Tag: music

Poverty is sexist, sing seven African performers in protest

Vanessa Mdee, Victoria Kimani, Waje and Judith Sephuma sing their hearts out in a song that addresses gender inequality and poverty. (Pic: Supplied)
Vanessa Mdee, Victoria Kimani, Waje and Judith Sephuma sing their hearts out in a song that addresses gender inequality and poverty. (Pic: Supplied)

Singers Victoria Kimani from Kenya, South African Judith Sephuma, Waje from Nigeria, Vanessa Mdee from Tanzania, Arielle T from Gabon, Gabriela from Mozambique and Selomor Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe have now recorded Strong Girl to address the gender inequality that they believe goes hand-in-hand with poverty.

The song is inspired by a recently released report by ONE, an advocacy organisation that aims to fight extreme poverty and preventable diseases – particularly in Africa – titled Poverty is Sexist: Why girls and women must be at the heart of the fight to end extreme poverty.

Gender gap and vicious cycles
The campaign’s tagline, according to Sipho Moyo, ONE Africa’s executive director, is a reflection of the reality of our society. “What we have found is that the barriers that disadvantaged women and girls [face] are essentially structural, whether you are talking from a political point of view or economic one.”

ONE’s research shows that working women in the least developed countries are three times more likely to be in vulnerable employment than women elsewhere, and that in every country on the continent there are more girls than boys who are not attending school.

According to ONE’s research, only a little more than 20% of poor rural girls in Africa complete primary education, while fewer than 10% finish lower secondary school.

“In agriculture, female farmers are more likely to produce much less, acre to acre, compared to men, which is what we call the gender gap in agriculture.

“Why is that? It’s because they don’t have access to financial resources or credit, and in order to get credit you need collateral and women often don’t have the titles for the land they are farming on. So it becomes a vicious cycle of impoverishment.”

Together, an African sound
Selomor Mtukudzi, Harare-based singer and daughter of the respected musician Oliver Mtukudzi, echoed Moyo: “As women our gender already puts us at a disadvantage and we are forced to work harder. Women back home in Zimbabwe are hard-working but don’t get as much as they deserve. Women reap half of what their male counterparts are reaping.”

Mtukudzi believes Strong Girl and the ONE campaign will draw attention to the voices of women and persuade African leaders to empower women.

ONE chose to work with female musicians who have a notable influence in their respective African countries, and who would help popularise the Poverty is Sexist campaign at grassroots level.

Strong Girl is produced by Nigerian songwriter and musician Cobhams Asuquo. The music video, which features Nigerian actress Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, was recorded last month and shot at the University of Johannesburg campus. Asuquo is known for his work with Nigerian singer Asa on her hit songs Jailer and Fire on the Mountain.

“Each singer wrote her own verse in the song,” says Sephuma. “The sound is very West African but we each added a different feel to the song, which in the end brought out an African sound.”

The song will be used to promote the Poverty is Sexist campaign globally, and will be officially launched in Nigeria, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa during the World Economic Forum for Africa and the African Union Heads of State Summit in June. This year marks the AU’s Year of Women’s Empowerment.

Petition for the world to invest more in women
Strong Girl, however, is just one facet of the campaign. Moyo says the plan is to lobby policymakers so that when the AU leaders meet in June, they’ll be able to come up with a strong declaration against gender discrimination.

Policy forums around the continent will be held, where civil society organisations, women’s groups and members of parliament will hold discussions about polices that are in favour of women, and the real challenges on our continent. Policy recommendations will be made based on the major issues that arise from the discussions and will be sent to the AU.

There will also be a petition that people can sign online, that will call on world leaders to fast-track the fight against inequality and injustice by investing more in women and girls if the world is to end extreme poverty by 2030.

For more information on the campaign visit one.org.

Katlego Mkhwanazi for the Mail & Guardian

Lesotho’s Kome Caves Festival: For the love of beer and music

Every summer, a new energy engulfs Maseru and its surrounding towns. There’s an influx of people who come around for the holiday season, and entertainment is in high demand. Camping chairs and cooler boxes – staple accessories for many Basotho during these months –  are unpacked and get their chance to bask in the Lesotho sun.

The unofficial kickstarter to all summer activities is the Kome Caves Festival, which was held over the weekend. The three-day event blends the outdoors, tourism, cuisine, and beer tasting with musical entertainment. Organised by Tangerine Inc, a boutique marketing and programme management company, it aims to promote the village and attract tourists to the region. Now in its second year, the festival has already improved by leaps and bounds from last year’s inaugural event.

Nestled in Lesotho’s lowlands, Ha Kome and its caves of the same name are etched into a plateau of the Berea Mountains – one of Lesotho’s ten districts. The caves were built in the early 1800s by Chief Teleka and his followers for protection from the cannibals in the surrounding area.  As if painted into the rock, descendants of the Chief still dwell in these caves which offer cool shelter from the November sun; however, one does worry about their warmth during Kome’s cooler nights and Lesotho’s brutal winters.

The majority of people arrived on Saturday and there was a plethora of activities – from horse rides to volleyball and paintball. For those who could stomach the curving dirt road which puts San Francisco’s Lombard Street to shame, there was quad biking too.

Besides the actual caves, the main attractions were the music and the beer. The afternoon’s soundtrack was mellow sets by local DJs which did not detract from the oral sensory overload.

With over 30 types of craft and macro beers mainly from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and including Lesotho’s pride – Maluti Beer, beer lovers were spoiled for choice. The wine tasting stall was a hit this year, and the locally brewed ginger beer, which is the more fermented version of the already popular drink, was a delicious treat even for non-beer lovers. Paired with the various food stalls, attendees were able to enjoy the different beverage offerings well into the night without having to retire early – although for a select few it would have been better if they had.

This year’s musical offering was stupendous from start to finish.

MsKelle, the German-born Mosotho songstress began our musical journey. Just before her set there were few people seated in front of the stage; however, as she sang her first song many began to gather and were mesmerized by the purity of her voice. The sun setting behind the mountains gave her set the added magical touch.

MsKelle. (Pic: Mookho Makheta)
MsKelle. (Pic: Mookho Makheta)

Local Kholu Jazz Band, better known as the band for Lesotho Jazz legend Budaza, who gave a beautiful performance on Sunday, followed with a more up-tempo performance.

Wearing a mokorotlo, the traditional Basotho hat, with a metallic shield covering his face, and with dance moves straight out of the Karate Kid, DJ InviZable gave one of the night’s more memorable performances.

DJInviZable (Pic: Mookho Makheta)
DJ InviZable (Pic: Mookho Makheta)

Mozambican group Gran’Mah was another pleasant surprise – not many knew of them before their performance, but they left with a solid fan base by the end of their set. The “reggae fusion” band was fun to watch, and had many people dancing to their dub-inspired tunes. And, even though he was set to perform later that night, Pedro from 340ml blessed the stage for a collaboration.

340ml gave the crowd something a little different from their regular performances. This time Rui and Thiago replaced their guitars for some turntables, and Pedro belted out some of their popular tracks, leaving the crowd wanting more.

However, the musical highlight, and the reason most people came to the event, was to see the USA-based international touring act Tortured Soul. By the time of their set, the warm day had turned into a bitterly cold night. They played as if the cold air was part of their magical spell. The audience was transfixed  by their performance; they swayed and sang along in awe, many in disbelief that their beloved Tortured Soul was right here in their country.

Tortured Soul (Pic: Mookho Makheta)
Tortured Soul (Pic: Mookho Makheta)

And as the cup of coffee to end off a great musical meal, Lesotho’s hip-hop collective D2amajoe closed the show in front of some of their more loyal fans and those who stuck around to brave the cold weather.

The evening eventually turned to dawn, camp chairs were folded, now emptied cooler boxes were carried off to the camp sites, and the courageous few who decided to make the drive up the curved dirt road returned to warmer destinations. One thing was clear: they were already plotting their return to next year’s festival.

Idris Elba to release Mandela-inspired album

From the looks of things, it seems that Idris Elba has taken his passion and admiration for Nelson Mandela very seriously.

Moving beyond his recent role in the Justin Chadwick biopic, Elba was so inspired by the research he did as part of the preparation for his role in Long Walk to Freedom that he put together a concept album based on the music Mandela enjoyed.

Titled Mi Mandela, the experimental album was made over the course of three weeks and features 11 unique songs, some made with the help of local talent like producer Spoek Mathambo, Ndebele music legend Nothembi Mkhwebane and singing group The Mahotella Queens.

Whilst Elba, who DJs and releases music under the name ‘Driis’, is no stranger to producing songs and making mixes, he’s enlisted a wide range of artists including James Blake, Mumford & Sons, Mr Hudson and Cody ChesnuTT.

The album is due out November 24 but look out for the first single featuring Maverick Sabre a little sooner.

Dynamic Africa is a curated multimedia blog focused on all facets of African cultures, African history, and the lives and experiences of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora – past and present. Visit the blog and connect with the curator, Funke Makinwa, on Twitter.

Cairo’s street music mahraganat both divides and unites

Stroll through Egypt’s capital and you can count on hearing two kinds of music. The first has been around for decades: the rich, sedate voice of Egypt’s favourite diva, Umm Kulthum. The second is a more recent phenomenon. A raucous mishmash of auto-tuned rap and pounding drums, this is mahraganat – Egypt’s latest musical genre.

The rise of mahraganat – which translates from the Arabic as “festivals” – has been as relentless as its drumbeats. Its stars have millions of YouTube hits, have appeared at European festivals and at sprawling street weddings, and recently hosted British grime and dubstep DJs for a week of collaboration.

“It’s the ultimate thing in music,” boasts Diesel, AKA 24-year-old Mohamed Saber, one of mahraganat’s most innovative artists. “Everyone listens to it – even those who criticise us.”

Diesel’s words hint at a vexed relationship with some Egyptian listeners. Popular though it is, mahraganat’s roots within Egypt’s underclass mean its artists strive for wider acceptance and a place within Egypt’s formal music industry. Things are changing, butmahraganat musicians often record their music at home, rely on peer-to-peer distribution via the internet or flash drives, and are rarely played on mainstream radio or television. “May God end my life,” winced a representative of Egypt’s musicians’ union after listening to mahraganat last year.

The genre first emerged in 2008 in Madinet al-Salam, or Salam City, a rundown district on the fringes of northern Cairo. Its pioneers began to mess around with drumbeats on basic mixing programs such as FruityLoops – downloaded for free online – and recorded simple auto-tuned vocals. Then some of them began to play their frenetic creations at sprawling street weddings and carnivals – hence its name – and a genre was born.

Mohamed El Deeb, a 28-year-old rap and hip hop singer, poses during the making of his music video, in front of a wall with graffiti near Tahrir square in Cairo June 4 2012. (Reuters)
Mohamed El Deeb, a 28-year-old rap and hip hop singer, poses during the making of his music video, in front of a wall with graffiti near Tahrir square in Cairo June 4 2012. (Reuters)

“People were shocked when it came on,” recalls Sadat – AKA al-Sadat Abdelaziz, 27, one of mahraganat’s trailblazers and probably its biggest star. “But [our] subjects and issues went straight to people – and that’s why it got bigger.”

According to Mahmoud Refaat, the founder of one of Egypt’s most influential contemporary music studiosmahraganat’s lyrical appeal lay in its honesty. Unlike schmaltzy Egyptian music from the 60s and 70s – or the pop artists of the 80s and 90s who “just sang about love and hair” – mahraganat was the first genre to properly deal with issues affecting the poorest Egyptians.

“It’s the very first time, for as long as I’ve heard Egyptian music, that I can say there is truly music for the people – [music] that actually expresses the reality of young people,” says Refaat. “The way these musicians were thinking is very radical and very minimal. They had no shame of dealing with their struggle, using their dialect that they and their friends and the community had developed. And that made it very new.”

British DJs who visited Cairo in March to collaborate with mahraganat artists compared the sound to London’s grime – for both musical and social reasons. “It’s a bit quicker in tempo – grime is about 140 beats-per-minute, and this is around 150bpm or 160bpm – but it’s got the same energy,” says London DJ Faze Miyake, who visited Cairo with the British Council.

Mahraganat stayed largely in Salam City and the surrounding suburbs until 2011, when the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak brought its artists greater exposure. Sadat released a series of songs over the internet that dealt directly with politics. Tracks such as The People and the Government and The People Demand Five Pounds of Phone-Credit (a riff on a revolutionary chant) gave him and his colleagues a prominence far beyond their hometown.

But mahraganat artists resent the oft-made suggestion that theirs is a genre born of the revolution. They started making music long before Mubarak fell. And though their lyrics are often political, Sadat says they feel cut adrift from a national tug-of-war that often ignores the basic needs of struggling communities such as theirs.

“Journalists think everything is related to the revolution. This music has been going on for a while,” says Sadat. “Not all the Egyptians are part of the revolution – the slum areas until now are not interested in anything other than eating. If these masses started to move, it would get messy.”

But for Noov Senarye, who manages a number of mahraganat stars, including Sadat, the more liberal environment created by the 2011 uprising did expose them to bigger and wider audiences. Senarye’s involvement is a case in point. Previously a human rights lawyer, she heard their music by chance in early 2011 – and, inspired, went to Salam City that March to offer to manage them. “In the beginning,” she remembers, “they couldn’t understand why a girl from different community and [social] level came to see them.”

Three years on, most mahraganat artists’ primary source of revenue still comes from playing at sprawling street weddings – thousands crashed Sadat’s own ceremony last year just to see him perform. And they still gauge their popularity not by radio airtime, or album sales, but by how often they hear their music blasting from Cairo’s mopeds and tuk-tuks.

“I know it’s doing well when I’m in the street and I hear it everywhere,” says Diesel. “Some songs will take a week to get to their peak, very few will take more than a month and a half. If they take longer than that – then that’s it.”

But much change has been afoot. For one, says Figo, the DJ known as the movement’s godfather, the music has become more sophisticated. “When it all started the lyrics were meaningless,” says Figo, whose real name is Ahmed Farid. “But now we sing about the revolution, drugs, harassment.”

A song by Sadat that deals with Egypt’s endemic street harassment, “Catcall yes, grope no”, is a much-cited example – even if its condemnation of sexism is only partial. Meanwhile, big companies have tried to co-opt mahraganat’s popularity – with some artists recording tracks for phone, food and Viagra adverts. And as the British collaboration shows, there is a drive to inject the genre with new musical ideas – a move accelerated by younger artists such as Diesel.

“That was the main intention of the studio to work with these musicians – to formalise this as a music genre, not to look at it as wedding-party music,” says Mahmoud Refaat, the studio owner who has taken some mahraganat artists under his wing. But as this evolution gathers pace, some are wary of selling out, of abandoning their roots for international influences. “People like this music as it is. The change and development of this music should be about the way we sing – not to change the core of the genre,” says Sadat. “It’s about what you sing for the people, it’s not about what you sell to the people.”

Siji’s ‘Lagos Lullabye’

Inspired by the scenes in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver where the protagonist, played by Robert DeNiro, drives around the seedy and unforgiving streets of New York City, Nigerian artist Siji takes us through his country’s former capital city where the hustle is real and the bustle never stops.

This is Lagos in all its glory, accompanied by Siji’s narrative of a city that both thrives and thirsts at the same. This Afrobeat ode to one of Africa’s most electric cities (not literally, of course) reminds me of Fela Kuti’s Monday Morning in Lagos.

Siji’s forthcoming album ‘Home Grown’ is currently scheduled for release in spring of 2014. It’s been two and a half years in the making – a journey that’s been chronicled in the video below.

SIJI – ‘Home Grown’ (Official EPK) from SIJI on Vimeo.

Dynamic Africa is a curated multimedia blog focused on all facets of African cultures, African history, and the lives and experiences of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora – past and present. Visit the blog and connect with the curator, Funke Makinwa, on Twitter.