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The Ndlovu Youth Choir Just Scored a Deal with Simon Cowell

The America's Got Talent judge and his company have offered to sign the talented choir.

Two weeks ago, South Africans were rooting for the Ndlovu Youth Choir to win America's Got Talent (AGT) and the coveted million dollar prize as well as a chance to be a headline act in Las Vegas. While the group lost to the crowd favorite, Kodi Lee, they received an incredibly warm welcome when they returned to South Africa and were even gifted R1 million (USD 66 000) by Thandi Moraka, the member of the executive council (MEC) for Limpopo's Department of Arts and Culture. Yesterday, in an interview with Radio 702, choir director Ralf Schmitt revealed that AGT judge Simon Cowell and his company had offered to officially sign the Ndlovu Youth Choir.


There's a reason why contestants on AGT and it's British spin-off want to impress Cowell. Not only is he usually the toughest judge on the panel but he's also been instrumental in promoting the music careers of artists such as Susan Boyle and Leona Lewis as well as groups including Westlife, Little Mix, Il Divo and Fifth Harmony. Most recently, the insanely talented South African choir is now on his list of stardom.

Speaking about the deal, Schmitt said that, "We are very excited that Simon Cowell and his company have exercised their option to sign the choir and together with Sony Music in South Africa are working on exciting projects." He added that, "It is a wonderful compliment to these young people because he wouldn't do that if he didn't think there is a future for them and the work they have done."

While the details of the deal itself have not been made clear as yet, we're certain that the future of the Ndlovu Youth Choir is bright.

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Photo Credit: Patrick Quarm

How Patrick Quarm Uses African Textile to Tell Stories About Identity

Ghanaian Artist Patrick Quarm speaks to OkayAfrica about his mixed media process and his avant-garde approach with African print fabrics.

Growing up in the residential area of Takoradi, Ghana, artist Patrick Quarm had a fascinating thrill for drawing the everyday. His major inspiration was spending the day outside, walking to town, and watching people making do with their routines. As a curious teen, he would sketch and take photographs of them.

After leaving Ghana in 2015 to obtain a master’s degree at Texas Tech, Quarm’s artistic perception took a different leap. He had experienced an identity crisis. He started to question his artistic intelligence and what it was communicating in respect to his identity. In response, he adopted the African fabric to fluidly express that notion of identity in his work.

Quarm’s art is bold, aesthetically African, and possesses a gritty ideology that is just as rare in the art world. With his arts, he is keen to unmask history and how it shapes us in the present. Intuitively, Quarm’s art isn’t what it appears to be from a first glance. He operates with several portrait layerings to express his multidimensional ideas, using shapes like circles to tell the tales of loopholes that rest within African history with colonialism.

OkayAfrica spoke with Quarm about his avant-garde approach and more.

Patrick Quarm painting

Photo Credit: Patrick Quarm

When did your journey as an artist begin?

I would say I was born an artist. As a child, I would pick up my pencil and begin to draw anything I found of interest. I remember in elementary school, I was so good at drawing and it came naturally cause I never took a class in it at that time. I think high school was when I decided to study visual art; the Ghanaian education system gave us the opportunity to pick what we wanted to do. I majored in picture-making which was what it was called then. From there, I did my undergrad at Kwame Nkrumah University of science and technology, I majored in painting. During that time, I used to paint fine realistic art and I did a lot of portrait commissioning but when I looked at the international art world, there was something so interesting about them, they were very simple but possessed so much value, I wanted to be part of that. So that motivated me to apply for a master’s program in Texas Tech which I got into with a full scholarship. The best thing about the program was it gave me a space to isolate myself and meditate on what I wanted to create and how I could polish my skill. That’s when I started working with African print fabric and right after my MFA in 2018, my career as an artist emerged fully, collectors and galleries were so interested in what I was doing because there was a different idea and niche to my art.

Who and what were your biggest inspirations when you started making art?

My inspiration comes generally from living. So I grew up in Takoradi— a small town in Ghana compared to Accra. I grew up in a very residential private area so whenever I went to the town,I would see an influx of people doing a lot of activities, trade, buying stuff and I really took that as inspiring because at an early age, I realized I just enjoyed seeing people in their daily activity and routine. I remember I would walk around with a sketch book and camera, drawing and taking pictures. Just everyday life is my inspiration but looking at my work, I’m more inspired by history, the evolution of Africa within contemporary spaces, thinking of it in terms of past, present and how modern Africa is continually evolving within these spaces.

Patrick Quarm close up painting

Photo Credit: Patrick Quarm

What were your parents' remarks when you chose art as a career?

My parents were very supportive, they weren’t typical African parents that were like, “what are you doing with art?” My mother was very inspirational, she gave me my first studio when I was in high school in Ghana. She really didn’t get what I was doing but she liked the idea that I was doing something and she wanted to support me without questions. I remember my father asking me where I had gotten my talent from because, for generations, there weren’t any artists in our family. One of the profound questions my father asked me when I was young was, “Why is it with everything you do, art is what interests you?” And I told him I loved it, that I couldn’t see myself doing anything else and his response to me was to keep doing it but make sure I got good at it. Those words come to me as comforting when I hit dead ends in my studio.

Why did you decide to use African textile in the development of your work?

It didn’t happen by accident, it’s a matter of choice. I came to the U.S. in 2015 for my master’s program. Before that, I used to paint so realistic but painting to me after that point wasn’t about skill, it was about ideas, conversations, dialogues, experimentations and other things. I kept asking myself what I wanted to say in my work— what should I communicate with my work, what I wanted people to get off my work. So I started thinking about my identity and how fluid I was between all these cultures, and that began my basic concept. The African print fabric was one of the most culturally significant materials I could use to tell that story of identity and knowing its history, I was aware that it was something I could use. Though the African print fabric wasn’t originally from Africa, it came from Indonesia through colonial trade but I wanted to communicate that concept of dual-identity, to establish a conversation around culture and hybridity.

Patrick Quarm artwork

Photo Credit: Patrick Quarm

Did moving to America change something about you and your artistic prowess?

Of course, something changed especially in my artistic style. I used to paint hyper-realistic portraits before I came to the U.S, but immediately I began to establish a language in my work, it took a different style. I went through a lot of thought processes of what my art should communicate and so a lot of processes started sipping into my work like glueing, cutting and other things— but they were very intentional and that helped in the expansion of my ideologies. My studio is like a laboratory to me, I always confront myself with questions and ideas. I just love the concepts I have created and when I look at my work, I recognize an evolution.

Why were you so keen to highlight African identity in your art?

To me, it was always like taking it from the personal and making it universal. Coming to the U.S, I went through the process of merging a new culture to mine. During that time, I questioned my Africanness, who I was and why I was pictured a certain way, and what had shaped me. It became a quest to understand these questions so I started using a visual language to communicate that. Why I highlight African identity is to look at things from a different perspective especially from an African eye, there is no one way of defining things within the world we live today; things are always evolving and taking other forms. When I talk about Africanness and identity in general, I want to visualize it from the new point of view because there is always a different definition of the new from the old. After being in the U.S for six years, I went back to Ghana and I realized that things have taken a new look, people were doing things I had seen folks in the U.S do and it struck me how fluid things could be.

Patrick Quarm textiles

Photo Credit: Patrick Quarm

Aside identity, what other themes do your work as an artist communicate?

My work spans across several ideas and theories. I talk about history in my works interweaving it with our identity as Africans. My works aren’t analyzed by what is on the surface or what people see, there is always an extension to it. This idea comes from my trying to talk about colonialism. Our history from a colonial lens is segmentational. For me, when we talk about African identity, we don’t have to talk about it from now, we have to look at it from the past. My works have layers that slice through history, to analyze the nuances from a complex entity that sprouted out. My works are multi-dimensional, I use circles to illustrate that, circles which signify loopholes or viewpoints through time, where we can have access to the past whilst dwelling in the present, just like saying remnants of the past dwell in the present.

How has your life in the studio been?

My studio is my escape, it’s the one place I run to when there is a lot of chaos around me, it just consumes me. Sometimes when I have so much on my mind, I just pick a chair and stare at my art, it helps me reflect on what to create next. The studio is my lab, it’s a place where I bring in all these ideas. Sometimes when I stroll out and I find an idea, I either have to come and sketch it out or take a picture of it— I just love the space.












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Photo Credit: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Woolmark International Pty Ltd

Mmuso Maxwell Designers on Winning the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation

We met up with Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko, the duo behind South African brand Mmuso Maxwell. We spoke about their upbringing, winning the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, and more.

After a two year internship with veteran South African designer David Tlale, Mmuso Maxwell was born. The brand, founded by the young duo Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko, has since established a name for themselves in the African fashion industry. With successful works with A-list artists like Beyoncé — on her Black is King album — they continue to set the bar on what it means to be a successful emerging designer brand.

The duo first started to make noise in 2017, when they won the South Africa’s Fashion Week’s Sunglass Hut New Talent Search. Two years later, they came second at the 30 Under 30: The New Stars Arise Fashion Show competition held in Lagos, Nigeria. The duo walked home with $50,000, helping them establish their presence on a global landscape.

Last month, Potsane and Boko won the biggest award of their career: beating out 200 designers throughout the world, they took home the The Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, after presenting a Merino wool collection for their Autumn/Winter 2022 line.

After their big win, OkayAfrica was able to meet up with the duo and chat about their upbringing, winning the Lagerfeld Award, and more.

How would you describe your Mmuso Maxwell brand?

Maxwell Boko: I think that the perfect description of our brand is that it is inspired by African heritage, but, the most important part is that it is mixed with contemporary culture. It’s basically our point of view of our heritage. We’re modern young people who are living with technology and science, and are influenced by those things. So even if it’s still our African heritage, it’s still our own interpretation.

Mmuso Potsane: Our brand is a modern interpretation of who an African woman is. Our brand sees itself as a global brand, and we do not want to limit it to look like an ordinary African brand, but it is positioned to be like a global brand, while maintaining our African roots, interpretations and experiences.

How did the collaboration between the both of you start?

Potsane: We met during the internship from 2015-2017. At the end of the internship, we decided to bring our pieces together to make one collection because we had similar aesthetics. From there, we just decided to continue onwards as a brand.

That’s interesting. You know, the fashion industry can most times be more competition than collaboration. How are you navigating the times you might have contrasting ideas?

Boko: I think that the reason why we joined forces together is because we had similar tastes in general. What has worked for us over the five years is that we’re not dramatic about our approach to things. It’s not “this or nothing." We’re always open to each other's critiques. We also do not question our individual strengths at all.

Potsane: Yeah, we’ve sort of found a way to agree to disagree. We have somehow found a way to come together to have one vision and objection. So for us, if any of us feels strongly about something, we just give it a chance to see how it plays out. If it doesn’t, we find a way to navigate it.

Mmuso Maxwell designers with Saul Nash

Saul Nash, winner of the International Woolmark Prize, and Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko of Mmuso Maxwell, winners of the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, celebrate with models wearing their designs.

Photo Credit: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Woolmark International Pty Ltd

How about winning the Woolmark Karl Lagerfeld Innovation Award? How did that happen?

Boko: I mean, we applied, even though I said to Mmuso that Woolmark is something that’ll happen to us, maybe two, three years down the line, and that’s because it’s generally for established designers. I always figured that it’ll happen at a later date for us. So when they reached us to inform us that we were finalists, I thought, “that’s crazy.”

When I saw the other finalists, I thought that there was no chance to win; But as we progressed in the program, I saw why it was the right time for us. It helped us as a brand in terms of making our products. The eight months were very challenging, but the thing that I enjoyed the most was working with local artisans. I think that it’s even one of the reasons we won.

And just on the side, I think it’s very hard for us to see from inside how much of a big deal winning the award is. It’s always our loyal people who help us see and understand it.

How has winning this prize influenced your brand? I mean, how important do you think platforms like this are?

Potsane: I think it’s important because it allows you access to spaces in the industry that are very out of reach for a lot of African brands. It influences and helps us to think more/differently, and just on that level, play by the rules. You’re no longer thinking locally, but internationally. It’s made us more serious about our business and how to run it. People take your work more seriously, so that makes you take it more seriously too.

In terms of funding, it’s something that’s been a struggle. I mean, as a designer, you have to showcase your work and that requires a lot of money for stuff like shows, showrooms, and so on. With the help that we’re getting from the people like Birimian — some sort of investment group for African brands — it helps you ease the stress this induces.

And what are some of the challenges you’ve faced during this? Are there ways you’re now navigating it?

Boko: When we started our brand, there was no initial capital for us to start our brand. But we got a little support, and that made our next challenge be sustaining our coming collections; but recently, our major challenge has been fabric sourcing and production. There are no facilities to produce the quality we aspire to.

Potsane: To navigate these challenges, we really just go with it one step at a time, and also speak with those who can assist with things like this, such as Birimian. In terms of production, we have to come to a compromise to ensure getting the quality we want.

You're a sustainable brand. What are some of the practices you’re doing that makes it sustainable?

Potsane: We utilize local crafts and local artisans. It’s something we’ve always been passionate about since we started our brand. We use homegrown yarns for production, and working with artisans makes us follow the route of slow fashion.

Boko: We’ve always had an affinity for natural fibers since we started. As an African creative, you’re inherently sustainable because we’re not prone to waste. It’s not something we can afford. When we buy fabrics, we buy exactly what we need, and all the things we’ve done so far have been in pre-orders. We do not produce with hopes that someone will buy what we’ve made. All pieces go to our clients.

Are there creatives that inspire the work that you do?

Potsane: The people that inspire our brand, we already currently work with. So people like Tatenda Chidora, a photographer. We also love Tony Gum. She’s an amazing artist. Same as Chloe Andrea and Daniel Obasi. We totally love these people, and are highly inspired by them.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

BOJ Gets Personal with ‘Gbagada Express’

The singer reflects on lockdown, Alte culture, and his present state of mind in this new interview.

From Nigeria to the UK and back, BOJ’s run in the music industry has been nothing short of noteworthy. The trio of BOJ, Teezee, and Fresh L, popularly known as DRB, are revered as pioneers of Alte culture, a widely acclaimed phenomenon in Nigeria that has marked the ascent of artists like Tems, Amaarae, and Tay Iwar. “We were just being ourselves and then we noticed it was turning into something and people are catching it,” he says.

Born Bolaji Odojukan, BOJ spent his formative years immersed in different cultures between Africa and the Western world. This would culminate in a wide range of influences as he cites Lagbaja, Toni Braxton, and Kanye West to have shaped the musician he’s become. His debut album, BOTM (BOJ on the Microphone), and affiliations with Show Dem Camp, Ajebutter, and DRB would catapult the singer as a household name in Nigerian music. His 2018 collaboration with Skepta on “Like to Party” did well to introduce him to the UK but it wasn’t until “Lazarus” alongside Dave that BOJ hits a new height in his career. “It was humbling seeing that many people sing my song word for word,” he recounts performing the song to a crowd of 80,000 people at Park Life.

Upping the ante, BOJ has now shared his third solo album, Gbagada Express, which houses high-profile collaborations with Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, and more. “Now, I’m transcending to the next stage in my life and this feels like the Alte roots to the next level,” he says about the project.

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Photo courtesy of the artist

Spotlight: Mozambican Lizette Chirrime On Stumbling Into Artistry

Chirrime's latest exhibition, Rituals for Soul Search embodies the artist's desire to bring audience members closer to nature, the Universe, and their souls.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Mozambican textile artist, Lizette Chirrime. The self-taught multidisciplinary artist channels her trauma and longing to be whole through her artwork. "These abstract forms evoke the human body and my identity-responsive practice where I refashion my self-image and transcend a painful upbringing that left me shattered and broken. I literally ‘re-stitched’ myself together. These liberated ‘souls’ are depicted ‘dancing’ on the canvas, bringing to mind, well-dressed African women celebrating", Chirrime says in her own words. The artist uses her creations to communicate the beauty in simplicity, and the divinity of being African.

We spoke with the Chirrime about accidentally finding her medium of choice, using color to express emotions, and focusing your energy on being awesome.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.


Describe your background as an artist and the journey you've taken to get it to where it is today.

When I started, I had no idea that I was an artist. I loved to create beautiful environments wherever I went, and when people noticed, they began giving me that title. I was using techniques that deviated from what was common at the time, particularly working with recycled materials, which I think situated me as a creative within my communities.

What are the central themes in your work?

Womanhood, Mother Earth, love, awesomeness, and spirituality.

How did you decide on using textiles to express your art?

It all started when I began working with hessian fabric, mainly, deciding to change the way it was treated in many houses. I gave it more life and a better look, and when the healing was done, I moved on to colorful fabrics in search of joy and life.

In the early 2000s, I began working with scrap materials, having been compelled to create a doll from textiles one evening. I fell in love with the medium and haven’t stopped creating since, though the way in which I utilize textiles continues to evolve.

Can you talk about your use of colors and symbolism in your art?

I use the colors I do — shades of red, blue, and green — because they remind me of beauty. They’re the vehicles I use to both express my feelings and describe certain narratives behind my expression. Symbolically, I look to nature for inspiration and translate the environment around me into symbols within my pieces. Looking to nature helps to find one’s place within the universe, and I want to help people see the value in slowness and simplicity. I hope that my work helps people appreciate how miraculous our planet is and inspires them to heal the earth from destruction.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

I relocated to Mozambique during the pandemic, after living in South Africa for many years, and have felt an incredible shift in my capacity to be present. Being removed from a city and with a slower pace of life, I’ve been able to reconnect with myself and have a direct conversation with my spirit and soul, which directly feeds into my work and the current ideas which I’m exploring.

Luckily, I didn’t feel very affected by the pandemic because I’ve had a few sponsors and continued to sell my artwork through that time. Though I didn’t sell as much as I did prior, I still managed to pay my bills, eat and create — I’m thankful to have met my needs as an artist.

Image courtesy of the artist

African Single Mother, 2021

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