at FNB Stadium, or the picture at the table with al the accreditation to Afropunk, and my life looks like 'wow, that's so great, that's so cool.' It's cool, it really is, but the work it takes to get there is hard. I've gone from picking up cases of cool drink and water into dressing rooms, and then an hour later, I'm serving Raphael Saadiq a cup of tea on stage. So, it's glamorous, but it's hard—long hours, physically and emotionally draining, you don't see your family as much as you want to, and having a decent love life has been difficult until recently. It's hard but it's so rewarding, because every rand you get to spend has been earned. Secondly, flirting with the right person is not as easy as some people think. Some people are able to sleep their way through, and make it to the top. But that's just some people. That's not God's potion for all of us, some of us were put on this earth to work very hard for what we get. And others just breeze through. As a young girl, I would say don't test which one you are—take fate into your hands and work your way into the space you want to be in. it's really as simple as that.

Follow Sibu Mabena on Twitter and visit the Duma Collective website.

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Photo still courtesy of YouNeek Studios.

The Official Trailer for 'Malika: Warrior Queen' Is Here

Malika surely means business in the clip that sets the scene for YouNeek Studios' newest animated pilot.

After much anticipation, the new trailer for Malika: Warrior Queen, starring Nollywood's own Adesua Etomi, is finally here.

In the trailer, we already see the Warrior Queen fearlessly stand up to defend her people against enemies who have set their sights on seizing her expanding empire of Azzaz. Facing threats of invasion by foreign cultures, Malika now has to decide how to fight a war both inside her kingdom and outside of it.

"War is coming," she declares.

Malika: Warrior Queen was executive produced by Niyi Akinmolayan of Anthill Studios. The series has been three years in the making, with a two-part comic series already available for reading; and even more so in line with YouNeek Studios' mission to create stories inspired by African history, culture and mythology.

Joining Etomi in the cast are Femi Branch, voicing Chief Dogbari, Deyemi Okanlowon, voicing the WindMaker and King Bass, Blossom Chukwujekwu as Abdul and Sambassa Nzeribe, voicing General Ras.

Check it out below.

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All photos courtesy of Remi Dada

Afropreneurs: Meet the Designer Reinventing Nigerian Workspaces

Remi Dada's Spacefinish is shaking up design to create futuristic work environments for African companies

In the digital age when a fancy rectangle in our pockets can find us whatever we want, customize it and deliver it to our door, it's odd that the same thought process isn't also applied to physical space. Why does every parking lot feel exactly the same? Can waiting rooms be designed to make time pass more quickly? How can we bring these new standards of personalization into the areas where we live our lives?

Nigerian designer, Remi Dada, is doing just that. With both architecture and business degrees, Dada started his career in tech working in user experience and product marketing–eventually ending up at Google Nigeria. Once he started working in the office however, Dada didn't find it to be an environment that sparked inspiration or productivity. It felt more like rooms with tables and chairs rather than a place that nurtured new, progressive ideas. Luckily, the perfect project presented itself: redesign the office. Dada jumped at the opportunity to meld his practical knowledge in user experience with his love of design and architecture–and the result turned some heads.

Thus Spacefinish was born, a pioneering design company based in Nigeria that works with companies to transform ordinary office space into beautiful and functional environments that increase productivity and employee satisfaction. I spoke with Dada about the purpose of Spacefinish, the importance of design in the workspace and the unique properties of designing in Nigeria for Nigerians. Read on for insights from the design entrepreneur on the impact of spaces and what the future holds for the company.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Nereya Otieno for OkayAfrica: In your experience, how important is workspace environment in Lagos? How is it viewed?

It hasn't been prioritized. A lot of employers do not invest heavily in their employees and you can see that in work spaces all over the world. Now, people are also beginning to understand that high-performing employees–especially millennials–want to work in a space that inspires them and with people who inspire them. Right now in Nigeria it is still very new.

We've been able to measure how companies have been performing prior to us renovating their space and afterwards. What we've seen consistently is that our spaces help with employee retention, they help with collaboration and they help with inspiration. One important thing that we always measure and that we try and add to our design is what we call 'PIC.' PIC is the measure of productivity, innovation and collaboration–now we can track that within a workspace. These three key things are the pillars of how we create better work spaces.


A sketch showing plans for a space in the PwC Experience Centre, Lagos.

With that data, it's probably pretty simple to pitch Spacefinish to a company. But what was it like in the beginning to try and sell the first Spacefinish idea outside of Google? You're essentially coming into a stranger's space and saying 'you're doing this wrong.'

True. We were very lucky in that the first space we did was a Google office. It's Google. Everyone aspires to have a workplace like Google and people visiting the office were curious about how a space like that could exist in Nigeria. So there was a lot of interest but no commitments. Our first real commitment came from a company called Andela, a tech startup aspiring to be like the spaces you see in Silicon Valley. But they were looking to create a space just to meet their capacity and meet their head count, that was all. They thought they wouldn't be able to afford what we'd done for Google.

I went and pitched for them to do something different instead of creating the standard, generic workspace that we've all seen. Then I took our approach: connect the expense and cost of that project to the potential output of the team working there and how that could affect the company's bottom line. When we do that, it becomes an easier conversation to have. Once we are able to connect with the key decision makers and give them metrics they actually care about—like it's not about having a pretty space but about having a space that will allow people to achieve their short and long-term goals—they tend to be more receptive.

A meeting room at the Google offices in Lagos.

Do you feel like a bit of a disruptor or trouble maker?

I would say when we started we didn't feel like a disruptor. For me, it felt very natural because it was in line with what I was hired for and the world I was coming from. When you work at Google, you tend to live in an innovation bubble. So we didn't feel like disruptors while it was happening, but when we got people's reactions—the industry's reaction—then we realized that what we were doing was actually groundbreaking and very new to that part of the world.

Okay. And then what do you do after that? You just keep poking at that nerve?

Yeah. [Laughs] So what happens after that is the floodgates open up and we start to see a lot more demand than we can handle as a company. That gave me the confidence to quit my job at Google and do this full time. We are now starting to figure out how to do it to the best of our capacity at the same level, and sometimes surpassing, what our peers are doing across the world.

What do you find is the most important element within the workspace? How does Spacefinish highlight that?

People are the most important element in the workspace. One CEO said that his team was very unruly—weren't well composed. There is a mentality that we all subscribe to, especially coming from Nigeria where you see people at the local airports not obeying the rules. But those same people, as soon as they land in Heathrow, they're suddenly very compliant. They're the same people. The only thing that changed is their environment. New spaces can cause people to change their behavior—they morph into the space. For that client, the leadership was very happy that their team members began acting in the way they wanted them to act when we changed the space. The psychology of the whole thing is very interesting. That's why we take a human-centered approach to design, with a lot of qualitative and quantitative research before we begin.

View of the Vibranium Valley warehouse workspace in Lagos.

I'm originally from California and I grew up in Silicon Valley–it's a very peculiar place simply because of the concentration of resources. There are surely different challenges for a developer in Nigeria versus one in Silicon Valley. What is the most unique thing for you, after all your travels and experience, that makes designing for Nigeria special?

That's a really good question. You rarely find imagery of inland Africa that is progressive and modern. The first time in recent times was the Black Panther movie and that's why it was so huge. Kids could see a different version of what Africa could be in their collective imagination. I'm making this correlation because that is what I think is different for us, from a design standpoint. For example, the Google office in Nigeria looks very Nigerian. It has a lot of cultural nuances and it is locally relevant to the region, however it is a very sophisticated and modern space with all the right technology. There's videoconferencing, micro-efficiency, access control and security but with the backdrop of an African space. When people see that, it feels very fresh and new and there is so much content that we can use to inspire–from artwork to traditions–and we infuse all those things in to the spaces we're creating.

Do you have a favorite space you've done?

All the spaces we've done have been fantastic. But I think my favorite to date is the PwC office, it is an innovation hub and a huge cultural departure for PwC. They are more or less known as a rigid, stoic brand and they wanted a space that defied all of those things. So we created an innovation hub that was super, super, super futuristic and the first of its kind in West Africa. Anyone who knows interior fitouts understands that lines are straightforward but curves are complicated. This space has a lot of curves. That's difficult to do anywhere in the world but 10 times more complicated in Nigeria because we just don't have access to the right tools and technology that you will find elsewhere. But it came out very well and that has been my most exciting space so far.

A look at the PwC Experience Centre, Lagos

Was it also the most challenging?

It was, yes, because of the design ideas we wanted to achieve. We have things like revolving doors that were inspired by the hobbits' shire in Lord of the Rings and a single workstation that extends across the entire space. There are a lot of lights, floating elements and Nsibidi—an ancient African writing system that we used to create a new language. The artwork is very deep and gives a timeline of different instances in Africa where technology has inspired innovation. It was a very involved and challenging project. But we do the challenging things because we feel it allows us to move forward and push boundaries.

Sure. It's exciting for you and everyone you work with but also, I'd say, for the local contractors and artists doing the artwork.

You know, that is something that we do differently. Most architecture firms just design but we design and build. We do that because, when we started, no one in the market really understood what we were doing. We were asking for materials that didn't exist so we had to create our own. Also, everything we do is local, we don't import anything–which can be an even bigger challenge. But we want to know that we are helping to build industries here in Nigeria, we want to help fix the lack of resources in this part of the world. We could import but it doesn't help the community and economic infrastructure in the long run.

A meeting room in Vibranium Valley

I think the first time our impact hit me was when we were building a place called Vibranium Valley. That's been our biggest project so far: a 2,000 square meter office that was built in a massive warehouse. I went there on a Wednesday one day and we had over 200 people working in the space. And for the first time I was like, "Wow, we really have the ability to create jobs as well." It put things in context for me.

Are there any plans to venture outside of offices and corporate workspaces with your human-centered approach? Classrooms, waiting rooms, etc.?

We are actually about to embark on our first non-office project. We are designing and building the interior of two international airports in Nigeria: Lagos and Port Harcourt. Two very massive projects that we couldn't say no to because...no one says no to international airports [Laughs]. So it's a good way to toss us into things outside of the workspace. So everyone should come fly to Nigeria and check it out when we're finished.

Catch Nereya on her Instagram here.

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Still from 'Harriet' trailer.

Watch Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman In the Moving New Trailer for 'Harriet'

The highly-anticipated biopic about the life of the iconic freedom fighter is due out on November 1.

Back in 2017, it was announced that Tony-winning actor and singer Cynthia Erivo would be taking on the role of the iconic freedom fighter Harriet Tubman in the upcoming biopic Harriet. We've been anticipating its release ever since, and today, the trailer for the buzzed about film has finally arrived.

The moving and climactic trailer sees Erivo delivering a convincing performance as Tubman. The film follows the hero's journey from escaping slavery to becoming a legendary abolitionist and freedom fighter. Here's the official description of the film via Shadow & Act:

Based on the thrilling and inspirational life of an iconic American freedom fighter, Harriet tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman's escape from slavery and transformation into one of America's greatest heroes. Her courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.
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