KAKADU – The Musical Reviewed

 

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Uche Nwokedi’s impressive musical Kakadu, which opens at the Johannesburg Theatre this June, may have been set in Lagos, Nigeria but its themes resonate with Rwanda, Kenya, South Sudan and many other African nations.

Set in mid 1960’s Nigeria, the musical is told through the lives of four friends living in post independence Nigeria and working out the challenges that come with nationhood.

They meet frequently at Lugard Da Rocha’s Kakadu, whose name is borrowed from what was an actual nightclub back in the 60s. Nwokedi notes in an interview that Kakadu was the place his uncles often went to which inspired the decision to situate his musical around it.

Da Rocha, the boisterous nightclub owner puts on quite the show-taking guests through periods of musical history from the Limbo, twist and bop, to Nigerian highlife music like Rex Lawson’s Sawale and Bobby Benson’s Taxi driver. Lagos is a city of nightlife, the city of promise, the no-joke city.

The thrills in their lives – women, night escapades and economic aspirations are cut short by the Biafran civil war, rendering those like Emeka and Osas who came from the East back home while his friends Dapo and Kola remain in the city. There’s a period of searching for those left behind, wondering what had become of the country’s freedom. Da Rocha loses his clients to the war but it is in this haunting silence of his bar walls that he has to come to terms with his own identity.

After the war, Emeka returns to Kakadu to find his friends. Lagos feels like a different town and he cannot return to business as usual having been on the frontlines for so long. It is the conversation with his friends that resonate with anyone who has experienced war, unrest or ethnic strife so common across the African continent.

“Hostilities? Is that the euphemism for the war?” Emeka asks his friend Kola who refers to the civil war in this way. Nothing will ever be the same. The reality sinks in when Emeka makes a request to marry his long-term girlfriend Bisi – but she’s from a different ethnic persuasion and both parents will have none of this.

Writer Nwokedi pushes his craft in Kakadu. A lawyer of known repute particularly in the oil and gas sector, he is at home on stage in his rolled up sleeves as he is in the courtroom closing cases. Where legally he cannot get away with mere emotion, in Kakadu he exposes the boldness of poetic license, getting on stage a message across that shared elsewhere would perhaps have different results. The conversations are difficult but here they come alive on his stage.

At the staging of Kakadu in May as part of the activities lined up to mark Lagos@50, there was palpable silence across the auditorium. At the mention of the war, some people walked out, perhaps because the play is considerably lengthy without a break, but also that there is still a lot of discomfort at the mention of Biafra. Kakadu played to audiences alongside Fela the musical – a Broadway and Royal National Theatre production – and Wakaa the Musical, produced by Nigerian veteran Bolanle Austen-Peters, albeit on different dates.

The music on this show scores high; the voices blend effortlessly conveying the right emotion. Musical director Benneth Ogbeiwi who also plays Lugard Da Rocha combines his own skill and mastery of voice with those of the entire cast. There’s not a dull moment with the music, only tapping of feet and nostalgia of the music of yesteryear. The costumes lend to each period in time heightened by the artistic woven display of the women’s hairs.

The shows antithesis would be its length, at three hours and without an interval it is a stretch but the scenes are captivating and one immediately forgives the producer for this faux. Also, the dialogue from Emeka and his friends is a tad bit drawn out in the opening scenes but they make up for this with their animated dances, which follow thereafter.

It is a show relevant for 60’s Biafra, post-election violence Kenya in 2007, the Rwandan genocide in 1994 or even the protracted Sudanese civil war. It speaks to the memories of hope of the locals, their dreams and aspirations for their future against the harrowing recollection of loss, displacement and death of those they know.

A fortnight after Kakadu was staged, the Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua foundation and co-sponsors hosted a colloquium in memory of Biafra@50 which had Nigeria’s acting President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and former President Olusegun Obasanjo in attendance.

Issues of marginalization, the memory of entire savings and business entitlement whittled to a mere 20 pounds and the starvation of children were brought up. In the same vein speakers celebrated the citizen-to-citizen efforts made by ordinary Nigerians to form an inclusive community where everyone was represented.

In his speech, Prof Osinbajo alluded to Biafran commander Ojukwu’s words on why he didn’t think a second Biafra would not be necessary, “We should have learnt from that first one, otherwise the deaths would have been to no avail; it would all have been in vain.”

Although Kakadu the musical is largely about Lagos, high living and merry good times, it is largely about finding the right place to appropriate a nation’s history and question what do we do with this. Africa should be having more of these conversations. Memory has a way of constructing our individual and cultural identities, particularly in literature, both oral and written and should therefore be embraced to help us evoke nostalgia and then move on.

As a Journalism student at Wits in the early 2000s, I came across many students, particularly undergraduates who had no sense of the other Africa, still reeling in their newly found freedom as a nation-state blurred by the promises of BEE.

Grace Musila, associate professor of English at Stellenbosch speaks of this idea of South Africa’s conflicted relation to its Africanness in her essay Lot’s Wife’s Syndrome and Double Politics In South Africa.

Although speaking from the point of literary awareness from its students, her postulation that South African exceptionalism manifests a conflicted kinship to its Africanness and a fear of glancing back, becoming “like Africa”— a phenomenon recently embodied by Zimbabwe’s crises. She continues, “Like Africa” is shorthand for all that is wrong with many postcolonial African states, including developmental challenges, weak institutions, and various tropes of failure, arguing that this undermines their ability to learn lessons from the rest of the continent.

Kakadu would offer some sense of other for these students, and nationals of all African countries as they struggle with their own issues down South, examining in their own ways, their response to their neighbors from across the continent. Particularly Nigeria.

 

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ATTITUDE. is. everything.

The manicurist at the local salon is just that by day. By evening, she’s a student in Yaba  Polytechnic learning IT. I walked in today after about six months and randomly ask where the manager is today. “She’s late – passed on in December after a brief illness.” Such a sad story. Her demise opened a door for this young, quiet lady to become the stand-in manager. A girl who three years ago came in to clean the  floors and quietly learnt the ropes how to do a good manicure without formal training and is now holding fort as the manager. The power of attitude, the willingness to learn and open doors allowed her to get to where she is now.

There’s a great gift shop that sells children’s items and quirky fun stuff in Lekki. It was one of the first places that Wowed me for customer service. There’s this young lady,a  graduate of Political science who manages the place. She knows what you are looking for and helps you get it. I love her attitude particularly because you go to so many stores where attendants ask you as you walk in, “Madam, what do you want?” Not how can we help you. And if you don’t look the part they totally ignore you. I keep going back because of the lady’s knowledge and her attitude. Her sights are however set on working in the political sphere. Her dreams are valid.

I used to love my previous hairdresser on Awolowo Road. She’s skilled and great at her job but her customer skills are non-existent. Once, I deviated from her  because I was tired of the attitude and the man who re-touched my hair burnt my scalp and he couldn’t care less. About four months ago I was introduced to a new place in Victoria Island by a fellow school mum and friend. The owner is a naturalista and runs the place with her stylish mum in the backroom. She’s taught her stuff to treat people with respect and speak well. That’s my new space. A place that takes people for what they are and gives you your moneys’ worth.

The news channels have been filled with talk of South Africa and xenophobia against Nigerians. I try to explain to a friend that the cadre of jobs being fought for are not held by white collar Sandton sitting Nigerians. It is the Nigerians on Cameroon Street in Braamfontein selling tomatoes and sukumawiki, and slowly growing a business until they own their houses in Gauteng. It is the pimps in Hillbrow making money off uneducated young black girls who don’t see a future. They are  doing whatever it takes to make money because there in South Africa, no one knows them. Not like Lagos where everyone is hustling but no one respects your hustle until you make it. I heard the story of a man who built a huge house in Ajah, beautiful mansion but the neighbours bad mouth him saying he does menial labour in the US. Does it matter? Doesn’t his wife wear expensive lace and live in her house with a working generator off the sweat of her husband? But no one respects the hustle.

Effort is always rewarded. Solomon speaks about wisdom in Proverbs 3, 4 and the value of it. And whatever it takes, learn to serve with a smile and value people for who they are and not the size of their wallets. Difficult lesson for today’s world.

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School is #SMWLagos

The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice. Brian Herbert 

Attending Social Media Week (#SMWLagos) was a choice; the willingness to learn. It has the capacity to put you in a classroom full of teachers from various backgrounds and give you an education in one week on media and various disciplines. I didn’t have the space and time to attend the full week as I had hoped so only caught snippets of it in person and followed the curated videos via social media feeds. I got an education in music without the crazy videos but enough fodder on lifestyle, some history and how social media is influencing the next music phase. For one who feels ancient and out of touch with global music trends as I am, Social Media week just leveled me with many others.

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The strength of #SMWLagos lies in its ability to network and pull relationships to its stage year after year. State Governors, diplomats, fashion bloggers and booksellers, bank CEOs and music legends as well as ordinary citizens were all there.

This year I got to meet co-founder Obi Asika who is also creative entrepreneur. His knowledge of the entertainment industry across Nigeria and some of the African continent,  the US and the UK is quite impressive. When you have a panel that features Asika, Mo Abudu, Bonlanle Austen – Peters, Chika Nwobi and is hosted by Zain Verjee you know it will be good. As an outsider, you also have to grit your teeth and admire their pride as they speak unapologetically on how the Nigerian art and music industry has paid its price and is now commanding global attention. There are lots of collaborative efforts now going on in theatre, music, film and Nollywood and Nigerians are

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Akoma’s Zain Verjee and media entrepreneur Obi Asika

Facebook has ‘noted’ the potential of Africa and has increased its footprint both in terms of human resource and attention paid to the market. Chris Coz, Chief Product Officer mentioned in his opening presentation on Monday that the social media giant is now accepting payment for advertisement in Naira. Makes sense. For every three adverts I see on my Fb feed daily, two are from Nigerian entertainers, artistes, banks etc and it points to the power of a market that cannot be ignored.

I loved the daily themes at #SMWLagos.The impact of Africa’s media landscape – Monday, travel on Tuesday and Women in Tech on Wednesday. Thursday was governance day and A great day in Gidi – celebrating influential digital change makers across the continent closed the sessions on Friday.

On Wednesday I caught up with the Women in Tech and enjoyed the panel the BBC had put together. Miriam Quansah, Digital Lead, Bilkisu Labaran, Editorial Lead at BBC World Service and Anne Soy-Mwendia, Africa’s health correspondent engaged by telling their stories and sharing how to leverage yourself in media. They were hosted by Didi Akinyelure, BBC World Service Reporter and 2016’s Komla Dumor award winner. Her energy is admirable, it’s possible that she’s channeling the former engineer in her but she does good crowd engagement. Stephanie Busari also did great with the CNN panel Monday talking about how social media is changing Africa’s storytelling. Just go to #OneTouchLive and see how these young photographers are showing a side of Africa previously hidden and which must be the new engagement.

Earlier that morning, four women got to pitch their tech-based businesses to the audience courtesy of She Leads Africa and the Dangote Foundation. Great ideas and good luck to them all as they seek angel investors. It is always great to hear the story of ‘How I began my business’ and it is always the idea of a problem seeking a solution.

I will remember Audu Maikori for telling the audience that, “Women are more expensive to promote (because they get married and fall pregnant) and they are also finicky.” The last part was said with a grin but he was all by himself. He was responding to Zain Verjee hosting a panel(manel) on Afrobeats who asked – is the business of music male dominated? D’banj’s views on this question was to say women have come from far in that they are no longer as conservative on stage as they used to be before. He reckons Rihanna taught them a thing or two. Great conversations until this part – particularly on the issue of the afrobeat style and legend, music payments and lip synching things – so I was happy the weird comments came at the end.img_1480

Networking – I remember meeting two great friends in 2015 when I first attended this meet-up and I met them again at this venue this year. Exactly two years. From Port Harcout to Lagos doing our thing. #SMWLagos also introduced me to the work of some very important organizations which I follow to date – Seun Onigbinde’s BudgIT, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) and Enough is Enough (EIE). On engaging government and steering the office of the citizen they are doing enough.I first heard Oby Ozikwesili here and realized she is a real soul. This year Kaduna Governor El-Rufai was talking tough when addressing the issue of #FakeNews and touched on the issue of Maikori versus the State. Bottom line is we’ve all got a job to do where verifying news is concerned.

Coffee was in plenty. I love img_1455that Nescafe has trained and kept the same team for the last three years. They have their jobs by the side but every March, they come  to pour copious amounts of coffee at #SMW. Its nothing to write home about (honestly) but it certainly kept us warm especially because Landmark had decided we needed to freeze inside those rooms. Brrrr! And the girls have great attitude and teamwork.

This meet-up is definitely worth your investment in terms of time and energy. Good luck to the organizers after you hang up your boots when the party ends tonight and take stock of what you did. Great Stuff. I learnt. Again

 

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A running city in words and pics

The marathon begun earlier than we had anticipated. Well, 30 minutes earlier than the scheduled time and we got there 1 minute after the elite runners had exited thanks to all roads closed. Stunned! Lagos City keeps time.

 

 

Walkers, runners and in-betweens. ©Frida Okutoyi

 

Keeping hydrated. Streets were cleaned up immediately after this. First image ©Frida Okutoyi.

Lagos Crowds – na mask una wear no fumes go meet um’

Paralympians. #GoForth

Abraham Kiptum crosses the 39Km mark. We raced past the sands at Eko Atlantic City (It’s Huge) and because of burly policemen wanting to show they are working, we missed him crossing the finish line.

Such a sad state of affairs the photo ops were. Not sure any of the big media – well except Supersport – got a clean photo finish at the end.

These beautiful ladies from the Kenyan highlands gave us a 1-2-3 finish. Rodah Chepkorir cuts the tape to win the Women’s marathon, Fridah Lodepa (2nd) is wheeled out in a wheelchair to regain her strength and last year’s winner Alice Timbilili (3rd) gets some refreshing. Alice, who won last year, had told me the day before “It’s a marathon. It is anyone’s race. We have all trained and are good so anyone can carry the day.” And Rodah did.

Winner takes it all.

The City and Its Bosses.

This is THE’ Eko Atlantic City,  the finishing point for the race. When I came to Lagos 4 years ago, all this was water with people regularly using the beach front for weekends and late night parties. It has now all been reclaimed and very much looking like a mini-Dubai city, without the bling buildings.

Finally, the Paps who ensured you had these memories live. For whichever media they work.

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AGRIBUSINESS ENTREPRENEURS ARE CRITICAL TO AFRICA’S SUCCESS.

Ever heard the saying ‘Ukulima sio ushamba?’ This article proves it…

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Africa’s next crop of entrepreneurs is turning to the soil for business. At least, that is what was revealed at an auditorium filled with aspiring business folk gathering for the second cohort of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) entrepreneurs’ boot camp in Lagos, Nigeria on 29th October.

Statistics from the TEF website show that agriculture was the leading sector with 304 of the 1000 entrepreneurs representing 54 African countries engaging in this business.

“We must glamorize agriculture,” Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo said at the event. He further urged the government to include policies that would favour the sector as a business.

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The passion for agribusiness was seen in one attendee’s plea to have the Nigerian government give more consideration to support start up farmers particularly in locations prone to flooding, which destroys harvests.

Against an economy negatively affected by low oil prices, the government has been forced to rethink its dependency on the commodity and is now seeking to diversify its source of finance.

Nigeria’s Minister for Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed stated that the government is now targeting agriculture, solid minerals and creative industries as new streams of revenue for the government.

He also reiterated the Administration’s commitment to improve the ease of doing business thereby attracting investors into the country. Nigeria is ranked 169 out of 190 countries according to the World Bank’s ease of doing business index for 2017.

Of the 75 Kenyans chosen to take part in this year’s program, 18 are in the field of Agribusiness. Another 10 are in the ICT business, which remains a favourite choice for entrepreneurs across the continent.

A study released in February by the TEF titled Unleashing Africa’s Agricultural Entrepreneurs focused on the challenges facing them and the need for solutions to help improve their competitiveness. The recommendations included offering training; access to finance, strengthening value chains and having governments invest in the sector.

In many ways, the boot camp spoke to the recommendations tabled by the report. It featured a mix of plenary sessions, workshops and master classes facilitated by some of Nigeria’s foremost business leaders.

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The highlight came when businessman and TEF visionary Tony Elumelu hosted a couple of African leaders to charge the entrepreneurs.

In attendance was the President of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, former Prime Minister of Benin Lionel Zinsou and Ms. Clare Amakazi of the Rwanda Development Board.

Africa’s richest woman Folorunsho Alakija shared her journey to wealth including some of the challenges she faced urging the participants never to give up.

This is the second year TEF is hosting entrepreneurs as part of its commitment to drive economic growth within the continent.

In 2015, 167 Kenyans were chosen for the inaugural program, which includes 12 weeks of online training and pairing with mentors to support their growth. The ultimate reward is the $5000 seed money that goes towards their business development.

Many of those describe the experience with TEF as critical for the development of their businesses in so many ways.

Notable start-ups like Amanda Gicharu of Amanda’s Kitchen, David Otieno’s City Rydes and James Kariuki who works in the energy sector are all alumni of the inaugural entrepreneurship class.

Chris Mutandi states that he was able to develop his Montreal Medical Clinics operating in rural Kenya with the seed money he received. The clinics aim to increase access to affordable health care in marginalized communities.

Tapuwa Ndogwe notes that the experience offered huge social capital for him, a testimony echoed by many others from all over the continent. It further allowed him to develop his ideas in renewable energy with the seed capital he received.

“Our company Greennovations was able to create the kind of prototype we needed and move our idea from paper to the place where we are now comfortable to present it for testing,” he noted. Greennovations turns waste from tyres and plastics into renewable energy and is looking to be an alternative supplier to the national grid in future.

One participant however feels he is owed an explanation by the Foundation on why he is yet to receive his seed money. Njalalle Baraza an agricultural entrepreneur was listed as one of the successful 2015 entrepreneurial candidates. He cites the experience at TEF as great, particularly because it afforded the chance to network with others from Mozambique, Benin, Angola and Guinea in one room.

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He is however pained that despite numerous communication follow-ups, even reaching out on social media, he is yet to understand why he did not receive the $5000 seed money. He adds, “I am especially crestfallen because it took me an expensive business trip to Kenya to meet their requirements of a business account only for me to be met with silence.”

TEF’s Communication Manager Bolanle Omisore confirmed that 978 people got seed funding from the foundation in 2015. TEF lists in detail the requirements that entrepreneurs must go through to finally access the seed money promised.

In Baraza’s case, she noted that an incomplete submission based on the online training module and a written business plan may be the reason his disbursement was delayed. The foundation’s alumni manager has however reached out to him to settle this.

One thing that is clear Is that Africa’s next entrepreneurs will be a connected lot across the globe with great stories of opportunity that opened up because of their participation in TEF. The energy and excitement around the room was testament enough to that.

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It is Africa’s decade of Worship and Kenya needs to go beyond borders.

Two cities. Two worship concerts. One night. One theme: Africa Let’s worship.

At the 18,000 seater Winners Chapel in Nairobi, worshippers gathered on Friday 26th September for the annual AFLEWO concert. On a parallel stage in Lagos, the City of David Parish of RCCG held the 4th edition of the Alabanza concert. Themed Sounds of Africa, it featured South Africa’s Loyiso Bala, Ghana’s Joe Mettle and Chioma Jesus as well as a host of Nigerian gospel leaders. The only East African act was Emmy Kosgey and chances are high that her inclusion at the concert was that she also resides in Lagos.

AFLEWO, started in 1996 as a simple event in Daystar University has grown over the years to become a must-attend on the Christian calendar for many enthusiasts. Timothy Kaberia who started the movement is recognized in Kenya’s Christian circles as a respected worship leader and has shared the stage locally and abroad with several high profile singers.

It is the decade in which African worship reigns but does Kenya have the exposure it needs to share the stage with other worship leaders within the continent?

Emmy readily acknowledges that does not know many Kenyan gospel artistes who have visited Nigeria for performances since she moved to the country.

“We’ve invited Eunice Njeri and Lucy Kitonga as guest ministers to our church but I am not aware of other musicians from home performing in Lagos,” she says.

At the Alabanza concert, it was easy to see how seriously Nigeria takes worship. There’s a distinct aura around the event that was far from hype; it was hands raised in the air, almost perfect coordination on stage and an audience that came to do business with God. Although it poured heavily all night with sections of the overflow outside dripping, the sounds from the stage were crisp and clear with a band, which evidently put in hours at work, accompanying the musicians beautifully.

Solly Mahlangu’s Wahamba Nathi arguably takes the crown for the most decorated worship song. Rated as the most viewed gospel video on YouTube, the song has received airplay on Christian stations and is sang in worship services almost every week. Joyous Celebration’s Tambira Jehovah follows in popularity as does Uche Agu’s My God is good O’.

Grace Mandela, a lawyer and worship leader at the Green Pastures Tabernacle in Nairobi believes that the African worship genre has come of age, which is why many churches are now borrowing heavily from the continent.

“For the longest time we haven’t had indigenous and relevant worship music. We were influenced by Integrity music then Hillsong music. Why we now gravitate towards African music is because that music has come of age. It’s no longer choruses or repetition of a single sentence. It’s worship music born from a history of devotion by African worshippers,” she says.

Grace believes that the continents songwriters have mastered the craft and art of worship and are ready to take music in the church to the next level.

She is right. In the last two months Kenya has invited notable acts like Nathaniel Bassey better known for his songs Imela, Casting Crowns and Elohim. Sonny Badu and his Midnight Band quickly followed spending the week at a convention organized by the Jubilee Christian Church. Badu is a well-known Ghanaian worship minister whose popular songs include Baba O’ and Covenant Keeping God.

Sinach who has sang I know who God says I am and Way Maker emerged the best West African artist of the year at the Groove Awards ceremony held in June this year. Indeed, a campaign was held on Facebook requesting her to follow with a performance in the country but organizers are unclear whether the event publicized for November, then cancelled, will still hold.

Many African songs that find their way on our pulpits have their origins in South Africa, Nigeria and Rwanda. Many of the acoustic tunes are without a doubt originally from DR Congo.

Kosgey recalls a moment when she was recording with the group Joyous Celebration and the leader played a tune that he qualified as East African. “I listened to it and told him this was not a Kenyan tune, this was lingala. He then asked me what constitutes the East African tune? In truth, we do not have that identity yet,” she adds.

Why haven’t Kenyan worship leaders made inroads into the continent while they have the same gifting and passion as the rest? The ‘balance of trade’ between ours and other nations is wanting.

On Friday evening, it was pleasantly surprising to listen to the audience join in a Swahili song at the tail end of Kosgey’s performance. It is rare, however to find a Kenyan song on the airwaves in Nigeria let alone a gospel one in churches.

If we take AFLEWO alone, which filled Winners Chapel to capacity, this is massive influence. Pete Odera, Kenya’s godfather of worship holds concerts that are well attended, as does Jack & Joyce Odongo.

Mwanga, a local worship group has performed in several churches locally and was in the US for concerts a while back. Reuben Kigame who has dabbled in politics and is now a radio entrepreneur has composed timeless songs, which are performed all over the country.

Rwanda’s Ambassadors of Christ choir enjoys massive following with more than one million hits, as do Tanzania’s artistes like Christina Shusho.

In 2013 Nairobi Chapel’s Pastor Nikko Ochieng led a live recording session of the album ‘Call to Worship’ with more than 1000 people in attendance. The album’s initial sales have been good within the country and across the churches they have visited.

“We’ve sold most of the DvDs we carried to Germany, Australia and the United States where we have performed over five times,” he mentions. His team is lucky to have a buy-in from the churches’ senior Pastor. They travel overseas at least once a year for concerts in the areas where the ministers are preaching.

“When you watch One Gospel, you realize a lot of the music showing is from worship concerts not necessarily solo gospel acts. It takes a huge investment in Kenya to get this kind of buy-in from churches because the worship leaders cannot pull off recordings of this magnitude without funds.”

However, Nikko believes the gift is there and Kenyan worship acts are ready for export, given the right support from home and beyond.

“We’ve done our own songs in Swahili in each of the churches we were invited to, and they linger on with the congregation for many months,” emphasizes Nikko. “But this is a small market because for our music to go global, it has to be played on radio in all these countries. That is where we pull off audiences, and that is why all these acts can come to Kenya easily and influence us, because we heard them first on the airwaves,” he concludes.

Emmy Kosgey believes there is also the place of appreciating our local language when it comes to delivery of the music. “Wherever I sing in churches in Nigeria people love it because it is different,” she states. We must embrace our own creative style of worship different from that of the West we have copied for so long.

In July this year, legendary gospel artist Don Moen concluded recording with Nigerian act Frank Edwards on their first work together titled Grace. Moen sings in Edwards’ Igbo language in one of the songs, a telling example of the growing influence of the use of local languages in the music space today.

The United States Navy Band’s rendition of the song Baba Yetu recorded at their memorial in 2015 is a great pointer that our music is well loved and can influence beyond the continent. Incidentally, it has also been performed by British born Alex Boye who has a huge following in the West.

One other thing needed to grow the industry is time allocated to artistes. “In Kenya you are invited to minister and given five to ten minutes on the pulpit which is hardly enough to make an impact,” says Emmy. “It is different here because you get about 30 minutes for worship – not just to entertain or hype the audience.”

It is this hype that Grace Mandela says worshippers need to be wary of. “Would I be wrong to say that we still thrive on the hype and pay little attention to the heart of the Father?” she asks.

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Afolayan’s The CEO seeks to bring Africa together

By the time Disney’s Queen of Katwe opens in September this year, Nigerian movie producer Kunle Afolayan should be basking in the glory of his latest movie The CEO. These are the two movies set to define the African screenscape in 2016 for different reasons.

Queen of Katwe, based on Tim Crothers book is a true story and features big name actors and one newcomer. Afolayan’s The CEO is a work of fiction scripted by legendary writer Tunde Babalola and features several well-known actors from five parts of the continent. One focuses on Uganda as a site of its narrative the other pulls several actors from different parts of the continent and brings their story together.

It is Afolayan’s  5th production as a filmmaker but one that will show that African producers have come of age and why we should be putting our money in telling our own stories.

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40 minutes of a sneak preview of The CEO to select sponsors, friends and media in Lagos this week were enough to whet anyone’s appetite over the remaining parts. The CEO is a well-crafted movie with a definite commercial angle to it.

The official premier will take place 35,000 feet above sea level on an Air France voyage from Lagos to Paris on June 1st and will subsequently headline at Nollywood week Paris from the 2nd to 5th.

Afolayan, who refuses to be moulded to fit the Nollywood producers’ stereotype, is that filmmaker who has an eye on both the craft and the business. On this one, they solidly come together. In a country that makes a movie on average every day, waiting for two years to get onto the screen again may seem a waste of time but as he says, it is worth the wait..

Movie making is a costly venture and Afolayan decided to go big or go home. His partnerships with Africa Magic, Air France, and financial backing from the Bank of Industry through its Nollyfund have enabled him to complete a successful project.The CEO is rumoured to have a budget of $1 million, which for independent producers is difficult to come by.

It should not be difficult for the movie to gain acceptance. The script may seem conventional but nothing is far from the truth. Five top executives of a telecommunications firm gather together at a weeklong leadership course to determine which of them will take up the coveted position of the CEO of their Nigeria office. One by one they begin to die in mysterious circumstances until only two of them are left. Is it sheer coincidence or does someone want the position so badly he eliminates his colleagues to get the corner office?

Grammy award singer Anjelique Kidjo plays Dr. Zimmerman, the course tutor assisted by Lisa (Kemi Lala Akindoju). Kola, played by Nigerian consummate actor Wale Ojo, Riikard (Nico Panagiotopoulos) and Jomo (Peter King Nzioki) are the male executives going for the job. They are pitted against Eloise played by French-Ivorian actress Aurelie Eliam, and Yasmin featuring Moroccan Star Fatim Layachi.

Artistic Director

The film was shot in multiple locations and uses authentic language speakers for the intonations in it. The Pan-African cast was deliberately handpicked to reflect each corner of the continent without your cliché’ big name actors.

“I was not looking for big African Hollywood names, I was simply seeking great actors known in their countries whom I could work with.” Said Afolayan. “Also, we didn’t want to use outsiders whose intonations of our language would come off completely wrong,” he adds in reference to Hollywood’s casting of American actors for native African speaker-accents.

In Kenya he spoke to ten actors before settling on Peter King who incidentally was the last one to audition. It was chemistry that sealed the deal. “I had a chat with him and immediately knew that we could work together,” he says.

Each actor takes an equal place at the table.  Scriptwriter Tunde Babalola builds a storyline that allows each of them to showcase the richness of their languages and nations without losing the plot of the story. The language is all part of this narrative, beautifully woven around the strengths and foibles of the characters who play them.

Babalola says of the film, “We tried to make an elevated movie that will pass a message across and get people to appreciate a great pan-African film.”

Commercially, one cannot ignore the feeling of ownership that would come from countries represented by the actors.

From Morocco to South Africa, Kenya and Ivory Coast, audiences will appreciate seeing someone they know on the big screen eventually pulling in viewers outside Nigeria.

Nairobi city makes a minor appearance and it is hard to ignore the choice of location – a parking lot in the central business district.It was also where they wrapped up shooting for the film even though the city doesn’t get a chance to glorify itself, unlike the Lagos shoot at La Campagne Tropicana.

The director admits that Nairobi was by far the most difficult place to shoot even though it had the fewest scenes in the movie. “Kenya follows the Hollywood, or book way of filming. One has too many licenses to pay for. Nigerians are used to shortcuts – just get it done in the cheapest way possible – so that was a bit of a challenge for us,” he admits.

Afolayan’s 2013 release October 1 won multiple honors including three awards at the 2015 African Movie Academy Awards in South Africa. It also bagged 9 others taking best film 2014 at the African Magic Viewers Choice Awards the same year.

In many ways Africa will be proud of this movie for several reasons. With so many of its cultures elevated in one script, it is easy to see the thought that went behind each scene. On cinematography, there were no amateurs. Camera angles, the lighting, framing and different colours all come seamlessly together in the final product.

Although the director’s best filming moment was the extract shot at the Charles de Gaulle airport, it is the scenes in Abidjan that come alive. Blame it on the French accents and the stoic character of Haitian Jimmy-Jean Louis as Jean Marc, husband to Eloise.

Afolayan’s ability to network sees him get the best. It is his fearless attitude and unwavering commitment that got him past Angelique Kidjo’s red tape to feature on this move. The partnership with Air France allowed them access to film at the Charles de Gaulle airport, a feat previously unachieved, according to the airlines commercial director Arthur Dieffenthaler.

The movie will open to audiences in Lagos from July 15th with a run expected across African movie theatres later in the year.

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