Tomi Adeyemi's 'Children of Blood and Bone' Is a Reminder That the Young People Will Win

While the Nigerian-American novelist's first book may call on the magic of African mythology, the themes are reflective of real-life oppressive systems today's youth are slowly but surely undoing.

"Young people are going to save us," Tomi Adeyemi utters at the closing of a BBC video, remarking on the pivotal role the youth plays in repairing the globe. A role that is immensely heavy to carry, but necessary; for every generation that passes, the youth are the vehicle for which change spurs forward.

Adeyemi is only 25 years old. She is as much the subject of her statement as she is the observer. Yet, she understands the responsibility young people hold to undo generational oppression, and she's an active participant in leading that charge. Last year, she released her debut and now bestselling novel, Children of Blood and Bone, and sold the movie rights before its publication. The first of a spellbinding trilogy, Children has captivated readers with its enchanting tale of West African polytheism, the pulchritude and peril of living in a Black body, and the impending rapture of empowered people of the diaspora. Its existence in the literary canon is historic and its fanbase has spanned age groups; the young adult (YA) novel easily made its way into the hands of millennials who weren't afforded the magic of a Harry Potter (or something comparable) that spoke to their heritage.

But Children's magic is more than spells and folklore. It's historic in the way that it provides representation for a once-starving group of readers.

"I think [Children of Blood and Bone] has impacted young people because they are getting to see themselves represented for the first time and hearing their stories be told," Adeyemi tells OkayAfrica.

That representation starts with the novel's protagonist Zélie Adebola, a warrior in training who lost her mother to the Raid, a harrowing moment of near genocide that occured in Orïsha over a decade ago. The Raid wiped out most of the Orïshans who had magical powers—called majis, or diviners—excluding the children, who were not yet able to harness their magic. Cut to Amari, the princess of Orïsha, whose societal view is finally challenged when she witnesses her best friend and servant (another diviner) killed at her father's hands for exhibiting magical abilities. Before fleeing the palace, she grabs the magical scroll that awakens majis, and journeys to Lagos, where she meets Zélie. Together, with Zélie's brother Tzain and their stellar pet lionaire Nailah, they embark on a mission to restore magic, awaken all remaining majis, and create a more inclusive future for Orïsha.

Adeyemi excels at using this narrative to relish in the natural and supernatural wonders found in the Black community, while revealing the areas where we still have work to do. While inherent magical powers are unlocked—holding the answers to healing—colorism, sexism, and anti-Blackness are still prominent in Adeyemi's surreal storytelling. It is not unlike the duality youth culture deals with today, as they navigate a world that is simultaneously more inclusive, but riddled with ideas and systems of hate. It is through the graceful, relentless spirit of young Black communities that these discrepancies can be reformed.

At the opposing end of Zélie's mission is Inan, Amari's brother, who is devoted to upholding their father's vision of a magic-free Orïsha. He maniacally hunts down the trio, feeling betrayal, anguish, and determination during pursuit. But it is himself that he fights most, for he endures an internal battle that brings meaning to the nature of identity and self-care: how can one claim space and love self if you are what you were raised to hate? With the introduction of themes like patriarchy, misogyny, and even colorism, Adeyemi tackles the structures of oppression that young people of the diaspora are still navigating present-day.

Amidst the glorious descriptions of West African culture, such as carnations of Black girl magic, illustrations of Yoruba gods and goddesses and callbacks to delectable dishes (jollof, shuku shuku), Adeyemi was also deliberate in making sure she didn't eliminate a major cultural discrepancy within the African community: sexism and agency.

Although Zélie notices that her brother Tzain and Princess Amari are attracted to each other, she only grimaces, but never interferes. She is aware that although Amari is a descendant of the very patriarchy and hate they are plotting against, people can't control what and where they come from. However, when Zélie develops a romance with someone who seems to threaten their mission (but has since reformed), Tzain isn't so supportive. He becomes grossly possessive and misogynistic towards Zélie, even calling her obscene slurs during an argument. When confronted, Tzain blames his anger on the duties of being a big brother. But Adeyemi never lets the reader buy into this. She allows us to indulge in Zélie's relationship, even if it seems unsafe, to show our protagonist making her own decisions about her life. And above all, she shows the hypocrisy men display in terms of sexuality, and empowers Zélie to write her own sexual agency.

Children allows young women to identify with independent female characters who make clear that their decisions, bodies, and sexuality are their own. As we embark on our own cultural shift on the ideas around sexuality, consent, and romance, it's imperative that YA literature describes relationships and experiences that involve complicated characters with real emotions and desires.

At the heart of Children is another natural phenomenon that embraces a number of us throughout our lifetime: a gnawing, uncomfortable emotion that can either challenge us to grow or lead to unwanted stagnation. Fear. Zélie's own personal fears include genocide, history repeating itself, and most compelling, herself.

At the start of the novel, Zélie is determined to become a formidable fighter, capable of taking out anyone in her path to protect her family. But as Zélie discovers that she may actually have magical strength, she begins to doubt her purpose and abilities. And when it proves to be a fatal weapon, she begins to question if magic is worth salvaging if it can kill people.

Zélie's fear of her powers coupled with her self-doubt mirrors the anxiety many Black people, women and non-binary, may experience when faced with a grand opportunity: Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is the belief that we don't deserve to be in a certain place and that we will soon be discovered for our inadequacies. Because we haven't seen enough people like us in that environment, or haven't been afforded the opportunity before, it's easy for us to feel we don't belong. But this form of self-doubt is yet another outcome of white supremacy, stemming from the belief that Black people aren't capable of greatness.

Zélie's mental and emotional transformation regarding fear is not uncommon to that of many of Children's young readers. But in the context of her world—and ours—it speaks to the complexity of inhabiting a body that is capable of miracles, while existing in a society that considers that same body a menace. This fear is valid and disheartening. We live in a society that has historically, and presently, dismisses our talents and intelligence due to our skin tone. It is challenging to let go of these traumas and submit to the belief that we are genuinely deserving. But what Children does is gives a young adult audience the power to believe in themselves. To believe they can take a seat at the table.

Adeyemi writes Zélie and Amari so fluidly that we feel hope even amongst the flashes of the lionaire's fangs, the sear of soldiers' spears, the crossfire of explosions and clinking of majacite chains. We feel hope because these young women valiantly strive to take down a system that has been centuries in the making. We feel hope because we can see their power in ourselves and our generation.

They remind us that the greatest superpower of young people is their intolerance for complacency and conformity. It is through their idealism and tenacious spirit that we remember a better life is worth fighting for. Indeed, the young people will save us.

Alisha Acquaye is a writer, community organizer and artist currently using words to inspire inclusive and intersectional thought, emotion and change. Focusing on pop culture, art and identity, Alisha is compelled by the ways people of color rewrite our present and futures by reclaiming the past.

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Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs


Photo (c) John Liebenberg

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"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.

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Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.


The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:





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mage courtesy of TIFF

Senegalese Filmmaker Mati Diop Tells a Haunted Story of Migration

We caught up with the celebrated director at the Toronto International Film Festival to talk about her new film, Atlantics

It's been a good year for French-Senegalese director Mati Diop and her film Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story.

The movie got its North American premier at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this month after wowing critics and audiences at Cannes, where it won the prestigious Grand Prix. Diop was the first Black woman to successfully submit a film in the Cannes competition, and naturally the first to win any award at the iconic festival.

In Toronto, the Paris-born director was also honored with the inaugural Mary Pickford Award for Outstanding Female Talent, presented at the TIFF Tribute Gala on September 9. The award is named after Mary Pickford, a Toronto native who went on to conquer Hollywood in the early days of the industry as an actor and producer. Co-founder of United Artists, she was the highest paid woman in Hollywood in her day.

Mati Diop, actor and director, was born in Paris into a prominent Senegalese family, the daughter of noted musician Wasis Diop, and niece of well known filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty. As a director, she has several short films under her belt, including Atlantiques in 2009. Her short films Big in Vietnam and A Thousand Suns screened at TIFF in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story is Diop's first feature, which she directed as well as co-writing the screenplay with Olivier Demangel.

It's in the story of the first Atlantiques – the short – that the new film came to be. "The two films are both connected and not connected," Diop tells OkayAfrica. The short Atlantiques was self produced, and shot on video on a shoestring budget, she explains. Diop was moved by the constant stream of reports, between 2000 and 2010, of young Senegalese taking to small wooden boats and braving the ocean waters in a bid to reach Spain and better opportunities. As she notes, the media tended to treat the phenomenon as largely an abstract issue, one that had to do with economic forces. Diop wanted to tell the story of the real people in that situation.

"I felt that my cinema should be put at the service of their voices," she says. "I wanted to understand." It's part of what motivated Diop to get into film in the first place. While the short was shot documentary-style, she worked the story as fiction. The actor featured in the short had actually made an Atlantic crossing, but was subsequently turned back by Spanish authorities. The way he spoke about the experience connected with Diop; in particular, his determination to try the perilous journey once more. "I am here, but not here," he told her. "Serigne felt it was here [in Senegal] he would lose his life," Diop says. She wanted to understand what drove so many young men to risk their lives. "He felt that his life was vulnerable in Senegal." The actor's words took on even more resonance when he died, while still in Senegal, before he could try again. Diop says he had gone to a hospital after falling ill, but the staff were on strike. After his death, it left her with mixed feelings. "I wondered if I had the right to continue."

TIFF Tribute Gala Mati Diop | TIFF 2019 www.youtube.com

Diop was left with the poignant memory, and a haunting impression. "When you leave, it means you are already dead," she says. After filming the short, she attended Serigne's funeral, and filmed his mother and sister—the women left behind who would become the focus of the feature film treatment. Diop says that the character of Ada, the protagonist of the new movie, is based in large part on the sister, who, in the short film, does not speak any lines.

In Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story, Ada is 17 years old, in love with Souleiman, but her parents have already arranged a very practical marriage with another—and much wealthier—man. On the eve of her wedding, odd things begin to happen, and Ada learn that Souleiman and his friends have left Dakar in a boat, hoping to reach Spain. Ada and her BFFs anxiously await any word from them, as the mysterious happenings keep piling up.

"The beauty of women comes through marriage," a cleric tells one mother. Ada's story embodies the life of a young West African woman—torn between traditional forces in both her family and society, and the friends who wear Western dress and don't bother with the old ways. The wealthy family she has married into owns a large construction company, the one that didn't pay its workers for months, leading the young workers to try their luck in Spain. She loves Souleiman, but she also needs to find her own path.

Mama Sané plays Ada, the solid heart of the film, as a tangle of emotions and repressed desires. She veers from defiant when dealing with the police detective sent to investigate the strange occurrences, to a wordless expression of longing with the kind of intensity only a teenager can muster.

Diop's directorial vision turns Dakar into a place of both surreal magic and harsh reality. The film immerses the audience in the city's sounds, from the goats bleating outside a window while Ada and her friends talk, to voices in the next room, with the eternal heaving of waves against the shore as a recurring refrain. The original music by Fatima Al Qadiri adds to the effect.

Cinematographer Claire Mathon has shot the film with a poetic eye. There are many images of the shifting surface of the sea, with the open sky and sun above it, each different from the last. The streets of Dakar at night take on an otherworldly edge, framed in palm trees against the artificial lights. The building the young men have been working on is futuristic in design, all glass and steel, and the company owner's neutral modern mansion contrasts with the broken rubble on the streets, from slick sports cars to horse drawn carts. It adds to the sense of the surreal.

Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story was acquired by Netflix after Cannes, and is intended for worldwide release by the streaming service, (with the exception of China, Russia, Benelux, Switzerland, and France.) As part of its new policy, Netflix, which became an official member of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America,) earlier this year, will be giving the flick a "theater-first" release, opening in selected theaters on November 15, with streaming available from November 29 in North America.

The film also stars Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traoré, Nicole Sougou, Amina Kane, Mariama Gassama, Coumba Dieng, Ibrahima Mbaye, and Diankou Sembene. Dialog in the France-Senegal-Belgium co-production is in Wolof with subtitles.

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(Photo by Francois LOCHON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images )

Exiled Tunisian President Ben Ali Has Died

The former president had been living in Saudi exile since 2011.

Tunisia's former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, 83, has been declared dead while in exile in Saudi Arabia. Ben Ali became interim Prime Minister in 1987. He ran unopposed and was elected Prime Minister in 1998 and served for 23 years – from 1988 to 2011. He was known for using autocratic techniques, eradicating presidential term limits and altering age caps in order to stay in power. In the beginning, Ben Ali was considered a "people's head of state" and garnered the nickname "Benavie" which loosely translates to "Ben Ali for life." By the 2000s, however, he had become deeply unpopular and prompted protests and unrest against his oppressive rule.

His reign ended when he fled Tunisia on January 14, 2011 amid protests that ultimately led to a string of revolutions dubbed the Arab Spring. He had been living in exile in Saudi Arabia ever since. As France 24 reports, in 2018 Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia by Tunisian courts to "more than 200 years in prison on charges including murder, corruption and torture."

Though there is no cause of death just yet, Ben Ali had been in intensive hospital care for lung cancer for three months. According to Al Jazeera, lawyer Mounir Ben Salha announced Ben Ali's death to news agencies via phone and the claim was confirmed by Tunisia's foreign minister.

There is footage of a Tunisian lawyer taking to the street at dawn celebrating the news of Ben Ali's death.


This past Sunday, Tunisia held free elections advancing Kas Saied and Nabil Karoui (who is currently jailed) as presidential candidates with neither receiving a majority vote. A run-off election between the two will be held September 29.

Tunisians and others are sharing their reactions to the news across social media. Here are some reactions:





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