Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lira @ Lesotho Jazz (Sharp, Sharp)

South African singer Lira is coming to Lesotho on the 26th just in time for my parents to check out. The fashionable singer exudes positive vibes so I'm really excited to see her live. In the meantime all I have is her video "Ixesha" (which has a fun click on the "x"). Lira's green dress in the video is also quite magical. Enjoy.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wordle: Afro-Photo Style

Having come across a few word visualizations in the past few months that were pleasing to the eye, I enjoyed their aesthetics without knowing where they came from. Well this morning I finally found the coded source of their beauty. The website is called Wordle and it takes blocks of text and transforms them into statistics-driven artwork. Users of the site input the text and Wordle generates a image made of colored words in which words that appear more often in the user's inputted text are displayed as larger in the visualization.

Wordle looked simple and fun so I decided to give it a try. The three images below were randomly generated by Wordle's software based on the text from my previous 20 posts on Afro-Photo There are even ways to customize the shape and color of the visualizations. Go play around with it, it's quite fun. And click on any of the images below to see them enlarged.

Wordle: Afro-Photo
Wordle: afro-photo2
Wordle: afro-photp3

Wordle is a fun and statistically sound way of gauging the content of this website. According to the visualizations the most common words are:

-South (Africa)

Of course it's not a perfect tool to discover the main themes of a given source, but because more common words will dominate the images and reoccurring themes do produce words that are employed more often, Wordle doesn't deviate much from the truth. Examining the words listed above, all of them have, in some capacity, been representative of my writing over the last couple of months.

Wordle is part of a growing trend in which statistics and data are presented in more appealing and creative ways. Whether to allow obscure data to appeal to wider audiences or to push the boundaries of information expression, this is a trend that is really picking up momentum. There is actually a TED talk on the same subject. Truly data can be beautiful.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Maseru: Night and Day + Urban Africa

Two different photos of Maseru that I took, one during the day and another at night.
Maseru is a modest capital city, quite similar in population (~250,000) to my own home town of Madison, the capital of the Wisconsin. The population is set to grow substantially in coming years as laborers and families move to the city in search of work.

The chart below comes from The Economist's Daily Chart blog with data from ac recent UN Habitat report called The State of African Cities 2010. Maseru, unfortunately is not depicted in the chart. Even more unfortunate, is that upon examining the UN report, I found that growth figures for Maseru were not listed, perhaps because they were not available (The Gambia was not listed either). Too bad, because I wanted to compare Maseru to the other major African cities in terms of % of population growth from 2010 to 2025. There are, however, statistics for Maseru's access to clean water, electricity and sanitation services as well as the percentage of the urban population that lives in slums. In these areas Maseru fares rather well. With survey data from 2004, the report claims Maseru has 98.1% access to improved water, 74.7% access to improved sanitation and 33.1% access to electricity. This is compared with 82.8%, 48.8%, 28.8 respectively in fellow southern African city Maputo, Mozambique (it should be noted that Mozambique was slightly distracted with civil war from 1977-1992, though it has reemerged on the scene in recent years as an economic powerhouse). As for slums, only 35.1% of Lesotho urban-dwellers live in slums in 2005 compared with 79.5% in Mozambique and 94.1% in Central African Republic.

Another metric of urban living is the gini coeffcient, which measures income inequality. Using this metric, 0 is considered perfectly equal and 1 is considered perfectly unequal. Lower scores are thus more desirable as they represent greater equality than high scores. Lesotho's gini coefficient is not quite as impressive as it's other stats. Maseru has a recorded score of .58, though this data is rather outdated (1993). Other notable sub-Saharan African urban gini's are Johannesburg, SA with a painful .75, Lagos, Nigeria with a sad .64 and Dakar, Senegal with a less unimpressive .37.

Also on the topic of urban Africa, the website African Digital Art had a nice post showcasing photography from African cities.

Aaaand the South African literary magazine Chimurenga in partnership with the African Centre for Cities has published a collection of prose from African authors about their home towns which is called the African Cities Reader, an elegantly designed publication that I'm lucky enough to own a copy of. It's a publication that comes highly recommended, but if you are too impatient or too broke to purchase the reader, lucky you, the editors of the African Cities Reader were magnanimous enough to host it free of charge in pdf format here.

All hail the African city!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sharp, Sharp! African Video Sunday #7

After this I can say I've covered mainstream South African house pretty well here. First we have the duo Liquideep with the video for "Fairytale" featuring the South African entertainment star Nonhle Thema. I have fond memories watching Nonhle years ago when she was a star VJ on the O channel and I was a simple student at the University of Dar es Salaam. So the video reminds me of the days when she wasn't so self absorbed. It's a modern day, South African Cinderella story.

Second, I wish to share the humorously strange Zakes Bantwini's new hit song "Bum Bum". Zakes has been part of the house music scene for awhile and is known for being an innovator. He continues the trend in this video with a little cross-dressing. Show me your bum bum. I wanna see that bum bum.

I'll be in the village for the next week so no posts 'til next weekend. Should be a nice opportunity to get some photos. Khotso.

Lesotho Panoramas

There is a tumblr site I follow called theafricatheynevershowyou (The Africa They Never Show You) which posts a huge number of images and stories from African countries that challenge the common, lazy misconceptions of Africa as poverty, corruption, disease-ridden/a safari of lions and zebras. The misconceptions exist because in a few places, to some degree, those things are occurring, but they don't even come close to being an accurate depiction of a continent with 53 (perhaps soon to be 54) countries and 1 billion+ people who speak 1,000+ languages.

In the spirit of theafricatheynevershowyou I want to share a few panoramic images of the Lesotho landscape that I took, which demonstrate the unique mountain terrain of a country that rarely makes international news. Each of these panoramas contains 4-10 images that were merged together using a great open source photo stitching program called Hugin. The software allows you to connect the individual photos together using overlapping points that neighboring images both share. It even adjusts the lighting to be a perfect match. Wiki-what!

Since the images are quite wide, if you want to see the larger size of any of the images, I suggest you click on them so they appear in their own window or tab.

Behold the splendor of the Mountain Kingdom...

The photographs above were taken at Ha Baroana, Metolong, Polateng and Semonkong.
All images are copyright of Zachary Elias Rosen

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Google Lesotho

As part of their mission to have greater engagement with African audiences from different countries, Google has begun translating their website into African languages. The Lesotho page was recently offered in Zulu, I guess by proximity to South Africa, but there aren't many Zulu speakers here that I know of. I wondered if Sesotho, the language of nearly all Basotho (the Lesotho people), would be offered or if it is in fact too obscure for Google to care.

This morning however, when I opened up my browser, I was presented with Sesotho as the default language of A pleasant surprise indeed. Not being a fluent Sesotho speaker quiet yet, I quickly reverted back to English, but it was a relief to see that native Sesotho speakers and anyone else with an interest in the "Mountain Kingdom" could click on the "I'm feeling lucky" bar in language they feel comfortable with. In this case it says KE IKUTLWA KE LE LEHLOHONOLO. Ngugi wa Thiongo would be so proud. Now we just need more Sesotho language content on the web. And I'm still waiting for Google The Gambia to be in Mandinka. But perhaps it might not be so far-fetched anymore.

Friday, December 3, 2010

If this country burns...

My Google reader feed provided me with this gem earlier in the week. It's a video made by a Kenyan group called Kuweni Serious exhorting young people in Kenya to demand a more just, prosperous and peaceful society from their leaders. And to take responsibility as part of the movement that can bring about that change. From the group's website:
It is perhaps only when our country was set on fire that we began to see how deeply politics affects us. A few months later, we were paying hitherto-unheard-of prices for fuel, there was water rationing, and power rationing, and then food started to run out. Only then did many more of us realize that we can’t hide forever in the company of the Lil’ Wayne’s and Prison Breaks of this world. Perhaps it is only when our comfort zones were threatened that we realized that our leaders, our “Honorables” are self-obsessed, thieving, murderous idiots. Honorables, indeed.

And so we at Kuweni Serious – we’re a bunch of kids ourselves – have decided to go out there and find out: how do Kenya’s youth feel about all the chaos around us? Are we proud to be Kenyan or are we secretly wishing we could get green cards and disappear forever? Where shall we raise our own kids? Are we happy?

We intend to seek out all the young people out there who are trying to make sense of all this, the youth groups, the activists, the people who read the news and get so annoyed that they write angry status updates on Facebook, the students, the guys and girls who’ve just landed their first job and have been hit hard by the realities of the economy. We want your opinions, we want your stories. We don’t know what we’ll find, we might step on a few toes, but we’ll do our best.

The fires Kuweni Serious are referring to are the riots that took place in Kenya following their presidential elections in December 2007. Hundreds or people lost their lives in the chaos. But for what? I like how this video suggests how powerful people can be when they are informed and motivated, demanding truth and opportunity from their leaders.

The metaphor presented it that of a house. A renter doesn't have to care too much about the condition of a house. Eventually they will find another one. But the owner of a house must be invested in the house's future, as their own livelihood is tied to the house's condition. In this way, Kenyan's have their nation to care for. They are owners, not renters, there is no other Kenya to go to if their society crumbles. The same goes for Gambians, Tanzanians, American and the people of every country.

My favorite line from the video (actually the whole thing is amazing, but here's one):
It is not Obama's job to save this country. It is not the donors job. and the government has shown it's not their job either. Responsibility is not shared, it is earned. Freedom isn't given, it is taken. When we decide we want freedom, we will have to get it ourselves.

The video shows simple slow-motion shots of real Kenyans, Kenyans of different ethnic groups and different races. It was nice to see the recognition of Indian-Kenyans in the video as they too have played an important role in achieving independence for the country as well as economic growth. It is the same sentiment as that expressed by the novel Petals of Blood by legendary Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiongo. This show of diversity challenges our misconceptions and forces us to wake up to the realities of demographics and humanity.

This is truly a powerful video of exceptional quality. I look forward to seeing the future projects of Kuweni Serious and learning about how much of an impact their messages are having on Kenyan youth. I want to see this type of media coming from every country in the world, particularly those that have struggled with governance.

Knowledge is power. Strength in numbers.

The Kuweni Serious video reminds me of another video by Kenyan music group Just a Band that shares the same spirit of youth uprising with references to the post election violence of 2007-2008. The song happens to be damn catchy as well.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Madison Love: Dirty Disco Kidz

I want to take a little time to rep my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Even though it has been a while since I've spent any time there I still enjoy following the happenings of my friends who are keeping it real in the Mid-West. A few friends from High School (Madison West) have been making the dance floor pretty funky with their music lately. Music that is actually rather similar to South African kwaito. I think those guys should come down here and check out the scene. So here's to Vince and Ric of the Dirty Disco Kidz. Word on the street is that it happens to be Vince's birthday today. Put your hands up.

Dirty Disco Kidz - Enclave Promo from Jordan Liebowitz on Vimeo.

Sharp, Sharp! African Video Sunday #6

While it may be snowing in the US, our summer is just beginning in Lesotho and that means as people in America are shivering, it's time for us in Lesotho to bust out the grill. I went to a great braai (barbecue) last night at a friend's house and enjoyed some grilled chicken, hotdogs and corn on the cob. My contribution was a groundnut stew with eggplant, cabbage and sweet potato to share a taste of The Gambia. This braai thing might have to become a trend. Just so everyone has an idea of what a Lesotho/South Africa braai is like check out this Skwatta Kamp video:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Vintage Nigerian Sculpture

J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere est un photographe nigérian....: "

J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere est un photographe nigérian. Ojeikere débuta la photographie en 1950. Photographe de plateau, il est surtout reconnu pour ses portraits de coiffures mettant en lumière la sculpturalité du cheveu africain.


Walking Photo Tour of The Gambia

Here is an excellent collection of photography from The Gambia that I came across a few months ago. It is a walking tour that covers the length of the Gambia in which the photographer interviews and photographs traditional leaders known as Alikalos. This series is particularly special for me because I've been to many of the places that appear in the images. And I actually know the lady with the blue head scarf quite well as I interview her for a gender and development documentary as one of my project. The woman, whose name is Fatou, is one of the few female Alikalos in the country, yet she is still well respected. I t was an insiring experience to speak with her and see her in action. I also appreciate that the photographer's team followed cultural protocol by bringing kola nuts as a gift to each of the villages they visited. This is a gesture that is very well appreciated. By me as well.

Thanks to Kate Bomz for posting on this series so I could conveniently reblog it.

This is the story about an African...: "


Sharp, Sharp! African Video Sunday #5

Keeping groovy with the South African I present to you the group TEARGAS. These guys know how to make a catchy tune, usually with a solid blend of English and local languages. Another role you'll see these guys playing is style Ambassadors for the popular t-shirt company Ama Kip Kip. Here's a TEARGAS song that I just can't get out of my head.

The Bonus is a song featuring DJ Tira, a South African kwaito mixer that played in Maseru this weekend. It's sure to get your feet tapping at the very least.

For Jah Kunda, The Gambia

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Amazones - Thierry Le Goues

Here is a stunning image from a photo collection I came across a few years ago. This has to be one of my favorite photographs ever. And it's actually one of the more tame one's from the rather erotic collection.

Amazones - Thierry Le Goues: "

Amazones - Thierry Le Goues


words by ~workisnotajob

So I've added a few tumblr sites to my Google reader lately. I get bombarded with images all day long now. As a man who appreciates images it's not so bad, though some of the feeds are hit and miss. Below is a HIT that describes exactly how I feel about so many things right now.

words by ~workisnotajob: "

words by ~workisnotajob


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sharp, Sharp! African Video Sunday #4

South Africa has some high quality music that really doesn't get enough play in the US. We're talking some seriously catchy beats and compositions that either make me want to dance or learn 10 new languages, or both. I've discovered so many solid acts since coming to the Mountain Peak overlooking South Africa that is Lesotho. This week I'll share some tracks by Jozi, whose name is a shortened version of the metropolis Johannesburg. These guys really know how to blend a traditional sample with global hip hop rhythms.

The bonus today is an old song by white South African Johhny Clegg who has been uniting and inspiring people for decades. He is the founder of the first bi-racial band in South Africa. And the man does the Zulu stomp like a pro. Check it out.

White Wedding in Lesotho

I get attached. So when I heard that my host sister from the village I did my training in was getting married, I knew I had to go back there on the wedding day to help her celebrate. I didn't matter that I had only met her on one occasion on a single chilly evening, I was determined to see how Basotho tie the knot.

My sister and I had formed our sibling bond during that one chilly evening talking about life, love and work in Lesotho as she made box after box of Jello in the glow of our lantern-lit dining room. Her husband-to-be was coming the next day with an entourage to present our family with the lebola, or bride price, traditionally paid in cows, the oldest form of wealth in Lesotho. The money goes to financing the wedding ceremony and purchasing items with which to furnish the new household the couple would be staying in. The lebola was paid the next day, though it took the form of cash since both the bride and the groom are urban city dwellers. I suppose it could be easier that way for those more connected to the commercialized world, though I wonder what the ancestor would think.

I eventually had to leave the village to start work at my site in the capital, but I remained committed to experiencing the wedding of my urban sister back in the rural village. After numerous text messages from another, younger host sister attending high school in the village and a few awkward phone calls in which I had to decipher my proud and energetic host mother's rapidfire Sesotho, I had the details of the program.

When the exalted day arrived, I assembled a Peace Corps crew of volunteers that also did the their training in the same village and we set off for the taxi rank (as the open lot with all the buses is called) to try and catch a ride to our rustic destination. On the way over, we took a short detour so I could get a gift for my host family. I knew just the thing. When I was in the village, my host mother was not shy about sharing her love for “Kentucky”, which was her way of referring to the fried chicken from the several KFC franchises in the country. Forget what KFC stands for in America, in Lesotho KFC is the ultimate expression of elite indulgence, as the hip marketing and high prices give customers a sense of cosmopolitanism. Of course you can find better chicken in larger portions for half the price at local restaurants, but that's irrelevant. A KFC bag here is roughly equal to walking down the street with a Loius Vittoun handbag. And on this particular morning, we arrived to the store shortly before it had opened and there was already a sizable line. Before long, the doors were open. The line moved rapidly with American style efficiency and soon the gilded chicken was in my possession. Were were off to catch a bus.

When we reached the place where our bus to the village was supposed to be, we found that it had already gone. It was still morning and we were assured another bus was on the way so we braved the beaming sun and waited. I tried balancing the KFC bag on my head to pass the time. I was remarkably successful and a few passersby gave quizzical looks. No bus. A hawker came by selling cassette tapes of local accordion musicians, heroes of the popular Famo genre. He seemed surprised when was I actually interested, not knowing I'm on an endless quest to bolster my African music collection, the more obscure the better. I utilized my seasoned bargaining skills and ended up with two cassettes for a rather reasonable price. Still no bus. We started asking around and realized that there would indeed be another bus, but that it wouldn't be leaving until late in the afternoon.

Attending the wedding was a must so we explored our options by chatting with some girls seeking out their own bus. Through them we discovered we could take another route that would drop us a few kilometers from our destination. We jumped at the opportunity and after a quick bus ride outside of town we found ourselves walking down a dirt road headed to our village and the wedding celebration.

I could feel my skin burning under the sun as we walked, but the journey moved quickly as the surroundings became more and more familiar. Around that same hilly bend and across the that same shallow stream and we were there.

We said a quick “lumela” to the crowd of young guys at the shop amid handshakes and hugs. The guys were passing around bottles of beer in the late morning and jamming to house music on the radio. It seemed in the weeks since we had left the village not much had changed. We continued on to my former abode. There was a strange calm in the village considering a wedding was supposed to be happening. And from my experience with village celebrations I know that if there's going to be a party it might as well be huge.

Upon arrival to my old house we saw that indeed it had the potential to be a massive affair with two mammoth circus-looking tents in the yard. We greeted familiar faces enthusiastically, though we were informed that most of the family and guests were at a church in a nearby village for the ceremony and that that the celebration would be happening at home when everyone had returned. In the meantime I took the chance to explore the compound to see what kinds of preparations were being made. A collection of huge pots smoked from wood-burning fires outside of the kitchen, indicating this was to be a feast of epic proportions. All the classic dishes were to be making appearances. Inside the smoking kitchen itself were the old men, crowded around a tall blue barrel. After the appropriate greetings I quickly put it together that these gents were sampling a fresh batch of home-brewed millet beer. One man pushed his cup in my direction and I took a healthy pull in solidarity. Back outside, I closely examined a cowhide, stretched taut with wooden stakes on the lawn. Aha, I thought, so there was a cow involved in the ceremony after all, the ancestors have been appeased. Likhomo!!! Cows!!!

I suddenly began to hear automobile horns honking in the distance. It was time. There was growing excitement in the air as a caravan of vehicles made its way towards us. The intensity of the honking increased as the first of the cars came to a stop in the yard, festively adorned with with streamers of white and pink. An entire brass band emerged from one of the cars and began to blow furiously and melodically on their horns. Finally, one car came to a rest in front of the others, yet the passengers hesitated to get out. I soon understood why, as, to my amazement, a giant red carpet was produced from nowhere and unfurled, leading from the car up to the house. When the carpet was ready for action, the car doors opened, the newlyweds stepped out and the ululations began as the couple made their grand dance along the carpet. Arms flailed, leaf-filled branches were torn from trees for shaking and the horns wailed even louder.

It was quite the spectacle to witness. The village was filled with joy in seeing one of their daughters in a white wedding dress holding hands with her man, smiling ear to ear. I couldn't help but think back to the weddings I attended in my beloved Gambian village. In The Gambia, most of the weddings were arranged with the girls having little or no say in the matter. On the day of the wedding the girl would be dressed in a dark dark blue and when the time came for her to travel to her husband's house she would wail, eyes filled with tears. There was certainly an accompanying celebration with song and dance, but not everyone was usually thrilled by the girl's departure. (This is by no means representative of all Gambian weddings, but was characteristic of many of the ones I saw in my isolated village including that of my Gambian host sister.) This wedding in Lesotho, on the contrary, was a completely jovial affair. This sister was in her late 20's, quite ready for married life and had previously told me that she did love and choose her husband. Oh, how marriage is a different beast in different parts of the world.

The dancing continued as an expression of the celebratory mood for quite awhile before things calmed down a bit and the bride and groom took a seat behind a three-tiered wedding cake. While relatives and friends gave testimonies to the love of bride and groom, I fetched my bag of KFC and triumphantly presented it to host mother. As if she wasn't already excited enough, she took the special bag in delight and began to glow as she meandered around the crowd, mingling, bag prominently featured. Soon after the speeches, the band resumed and food was served. I devoured all the local favorites. Samp, maize meal, cooked chard, beets and chicken legs. Just as most people had their food, clouds and gusts of wind invaded the party bringing dust and fresh raindrops as their gifts. People ran for shelter under the tents, but the band played on, an essential organ of the party. The storm was short-lived however, as sunlight fought back and people drifted outside again. I wondered if the three-tiered cake would be a bit crunchy now with all that dust.

As the sky turned to gold we said our goodbyes and scrambled to catch a bus back to town at the edge of the village. We made our way past the shop where the young guys were still passing time with the magic B's of beer and billiards. Farewells were exchanged as we ascended the bus. I sat back and relaxed in my seat, comfortable despite the bumping and shaking caused by the rocky road.

A day well spent with family and friends. Here's to another of many great opportunities to see local culture manifest itself, enriching my experiences and my knowledge of Lesotho and the world.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sharp, Sharp! African Video Sunday #3

In honor of Lesotho's Morija Arts and Cultural Festival that got funky this weekend I'm posting a video by the South African DJ Black Coffee who headlined the show. Black coffee knows what he's doing on the decks as he produces club friendly beats that you just want to move to. Because cigar smoke and shaking bodies look so good in slow motion, here is "Juju":

The bonus this week is another vision from the diaspora. This time its Kanye West with his epic short film "Runaway". Say what you will about the guy's personality, but besides the dialog, this video is well put together. Kanye spins an interesting tale of a gorgeous phoenix's time on earth. The phoenix is played by Selita Ebanks in a costume as striking as it is sexy. I wonder if it inspired any copycats on a night like tonight, when we all assume new identities and roam the streets. The soundtrack to the video is well produced and catchy, while the dancing boasts Nigerian choreography.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Morocco and Spain: 4000 Photos in Two Weeks

Pretty fantastic photo project. Very inspiring. I might have to have to do me one of these fancy videos at some point.

Morocco & Spain from Mike Matas on Vimeo.

thesmithian:<br><br>Morocco & Spain. 4000 photos in 2 minutes. A...: "


Morocco & Spain. 4000 photos in 2 minutes. A couple on the move.

via NPR


What is Google Baraza?

There is a new Google service I've been meaning to try out called Baraza. "Baraza" means “taskforce” or “council” in the East African Swahili language and that is exactly what the service is attempting to be by relying on the strong African tradition of social networks. Baraza seeks to create a community to engage African internet users in issues they are interested in. Baraza Team member Aneto Okonkwo clearly defines the service's purpose:

One of Google’s goals in Africa is to make the internet more locally relevant and bring more people online. One of the challenges of the internet in Africa is that there is a lack of local content online. At Google, we find that users search for information about local businesses, entertainment, health, etc but often don’t find it because the information is not yet available online. In order to help bring more local content online, Google engineers have created Baraza to allow people in countries across Africa to ask questions and post answers to questions from others.

I find Baraza's mission to be quite noble, but Google, ever the innovator, is actually behind in designing a platform for more African content and community on the web. The African blogosphere and news sites have naturally grown on their own to answer many of the questions Google hopes to answer with its service. Afrigator for example, a network of African blogs, has been around for years and plenty other micro communities exist for their respective niche interests. Even so, perhaps what will be innovative about the service will be that it is a more centralized and organized meeting place for those seeking African content to interact and find what they are looking for, albeit without a flashy visually stimulating interface.

One other drawback I can identify is that most of the conversation, if not all of it, seems to be happening in English. Having lived in different regions of Africa with very well established written languages, I can say that a conversation in English is not only limited to a more narrow group with a solid education, it's not always an accurate representation of what people are trying to say. Just ask NGUGI WA THIONGO, the famous Kenyan writer, what he thinks about language and he will likely tell you that language is the vessel of culture (in his own words of course).

Baraza is the latest in what appears to be a string of new initiatives designed to bring more Africans online. Google teams recently spearheaded two conferences in East Africa, in Kenya and Uganda, to communicate with local developers and tech entrepreneurs for the purpose of discussing what new tech/mobile innovations are on the horizon. Facebook too has been looking to expand its market by introducing with select mobile operators that allows users to access facebook for free. This service is marketed towards new web users who are logging on with their mobile phones Hopefully some fruitful relationships will be realized as African consumers are engaged and products are tailored to their interests.

The Google Baraza service has just gone public this week following its beta testing phase and so it will be interesting to see how it grows and evolves. I certainly will be trying out the service. We'll see how well people can respond to queries about obscure locales in The Gambia and Lesotho.

Baraza's introductory video is below:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sharp, Sharp! Video Sunday

Keeping it regional, I am presenting another batch of South African musicians starting with DJ Cleo. I've been experiencing the night scene in Maseru and the DJs down here actually know how to kick out some funky deep house beats worth dancing to. And the local dancing is in fact rather spectacular. That's the inspiration for this tribute to "Kwaito" or South African house.

As a bonus we have fellow South African group Freshly Ground sticking it to Robert Mugabe in their new video. As a result of this song and video, they have been officially banned from playing from playing in Zimbabwe. Freshly Ground and a few other bands played in Maseru last night and I had tickets and everything but it was raining so much during the day that I left the venue early and didn't get to see them play. Apparently the rains did finally abate so they took the stage and rocked Lesotho. OF course by then I was long gone. Instead of seeing the concert I did however check out a local bar with some friends. When we arrived the lights were out, but there was still a huge crowd inside hanging out and waiting for the lights to come back on. My friends and I went up and got our respective drinks by using cell phone screens to see the money, then sat down on some beer crates and watched as a group of spirited young guys sang Sesotho songs in anticipation of the electriciy's return. A solid night after-all.

Friday, October 22, 2010

TED Prize Winner 2011 is Photographer JR

I am a huge fan of TED. TED gives a prize annually. For 2011 the prize belongs to artist JR. Can't wait to see what he'll spend the $100,000 on.

From TED:
JR exhibits his photographs in the biggest art gallery on the planet. His work is presented freely in the streets of the world, catching the attention of people who are not museum visitors. His work mixes Art and Action; it talks about commitment, freedom, identity and limit.

As he is anonymous and doesn’t explain his huge full-frame portraits of people making faces, JR leaves the space empty for an encounter between the subject/protagonist and the passer-by/ interpreter.

This is what JR is working on. Raising questions…

His personal website is

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sudan's Referendum: Alternate Endings (or Beginnings?)

Sudan is set to have a major referendum in early January to decide whether it should remain a single state or if the the southern Sudanese region should break away as an independent state. The people of South Sudan have generally been unimpressed with the national government in Khartoum and it is expected that in January the majority will vote for independence.

All eyes are focusing on the country to ensure that the vote is undertaken in a free and fair manner without violence. There is however, a history of violence between the North and the South of Sudan. If the outcome of the referendum is deemed to be inauspicious to any of the militias in the country, tempers could manifest themselves with bullets. The Sudanese situation is made even more tense by the fact that largest source of income for the government comes from the oil fields located mostly in the south. On the day of the referendum, the oil-rich regions of the middle belt will cast their own vote as to which side they would prefer to be on, North or South.

The government in Khartoum, it is presumed, is not real excited about the vote. Without a long history of fair elections in Sudan and with such high stakes, we could see the vote manipulated. My biggest fear (besides renewed armed conflict) is that Khartoum will allow the vote to go ahead and even realize the creation of a Southern Sudanese state, but that the oil rich regions will somehow vote to be with the North. You will still see a South Sudan that is excited to have self-determination, but without a major chunk of the resources that could finance their growth. This may lead to more poverty and anger than already exists in high quantities today. Hopefully however, there will sufficient pressure from the international community to see the true will of the people come to life this January 2011. Let's cross our fingers for a peaceful vote.

As we wait anxiously for the referendum to occur, we can at least be entertained by a video urging Sudanese people to vote.

Sharp, Sharp! Video Sunday

I want to introduce a regular feature (well see how long I can manage it) on this site that highlights the high quality, high entertainment realm of music videos from African countries. With domestic entertainment markets booming in many countries and video technology becoming more accessible, the number of well produced videos coming from Africa is sky high. It's become a favorite pastime of mine to discover music from all over the continent and now I want to share the cream of the crop. Some videos will be from classic stars that are making a name for themselves internationally and others I hope you will have never heard before. Regardless, you know with me as the curator we're gonna be keeping it sharp, sharp!

To inaugurate the video feature we'll take a look at a South African woman with an incredibly soulful voice and dedication to producing music in her native Xhosa language. Here is Simphiwe Dana. Love the voice and the Afritopia. Enjoy.

And as a diasporic bonus and keeping with the futuristic theme I'll bring you a funky young cat from the US, Janelle Monae. This girl's legs move in such ridiculously incredible ways and I'm really digging the hair. Freedom.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Water...Blog Action Day

So, word on the street is that it's Blog Action Day and the theme is water. The Acumen Fund blog was kind enough to point that out. Having lived in a village for 2 years where the water table was more than 100 feet deep and open wells were the most reliable way to access the water, I want to echo the call for awareness about the challenge to provide clean water to all the earth's inhabitants in a sustainable way. The fact that water is become more scare while populations are rising rapidly is quite scary to contemplate. Thus the issue is not simply providing access and sanitation, but ensuring that strategies are employed to make water use more efficient. In the US, water comes so easy to us in most parts of the country that we don't even really think about where it comes from. Yet many aquifers in America and elsewhere are drying up. I don't wan to go on, but if nothing else I urge everyone to: (1) find out where their water comes from (if it's not already obvious) to establish a greater connection to the valuable resource and (2) think of ways to reduce water usage. Blind consumption is no longer acceptable. I'm not sure why it ever was. In a global world (it always was), what we do affects others. In the coming years it will be more important than ever to take the African philosophy of UBUNTU to heart.

"You can't exist as a human being in isolation." -Desmond Tutu

And the Blog Action Day video:

Blog Action Day 2010: Water from Blog Action Day on Vimeo.

Friday, October 8, 2010

University Graduation Party: Lesotho

Graduation weekend went down for the National University a couple weeks ago in Lesotho and I was lucky enough to be invited to a graduation party in a village outside of Maseru. I accepted the invitation immediately, excited about the chance to get out of the city and observe a community celebrating the educational achievements of one of its own.

I was traveling to the unfamiliar village by myself. After wandering around from car park to car park looking for the correct vehicle and after turning down numerous offers to be driven to my destination in a private taxi for only 50 times the normal rate, I finally found the appropriately marked car. On such a busy day as graduation day it wasn't long before the car was full, all of us squeezed beyond comfort, overflowing on to each other. Beads of sweat formed on my face in the mid-afternoon heat as the car weaved through the traffic leaving town. On the outskirts of the city we picked up some enthusiastic young guys carrying oblong paper bags. With smiles on their faces they turned back from the row in front of me and offered me a sip from their obscured bottles. I politely declined.

The car chugged on as the density of the city declined and rocky hills emerged. Eventually the conductor clicked a handful of coins in my direction, indicating it was my turn to pay. Bulky backpack on my lap, butt numb on the thin layer of foam covering the rough metal seat, I struggled to burrow into my pocket for the fare. After some delicate searching my hand finally triumphantly produced the required coinage and I passed it along to the conductor. I sighed and began staring out the window (a favorite past time of mine), determined to engage my visual memory in an attempt to internalize the route. It wasn't long however before I was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder, it was one of my drinking buddies from the row in front of me, gesturing towards the conductor. I glanced over to see the conductor holding up the larger of the coins I had given him and saying “Bad money, bad money, bring new money.” Confused, I instinctively looked back to the paper bag wielding guy, my closest friend on the bus. He too echoed the statement, “bad money, it's no good.” At that point I had my “aha moment” and finally discerned that one of the the coins I had provided to the conductor was counterfeit. He handed the imposter coin back to me and sure enough, upon close examination the silver embossed symbol of cattle was indeed scratched, revealing a copper color underneath. I wondered if the people in the vehicle thought I was trying to pull some scam. I managed to blurt out in my defense, “hey, I didn't know”, but who knows how convincing that was. I reached back into my compressed pocket and produced a replacement coin, though in the process the imposter coin dropped with a clink into the abyss of feet below.

I returned to my window and watched as the houses outside were left behind, most of them decent sized cement structures since we were still relatively close to town, with the occasional circular thatched mud hut. After awhile I began to get that feeling where you think you may have gotten on the wrong bus, the objects you've been told to look for just don't seem to be appearing. I asked my drinking friend if we had passed my stop and he was able to reassure me somehow in his mumbly voice that indeed we had not, though we would be arriving soon. True to his word, I soon found the vehicle stopped at a seemingly random spot on the road and I was ushered out. Across the street I noticed a manifestation of one of the few businesses that makes a regular profit in the villages, the public bar. Upon arrival at the bar, I asked for directions to my destination and surprisingly they were delivered promptly and rather clearly by a man who dropped and ignored his hat as he spoke. I followed the dusty paths as I had been told until I reached the modest house on the hillside with the circus-like tent in its yard.

I arrived well before the graduate's caravan from the university and so I was able to get comfortable with my surroundings. I introduced myself to the family preparing for the event and was able to practice my rusty Sesotho with a few unlucky kids. I marveled at the impossibly large pots of food and did a dance with a particularly agile grandmotherly woman wearing a traditional Seshoeshoe dress who was quite fond of sticking out her tongue at me as she shook her body. When the caravan led by the graduated young woman arrived a delightfully welcome chaos ensued. Arms were thrust into the air and the atmosphere was replete with ululations. The graduate, proud yet shy, took her place at the high table under the tent, behind what appeared to be a decorative bonzai tree. A circle formed and it was time for speeches. Her father, a professor at the university, spoke first, followed friends and family, then finally the guest of honor took the spotlight and said a few quick words. With all protocols dutifully observed the time many in the crowd had been waiting for was upon us and the massive pots of food emerged to pay their respects. Queues formed for the adults and the children, the DJ blasted his beats and fingers were well licked. Besides the occasional broken glass and plate and the untimely tumbling of the table upon which the giant bowl of buttery green beans rested, one could call the party a success. It was refreshing to observe a tented gathering where hearts were filled not with sadness, but with joy.

As the sun burned red and hung low in the sky I departed. It was not until darkness prevailed however, that I arrived home. I was satiated. I had a full belly and a satisfied mind, my cultural experience in Lesotho having been greatly enhanced over the course of the day. Sleep came easy.

Below are a few shots I took of the celebration: