THE ODIA OFEIMUM AT 70 CONFERENCE AND SPECIAL DINNER
The Odia Ofeimun at 70 Committee is pleased to announce activities to mark the 70th Birthday Celebrations of Odia Ofeimun, a most distinguished and remarkable Nigerian, which will occur on Monday, March 16, 2020.
In this regard, the Committee is hosting the Taking Nigeria Seriously: A Conference in Honour of Odia Ofeimun, which would hold at the Julius Berger Hall of the University of Lagos campus on March 16 and 17. The celebration will end with a Special Dinner in honour of the celebrant on the evening of March 17 at the Hall of the University of Lagos Guest House.
The Odia Ofeimun at 70 conference will be a gathering of intellectuals, scholars and academics from within Nigeria, Africa and as wide as from North America and Europe. The Keynote will be given by Professor Biodun Jeyifo, a reputed literary scholar and globally recognised cultural theorist, who until recently was with Harvard University in the United States of America.
The Opening Ceremony of the Conference, holding by 10 a.m. on March 16 at the same venue, will be chaired by Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the Honourable Minister of Interior of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, while the Dinner on March 17 will be chaired by the renowned civil rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Olisa Agbakoba.
About Odia Ofeimun
A foremost Nigerian poet, journalist, dance-drama producer, critic, columnist and public intellectual, Odia has for more than four decades now, exerted a phenomenal presence in the Nigerian cultural, creative, intellectual and political space. He served as Private Secretary to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late Nigerian nationalist and politician between 1978 and 1981; was a member of the editorial board of The Guardian from 1983 to 1988, Chairman of the Editorial Board of The News, Tempo and AM News from 1993 to 1999, and President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) from 1993 to 1997.
Ofeimun’s Hornbill House of Culture represents a platform, which he has continued to use to execute his multi-dimensional activities including writing, dance-drama production, book publishing, cultural promotion and political interventions. He has close to forty (40) published books to his name; they include volumes of poetry, collections of critical essays, anthologies of cultural and political interventions, and compilations of journalistic writings. In 2010, Odia Ofeimun won the Fonlon Nichols award for excellence in writing and human rights activism. He is an exemplary man in many respects and his contributions to Nigeria letters and ideas as well as public life make him richly deserving of such an honour.
This is an open invitation to the public, for those who would wish to attend the conference.
In Uganda, a peace festival seeks end to violence in Africa
Ugandans hold candles Saturday during the Mara Mara peace festival in Kampala, Uganda. The festival drew inspiration from the African Union’s declaration of 2020 as the year for “silencing the guns” on a continent that has long faced violence ranging from civil war to ethnic rivalries and rebel insurgencies.
Young people played tug of war and others shook their bodies to crowd-pleasing music as a scorching African sun set near the Ugandan capital. A tipsy poet drew loud cheers by repeatedly reciting “One day. Someday. Could be this day.”
Others painted their faces, ate barbecued goat, played chess and practiced yoga. The good-natured gathering attracted scores of people in support of the day when all of Africa would be free of armed violence.
The Mara Mara peace festival drew inspiration from the African Union’s declaration of 2020 as the year for “silencing the guns” on a continent that has long faced violence ranging from civil war to ethnic rivalries and rebel insurgencies. In an effort to reduce the number of illegal weapons in circulation across the continent, the AU has said there will be an amnesty during the month of September when illegally-owned guns can be turned over to local authorities.
Leaders of the African Union, a continent-wide bloc that is often accused of not doing enough to end armed violence, have said it will reach out to youths to discourage them from taking up arms.
Africa still has multiple conflict zones ranging from Islamic extremist violence in West Africa’s Sahel region and in parts of Nigeria to armed rebellion by militias in eastern Congo. In South Sudan, the world’s newest country, hundreds of thousands of people were killed and over 1 million displaced by a five-year civil war that officially ended in 2018, but still simmers. That conflict has created Africa’s worst refugee crisis since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Africa Peace Zones, a network of volunteers who organized the weekend peace gathering in Uganda in support of the AU’s mission, acknowledged the task at hand as “ambitious,” citing challenges including gender-based violence, unemployment and climate change.
“And while sustainable solutions will require actions from a cross-section of society, we believe that as Africa’s young people, we hold the key to building a continent free of all violence,” the group said in a statement. “Some of Africa’s strongest attributes — tolerance, kindness, generosity, resilience, problem solving and a team spirit — are the very foundation of negotiation, mediation and reconciliation as alternatives to violence.”
Uganda has enjoyed relative peace for nearly 20 years, since the end of a deadly rebellion in the country’s north. But the East African country has had spots of political violence, with the security forces accused of cracking down on opposition activities. President Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 1986 and is trying to extend his rule further, prompting concerns about possible violence around elections in 2021.
Young Ugandans such as William Musinguzi, a painter at the festival who drew a map of Africa with the red spots indicating those countries battling insurgencies and civil war, cite mistrust of authorities with guns. The 25-year-old noted with pleasure that there were no police at the event, saying that meant peace.
For Gerry Ssebunya, a dance instructor and mental health advocate whose family was affected by war in northern Uganda, peace festivals are a “fantastic way” to reach out to young people in need of sense of communion. Ssebunya recalled that in 2019 she visited her ancestral home in northern Uganda for the first time in 33 years because she was still traumatized by memories of the insurgency that ended in the early 2000s. This meant that she had been “a refugee” in her own country, she said.
“We need interventions like this to help people who are struggling, to also help people to bring back to the forefront of our minds that we don’t have to get into conflict. We don’t have to pick up guns. We don’t have to fight,” she said, as a group played dodgeball nearby. “We can talk, we can talk. Events like this switch our minds back to saying, ‘You know what? We are not animals. We can talk to each other.’”
‘We’re living the dream’: why a well-known South African band have taken up residence in Ajmam.
Michelle Stent and Dale Wardell had never heard of Ajman before they were offered a residency in the northern emirate
It is rather apt that South African band Habit To’s latest single is called Dreaming. While it has been garnering radio play in their home country, two members of the group have been living their musical “dream” in Ajman.
However, when husband and wife musicians Michelle Stent and Dale Wardell were brainstorming the next step of a career that has had them play to thousands, a nightly residency in an emirate they’d never heard of wasn’t exactly on the agenda.
“We’ve gigged mostly in South Africa and have travelled abroad, but usually for festivals,” says Stent, 34. “We were always throwing biographies out to agents, but one said, ‘How would you like a gig in Ajman?’ We were like, ‘Where the heck is that?’”
“There’s an Emirates pilot who came for the brunch and had seen us 20 years ago when we were playing a pub in Durban.”
With their world map consulted, the couple – who have released two albums – had a fortnight to pack up their lives when they moved to the UAE just under a year ago.
It was a gamble, not least for Wardell, 39, whose sound engineering side-career had him working at South African star Johnny Clegg’s final Durban show. “On top of gigging weekly, we also started a recording studio. We recorded Ladysmith Black Mambazo and many others and it snowballed into a great business,” says Wardell, who despite regarding their UAE adventure as “serendipity shining her beautiful face”, says it wasn’t an easy decision.
“We had built a niche for ourselves, but decided it was the right thing to do … we could go on to perform and take Habit To further.”
With 11,000 kilometres between Durban and Ajman, the troubadours – whose drums and bass-playing third member, Yasindra Naidoo, remained in South Africa – weren’t expecting many in the audience to recognise them.
But a few months into their residency, at McGettigan’s in the Radisson Blu complex, a few long-lost Habit To fans appeared as word reached Ajman’s South African community.
‘Habit To’ have amassed a loyal following both back home and further afield. Courtesy Habit To
‘Habit To’ have amassed a loyal following both back home and further afield. Courtesy Habit To
“There’s an Emirates pilot who came for the brunch and had seen us 20 years ago when we were playing a pub in Durban,” says Wardell, whose set list mixes covers of rock and pop hits as well as Habit To originals.
“And two or three couples come regularly and tell us they feel like they’re back home because we play songs they recognise. We’ve definitely made relationships and friendships.”
Wardell, a promising youth tennis player until music trumped sporting aspirations, says he and Stent feel they’re “living the dream” because they now devote more time to their passion, playing live six nights while writing new music or learning covers during the day. “As Habit To we normally only play our originals, but during the past two years back home we played a lot of biker festivals and they’d want three or four sets over a weekend.
“We realised they wanted to hear some classic tunes, so we got a lot of our repertoire together from that. Ajman is welcoming of the original stuff, and I love our own music, but I love playing covers … I grew up learning Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the Eagles.”
Stent says her mission is to spread Habit To’s music beyond South Africa. “Guests are going on to our website, downloading stuff and requesting an original. For us, that’s super-cool, we want people to know we wrote every last thing you hear. It’s nice to say ‘this song’s playing on a station back home’.”
The couple also say not being constantly on the road – eight hours travelling daily, and waking up early for radio interviews the morning after gigs – has yielded time to work on music for their next album, Heaven Sent. “Our job now is to completely hone our craft,” she says. “We’re spending six hours minimum a day on our instruments, not having to organise a tour; we’re ‘on tour’, even though we’re at the same place every day. That’s made it easier for us to be creative.”
While Habit To have played to larger audiences at home since breaking out in 2004 – to as many as 10,000 at festivals such as Splashy Fen – they say the Ajman shows can be rewarding.
“Back home there’s a live music culture and such a turnover of bands, people become numb to it,” says Wardell. “Here, people tend to appreciate it more. There are fewer live musicians, so it’s really valued. Over the years we’ve developed the ability, once on stage, whether there are two people or 2,000 … we perform the same.”
The band are originally from Durban. Courtesy Habit To
The band are originally from Durban. Courtesy Habit To
Some don’t quite get the live band etiquette, however. The couple recall dealing with men getting on stage to “share” vocals, while another stood in the front requesting songs as they were midway through one. They also say it helps to be married.
“A lot of people ask, ‘How do you live and work together?’ We’re best friends, we’ve been together for more than 20 years, married for seven. We know our strengths and weaknesses.”
Having been in the UAE since last summer, Habit To’s next residency looks likely to be in Dubai, possibly with their drummer. For now, there’s no time limit on their overseas adventure. “Wherever it takes us. We’ve met so many people from all over the world who say you should come play in France or Australia,” says Wardell. “We’ve already made connections that may lead to something. Whether it works out down the line …”
Even if there’s a danger they’ll get forgotten by a home following they spent so long cultivating? Wardell says South Africa is a country you’ve got to leave to become famous. “We’ve seen it happen with many bands on the edge of success; they’d go overseas and, coming back, use that as publicity to relaunch their career to the next level.”
Either way, Stent sees the UAE as part of a mission common to all musicians; to make a living out of music. “We spent so much time back home pushing and gigging every nook and cranny,” she says with a smile. “Distance makes the heart grow fonder, for us and the crowd. We do miss home, but there are so many more experiences out there. It’s good to be missed.”
Habit To play at McGettigan’s in the Radisson Blu Complex, Ajman, every Sunday to Thursday, 9am-midnight and Friday, 2pm-5pm, until Thursday, April 23. More information on the band is at www.habittoband.com
Burna Boy’s Feature In GQ’s Spring/Summer 2020 Issue & The Rise That Brought Him Here.
With the release of his enormous breakout album, African Giant, Nigerian-bred Burna Boy is staking a claim as one of the biggest stars on the global music scene—a crossover sensation who refuses to compromise. Instead he’s letting the world cross over to him.
We’re backstage just moments before Burna Boy makes his Tonight Show debut, and Africa’s biggest superstar is tucked away in his dressing room, surrounded by an entourage of more than a dozen people. Dressed in slim-fitting Louis Vuitton with matching black patent leather loafers, he sits quietly at a weathered upright piano, tickling the keys and toking on a blunt, as two members of his crew vigorously debate who sang the 1981 classic “In the Air Tonight.”
“It was Lionel Richie,” says one guy, who is as emphatic as he is incorrect.
“How can you mix up Lionel Richie and Phil Collins, man? You’re mad,” another counters. A distinctly pungent cloud begins to envelop the room.
After a quick Google search, the Richie fan begrudgingly concedes that he’s wrong and the conversation devolves into comical absurdity. “Whatever, man,” he says. “Phil Collins was a light-skin Lionel Richie, anyway.”
“Nah, my nigga. Phil Collins is white. White. White.”
The mood is light, but make no mistake: The evening is a big one for the 28-year-old Burna. His appearance marks both how far he’s come and how ascendant Afrobeats music is right now in the culture. It’s sparking sold-out arena tours and garnering heavy rotation in the clubs and on major hip-hop radio stations throughout the U.S. Burna sits at the center of it.
He’s focused on none of that right now. Instead he’s staring at the flat-screen television that hovers above him, watching intently as Jimmy Fallon fawns over Tomi Adeyemi, a young Nigerian American author whose debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone, has resided on the New York Times best-seller list for more than 100 weeks. Adeyemi is utterly endearing onscreen—all wide-eyed and thrilled-to-be-here smiles. But when Burna takes the stage shortly thereafter to perform, his energy is decidedly different. He asks the Fallon crowd to throw their fists in the air. They hop up and eagerly oblige. “This is protest music,” Burna declares before launching into “Anybody” and “Collateral Damage,” his hits. “This is African music.”
By all measures, Burna Boy (born Damini Ogulu) is on a remarkable run. With the release last summer of his latest effort, African Giant, he cemented his standing as the reigning king of African music. In less than a year, the singer released 10 music videos, performed in 200 cities around the globe, and had his songs streamed some 600 million times. Even Barack Obama is a fan: Burna’s “Anybody” landed on 44’s list of favorite songs of 2019.
Perhaps not surprisingly, African Giant was nominated for a Grammy for best world music album. Burna was on the Paris leg of his European tour when he received the news. “My uncle ran into my hotel room screaming that I was nominated,” he says. “We were all so happy.” With the recognition, he joined a small but illustrious group of Nigerian artists who have been nominated in the category (King Sunny Adé; Babatunde Olatunji; Femi and Seun Kuti—sons of the late, great singer Fela Kuti).
And while he didn’t end up taking home the Grammy, it speaks volumes that the winner, Beninese legend Angélique Kidjo, used her acceptance speech to praise him. “This is for Burna Boy,” she said, noting his position at the vanguard of a group of young African artists, “changing the way our continent is perceived and the way African music has been the bedrock of every [type] of music.”
Nothing Burna has produced exemplifies what Kidjo highlighted more than African Giant. His most ambitious and expansive album to date takes listeners on a glorious sonic journey across the diaspora, seamlessly genre-hopping across a musical spectrum that includes hip-hop, dancehall, reggae, R&B, and more. The album’s collaborations are numerous and perfectly reflect both the depth and the immense breadth of black musical expression. Up-and-comers (Nigeria’s Zlatan, Ghana’s M.anifest), legends (Kidjo and Damian Marley), and current hitmakers (YG, Future, Jeremih) are all welcomed. As Pitchfork observed in one of the album’s many rave reviews, “Tracing all blackness back to the wellspring is the crux of Burna Boy’s new album.”
Recorded in less than eight weeks, African Giant is made for languorous gbana-filled days and sumptuous palm-wine soaked nights. It’s also meant to provoke. “Another Story,” opens with a searing look at Nigeria’s complicated colonial history. “Dangote,” named for Nigerian magnate Aliko Dangote, addresses wealth inequality while celebrating the art of the hustle. “Collateral Damage,” takes on rampant government corruption. And on “Different,” Burna rhymes about the perils of democracy: “Different election sell a different false hope/Then them hang us with a different rope.”
And while African Giant is marinated in social commentary, exuberant bangers like “Killin Dem,” “Gbona,” and “On the Low” serve as proof that the message can easily coexist with the melody. “The streets love him because he doesn’t shy away from talking about issues like corruption, police brutality, the everyday struggle of living in Nigeria,” says Olamide Ayodeji Adedeji, a prominent Nigerian television producer and former G.M. of the Lagos-based music network Soundcity. “He drives a G-Wagon and a Bentley, but he still manages to be a mouthpiece for the poor.” Kel-P, who produced 9 of AG’s 19 tracks, calls Burna one of today’s greatest living artists. “And not just the greatest in Africa,” he makes clear. “The greatest in the world.”
What makes Burna’s impact even more noteworthy is that, really, the world crossed over to him. Refusing to water down his sound and singing primarily in pidgin English and Yoruba has ensured that many outside his homeland don’t always grasp the totality of his art. Burna has made peace with that. He’d actually prefer the response to his work be rooted in something deeper than streams, sales, and fluctuating chart positions.
“I don’t really have a high regard for numbers, because numbers have no feelings, they have no soul, whereas I do,” he explains. “My ‘numbers’ is the people who have actually felt the feeling that the music is supposed to carry across and in the process received the message.” During a brief rehearsal break at The Tonight Show, his bandmates are crowded into a cramped greenroom, discussing Burna’s lack of interest in Western validation. “Burna is undiluted,” says Emmanuel Abiola, the band’s drummer. “He’s not trying to conform.”
Success, Burna determined long ago, would not come at the expense of his authenticity. “Anything you chase will run,” he states. “And right now I don’t have the strength to be chasing stuff that’s running away.”
It’s the day after his Tonight Show appearance, and we’re having lunch at a sprawling steak house near Rockefeller Center. Burna should still be on a high from his stellar performance, but he’s deeply agitated. The area is crawling with tourists, of course, and police officers are swarming about. Burna, staring at his Sprinter van idling out front, looks as if he’s imagining worst-case scenarios. Pesky canines with sensitive noses could spell trouble for the marijuana-loving singer, who has had some minor brushes with the law.
“I don’t like this place,” he says. “It’s too much with these people all around here. Shit’s stressing me out. Why are there so many police cars? Is this the White House? I don’t understand.”
Matthew Baus, his A&R rep, attempts to pacify him. “They’re here because Donald Trump’s in town,” he explains. “Relax. They’re not worried about weed right now.”
I’ve been warned that he’s not a fan of interviews, which becomes clear about 60 seconds into our sit-down. Burna glares suspiciously at my recording devices. Initially his answers are terse, his eye contact scarce, his wariness palpable. Baus and Burna’s music-label publicist, who have insisted on being present throughout our entire discussion, shift awkwardly in their seats. If Burna’s intention is to make us all uncomfortable, he has succeeded.
“It’s not that I hate interviews,” he tells me. “It’s just that I find them stressful. I find them more stressful than going on tour.”
How is that possible?
“Because,” he says, “most of the questions you all ask are very direct, simple questions. But then I answer simply, and then you’re waiting for the rest, like there’s supposed to be a rest of the answer when there really isn’t.”
I ask him about his relentless tour schedule. By month’s end, he will have performed in Tanzania, Abidjan, Düsseldorf, Lagos, Accra, Mombasa, and Manchester, among other places. “At this point,” I say, “you don’t really have to work as hard as you do, so why take on such a punishing schedule?”
“What makes you think that I don’t have to?” he asks.
You’re successful, your albums are—
“So should I go and sleep?”
There are a lot of people who don’t have half of your success, and they work about a quarter as hard as you do.
“Well, they’re here for different reasons than I am. That’s all it is.”
Burna’s reticence gives me time to take him in. His locs are immaculately braided into supersized cornrows. His lean, chiseled frame lends itself to high fashion. He likes his labels loud—sneakers blaring the Gucci logo seem to be a favorite—and he isn’t one for subtle jewelry, either. Rocks gleam on his fingers. Diamond ropes rest dutifully around his thick neck. On his track “Killin Dem,” he boasts of making money “rush, rush like Indomie” (an instant-noodle brand that’s beloved in Africa) and it shows.
“What’s it cost to get Burna in the building these days?” I ask him.
“You should ask management that question. I don’t know. I’m a musician.”
What’s the first thing you splurged on with your first big check?
Where, specifically? I know Lagos well—
“You want me to give you the address of the land, so that you can write it in your magazine?”
Is it in Lekki, Banana Island, Agege.… I promise we won’t show up.
“It’s not about you showing up. You can show up. You’re invited, but I don’t want everybody that reads your magazine showing up.”
I play the Fela card. Images of the iconic singer figure prominently in Burna’s work, and the link between the two artists dates back decades. Burna’s grandfather managed Fela early in the singer’s career and helped form his first band. Still, Burna resists the comparison. “I don’t think anybody in their right mind would compare me to Fela,” he says definitively when I raise the subject.
“Well,” I counter, “it happens often.”
“Fela is my inspiration and my childhood hero, so if you think comparing me to Fela is honorable, it’s actually not,” he states. “It actually makes me feel weird. Fela was Fela, and if it wasn’t for Fela, there probably wouldn’t be any me, so I don’t understand the comparison.”
Do you talk to your grandfather about Fela?
“Every time. Almost every other day.”
And what sorts of stories does he tell you about him?
Is there one that you can share?
“Maybe another time.”
I think that this is the only time that we’re going to have together, so…
“Well, we never know, because I don’t plan to die anytime soon, and I’m sure you don’t plan to die anytime soon.”
No, I’m not planning on it.
“Exactly. Life is long.”
“But you have to seize the day,” I offer.
He flashes a jewel-encrusted smile. “Just tell them that all of the stories come with a parental-advisory sticker.”
He doesn’t begin to thaw until the conversation segues into more serious territory. Last year, when xenophobic violence broke out in South Africa against migrants from other African nations—including Nigeria—Burna Boy spoke out forcefully. In an incendiary tweet, he wrote: “I have not set foot in SA since 2017. And I will NOT EVER go to South Africa again for any reason until the SOUTH AFRICAN government wakes the fuck up and really performs a miracle because I don’t know how they can even possibly fix this.”
He remains deeply troubled by the deadly attacks, and though he’s been cautioned to avoid speaking about the matter, he can’t help himself.
“It’s all just very fucked-up and twisted, and I wish to God that it wasn’t so, but it is, and all I can do is try and do my part to change it, no matter how small that part is,” he says. The clipped responses have now given way to passionate soliloquies about the vestiges of colonization and apartheid. “It’s almost as if the oppressors have won when the oppressed start acting like this,” he says. “Do you understand?”
“My family is Africa, which is why you will hear me speaking on the South Africa issue, which is why it strikes a nerve. It’s almost like having your whole body, and your hand is not working. That’s what it feels like.”
He’s not finished.
“There’s too much going on in the world for everybody to just care about being fucking rich and fucking Instagram-clouded; everybody can’t be that,” he rails. “The more of that there is, the more the world suffers, and what’s important just goes down the drain and the downward spiral continues. It’s even accelerated. Now is the time. Everybody should wake the fuck up. South Africa and the whole of Africa needs to wake the fuck up.”
He’s momentarily forgotten about the canines and the selfie-obsessed tourists outside, as we hit upon what he sees as his objective as an artist. “The reason for everything I do and how I do it is for one goal and one goal only, and that’s the eventual unity of Africa,” he explains. “One day we’ll have one passport, one African currency, one Africa. Then and only then will my mission be complete.”
Do you see this happening in your lifetime?
“No, realistically I don’t,” he concedes. “But that’s why I’m going to keep on fighting for it, and that’s why I’m going to keep pushing this message in my music. Because I want my children and their children to be proud to be African, to own a part of Africa. What I don’t want is for my children to still feel like foreigners in their own home.”
It’s not lost on Burna Boy that his breakout is coming at a momentous time—one in which the African continent is enjoying an unprecedented level of visibility in global culture. You see it everywhere: Black Panther, set in a fictional African utopia, reigned at the box office; Christian Dior’s runway show from last year was awash in Ankara prints. Burna’s Naija-bred compatriots Naira Marley, Rema, Teni, Wizkid, Davido, and Tiwa Savage dominate airwaves at home and abroad—and Hollywood can’t seem to get enough of actors of African descent.
“The collective self-confidence of the continent is at an all-time high,” says Tuma Basa, YouTube’s director of urban music. “African Giant epitomizes that. I can’t stop listening to the album. I’ve listened to at least one song from it every day since it was released.”
As for the roots of Burna’s strong pan-Africanist worldview, he credits his mother and grandfather, who had a massive statue of a black-power fist in the home while he was growing up. Last year, when Burna was honored at the BET Awards, his mother, Bose Ogulu, accepted the recognition on his behalf. In her remarks, she took a moment to remind the largely black audience of its ancestral connection to the motherland. “The message from Burna,” she said, “would be that every black person should please remember that you were Africans before you became anything else.” A sample of her speech closes the African Giant album.
Mama Burna, who is fluent in French, Italian, and German, worked as a translator for the West African Chambers of Commerce before following in her father’s footsteps and leaping into the music business. After inviting his mother to fully take the reins of his business three years ago—“She’s the only one I trust to really have my best interest,” Burna says—his career truly began to flourish.
Ogulu says she knew her son was special. “When he was two years old,” she says, smiling at the memory, “he walked around like he owned everywhere.” At restaurants, baby Burna would jump up on tables and perform. His precociousness paid off. “Instead of nursery rhymes,” his mother says, “he’d be singing Naughty by Nature’s ‘Hip Hop Hooray.’ He got so good at it we would get free food. ‘Hey, don’t pay. You know your son’s a star.’ ”
At the family’s home in Port Harcourt, an oil-rich city in southern Nigeria, music was a mainstay, his sister and team creative director, Ronami, remembers. Neighborhood power outages turned into family house parties. “We had a rechargeable radio, and we would dance the whole time until the power came back on,” she says. “It was just the five of us having fun. We never needed anyone else.” Over the years, her brother’s love of hip-hop intensified. Burna learned the Yoruba language from his great-grandmother, who spoke no English. In exchange, “he taught her Bow Wow and DMX lyrics,” Ronami says.
Jacket, $1,195, by Emporio Armani / Shirt, $415, by Bode
By his late teens, Burna had joined a rap collective, DEF Code, had honed his freestyle skills under the moniker Shotgun, and was producing his own beats. He moved to London for school but dropped out and returned to the PH to pursue a solo music career. His 2013 debut, L.I.F.E (Leaving an Impact for Eternity), featured the hit song “Like to Party,” which quickly caught fire and established Burna as one to watch. But there were no guarantees. “He was just one of a thousand struggling artists at that time,” Adedeji explains. “But that song had an incredible hook. Every time it came on in the club, everyone would rap all the lyrics. People really started paying attention to him after that song.”
His next two releases—2015’s On a Spaceship and 2016’s Redemption—brought him international attention. Kirk Harding and Baus flew to the U.K. to meet with Burna after discovering his music on Spotify. Over dinner at 805 Restaurant, a beloved South London haunt that’s served modern West African cuisine for nearly two decades, they quickly realized that Burna was already a bona fide celebrity. “He walked in with a small group of people, and all of the servers in the place started crying,” Harding recalls with a look of disbelief. “People were running out of the kitchen to see him.”
“It was like a miniature pandemonium,” Baus adds.
“He performed six songs in front of us that night,” Harding says, “and I called Bose the next day and said, ‘Your son is really special.’ ” The success of 2018’s Outside and its Kanye West-approved breakout single, “Ye,” proved a portent of things to come.
Along the way, however, there have been bumps that have threatened to derail Burna’s rise: There have been a few headline-making scuffles with fellow African artists. But his gritty past has only endeared him to his fans, says Adedeji: “He’s a rebel who has been able to fight his demons and triumph against all odds, and they like that story.”
Burna turns philosophical when asked to reflect on the lessons he’s learned on his journey. “Unlike a lot of other people, I’ve had to go through never-ending steps to get here, whereas other people have taken the elevator up,” he shares. “I’ve always been too heavy for that kind of elevator, so I had to take the stairs. Now I know every floor and everything on every floor.”
His march toward world domination continues. He’ll spend most of 2020 on the road, and fans may get new music later this year. “We’ve already recorded 33 new songs,” Kel-P reveals. If the folks at his label have it their way, he’ll be a household name in America. His mother, meanwhile, is focused on longevity. “Look at Stevie Wonder, look at Barbra Streisand, look at Willie Nelson, who’s still touring,” she says. “That’s what you want. And the only way to have that is you have your own fan base and to be known for something that’s true.”
Burna, meanwhile, has dreams of playing a sold-out stadium in China but remains vague when asked about any other ambitions. “As long as we’re moving forward, I’m okay,” he says. “It doesn’t really matter how many steps forward, just as long as it’s continuous, I’m good.”
China will have to wait for now. Tonight, Team Burna has taken over the private room of an Asian-fusion restaurant in downtown Manhattan, and what was meant to be an intimate Grammy-nomination dinner has now morphed into a full-on bacchanal. Gold Mylar balloons that form the word “Giant” sway near the open bar. The Hennessy is flowing. Tracks from Burna’s upcoming album flood the speakers. He and his crew are amped and jumping on banquettes. Burna, elated and sweat-drenched, roars triumphantly before bounding onto the makeshift dance floor, where he joins his mother and sister, who are jubilantly waving napkins above their heads. It’s just like old times in Port Harcourt for the Ogulu family—but here the power stays on all night long. Burna’s party is just getting started.
A version of this story appears in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of GQ Style with the title “Global Giant.”
Foluke Sowumi Celebrates Heroic Women & Barrier Breakers with the “Obinrin Akikanju” Series
“Obinrin Akikanju” is an on-going portrait series by Foluke Sowunmi celebrating heroic women around the world who have knocked down barriers, opened closed doors, initiated change and fought for women emancipation, giving it the right narrative and attention.
“Obinrin Akikanju” was coined from the Yoruba Language, and when translated literally means “Woman” and “Hero” respectively.
Typically, women are expected to take the backseat and remain behind the limelight, speak but not be heard, act but not be seen. However, the tides are changing. Women have come to a realization that they can do better than what they’ve been made to believe, and are worth much more. Every one of us is responsible for our thoughts and actions, therefore we can choose to challenge stereotypes, fight barriers and celebrate women’s wins.
This year’s International Women’s Day is celebrating generation equality with #EachforEqual. This connects with Project Obinrin Akikanju, and Folake is celebrating the women hero who we already have featured in Obirin Akikanju Series.
Through their words and her portraits, meet impressive, insightful women from all walks of life—who have flipped the script, changed the narrative, destroyed stereotypes and became the conversation.
Read more here:
Words excluding title courtesy Bellanaija
What Lolwe literary magazine is Here to offer Africa
Troy Onyango is the founder of Lowle, a new literary magazine launched in January 2020. A Kenyan writer, editor and lawyer, his work has been published in several literary platforms. He is the winner of the inaugural Nyanza Literary Festival Prize and first runner-up in the Black Letter Media Competition. He has also been shortlisted for the Short Story Day Africa Prize, the Brittle Paper Awards, and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Here, he talks about Lolwe’s focus, his writing journey, awards, and more. Excerpts:
What was the major trigger for establishing a literary magazine at this time?
The African literary space has benefited from literary magazines like Saraba, Chimurenga, Jalada, Bakwa, JRB, Kwani?, and many others. All of them have worked to achieve different things while promoting African literature, and yet, there’s still more spaces needed as more voices need to be amplified. Lolwe comes in to complement and supplement that work being done by these magazines. Curating work has always been an interest of mine and it is my way of giving back to the African literary scene which has been so generous to me and has contributed to my growth as a writer. Through Lolwe, the hope is that more voices can be heard and we can all together build an even more vibrant literary community.
Read more here:
Evaristo highlights 20 Black women writers for International Women’s Day
Booker-winning writer Bernardine Evaristo has marked International Women’s Day by curating a top 20 list of recently published Black British writers.
Crossfire by Malorie Blackman (Penguin), Ordinary People by Diane Evans (Vintage) and Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (Trapeze) feature on the list of what Evaristo referred to as “womxn” writers, a term used to explicitly include trans women and non-binary writers.
The list, which also features rising stars like Theresa Lola, Irenosen Okojie and Alexandra Sheppard, was unveiled at the Waterstones Bristol Galleries branch and has been made available in libraries across Bristol.
Evaristo explained: “Last year was particularly fruitful for writing by black womxn, with several début authors of non-fiction in particular, which is why they are well-represented in this list. It’s a field that’s been arid up to this point, signalling an absence of our conversations from the intellectual culture. Each book explores its own individual cultural territory, whether that of the natural world, or a fictionalised memoir of a young actress, or a recalibration of feminism through an African prism. There still aren’t many of us writing novels or publishing poetry or children’s books, but the commercial and critical success of many of these titles makes me hopeful for the future.”
The curated list’s launch is part of a Bristol Literary Takeover, spearheaded by communications agency Words of Colour, to elevate the voices of black British emerging and mid-career women writers outside of London. It includes a career development workshop, to be run by Evaristo on 10th March at Bristol Old Vic.
Read more here:
N’Diaye: Cinema has no nationality
The ninth edition of Luxor African Film Festival organized a number of important cinematic events on March 8, including a press conference for African star Maimouna N’Diaye.
In the press conference, LAFF’s artistic director Azza el-Hosseiny said that N’Diaye is one of the most credible filmmakers that can talk about women issues, praising her role in tackling African women’s issues especially and women generally.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, the famed star said that educating men builds a family while educating women builds a country.
N’Diaye expressed that she is both happy and proud to be participating in the ninth edition of Luxor African Film Festival as a jury member, declaring her love for Egypt and Umm Kuthum and revealing that her teacher was Egyptian.
N’Diaye added that she produced movies to solve people’s problems and chose to play roles that tackle women’s issues and problems and reflect their strength, adding that cinema is not only for entertainment but also for changing reality.
Read more here:
Filmmaker’s LA experience
TALENTED filmmaker Sydney Taivavashe says it is his dream to have films that compete on a global stage and rub shoulders with internationally-acclaimed filmmakers.
He said it is every filmmaker’s dream to be in Hollywood and he got to experience the feeling during his visit for the world premiere of his first feature film Gonarezhou The Movie in Los Angeles last month.
Gonarezhou The Movie, an anti-poaching film, was nominated and came first in the Pan African Film Festival where movies by international stars such as Nick Canon where also showing.
“LA was an experience for me personally. Every filmmaker dreams about going to Hollywood the land of filmmakers and for me to get a glimpse of that world really motivated me to work harder. Nick cannon and Chris brown’s film was also showing but I didn’t get the chance to meet them because of the commotion they caused when they arrived,” he said.
Taivavashe said the LA visit was an eye opener to how things are being done across the globe. He said the win by his film is a huge stepping stone for him to come up with other productions.
“What I learnt is that no matter how big or small a film might be, marketing is important to push a production. The win was great and it is just a step towards the big picture. My dream is to put Zimbabwe firmly on the global map in terms of filmmaking and I’m sure together with the other filmmakers we can do it and that would be a proper win,” he said.
He believes the country’s film industry is growing but on a snail pace, lacking the support of stakeholders in the arts.
He said this should discourage filmmakers but serve as motivation for them to eye other markets until they convince local partners for support.
“The film industry is growing but slowly because of lack of support. Not many believe in film yet in Zimbabwe but it’s up to us the filmmakers to keep making these films so we can grab the attention of potential funders.
“We also have to tell unique stories and that way we can easily penetrate the international audience who crave for fresh foreign stories,” he said.
Queen Sono star Pearl Thusi on telling an African story and the spy drama’s season finale.
Queen Sono star Pearl Thusi on telling an African story and the spy drama’s season finale
The star of Netflix’s first African original series breaks down the finale and shares what making this series means to her.
Queen got her answers in the end, but it was quite the heartbreaking resolution for the South African spy.
While she finally got to the bottom of her mother’s murder (it was a government-backed assassination), Queen took a few big losses at the end of the first season of Netflix’s first African original series. Her fractured relationship with her best friend William deteriorated further (albeit in an effort to keep him safe from the dangerous life of a spy), and season villain Ekatarina, killed Mazet, Queen’s grandmother. Now, she must mourn the grandmother she loved and come to terms with more complicated feelings about her mother’s legacy while planning her revenge.
We spoke to Queen Sono star Pearl Thusi about what telling this story means to her as an African artist, what her character feels about her ex Shando’s working with Ekatareina, where the drama can go next, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How early on were you involved in Queen Sono and in what capacity?
PEARL THUSI: I always say that I kind of thought brought a seed and Kagiso Lediga, who is the showrunner, basically fleshed it out, built on that and made it what it is today with the help of the entire team, of course. I went to his house one day and said, “Hey, this is what I want to do.”
I’ve always said I want to be the “African Tomb Raider,” that particular vibe. I love the empowered nature of the character and movie; I also really love Angelina Jolie. Being part of something of that nature has always been a dream, and I showed him a video of some stunt training for a movie called ‘The Scorpion King: Book of Souls’ and he was really impressed.
Can you explain the importance and meaning of African people actually having narrative control?
I reached the point in my career after doing shows like Quantico and a few movies, where I didn’t want reverence and respect for my career to come from American validation. I’m trying to push, on my personal level and even using my career, that Africans need to be proud of Africans while they are still in Africa. I look up to and really have a lot of respect for the Nigerian culture, they really have a lot of pride and a strong spirit of self-belief. They have a really strong entertainment industry, whereas specifically in South Africa and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, people want validation from first-world properties and industries.
For example, Black Coffee does a song with Drake and all of a sudden, he’s more popular than what he was before. That is very important, however, we can be superstars right here at home, like Davido and Burna Boy, who have spread their wings throughout the world, but the core of their music and identity is Nigerian.
Queen is an interesting spy, different than her co-workers, a rule breaker. Given your work on Queen Sono and Quantico, how do you think she compares to other spies on TV and in film?
With Queen, she’s kind of an anti-hero. She’s trying to live according to her own rules, so she bends the rules where she can and lives on the edge. She enjoys that. Queen is the type of spy you’ve really never seen before. First of all, she’s a black woman, of which there are very few, working amongst many men and taking a leading role in terms of creating the plans and thinking on her feet. Also, on a third world continent where things look different, for example the technology, even the roads and buildings.
For me, it wasn’t initially part of the plan, but the amount of depth in her character is very powerful and I hope that makes all of the difference.
How much of the fight scenes do you do yourself? What were shooting those scenes like?
I’ll say like 90 or 95 percent of it is me because I really enjoy it, but there’s stuff they just won’t allow me to do. That’s when our incredible stunt team comes in, but there isn’t anything apart from Queen falling on the glass table – I did everything except that if I remember correctly. It was very empowering and pretty cool to have the entire team believe in me the way that they did.
There are many amazing touches on the show, the clothes, the languages, but I want to focus on the music, given your work covering African artists and making music. How do you think the music from the continent harness the essence of the series?
The story is driven a lot by the music because the sounds, like the story, is something people have never heard before. African music all over the continent is very unique, very strong because of the type of messaging African music has – even when it’s playful or fun – there’s usually an underlying incredibly strong message about life in there that also helps us drive the story. There are so many languages in Africa, over 400 in Nigeria alone. So, I will never understand every song, but you can always feel the music with the drums, with the base, the core parts of our music that really help build the tempos, or slow down the pace sometimes.
And for me, the way that the score was done is really pivotal and important. I watched the show, it was a completely different experience for me as well, even though I was a part of it.
In many ways, we see how her mother Safiya’s legacy impacts Queen. By the end of the season, how do you think she has come to terms with what that legacy means to her?
I think discovering the truth is only the beginning. Coming to terms with the truth is an entirely different journey. There were some truths I discovered after my mother died, come to think of it, that took me years to deal with, so I think it echoes that type of truth. There’s definitely a renewed sense of loss, and not only because Mazet has passed on, but because Queen is dealing with a different understanding of her own mother’s death. The truth is only the beginning, it’s how Queen deals with it and how to continue a legacy something that we can continue to explore.
With Shandu’s collaboration with Ekaterina, how do you think his relationship with Queen will change in the wake of Mazet’s death?
That depends on when whether she believes him when he says he wasn’t a part of it, but the power of association should never be underestimated. It’s going to be really intense because Queen is out for blood and the trust is broken. In my opinion, Shandu would need to pick a side – not between Queen and Ekatarina, but between his movement and Queen’s revenge. He’ll have to choose between love and his purpose, not the two women.
Of all Queen’s relationships, the one with her grandmother Mazet stands out, and not simply because of her death. How was building that dynamic with Abigail Kubeka?
To work with somebody of that caliber, professionalism, and kindness, on and off set, was a very powerful experience for me as an actress and young woman. She’s an icon here.
Our scenes in the car are one of my favorites as well as the prostitute scene because it’s really funny, but my favorite scene is the one where she’s doing my hair because it reminds me of my mom and my grandmother. She’s doing my hair and I’m giving her attitude, so I’m in trouble – I haven’t been scolded in years, so it felt good to feel like a child again in that scene.
What was your reaction to the reappearance of Queen’s father in the finale?
It was crazy! I found out at the cast screening and I’d only met the actor playing Queen’s dad between scenes for a quick shoot for set dressing. To be honest I have no clue what the writers are/were cooking up for him. I’d be very excited to explore that.
It’s very early and we have no word on Season 2, but I want to ask how do you think the events of season 1 have changed Queen?
I think I underestimated her, especially emotionally because I didn’t realize the gravity of what she was going to become when I went to the first reading. But a lot of what I expected became even better, including my performance. I learnt a lot about my capabilities. So, going forward, I’m expecting things to get even more tough and emotional. If we get another season, if we go forward, I’m expecting things to be a lot more difficult for her than ever before. I think this is just the beginning. It was just the preparation.
How do you think Queen Sono, given that its on Netflix as well, can expand the worldview of Africa?
Controlling the narrative is really important because we’re tired of seeing particularly just struggle stories. There is a middle-class Africa that deserves recognition. There is as a part of Africa that is sometimes dark but doesn’t only include poverty.
Because of the layers and the specific window people have chosen to look through to view the African continent, the same message is being sent over and over again. It’s been entertaining, I’m sure, and beautiful sometimes, but it has not been very empowering for African people. It’s about empowerment, not only of the people who are already doing this type of work, but empowerment for the little girls, little boys who are watching, who want to act, direct or write one day. And for me, that is very, very important. The legacy that we leave.
Queen Sono is out on Netflix now.