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Umlilo in the documentary 'Mask'

Umlilo Unveils Queer Documentary 'Mask'

South African avant-garde artist Umlilo captures the political nuances of queer experiences in the documentary Mask.

Cape Town-based musician and all-round artist Umlilohas released his thought-provoking documentaryThe Black Sheep Twelfth Installment: Mask. The documentary, which goes by the simple title Mask, explores what it means to straddle gender lanes and identify as non-binary. Umlilo releases this autobiographical documentary on queer knowledge ahead of his highly-anticipated upcoming debut album Isambulo and the #LockdownJams Live concert, which gained popularity during the onset of lockdown, .


Umlilo, whose government name is Siya Ngcobo, narrates the story of his personal relationship with a mask — as both a performer and queer individual. A closer and deeper look at masks shows that they conceal the socio-political circumstances of the LGBTQI community in relation to the gender neutral reform of South Africa's identity coding on official documents. Shot in black and white, the documentary investigates the chasms that exist between government and the queer individual, and how that explicitly leads to the violence meted out on non-gender conforming individuals. Mask interrogates South Africa's neatly presented Constitution, while in reality queer individuals are exposed to various dangers, even, from government bodies such as Home Affairs.

Umlilo, brought up in a traditional yet matriarchal family, has a few alter egos and is well-versed with his mask, which always features in his performances. His electro music has garnered attention fromAfropunk, VICE, Africa is a Country and many more. The symbol of the mask also reveals the painful manner in which members of the LGBTQIA++ suppress aspects of themselves for safety. Contrarily, Umlilo's performance journey depicts just how liberating the mask, when confronted and played with, can be for Black queer individuals. South Africa's introduction of a gender-neutral marker on IDs in February this year is admittedly progressive. But whether it will alleviate corrective rapes of lesbians and killings of transgender individuals remains to be seen.

Read: South African Queer Artist Umlilo Shares Striking Electro Performance

Watch Mask below.

BLACK SHEEP - MASKwww.youtube.com

Film
(YouTube)

10 African Documentary Films You Should Check Out

Featuring Music Is Life, African Moot, Cesária Évora and many more.

For its 24th edition, the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival,running from June 23 to July 3, returns to physical locations in Johannesburg and Cape Town for the first time in two years. OkayAfrica took a deep dive into the festival’s program and presents ten of the most anticipated films playing. You don’t want to miss these titles.

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Black Coffee & Tresor’s Work On Drake’s New Album Speaks to the Rise of South African Music

Unlike the Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther: The Album or Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift album which had hints of South African flavours on them, Honestly, Nevermind is imbued with them.

On the 16th of June, news that rap superstar Drakewas dropping a surprise album first hit the internet. As with any of his releases, the announcement sent people into a frenzy. Leading up to the drop, the OVO camp, as part of a subtle and timely album rollout, put out a track list. Included in it as one of the album’s executive producers was South African super producer, DJ and artist Black Coffee. His name was listed amongst Drake’s regular collaborators and business partners, Noah 40 Shebib, Oliver El-Khatib and Noel Cadastre.

The two artists have previously collaborated on the remake of Black Coffee’s seminal 2009 hit “Superman.” Drake’s take on the instrumental and composition, “Get It Together,” was released almost a decade later on his 2017 playlist More Life. When the song dropped, the reviews and public reactions were split because of the original vocalist Bucie being replaced by then-burgeoning British singer Jorja Smith.

Fast forward to 2022, Black Coffee has a ‘Best Dance/Electronic’ Grammy award for his 2021 album Subconsciously, and has played at the biggest stages across the globe. It then shouldn’t come as a surprise that when putting together his experimental dance album, Drake tapped the South African producer to oversee and shape the sonic and creative direction of the album.

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Film
Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

'Proud and Unafraid' Details the Trials & Tribulations of Being Queer in Nigeria

We spoke with N’ihu Media founder Bayo Lambo about his documentary ‘Proud and Unafraid' and the power of using storytelling to uplift communities.

Despite the growing online visibility of Nigeria’s LGBTQ community, the reality of their lives is still dire. Shackled by the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) which criminalizes queer relationships in the country, and an overtly homophobic populace, queer people are forced to live a parallel life in the country far away from the reach of traditional news sources and media organizations.

The lack of documentation in Nigerian media about the LGBTQ community leaves a sizable hole in our national archives, meaning that the lives and activities of successive generations of queer people might be lost to the sands of time. However, thanks to the decentralizing effect of the Internet, new mediums are springing up that allow queer people tell stories of their lives and intricacies of dealing with being a member of the LGBTQ community in Nigeria.

Last year, N’ihu Media, a media agency based in Lagos, released a documentary touching on the lives of four queer Nigerians titled Proud and Unfraid. In the opening sequence of the documentary, culture writer Vincent Desmond, talks about the ways that being gay makes his perspective on life different. “Being gay is something that affects almost anything and everything you do,” he says. “The way you meet people, the way you react to people, the way you compose yourself in public. It’s because you’re always aware that someone who one minute is nice to you could just suddenly flip the moment they are aware that this person might be saying.”

Across 27 minutes, the subjects of the documentary explore coming out, the impact of being queer on their inter-personal relationship, and the cost and burdens of identifying as openly queer in a homophobic country like Nigeria, giving a fantastic insight into how they navigate their lives and the harsh realities of being queer in Nigeria.

Over a Zoom call one busy midday week in mid-June, Bayo Lambo, the founder of N’ihu Media lays out his reasons for green-lighting the documentary, what the process liked like, and his dream for a more empathetic Nigeria.

How did you get the idea to do a documentary of queer experiences in Nigeria?

I’m the owner of N’ihu Media and what we do is that we cover everything Africa. It’s a Pan-African thing and we basically explore the lives of people on the continent and it’s impossible to cover life on the continent without covering the disenfranchised. We try to give an objective view of everything and the community is obviously a disenfranchised one.

The idea for the documentary was brought to me by Hannah Ajala. She’s a BBC reporter that we do stuff together and bounce ideas off each other. She knows the kind of stories I like and so she sends me story ideas from time to time but when she sent that one I said, “Yes, let’s do that, let’s see what we can find.”

Half of the time when I do stories, I do them because I want to know. When I was first thinking about doing this channel, I said something out by mistake and everyone turned and looked at me. I said I’d like to follow people to their homes and everyone turned around and was like, “What’s this guy saying?” But what I meant is that I want to see what everybody is going through. You see me today but you only see a part of me. By the time I shut down this laptop or whatever you don’t know what I’m going through, good or bad. So that’s the main reason we took on this story, for telling those hidden stories. We’re like a baby Vice.

When did you start your production company?

Officially, it was 2020. The first time I put a video out was during the pandemic, that was the first time I put out a production but I had started on the sports side of things. I was covering sports in anticipation of doing stories like this one. I’d done the Shitsuke Flag Football in Nigeria which is a fantastic thing. I played in the league so we put cameras there to get clips of the action.

The lack of documentation in Nigerian media about the LGBTQ community leaves a sizable hole in our national archives.

Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

Speaking specifically about Proud and Unafraid, how important was it to for you to bring representation of the Nigerian queer experience to the fore?

I feel like one thing you have to remember is that everyone is someone’s son, daughter, brother, wife, husband, or child and we need empathy. We need to see other people’s side. I can never understand what you’re going through unless you tell me. I can never understand your choices until I understand why or what set it off. So it is very important that we put ourselves out there and put these kinds of stories out. It’s very good to shed a light on other people’s realities. It’s not easy to see somebody walking down, saying she’s going on a date and when she gets there, there’s a bunch of people waiting just to beat her up. We just need to have more empathy and understand what people are going through.

Can you take me through the selection process for the people you interviewed?

Hannah has been following one of our interviewees and she tried to reach out to them as well as keep me in the loop. Interviewing somebody is one thing and interviewing someone that can convey their pain and their joy is a different thing. The most difficult part of it is getting people to speak out in public and, to me, a lot of these guys are brave and they’re not hiding their lifestyles or they don’t hide themselves. I don’t even call it a lifestyle, they’re not hiding themselves and hey have prominent pages on social media where they discuss their lives openly hence the topic, Proud and Unafraid. With all the setbacks and backlash they face, they’re still brave enough to come out and tell us their stories you know. Hannah found these people, we discussed and decided how best to showcase their stories. Usually, when Hannah says something, as long as we agree, we just go through with it and beat it up as we go.

Proud and Unafraid was produced by N’ihu Media.

Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

A segment of the documentary touches on the lives of the interviewees before being openly queer, what significance does that part of the conversation hold?

If you look at life in general, you can actually pinpoint every stage of your life. You can base your life on before and after something. During primary school, after primary school, during secondary school, after secondary school. You have to understand that these are people that are going through so much, hiding it was easy in one way but difficult in another way, coming out is easy in one way but difficult in another way. Those are the things I wanted to know: how was it when you’re hiding yourself? What was the pain when you’re walking around? One of the reasons I’m very happy to do this is because I have a friend that I grew up with — we went to school together — he moved down to England, and he’s finally come out.

One of the things he was saying was that how he would have to go somewhere where people were gay bashing or whatever and he would have to laugh at that. He would also go home and his parents would say things or preach to him. Basically, your friends and family are doing things as strangers and you just have to keep quiet, so you can imagine the pain to laugh at yourself or to insult yourself. Then when you come out, there is a different pain those same people castigate you also at the end. So, before and after always brings its own good and bad perspectives. With those perspectives, you want the audience to question themselves and ask if this person would have chosen this life willingly if it was so bad and difficult. I can’t fathom it when people say being queer is a choice. If it was a choice, nobody would be willing to sacrifice jail time or their life on the continent. When you put out a show like this you just want people to be able to see the whole picture and put themselves in people’s place.

Desmond Vincent writer

“Being gay is something that affects almost anything and everything you do,” culture writer Desmond Vincent said.

Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

One of the points raised by Desmond Vincent was that re-educating Nigerians is part of the way forward. Do you consider Proud and Unafraid a part of the re-education process or is it just a picture of what’s happening?

The thing is people go around life with this feeling that if it’s not me, then it’s OK and we can say this for so many things: the plight of Black people, of Africans, and anywhere you can find a disenfranchised community. We need everybody to start speaking up for someone or something. We need to be able to see human beings first. If consenting adults are walking around, we need to be able to see that they are human beings we are talking about. So, to me, I think that’s the most important thing the documentary is trying to say, that they’re your neighbor.

Do you think you would want to explore the realities of the LGBTQ community in other countries on the continent, do you think that might happen down the line?

It would be a blessing to. It will be fantastic, it’s something we would like to do, the only reason we haven’t been able to do it is that finding the right people to get these stories is not always easy. You have to remember that finding people to speak out is hard because this is Africa. There are certain laws that don’t cater to the community and that is the difficult part. But once we find people that are Proud and Unafraid, we will be there to hear their stories.

Interview

Tim Lyre Wants You to Worry Less

The talented afro-fusionist keeps the flag flying high for Nigerian alternative music with his debut album, Worry <.

Tim Lyre is part and parcel of Nigeria’s alternative music scene.

Nigeria’s alte renaissance began circa 2016, unearthing a fresh crop of music and artists which saw the previously underground movement bubble and burst into nationwide attention. The movement birthed fresh stars and sounds who introduced a new perspective of music to the pop-centric country. The likes of Odunsi “The Engine”, Nonso Amadi, Lady Donli, Prettyboy D-O, Fasina, Santi, Tomi Thomas, and many more all championed the alte movement. Singer Tim Lyre is a core member of that cohort.

For years, Tim has been active as a singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, also making contributions to the projects of his peers as a producer and as a guest artist. His debut album, Worry Less (stylized as Worry <) arrived this year to show that alternative music in Nigeria is very much alive and well.

Tim Lyre started working on Worry < in 2019. According to him it took about 2-3 years to record, mix, and master the entire project. “The name of the album is Worry Less, so I wanted the album to feel exactly how it sounds,” he tells OkayAfrica. “We had to make sure all the features were right, the transitions and everything was right. I really wanted to take my time to make sure the project was as good as it possibly could be and to represent what the project is about,” offering his explanation as to why the album took so much time to create.

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