Thursday, December 22, 2011

Best African Music Videos of 2011

Over at the content-rich blog Africa Is A Country, the site's posters are coming up with some end of the year "Best Of 2011" lists related to contemporary African media. Tom Devriendt, a human library of African music knowledge, has posted his list of the year's best African music videos. Now Tom, in addition to another of the blog's prolific posters Sean Jacobs, appears to me to be an indefatigable sampler of the full spectrum of African-influenced music. (How do these guys find videos before anyone else?) One of his inspirations for creating the list, he writes, is the dearth of African music videos on some of the web's top music sites. Culling from the hundreds of quality videos produced in the 55 African nations and the extensive diaspora, Tom has done a rather stellar job of putting together his top 10 music videos list.

As a connoisseur of African music videos myself and inspired by Tom/Africa Is A Country, I have also decided to curate my own list of the year's best videos emanating from African musicians. While Tom's list contains a few of my favorites, I'm going to highlight videos not mentioned by Tom.

1. Siji - Ijo
A Nigerian who has lived in Lagos, London and the United States, Siji offers up his pulsing beats as a backdrop for a dance competition in this video. The video features legit moves that appear to have catchy names like Boogalo, Pindrop, The Jerk, Fire Dance and Bata, while Siji serves as a competition judge. Making a cameo is Ade Bantu, an actor/musician who appears with Nneka in the film Relentless (one I wouldn't mind seeing). Here's a translation of the song's chorus courtesy of a commenter named "Omopupaa" on the youtube link:
E ju apa (Wave (throw) your hands)
E na ese (stretch your feet)
E mi ori (Shake your head)
E dide k'e mu 'jo jo (Get up and dance)

2. M.anifest - Suffer
Ghanaian M.anifest flows so smooth as he walks through the dusty streets of Accra. The line that always gets stuck in my head in this song is, "If you got a name like Muhammed or Mustapha/ Flyin' might be tougher/ My sympathies brother". M dot dot also appears with K'naan and Mulatu Astake on Africology's "Addis Soul Vol. 1" mixtape. Producer DJ Juls, who has also worked with FOKN BOIS on a couple of mixtapes this year has made a remix of Suffer as well.

3. Stromae - Peace or Violence
From Belgium, but with roots in Rwanda, Stromae follows his hit Alors on Danse with the brilliantly edited Peace or Violence. Both songs are off his album, "Cheese". This video weaves together seamlessly scenes which resemble each other in composition, yet convey vastly different circumstances. Fantastic use of slow motion.

Stromae - Peace or Violence clip official by Nora_Amer

4. Stella Mwangi - Lookie Lookie
A Kenyan living in Norway, Stella blew up this year after she competed in the Norwegian Melodi Grand Prix Singing Contest with the song Haba Haba. Despite protests that she wasn't a real Norwegian, Haba Haba's inspirational lyrics were enough to win the hearts of a generation of young Norwegian girls as well as the contest prize, making her Norway's official entry into the 2011 Eurovision contest. Lookie Lookie on the other hand is little less wholesome. With its damn catchy rhythm, the video has Stella gettin' down and playing with her curls on a rooftop where she exhorts us to pour her a shot of Patron and make her twist and shout. This isn't the first time STL has been seen on a rooftop. Yeah, she can rap too.

5. TY Bello - The Future
Released right before the Nigerian Presidential elections in April 2011, this video is call to the Nigerian people to come together to overcome national challenges such as tribalism, corruption, poverty and insecurity. With the sincerity of her words and the moving images of Nigerians taking to the street in the name of unity (+ a cameo by Banky W), TY Bello succeeds in encouraging positive aspects of Nigerian nationalism. I'm sure MEND and Boko Haram even get a bit teary-eyed when they see this video. (Bonus points because TY Bello is also a photographer.)

6. Goldfish - We Come Together
This South African group comes together in the form of a litany of classic video games to save the lady goldfish from all kinds of evil foes that look like they come from the worlds Sonic the Hedgehog, Angry Birds, Garfield and Star Wars. Who doesn't like pixelated violence and piano samples?

7. Nneka - My Home
While Tom prefers the animated style of Nneka's Soul is Heavy video, I find her soul reveals itself heavier in My Home when she confronts the difficulties of various lifestyles across Nigeria's social strata. The video is directed by Clam Magazine founder Andy Okoroafor who also directed Nneka in his recent film "Relentless". For more Nneka watch the making of videos for her latest album Soul is Heavy. Damn that is a hot accent.

8. Lizha James - Nyandayeyo
Leave it to Moza Girl Lizha James to do it big as usual. Director DJ Marcell who produces most of the biggest videos in Mozambique and Angola delivers extravagant global imagery in this one. The video is dedicated to Angolan music producer I.V.M. beatz (creator of Windeck with Cabo Snoop) who passed away in February 2011 in a car accident.

9. Just A Band with Michel Ongaro, Jahcoozi, Gebrüder Teichmann - Away
Away is part of the expansive BLNRB project, an initiative sponsored by the Goethe-Institute that partners Kenyan and German musicians together. The video features an asian cinema introduction and gorgeous black and white cinematography set in a simple forest. A woman ruthlessly hunts down a man for an unknown item and leaves the viewer's mind littered with questions. Just A Band has had a string of impressive, conscious, creative videos with Usinibore, If I Could and of course, Kenya's best viral phenomenon Ha He. Long live Makmende!

10. Ntjam Rosie - Space of You
Netherlands-based Cameroonian Ntjam Rosie blends her smooth jazzy vocals with psychedelic visuals in this video that makes you wonder if (or wish) you are on something. The song's soothing baseline and sharp piano notes are solid companions to swirling neon particles and slow moving overlapping images of the singer in her funky threads. It's hard not to feel at peace with this song.

Honorable mentions:
Darey - Ba Ni Kidi
Fatoumata Diawara - Kanou
Zakes Bantwimi - Wasting My Time

Bonus. Stlofa featuring Mokoari Molimo oa Lesupa Tsela - Linja tsa Media
This video, straight out of the Kingdom of Lesotho, was shot in an abandoned police building in downtown Maseru by Jeremiah Mosese of Mokoari Street Films. Stlofa is one of the biggest acts in Lesotho among young people and he was one of the final 5 in this year's Lesotho Superstar singing competition (Lesotho's own American Idol style contest hosted by the legendary Tsepo Tshola, formerly of the group Sankomota.) The filmmaker, Jeremiah, is a friend of mine and he invited me to take photographs on the set of the video. Unexpectedly, I actually ended up shooting the parts of the video in which Jeremiah himself sings. The video opens with a few clips shot in Berlin that are part of Jeremiah's upcoming feature film "Red Drought" about a post-apocalyptic world in which a Union of African States gives foreign aid to a war-torn, water-scarce Europe. Look out for it soon.

For the record my favorites on the Africa Is A Country list are:
Spoek Mathambo - Control
Burkaka Som Sistema - Hangover (BaBaBa)
Blitz the Ambassador - Native Sun (short film)

Looking forward to what 2012 has to bring in the short, musical video format.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Over and Under the Wheels

The following is a short piece I wrote on a bus ride from Maputo to Johannesburg in October 2011. It had been a long time since I wrote a short story piece such as this, but I was compelled to put pencil to notebook as I observed what unfolded before me. It was indeed one of those poignant moments that makes one hyper aware of their surroundings.
A man lies down to rest under the wheels of a Greyhound bus as it pauses in evening traffic on the streets of Maputo. When the bus’s engines fire and it is propelled forward, the man is lost in a dream. The bus comes to a halt once more.

At first people are confused. “What happened?” they ask. “Why aren't we driving?” “Shit! There's a man lying in the street.” Is he dead?” “He's not moving.” “Who did this?” they exclaim.

Oily foreheads are pressed to scratched windowpanes as the bus passengers try to crane their necks for a peek at the body. “Was it our bus?” “Did our driver do this?” “Was it our combined weight that forced the life from this man?” Questions abound.

As for me, I didn't even feel the bump. Bumps are normal around here. I was engrossed in a book, One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina. Later, when I am compelled to reflect on this moment, this collection of moments, I will channel a bit of Wainaina's style.

A few brave travelers disembark into the cool evening air to get a better view. Others follow slowly. Cautiously. It becomes clear that the bus isn't going anywhere anytime soon. The traffic is still flowing beside us nonchalantly, rows of cars making their way past the scene of the accident as if this is a normal occurance. Nobody is near the body. Does that mean he's dead, I wonder? Do we know he's dead? He is dead. Eventually an orange road triangle is placed near the body to alert oncoming cars of the obstacle.

Just across from the man, a homeless lady is wrapped in a blanket on the sidewalk. She seems not to notice or care that the sidewalk is now swelling with people. Faces marked with concerned expressions. Stomachs replete with knots. Some are saying the man and this woman are, were rather, together. She cannot be bothered. Her head is under her blue striped blanket. She projects none of the concern of those hovering above her. Perhaps she is desperately trying not to address the accident. Perhaps she knows just how much premeditation preceded the accident. At this moment, for her, her pavement blanket is the safest place on earth. The man’s body has no blanket covering it. It is exposed.

The man is now referred to as a body. He has been emasculated. The ambulance takes 45 minutes to arrive. We are back on the bus now. Waiting all the while. Calls are made to loved ones. Different versions of the story are told. Some stories are presented as theories. Others are authoritative facts. We wait. Someone exclaims in frustration, “How could he do this to us? He must have been on drugs. These people!”

People begin coping in their own ways. Jokes are cracked. Takeaway dinners make early appearances. Religious texts are cradled. Reassuring words are repeated in bowed heads.

The ambulance finally takes the body away. The police take our driver away. The driver has to make a statement about the accident at the police station the knowing ones say. I confront the evening chill one more time to examine the scene. This time I am alone. There is a pungent odor in the air. I can't remember whether or not it was there the first time I went out.

Another ambulance speeds past, siren blaring, responding to a different emergency. Other peoples' perceived inconvenience. There were no sirens for our guy. No speeding. No urgency. Just obligated perfunctory duty to take care of the mess cause by these people.

I go over to where the man was lying. The orange road triangle is gone. A flattened cardboard box marks his resting place. His memorial. A splattering of blood scintillates under the streetlights. The place is abandoned now. The traffic too has died. The only one left on the scene is the mysterious blanketed woman. She is unmoving in her patterned shell. She is the street's memory.

Friday, February 25, 2011

African Bloggers Statement on David Kato and Uganda

“We the undersigned wish to express our deep sadness at the murder of Ugandan human rights defender David Kato on 26th January 2011. David’s activism began in the 1980s as an Anti-Apartheid campaigner, where he first expressed a strong passion and conviction for freedom and justice, a passion which continued throughout his life. David was a founding member of Sexual Minorities Uganda, where he first served as Board member, and until his death as Litigation and Advocacy Officer. He was also a member of Integrity Uganda, a faith-based advocacy organization.

David was a man of vision and courage. One of his major concerns was the growth of religious fundamentalism in Uganda and across the continent and how this would impact on the rights of ordinary citizens including lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered / Gender Non-Comforming and Intersex  [LGBTIQ] persons. Years later his concerns were justified when the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill backed by religious fundamentalists was outlined in 2009.  David was also an extremely brave man who had been imprisoned and beaten severely because of his sexual orientation and for speaking publicly against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Many African political and religious leaders in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Zambia, Gambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Malawi and Botswana, have publicly maligned LGBTIQ people and in some cases directly incited violence against them whilst labeling sexual minorities as “unAfrican”.

In October 2010, the Ugandan tabloid, Rolling Stone published the names and photographs of “100 Top homos” including David Kato.   David along with two other LGBTIQ activists successfully sued the magazine on the grounds of “invasion of privacy” and most importantly,  the  judge ruled that the publication would threaten and endanger the lives of LGBTIQ persons.

The court did not only rule that the publication would threaten and endanger the lives of LGBTIQ persons but it issued a permanent injunction against Rolling Stone newspaper never to publish photos of gays in Uganda, and also never to again publish their home addresses.

Justice Kibuuka Musoke ruled that,

“Gays are also entitled to their rights. This court has found that there was infringement of some people’s confidential rights. The court hereby issues an injunction restraining Rolling Stone newspaper from future publishing of identifications of homosexuals.”

Every human being is protected under the African Charter of Peoples and Human Rights and this includes the rights of LGBTIQ persons. We ask the governments of Uganda and other African countries to stop criminalizing people on the grounds of sexual orientation and afford LGBTIQ people the same protections, freedoms and dignity, as other citizens on the continent.”


Alix Mukonambi,                                        Molisa Nyakale

Anengiyefa Alagoa,                                     Things I Feel Strongly About

Anthony Hebblethwaite                             African Activist

Barbra Jolie,                                                 Me I Think

Ben Amunwa,                                               Remember Ken Saro-Wiwa

Bunmi Oloruntoba,                                     A Bombastic Element

Chris Ogunlowo,                                          Aloofaa

Eccentric Yoruba,                                        Eccentric Yoruba

Exiled Soul                                                    ExiledSoul

Francisca Bagulho and Marta Lança,      Buala

Funmilayo Akinosi,                                     Finding My Path

Funmi Feyide,                                              Nigerian Curiosity

Gay Uganda,                                     Gay Uganda

Glenna Gordon,                                           Scarlett Lion

Godwyns Onwuchekwa,                            My Person

Jeremy Weate,                                            Naija Blog

Kayode Ogundamisi                                  Canary Bird

Kadija Patel                                                 Thoughtleader

Keguro Macharia,                                      Gukira

Kenne Mwikya,                                           Kenne’s Blog

Kinsi Abdullah                                            Kudu Arts

Laura Seay,                                                  Texas in Africa

Llanor Alleyne                                             Llanor Alleyne

Mark Jordahl,                                             Wild Thoughts from Uganda

Matt Temple                                                Matsuli Music

Mia Nikasimo,                                             MiaScript

Minna Salami,                                             MsAfropolitan

Mshairi,                                                        Mshairi

Ndesanjo Macha                                        Global Voices

Nyokabi Musila,                                         Sci-Cultura

Nzesylva,                                                      Nzesylva’s Blog

Olumide Abimbola,                                   Loomnie

Ory Okolloh,                                               Kenyan Pundit

Pamela Braide,                                           pdbraide

Peter Alegi,                                                  Football is Coming Home

Rethabile Masilo,                                       Poefrika

Saratu Abiola,                                             Method to Madness

Sean Jacobs,                                                Africa is a Country

Sokari Ekine,                                               Black Looks

Sonja Uwimana,                                         Africa is a Country

Spectre Speaks,                                           Spectre Speaks

TMS Ruge,                                                   Project Diaspora

Toyin Ajao                                                    StandTall

Tosin Otitoju,                                              Lifelib

Val Kalende,                                                Val Kalende

Zachary Rosen,                                             Afro-Photo

Zackie Achmat,                                           Writing Rights

Zion Moyo,                                                  Sky, Soil and Everything in Between

Here is a little more information about David Kato

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Revolution: Coming to a city near you.

And now add to the list Madison, Wisconsin the town of my birth. That's right, nowhere is governance perfect and even in the US the people will STAND UP AND SPEAK, when their elected leaders greedily serve special interests at the expense of the honest populace. My mom and dad, both educators, as well as my younger brother, are out there on the streets demanding fair and responsible budgeting. Thanks for making me proud guys.

Hear about the Wisconsin protests from the ED Schultz Show on MSNBC.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Revolution Egypt & Tunisia : Designers React

Borrowing a phrase from the excellent blog A Bombastic Element: The Revolution Will Be Embedded...

Revolution Egypt & Tunisia : Designers React: "

North Africa is experiencing what is now called the biggest revolution in modern times as millions of protesters join in the fight against oppression, dictatorship and political domination. With that said, designers and artists are joining in protest and here is a small collection of some digital/graphic art. Please feel free to suggest some more we would love to see what you’ve found.

The Searcher

Marlena Buczek Smith





Freestylee – Michael Thompson

Power to the PeopleOmar Nejai


Z.B.A. the zombie


The King is Dead – Sharif Elshinnawi


Egypt Solidarity - Isaiah King


Cairo 2011 – Malachi Cameron

Dictator – Marwan Shahin

Proud to be Egyptian – Moataz Elsayed


Sunday, February 6, 2011

All the Kings Violins

Last night, I ventured out with a few friends to the Maseru Convention Centre, whose glass-paneled walls had previously only reflected my image from the outside. We had been invited to a classical music performance and were told to dress nicely. I threw on my best, which is a button down shirt with a tie and sweater on top. The color combination, dominated by brown and maroon was reasonably well orchestrated. A bright red pair of complementary socks from South African Airways really tied the ensemble together and ensured a solid level of funkiness was maintained. Of course when, we the Peace Corps Volunteers, show up, we find literally everyone is wearing a black tuxedo or elegant flowing dress. I'm still saving up for a tux on my meager Peace Corps living allowance, I only have roughly 37 years of Peace Corps before I'll be able to afford it though.

After sipping a miniature glass of the sherry that was being offered in the lobby like I knew what I was doing, it was finally time to take my seat. Not long after most of the audience was seated we all had to rise once again as His Majesty King Letsie was escorted by an entourage to his throne-like chair at the front of the concert hall.

The music turned out to be quite the treat as there were performances by the Free State Symphony Orchestra, the National University of Lesotho Choir and Lesotho Defense Force Band. Each group did their own set and then they were all conducted together at the same time by both the Free State Orchestra conductor who had a classic, cartoonish looking jacket that is much longer in the back than it is in the front and the young energetic conductor of the NUL choir. It's not so bad being fancy every once in while even if I'm not very good at it. Not ready to dedicate my whole life to fanciness quite yet though.

I managed to take a few photographs from my seat, but I wasn't really in photojournalist mode as I just wanted to enjoy the show.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cairo on the Ground: Now

Long time no see. After a few weeks of rest I've somehow mustered the energy begin posting again. Already 2011 has been an action-packed year with public protests that have led to the overthrow of the President in Tunisia and ongoing protests in Egypt occurring on a massive scale.

I hope to share some interesting, worthwhile, enlightening content in the coming days and weeks, but first I want to start with a quick audio report from Egypt. A friend of mine that lived down the street from me growing up named Evan Hill is on the streets of Cairo reporting with Al-Jezeera. Evan studied journalism and Arabic and did a semester abroad in Cairo at American University so he is well placed to cover the exciting events with a nuanced perspective in Egypt. Below is a link to his most recent audio report hosted online on a site called AudioBoo under the profile name AJEnglish.


UPDATE: As this post was being written Evan has posted another audio report detailing the condition on the Cairo streets. The new newest post is below:


I'm not sure quite how recent the audio was recorded, it may be from a couple days ago, regardless the reports certainly capture the atmosphere of the captivating events. Evan speaks of check points, rallies and various types of interactions between protesters and military. Take a quick listen and transport yourself to the scene. Could be history in the making.