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.