Music
Photo by Camilo Fuentealba for OkayAfrica

Yemi Alade’s Journey to Becoming a ‘Woman of Steel’

With a bold new album, record-breaking musical feats and two features on Beyoncé's "The Lion King: The Gift," Yemi Alade is claiming her spot in a growing Nigerian music scene with full force.

Yemi Alade's "Johnny" was never even meant to see the light of day. "Someone leaked the song," she recalls with a smile. "And the leaked song saved my life."

It went on to become her breakout hit, catapulting her to African musical fame. With its catchy hook and cheeky lyrics about tracking down a flaky lover, the song caught on easily as a fun track that light-heartedly spoke from the ladies' point of view—an answer to all the songs that already did so from a man's perspective, namely Wizkid's "Caro." Its Clarence Peters-directed music video showcased her personality and knack for theatrical performance took the hype even further. It went on to break YouTube records (with 107 million views and counting), and is still the most watched music video by a Nigerian woman artist.

That was 2014—a time in the African pop scene, when artists who are today considered afropop royalty were still striving to make names for themselves in an ever-changing musical landscape. With its fiery production and easy-to-sing-along-to hook "Johnny" quickly became a party staple, making Alade's name one prominently associated with the growing scene. In 2019, African pop music is in a different phase, more visible than ever before, yet still on the cusp of crossover success. Through this process, Alade's name has remained a constant, and unlike the success of "Johnny"—this is by no accident.


Photo by Camilo Fuentealba for OkayAfrica

The singer is dressed casually in sneakers and a pair of ankara-print shorts when I meet her at the OkayAfrica office in Brooklyn. She's in town promoting the album and her latest single, the remix of "Oh My Gosh" featuring American rapper Rick Ross—her fellow Sovereign liquor ambassador. She sits down comfortably for a cup of champagne that her team brought along for sampling. She was last in the office, she tells me, in 2016, to shoot the cover of Mama Africa with the Nigerian artist Laolu Senbanjo, which explains why she feels so familiar. The tidbit also puts her growth since then into perspective.

A decade ago, the singer made her debut as the first-ever winner of Nigeria's Peak Talent Show. It marked the beginning of her musical career, but visibility came after she released her debut album, King of Queens in 2014. The album won her the Best Female Artist trophy at the MTV Africa Awards in 2015. She followed that up with 2016's Mama Africa and 2017's Black Magic, both standouts in their own right. She's been dubbed the "Nigerian Queen of Music Videos," for her consistency in delivering visually striking, high-energy videos like "Tumbum," "Ferrari," "Oga" and her most recent "Bounce," a pulsating track that she says she made to give her fans something to dance to. She's undecidedly engaging on screen, and her music video prowess is further displayed by the numbers themselves. Nearly all of her music videos from the last five years have views in the several millions and in July, she broke yet another YouTube record, becoming the first African woman artist to amass a million subscribers on the video site.

The video she's most excited about though, hasn't even been released yet. It's for the track "Shekere," which features the legendary Benin singer Angelique Kidjo, and has been two years in the making. "It's my favorite because I finally got to work with someone that inspired me while growing up and still inspires me, and is still achieving heights that I want to achieve as an African woman," she says.

Photo by Camilo Fuentealba for OkayAfrica

It's clear that Alade is hungry to reach full icon status much-like Kidjo. For 10 years now, she's been duking it out in a space that is notoriously hard on women. While multiple male artists have been allowed to coexist in the same space (despite any obvious overlap in their look or sound) it's almost expected that there only be a handful of women in these same positions. A sort of industry quota. Alade is one of just two female artists who commonly get labeled the "Queen of Afrobeats"—the other, being fellow Nigerian star Tiwa Savage. For her it's not a competition, and the only labels she cares about are the ones she's bestowed upon herself. One of them being "King" and the other "Mama Africa."

"Every other title is not important to me because I'm here to sell music. I'm not here to sell titles," she asserts.

Photo by Camilo Fuentealba for OkayAfrica

Alade named her album Woman of Steel, to reflect the tough veneer that she, and most women, are often required to wear in order to command the same level of respect as the guys. Though she's often expressed her power by referring to herself as "King" and "Oga," she's quick to assert that exuding female strength is not simply about channeling typical male machismo. "Woman of Steel is all about drawing the inner strength that you have in you and being the superhero that you've always needed," she says. And part of being as hard as actual iron, is breaking free from the confines of having to be exceptionally "tough" all the time and feeling free to tap into womanly instincts. It's about finding power in various expressions of womanhood: hard, soft, or otherwise. "There are important, delicate things that we need in this world," she says. "We need all the things to be who we are. I don't think the world should be trying to tell us, we're too emotional, or too this or, we're too that. No, we are exactly what the world needs."

"I think I sort of just got tired of being told to stay silent on certain topics."

The album also represents a newfound freedom for the artist—an unburdening of having to hold her tongue. What changed for her? "I think I sort of just got tired of being told to stay silent on certain topics," she says. This sees her tackling various subjects in imaginative ways. There's a reggae song that tackles political corruption called "CIA (Criminal in Agbada)," and a cheekier cut about needing a man who can feed himself first before asking her out for dinner, in which the artist, who turned 30 this year, also addresses something many young African women in her age group can relate to: being bombarded with unwarranted questions about marriage (yes, even she gets them). "Since people are bold enough to walk up to people and ask them about marriage, [I thought] why don't we cross this point in the music."

Photo by Camilo Fuentealba for OkayAfrica

The album not only represents a thematic shift for the artist, but a personal one too. She's headed in bolder direction, she says and those who oppose will easily get left behind. "[Other people's] opinions of me did not get me here," she says. "And opinions will not take me where I want to go." Where she seems to be "going" is upward. She's one of the leaders of a Nigerian music scene that's quickly breaking new ground. "The Nigerian industry is literally on steroids," she says. "And it's changing in forms and dynamics that you need to sleep with your eyes open so you can catch the next wave"

When I ask her about what is necessary to bring the music to full global mainstream consciousness, she makes a case for increased internet access and engagement from those on the ground. "The minute the entire [continent] is able to access the internet more freely, in a more affordable manner. That's when we'll becomes entirely a resource," she says. "Our music is already a resource as needed. But our numbers are not. For instance, Davido has about 12 million followers on Instagram, and he's the most followed artist in Nigeria—in Africa. But Beyoncé has like [130 million]. Basically we are dealing with only one-tenth of what [American artists] have. If we have more exposure, we'll have just as much numbers."

Photo by Camilo Fuentealba for OkayAfrica

While the masses might still be playing catching up, it's clear that not everyone is snoozing. It seems Beyoncé herself has been paying attention. Since we spoke, the musical megastar released The Lion King: The Gift, a compilation album, that she described as a "love letter to Africa," featuring the who is who of (mostly) Nigerian artists. Alade appears on two tracks: "Don't Jealous Me" alongside Tekno, Mr Eazi and Lord Afrixana and "My Power." With Beyoncé's mammoth platform as a vehicle, it appears increased visibility is surely coming. "I recorded a couple of songs and two of the songs made it to the album," Alade told Billboard of her involvement on the album. "What a time to be alive. I have always prayed to be ready for opportunities like this," she added. As a woman of steel, it's clear she's fought for them as well—it's what the title demands.

And as the contemporary sounds of the continent continue their much-anticipated global ascent, Yemi is poised to remain one of its fiercest faces. She's fought for her position, gloves on and all.


Culture
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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