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Photo still from 'Sprinter.'

These 5 Hard-Hitting Films by Caribbean Directors Will Give You All the Feels

We look back at the standout films coming from Caribbean talent screened at the 27th Pan African Film Festival.

I was not prepared to go to the intimate places where the Caribbean films from the 27th Pan-African Film Festival took me. The surprises came in the most palpable forms as filmmakers and their characters with roots on the African continent and in the Caribbean's African diaspora painted the most vivid lives in our multi-textured tapestry.

Examining the human experience in minute detail, these stories were hard-hitting. Here are the five standouts below.


RATTLESNAKES

British-Ghanaian director Julius Amedume, and Haitian-American actor Jimmy Jean-Louis united for Rattlesnakes. A therapist, played by Jean-Louis, goes farther for his clients than we expect him to go. His character, Robert McQueen, is the great savior in this story who navigates the complicated lives of three couples whose marriages are being held together by a therapist. Because the husbands don't know the nature of the relationship McQueen has with their wives, they assume that he has cuckolded them and they conspire to teach McQueen a lesson. Where it goes from there, nobody expects.

Jean-Louis also produced the film and has screened over 20 films at the Pan African Film Festival. With the ability to lead in films speaking English, Spanish, French and Creole, he explains his longevity as an actor saying: "If you're in it, it becomes part of who you are. I don't believe that people do things just because of a level of success; you do it because you love it."

Upon winning the festival's Audience Award for a Narrative Feature, Amedume shares that "it meant so much to screen it to an audience and for them to engage with the film in such a great way." Playing the role of a psychologist in his authentic Haitian accent, Jean-Louis reminds us that "It's always been a fight to get people to embrace you for who you are." This film will begin limited theatrical release beginning on April 26 and is just one of the many to come from a team that is producing films from across the African continent, in the Caribbean, in Europe, and in the United States.

Amedume, a British director with roots in Ghana formed a Caribbean-African partnership that facilitates their entry into the multiple markets to which their respective heritages connect. After the screening, the producer Effie Brown raved about the film, saying "I loved it. I thought that it always kept you guessing." Many agreed with Brown with Rattlesnakes winninh the Pan African Film Festival's Audience Award for a 'Narrative Feature.'

SPRINTER

A Jamaican Rastafarian is a superstar runner played by actor Dale Elliott, Jr. in Sprinter. This relatable tale focuses on the impact of immigration from the perspective of the family members left behind in the home country. The undocumented immigrant mother can do little to assuage her youngest son's sense of abandonment as she is forced to parent via video chat.

Directed by Storm Saulter, this film gave a snapshot of the immigrant's story from the perspective of a Jamaican mother who moves to the U.S. in hopes of finding a better job that allows her to provide for her family. Played by Lorraine Toussaint, this mother is keeping her family finances in order as she is forced to give up on keeping the family itself together. Parenting via video chat, the co-parenting dynamic and couple's bond breaks down and the parents file for divorce. Their younger son is a high school track star who gets advice from Usain Bolt before he attempts to earn the opportunity to travel for an international competition. His biggest battle was fought internally after he suffered a debilitating foot injury. Turning to his Rasta roots for healing, he immersed himself into a Nyabhingi ceremony filled with drumming and prayer to repair his body and spirit that ultimately prepared him for the biggest race of his life. His coach, played by David Allen Grier, and his competition, played by Bryshere Y. Gray, pushed him from a good athlete to a great sportsman. Jamal Watson, a producer on the project, related his satisfaction with "the idea that these stories can resonate with more than just the African diaspora…we try to tell a story that has the potential to have a life beyond the current program."

Sprinter won the Pan African Film Festival's 'Best Narrative Feature' award and will open in select theaters across the United States on April 24.

SOLACE

Tchaiko Omawale, the Jamaican-American writer and director of Solace, highlights the inner dialogue of a person struggling with a binge eating disorder—an often undetected mental health issue.

Sole, played by Hope Alide, a 17-year-old who lost both of her parents, moves in with her maternal grandmother and struggles to adjust to life with a new authority figure in the beginning of the film. Her staunchly Christian grandmother, played by Lynn Whitfield, is a fashionable alcoholic who feasts on diet pills and is in a succulent sexual affair with the pastor of her church, played by Glynn Freeman. The pastor ultimately is the voice of reason when the strained grandmother-granddaughter relationship breaks and Sole moves in with the neighbor named Jasmine. Jasmine is a dancer who drinks and cuts herself to temporarily escape the pain of her daily life. A perfectly imperfect friend, Jasmine is the first person to confront Sole about her binge eating disorder. To Sol, fat is her greatest fear. Her entire life is organized around her binging food and her discomfort with eating around others.

Finally, after her grandmother catches her secretly eating cereal from the garbage bin, Sole is comforted in her grandmother's embrace. For the first time, Sole learns that her mother was bulimic and that her struggle with mental health is not unique. Sole is distressed and feels that something is uniquely wrong. Attempting to manage her grief over the loss of both parents is devastatingly stressful and reminds us that we don't always know what dictates how we'll respond to stress . A third generation sufferer of disordered eating (with the grandmother's disorder being undiagnosed but very real), Sole can begin feeding something beyond physical hunger as she moves forward and gets medical help.

An audience member was moved to share that she had felt alone in her suffering with disordered eating until the character on screen behaved exactly as she does in real life. I felt tears welling up as the theater warmed to applause in that moment to support her. And then my heart was comforted as Omawale sympathized with the audience member and offered her survivor's tale on the journey to recovery.

Effects from opening this dialogue about eating disorders were felt even before we left the theatre. An audience member shared that she has eaten out of the garbage and has felt that she was the only one who has done that until watching the film. As the issue is brought out of the shadows of shame, more people can progress in their recovery. "I had a breakup with white womanhood while making this film and it pushed me towards African American women," says Omawale, as she dialogues with the audience.

At the film's end, hope embraced solace in the problematic grandmother who finally puts her judgmental Bible-infused gaze in exchange for a breath of humanity seasoned with sympathy for her grieving granddaughter.

BAKOSÓ: AFROBEATS OF CUBA

Puerto Rican filmmaker Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi immersed us in the novel Cuban music and dance culture called Bakosó. The budding sound was created by African immigrants who attend medical school in Cuba who collaborated with Cuban artists to birth a completely new genre. Bakosó: Afrobeats de Cuba highlights a new category of music that has spread across the Cuban countryside. The winner of the Audience Award for 'Short Documentary' lightened the lens with which we viewed the effects of immigration in another film. The influx of scholars to the island's medical school results in a cultural fusion in the form of Bakosó. Bakosó represents the mixture of Afrobeats, Conga, techno, and Rumba. One medical student featured in the documentary intimates that "[As] African medical students today, we can say that we are Cubans who come from other countries."

Exhibiting Cuban pride is a primary theme as featured artists include Candyman, the first reggaeton star from Cuba, Kiki Pro, a rapper and music producer, Mykael El Padrino, Alva, Kamerun, and The Inka who contribute to the new explosion of music on the Cuban art space. DJ Jigüe guides the tour of Santiago de Cuba, his hometown which hosts a second medical campus and the garden of growing Afro-Cuban music. Out of respect for his elders, the tour is brought before his grandmother for consideration before he executes it. Invoking African ancestry in the dwelling of his grandmother, DJ Jigüe receives a spiritual message about his plans and blessings on the fruitful journey that is predicted to lie ahead. His grandmother's proverb is "if you sleep well above the Earth, it will reveal its secrets to you." There are indeed secrets in the dance that accompanies the rich rhythms of Bakosó music. This new style represents the perpetual creation of new culture that keeps its ancestral roots.

Cuba's indigenous Taino people, like many in the Caribbean, were mixed in with the enslaved African populations and the European kidnappers who brought them to these Caribbean shores. The African ancestry of the town includes the maroons, a community of Africans who escaped capture, "represents rebellion and freedom." DJ Jigüe's Afro-Cuban grandmother tells history as she delves into the oral tradition, finally beckoning you to come closer as smoke from her cigar floats above her traditionally wrapped head. The scene concludes that "Bakosó has arrived"—and indeed it is here for all to explore.

NINE NIGHTS

Jamaican-British filmmaker Veronica McKenzie poured her personal experience with grief into Nine Nights. This winner of the PAFF Directors' Award struck a deep chord with her directing debut. After a teenaged twin dies suddenly in an accident, his relatives gather to grieve his passing over nine nights. The practice is Caribbean in custom and cathartic in function, as it is believed that the nine nights after death allows the spirit of the dead to leave this plane while allowing time for the living to bid it farewell. The deceased enters a brief spiritual purgatory while his twin sister is in complete denial of his death. She struggles as her family tries to interject truth into her self-preserving alternate reality. During the first three nights, the deceased experiences confusion. During nights three through six, the deceased is getting ready to accept their fate. After this, a character explains, "A spirit can never be Earthbound, the ticket has been paid for, you have to get on the plane." A community of mourners gathered in the home with friends and family each processing the loss in their own way.

I could not keep calm as the story would suddenly take off in an unpredictable direction and I resorted to holding my breath as the last attempt to control this rollercoaster narrative. Each individual grieves differently we cannot judge a single "right" way to process loss. Losing a loved one makes room for something else, but ultimately you choose whether to fill the void with anger or with love.

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K.O Releases ‘Killa Combo’ Featuring Zingah, Loki, Tellaman and Mariechan

Listen to the first single released under K.O's new imprint Skhandaworld.

The last time we spoke to K.O., he revealed that one of his goals for the year is to launch Skhandaworld, a newly launched imprint founded by the South African emcee. The up-and-coming rapper Loki was a top priority as he is the first signee under the label.

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Twice As Tall World Tour. Flyer provided by Atlantic Records.

Burna Boy Announces 'Twice As Tall' World Tour Dates

The Nigerian star will be playing shows across North America and Europe this summer.

Burna Boy is hitting the road again.

Following the celebrated release of African Giant—which came with nominations at both the Grammys & BRIT Awards and a trophy for Best International Act at the BET Awards—the Nigerian star will be embarking on a long run of shows that will take him across North America and Europe.

The Twice As Tall World Tour will kick off in May in Atlanta, and will see Burna Boy playing concerts across the US, Canada, Norway, France, Portugal, UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and more locations.

You can check out the full tour dates for Twice As Tall World Tour below and revisit Burna Boy's performance for Okay Acoustics.

Tickets are available now.

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Angelique Kidjo performs onstage during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony at Microsoft Theater on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

'Take Africa Out of It and There's No Music for Y’all,' Angelique Kidjo on Success, ‘World Music’ & Championing New African Talent

OkayAfrica caught up with the legendary Beninese singer following her recent Grammy win and her feature on the collaborative electronic track 'Milambi.'

Last month, Angelique Kidjo won her fourth Grammy in the 'Best World Music' category. But it wasn't quite like every other year she had been nominated for the award. This time she shared the nomination with fellow African act Burna Boy, the first artist of the continent's current afropop scene to earn a nomination. While there's no question that Kidjo, who won for her 2019 album Celia, was beyond deserving (this was by no means a Kendrick-Macklemore scenario), Kidjo made the conscious decision to dedicate her award to Burna and urged viewers to pay attention to the wealth of new talent coming from the continent. "The new generation of artists coming from Africa are going to take you by storm and the time has come," said the artist.

Her vocal support for African talent isn't new though. As Kidjo notes, she gave a similarly memorable speech when she won four years ago for her album Sings, and she sounds fierce and impassioned as she speaks about it over the phone. After all, Kidjo has always been notably forward-looking in life and in music—experimentation doesn't scare her. Her latest work is on a futuristic, electronic project from Swiss DJ and producer Pablo Nouvelle and she expresses excitement about the novel methods in which African artists are creating and amplifying their music.

We caught up with Kidjo following her latest Grammy win and the release of her joint single with Nouvelle, "Milambi," to discuss her support of the new crop of talent emerging from the continent, fame, the controversy around the 'Best World Music' category, and remaining true to her identity in a Western-oriented music industry.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Grammys were a big moment. Why did you decide to dedicate your award to Burna Boy and acknowledge the new generation of up-and-coming African artists?

I'm always in contact with my continent. I go back on a regular basis, and that's where my source of inspiration is from. Throughout the years going back and forth, I've been seeing the entrepreneurship of the young generation coming up. When I started music—there was none of that. You just went to the studio, and you found people to help you do your music. Now you can be a self-producer. I have nephews and nieces, and I'll just say "Ok, what's new? Let me listen to the new stuff." And I just realized that the rest of the world has no clue about what's happening in Africa.

Four years ago, when I received my Grammy for the album Sings, I said "Brace yourself, because Africa is coming. You have to open your heart, your mind and ears to listen to what is going on and what is coming from the new generation of my contient"— I said that four years ago, and the time has come because [with artists like] Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, Yemi Alade and many more from Nigeria, and Sho Madjozi from South Africa—you have so much happening culturally in Africa. I have the feeling that sometimes people just completely turn their head away from Africa and I just wonder how one could possibly turn their head away from where they come from, because Africa is the cradle of humanity. Culture comes from there—there's no music on this planet that doesn't have Africa in it.

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Is this why you've chosen to work with a lot of younger artists from the continent like Yemi Alade most recently?

I'm so proud of this new generation of musicians that are using the technology to tell a positive story about Africa. It's no longer about our suffering. Everybody suffers. So, why should people be focusing only on our suffering and not seeing just the human beings that we are, and how joyful we are? Then suddenly, you realize that joy becomes political because if your society, your people are perceived as joyful, then a leader cannot complain anymore that something is wrong. Beyond all that, [I do it] to pay tribute to the entrepreneurship of the young generation. They aren't waiting on help from anybody. If you are famous in your country and on your continent, there's nothing that can stop you. You have billions of people that will love you, so why should the rest of the world look aside when you're passing by? They should pay attention.

That's why I use my platform to bring the attention of the media to this new generation coming. They don't want to be caught by surprise because I've been telling them to pay attention. If something happens, and they don't pay attention, at least I've done my work.

I do think it's really amazing how new artists have been able to gain traction and put their music out despite their not being a lot of support by African leaders for creative industries. Do you think that African governments, and the folks with money should invest more entertainment?

I think they should because we create jobs. People make money, and it's not only the artists. There's also the people helping them make videos, or cut tracks—music creates jobs.

I think we have to educate our leaders and our business people in Africa. Who can carry their brand better than us? Who are the best ambassadors of our cultures, our countries and our continent? It's us artists across different forms of art, from painters, to storytellers, to people in theatre and movies. Every form of art is about telling the story of ordinary people and the people that have come before us. How do you know about your own history, if not for the elderly people that tell you the story of who you are?

In order for us to tell our story, we need to have a voice. We need to say it through different mediums. Music is one of them. We shouldn't let anyone else tell our stories anymore. That time in history has passed. We have new narratives, we have proof of how entrepreneurial we are. Africans can make money in Africa and anywhere else. The world is open to us—the world is ours. No one can stop us.

So many African artists look to you as an inspiration and a model for longevity in the music industry. I'm wondering which artists served that role for you when you were first coming up.

There are many, many of them. I would say it started with traditional musicians because I was a very curious child. I come from that background of traditional musicians telling me stories through songs. [Growing up] my brothers were playing music, my father brought the instruments for them, and freed a room in a crowded house for them to rehearse. I heard every genre of music in the '60, '70s and '80s through them, but my role models start with traditional musicians, both male and female. [But at a certain point] I noticed that every album that would be brought home had just men on the covers. I was like, "Okay, so women don't sing? They can't do albums too?" Then you had Western women start coming in and I was like, "Okay, at least some women are making it through [in the industry]."

Then Miriam Makeba came and Aretha Franklin came. The day Aretha Franklin came, the singer of my brother's band—who had such a fucking ego, you couldn't even put it anywhere—said "there's no song I can't sing." [But] Aretha came and he couldn't sing. I'm like, "What? A woman is whooping your butt. I like that."

So, there have been strong men and women as musicians that have informed the music that I make today. The only way I could absorb it and make my own music, and become a role model to others today is because I am proud of my culture. I know where I come from, I'm not trying to copy anybody because everybody copied what we have. There wouldn't be any music in America without the input of enslaved people that came from Africa. The blues came from slaves. It doesn't matter how hard the slave owner wanted to dehumanize us—they even took the drum away from us. But we had many ways of celebrating culture. We had many ways of celebrating our humanity—singing was one of them. We sing our pain to lift it up. We sing our joy to share it with people. That's what African music is. The essence of what music is comes from that place. We've seen it all, we've been through hell, yet here we are prevailing still.

"I have to be able to sing my songs till I die."

You've always championed African culture and identity, whether it's through singing in Yoruba, or representing Benin through various endeavors. Did you at any point, ever face pressure from the industry to tone down your "Africanness" to appeal to certain audiences?

They have a saying in my country, that "the advisor is not the payer." [It's about] what you do with the advice people give you. I'm always listening, I'm always ready to sit and hear constructive criticism. But if you want to critique for the sake of criticizing me—I've heard some journalists say that I'm not African enough in France because my music sounds too Western. I said, "What is the music of the West then? Tell me." Take Africa out of it and there's no music for y'all.

For me, I respect everybody, particularly the differences because there lies the genius. We all don't think the same.

People said, "Why don't you show your titties?" I'm like, "Well, I don't feel like showing my titties because my titties ain't singing. My voice is not in my breasts." You've got to be somebody, and I am African. I come from a rich culture. Why should I change to look like what? What do you want me to look like? I've never ever allowed anyone to say to me, "You can't do this." I have fought some producers that try to change my music. I say, "If that's the case, you take the microphone, you sing, it's not mine, I'm out of here." You have to stand for something. If you are afraid of not making it, then you become a fool to somebody.

People will say what they want to say. If I want to dress differently, I do sometimes. When I received the NAACP award, I wore a suit. A well-tailored suit, and I kill it too in a suit. It's not what you wear, it's who you are.

I always say, if anyone wants to work with me, I'm open. The bridge I'm trying to build, everybody's welcome on it in the respect of each other's differences. My strength might be your weakness, and then I supply. My weakness might be your strength. It goes both ways. I don't have the answer to everything, but one thing I know is that if we stop bitching at each other and blaming people for all the things that aren't good in our life will be better off because when we start doing that, what do we do? We create fear, and fear is dangerous.

I wanted to ask you about the controversy surrounding the Best World Music category at the Grammys. Many believe that it doesn't truly encompass the diversity of music coming from the continent. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Don't underestimate the recording academy. They have been thinking about it way before this. It's a conversation that we're going to be engaging in. Africa is not a country, it's a continent. The Latin Grammy exists. We should have the African Grammys too, because it's a continent, because it's vast, it's huge. So, it's a conversation we started having because the academy is also realizing this, and they are, at least, having that conversation. Right now, if you look at the "French Grammys" coming up, there's not one person of African descent [represented]. Not one. They just completely ban what is called "world music" out of it and we're in the 21st century. So, I think criticizing is one thing, finding solutions is another.

Let's work with the recording academy and find out how we can help to come up with something that works for everybody. That's all I'm about. I'm always about solutions. The thing is that we also need to recognize that we cannot be discriminating when it comes to culture. If we don't speak to each other, and we're always blaming and pointing fingers, there's no conversation possible anymore. We should have an open discussion about this and be creative about it. That's all I say.

Speaking on shifting genres, you recently worked with Pablo Nouvelle on his new project Eliso, I saw it described as your "maiden venture into electronic music." What was that experience like for you?

I started with electronic music. If you ask David Byrne, he would tell you that my first album, Logozo was completely electric, but African electric. So for me, working on this album brings me back to the beginning and, I'm not done doing that. I'm going to do it more.

So, we can expect a lot more of this electronic sound that you've already been working on?

I'm not saying anything.

We can't have a hint?

No, nothing, because I always follow my inspiration. If my inspiration changes a little bit, I have to change [my direction].

You just go with whatever feels right?

I have to be able to sing my songs till I die. All my songs, if I can't sing them, with just my voice and a guitar, it means it's not good. When writing a song, less is more because if you add too much stuff, then you kill the song. You're overstating it. Do the minimal. If it feels good to you, and you can sing it in your sleep, wake up dancing to it, and you can feel it in every beat in your body, it's right.

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Sarkodie "Bumper" (Youtube)

Watch Sarkodie's New Music Video For 'Bumper'

A dance-heavy clip for the Ghanaian star's turn-up single.

Sarkodie comes through with the energetic new dance video for "Bumper."

The new track is a high-octane affair that sees the Ghanaian star rapper delivering some standout rhymes and flows over an afro-fusion leaning production from Nigeria's Rexxie.

The new video for "Bumper," which was directed by Monte Carlo Dream, follows a group of dancers as they show off their moves inside a barbershop.

"Bumper" comes after the release of Sarkodie's latest album, Black Love, which features the likes of Donae'o, Idris Elba, Efya, Mr Eazi, Stonebwoy, Tekno, Maleek Berry, King Promise, Kizz Daniel and several other artists.

OkayAfrica spoke with the artist in November, following his win for Best International Flow at the BET Hip Hop awards. "[The album] is just about love amongst black people and it's 90 or 80 percent based on relationships," he said.

Watch the new music video for Sarkodie's "Bumper" below.

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