Hustle, Gratitude and Love – Reflections on 2016

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Picture by Cheka Photography

A quick review of my 2016 and all I see is the hustle, reward and gratitude. At the start of the year, I promised to challenge myself and test my limits. Pegged on high hopes and aspirations, I started my year with high expectations unbeknownst to the challenges that would befall me. The hustle was real and PR game strong, making the result invaluable in an extremely difficult path to tread. Let me break it down.

Securing all the media partnerships and managing PR and communication for Sauti Sol’s Live and Die in Afrika Tour – Kenya’s most successful nationwide tour in record – was no joke. If I had known how difficult that task and job was going to be – I might have reconsidered. I almost lost my mind – being on tour for about six weeks back to back from town to town, catching up on media partners, local stations, reports, press conferences, press releases et al. At the end of it, we garnered record numbers reaching out to a majority of campus students but most importantly – we set the pace for Kenyan music entertainment. Thank you Radio Africa, Nation Media, HBR, Urban Radio (Kisumu), Moi University Radio (Eldoret), Beat99 (Lagos), Hero Radio (Nakuru), Lolwe TV (Kisumu), Muuga FM and Meru TV (Meru) and any other media fraternity that partnered with us on the tour or on any one of our campaigns.

That was Feb to May. Starting July to Dec, I got into another project close to my heart – being Publicist of Coke Studio Africa for a second time on the show’s fourth season.

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The experience on the show for me is always priceless because I love African music, expression and achievement – exactly some of the pillars of the show, which promotes cross-cultural collaborations. Season 4 drew artistes from six additional African countries making the total eleven, namely: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Togo, Ghana, Cameroon, Angola and Ivory Coast. Themed Discover, the season empowered my discovery of dope music from other parts of Africa, and for me – the feeling of learning and discovering at work just keeps me alive. Finally meeting and working with artistes I have adored in the past was also another highlight. In total I worked with over 30 of Africa’s leading music talent and an international guest star (Trey Songz). It was difficult to keep concentration at work sometimes, I mean how can you while you’re sitting next to Trey Songz and all the superstars you see on MTV on a daily basis like Stonebwoy, Falz, Maphorisa and Toofan? At times had to just work from home to ensure that I’ve locked down my deadlines during the day then get into the studio in the evening as our work hours usually extended till midnight during the recording period.

I wrote about Meeting and Working with Trey Songz: Part I

Being Editor and writer of cokestudioafrica.com blog was fun too! Here are some of my favourite articles so far:

The Different Faces of Falz

Flavour on his illustrious musical career

Yamoto Band on Fame and Fortune

Henok Mehari on the legend of the Mehari Brothers

‘Coke Studio is a lifestyle’: Madtraxx on Producer Speak

Joh Makini on uniting Africa

Travel and tour was generally more local and a tad minimal internationally-speaking. Our office holiday in Diani at Swahili Beach was dope 🙂 The party during my return to Diani with Tomas was bomb, inspiring a mission to explore club cultures across cities. We just need the time and money for this! 🙂

Sauti Sol’s media tour in Dar es Saalam in partnership with Clouds Entertainment was probably the sickest we’ve had in TZ yet. Thank you Kerry and B-Dozen for agreeing to partner with us and believing in my proposal.

Trip to Mombasa to see Chris Brown and Wizkid live in concert was dope! I wrote about the importance of the event and meeting Wizkid and Bebe Cool. Read Wizkid and Chris Brown Mombasa Concert: Bebe Cool State of Mind (Part I)

My trip to South Africa was like a pilgrimage. I had never been to South Africa and I knew that this year I had to go over to Jozi to attend the MAMAs (MTV Africa Music Awards) because Sauti Sol would be winning. My heart told me that after almost ten years of consistent hustle, sweat, hard work and tears – this would be Sauti Sol’s year. For that reason, nothing or no one would stop me from attending the MAMAs just to witness that moment. And then we won our first MAMA for Best Group.

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Despite the challenges and difficulty, I made it to Jozi and had the best company – Tomas! Thank you, and Maria too for keeping us company. Below are some of my stories from Jozi:

Retracing South Africa’s History: Visiting Apartheid Museum (Part I)

Visiting Mandela House: Retracing Nelson Mandela’s Soweto Home

My week in Johannesburg – 7 things to do in Jozi

Another Publicist’s dream come true was when Sauti Sol made it into E! Yes! The Kardashians E! And yes! They traveled all the way to Kenya to interview Sauti Sol. Thank you E! and Sauti Sol Style Squad for bringing it and Kempinski for hosting us.

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In May, I was offered a rare opportunity to be a mentor on Blaze Kenya, Safaricom’s mentorship initiative. It was an honour for me as mentoring has always been close to my heart because I honestly owe my key career lessons to my first mentors who were producers at BBC and KBC. When I was younger I kept changing my mind on professions I wanted to take up severally, up until I settled on journalism last minute right before completing high school. If I had known professionals, ladies especially, who had excelled in other non-traditional or artsy careers then I would have benefitted from their mentorship or example because it was hard to be different and be the best in what you only envision in your mind. While the on-boarding process was a nightmare, the intense personal training for mentors provided me with invaluable Life Lessons on: how to package myself as an individual or brand and how to tell my story and be a public speaker. I had a ball mentoring at the Journalism Pod alongside Patricia Kihoro, Tamima Ibrahim, Nick Mutuma and Anita Nderu.

After seven good years at reporting, hosting and producing on TV I quit my TV job at Grapevine KBC in September because I was tired of doing the same thing or being asked by people why I haven’t moved the show to another station. What value is there in doing the same shit on a different day and place? I want to be different and will only take opportunities that embody that and additionally challenge me to learn and be better.

I wrote about leaving Grapevine – read Looking Beyond: A Tribute to Grapevine TV Show

For a long time I have loved the style and ethic of Not Just Ok – Nigeria’s No. 1 Music site, so it was serendipity when its founder approached me to Head their new East African site: link to site (it’s pretty new, we haven’t even announced yet but will do soon). In the mean time, submit quality East African music content to anyiko@notjustok.com

In November I got a new monthly column on Yummy Magazine (Nairobi’s premiere Food & Lifestyle magazine) where I am now interviewing celebrities on Food, Drinks and their Lifestyle. First feature was Yemi Alade and second, coming out mid Jan, is Tinie Tempah.

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Despite the harsh winter season, Chrismas in Czech Republic was so beautiful I don’t even have words to describe it – still grappling over other to-be-posted blogs.

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In the mean time, some stories from Czech below:

My week in Prague – First time in Czech Republic

A Czech Christmas on 24th December

Some of my other highlights included being featured by DRUM Magazine, I blogged about it. Read Yaaay! Finally Got Interviewed by DRUM Magazine (April 2016) Others included running PR with my Anyiko PR Team (they were amazing) for Sweden@Kenya project by the Embassy of Sweden, together with the Kenyan Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts, as well as the Swedish Institute. I am proud of a Sweden@Kenya Op-Ed written by the project’s team that I orchestrated and was published by Daily Nation. Read – Why we must prioritize the creative sector

Somewhere in between – I found love. It’s just great to be in an equal, respectful and symbiotic relationship. It’s rare to find someone who cares so much that they will be tough on you and at the same time challenge you to be better because they believe in you and see your potential. In the recent past I have craved for meaningful relationships and being in one now makes me want to be better. It makes me feel like I have not only come of age but I am deserving, and that inversely empowers my self-esteem, and longstanding slogan – that ‘I am enough’—inspired by Susan Omeara, a powerful editor and woman who also played a part in mentoring me.

In 2017 I just don’t want mediocrity. I also don’t want to ask for much because 2016 rained torrents. I want to be in even more meaningful relationships cutting across work, friendships and alliances. I want to find more time to read the books I love and complete the political jargon that I’ve been reading since I can remember. I want to write more on arts and culture for mainstream paper, discover more music and write on the same, get back to TV or producing content and then travel back to West Africa.

Thank you to those who gave me a chance and opportunity and held my hand in times of need. To those who inspired me when I really needed it – thank you too. Those who were tough on me – thank you too because you made me tough and work harder. As always I am open to learning and becoming better.

Wish you all a great 2017!

A Czech Christmas on 24th December

IMG_0429.JPGThis is the first time that I am spending Christmas away from Kenya and with a new family.

It’s even more interesting to me that the most important Czech Christmas celebration is marked on 24th of December and not 25th like in most countries around the world. This is mainly because they believe that Baby Jesus was actually born on Christmas Eve making it the most important day of Christmas celebrations, making 25th a celebration of his birthday – also a symbolic holiday here.

Now to dig into the history of Jesus birthday – the earliest source stating 25th as the birth day was by Hippolytus of Rome (170-236) – the most important 3rd-century theologian in the Christian Church in Rome. This was based on the assumption that the conception of Jesus took place at spring equinox which he placed on March 25th but could have been on any twenty-something date. In addition, there is historical evidence that by the middle of the 4th century the Christian churches of the East celebrated the birth and baptism of Jesus on January 6th while those in the West celebrated a nativity feast on December 25th (said to have been influenced by winter solstice). Depending on their hemispherical location, there are also some countries that mark Christmas celebrations in July. In summary, Jesus could have actually not have been born on 25th December but the day ended up to be the most convenient and most universally accepted day to celebrate.

Back to our Czech Christmas on 24th December …

On Christmas Eve we woke up early and started wrapping Christmas gifts. I just hadn’t done this for at least ten years. Wonder what happened to the culture we had at home when I was younger. There is a Czech Christmas tradition where some people fast throughout Christmas Eve in the hope that they will see a vision of a golden pig that should appear on the wall before dinner. Meant to be a sign of good luck, I had slept the previous night promising myself that I would fast all day but when I woke up to the smell of a freshly baked Christmas pastries, I just threw that fasting pact out of the window. For Christmas Brunch we had Vánočka, tea and coffee. Vánočka can be loosely translated in English as Christmas Loaf and is another special Czech delicacy only made during the Christmas Celebrations. It was warm, fresh off the oven and had a rich taste. Loved the nuts and fruits!

For Christmas Lunch we had Staročeský Kuba, an old traditional meat-free Czech recipe, made in groats (oat, wheat, rye and barley) with mushrooms. I read somewhere that some families that had fasting individuals waiting to see the golden pig would still eat Kuba as an exception and it was befitting as its cheap and simple to make, making it the perfect Christmas dish for families from all walks of life. Kuba is yummy dish for me because of the mushrooms – which Czechs have a thing for. They are big in mushrooms cuisine and gathering the same in the forests. I have always loved mushrooms and appreciate a people who know how yummy a mushroom can be.

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Before Christmas Dinner started we said grace. We first had traditional Fish Soup (made of carp), and fried Fish (Zander and Perch) paired in the yummiest potato salad I’ve ever had. It had Pickle Sauce and Lemon. After that David (Tomas’ brother) played the piano as we [I tried 🙂 ] sang some Czech Christmas Carols.

After dinner, Christmas gifts are taken down to sit by the Christmas tree. So we took them down and this was followed by the most serious gift ceremony I’ve ever attended. We all sat around and David handed over gifts to individuals, one by one, after which each person would open theirs and the person who gifted them would explain why they got them that gift or some piece of useful information. It was bomb!

In summary, I am more than impressed at how Czechs have stayed true and strict to their Christmas celebrations – that first they continue to mark it on the 24th of December and second – eat the same exact dishes over time immemorial. Tomas informs me that the same Christmas dinner is had across ALL households and only had once a year – during Christmas celebrations and is not something you can even order at a restaurant on a normal day. They want to know how we spend Christmas in Kenya and I explain that usually a goat gets slaughtered and other delicacies that may include duck and rabbit. I think for us, like for them too, spending Christmas is all about spending time with family and loved ones. I think it’s however general that Kenyans go way more ham on food – it’s always a feast like a wedding or funeral would be.

So how does it feel to celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December? Pretty much the same as the spirit and intention is the same and it almost always feels the same from 24th all the way to Boxing Day. I am happy to taste some different culture and spend it with really loving and awesome people. I just missed being dirty in the village doing weird chores – you know how it gets at shagz. Veselé Vánoce from wherever you are reading this! Enjoy your holidays!

BONUS: I found a dope site that documents how different countries mark Christmas: Here is it – thank me later

When 3 Producers Drop 3 Dope EPs

2016 will go down in history as the year of dope EPs, from Davido’s Son of Mercy to Burna Boy’s Redemption. However it was the silent producers behind some of our beloved hit songs from our favourite artistes who ruled the roost. This blog post is an ode to 3 dope producers: Blinky, DJ Maphorisa and Maleekberry. It’s your turn to shine!

1.We Cut Keys While You Wait (Blinky Bill) – 2016

img_9346For those who don’t reckon renowned Kenyan multi-talented artiste Blinky Bill – start to get your facts. He’s a founding member of Kenya’s most successful house/funk/disco band Just-A-Band (JAB). Alongside former JAB member Jim Chuchu, he produced almost, if not all, of JAB’s discography, and the albums: Sorry for the Delay, 82 and Scratch to Reveal. Last year, JAB announced a break – a move that broke the hearts of many JAB fans (including me). Fear as to what will happen to their legacy is now a thing of the past as the group has since cemented it all in writing through the launch of their own book cleverly titled Just A Book. Blinky’s EP We Cut Keys While You Wait dropped in August. With features, Blinky likes to call key cutters, including former Camp Mulla rapper ShappaMan, soulful daughter of legendary singer Sal Davis – Maia Von Lekow, the most underrated Kenyan power vocalist Sage and JAB member Nairobidhobi – this is solid backing into his solo entrant into the game. It’s electronic, sometimes reminiscent of JAB but mostly fun, melodious and good vibes. Love them all but have to pick Wacha Maneno with ShappaMan as my stand out track.

I wrote about Why Just A Band can’t wrap things up yet.

2. Last Daze of Summer (Maleekberry) – 2016

maleek-berryMaleekberry is the genius feel-good Nigerian producer responsible for producing classic tracks from some top Nigerian artistes. Among hit songs he produced include Runtown’s Lagos to Kampala and Walahi, Wizkid’s The Matter and Wande Coal’s Weekend. What most of us never knew about Maleekberry was that he is a dope artiste by his own right. In the words of Gidi Culture Festival, he’s a “a triple threat producer, singer and songwriter,” adding, “Drawing influences from his Nigerian heritage and his British staple, he has created his own sound that no doubt will add some sauce to the fast moving African music movement globally.” I always prayed that he would one day drop a solo record and so when Last Daze of Summer dropped in September, it didn’t come to me as a surprise. Apart from Eko Miami featuring Geko (please who is this?), Maleekberry doesn’t flaunt his famous friends in music in this EP by inviting them to collaborate – a show that he’s stand-alone in any situation. This afro-pop EP has a touch of Burna Boy’s inimitable style and a touch of London’s underground indie soul music movement. It’s so hard for me to choose my standout track. I’ll pick Kontrol only because of it’s video’s eclectic and radiant creative direction. As we put a face to the name and beats, you can see Maleekberry taking control of his new image, and showing off his cool dance moves.

3. Blaqboy EP (DJ Maphorisa) – 2016

img_9347DJ Maphorisa of South African music group – Uhuru has in the last couple of years proved himself to be a strong independent artiste and one of Africa’s most influential music producers. He has produced gems like Yuri da Cunha’s Atchu Tchutcha featuring himself, Mafikizolo’s Khona, Happiness and Colours of Africa. When the world thought that Maphorisa’s pan-African hit release Soweto Baby, and co-producing Drake and Wizkid’s global hit One Dance were highlights enough for this year, he went on to be a major producer on Coke Studio Africa’s fourth season before dropping his solo project – The Blaqboy EP. Featuring Africa’s new kids on the block like Tanzanian pop diva Vanessa Mdee, South Africa’s rappers Mtee and Maggz, and Nigeria’s dancehall king Patoranking and rapper YCEE – the curation of collaborators on this EP alone is a solid 100% The best thing about the EP is it doesn’t sound like what you would expect—that very heavy Kwaito beat we know Maphorisa for. This is his big return to his founding genres of hip-hop & rap, and him probably telling he world that he’s more than just some type of African sound, but a collector and emitter of talent.

Retracing South Africa’s History: Visiting Apartheid Museum (Part I)

fullsizerender-1On a fine Tuesday, I arrive at South Africa’s Apartheid Museum, situated in Johannesburg’s Northern Park Way and Gold Reed Road at The Complex at about 10.30 a.m. Picture taking at the museum isn’t allowed – bummer for the journalist in me. I am sure I will be writing a lot of notes and sneaking some pictures here and there. Opened in 2001, the museum digs deep into South Africa’s history and the apartheid regime (1948 – 1994), and how it exalted segregation and white minority rule.

Apartheid is a system of segregation or discrimination from certain rights, associations and movements on grounds of race (white persons, black persons and other non-white people and ethnic groups).

Accompanied by Tomas—our tickets indicate that we should enter the museum using the entrance marked either for Blacks or Whites. Even though I am black I enter the white section because of my white card and vice versa for Tomas. As we enter, we find ourselves walking down corridors plastered with olden identification cards of white persons on the Whites side and pass books of black persons on the Blacks sides. This is Classification – apartheid’s premiere foundation, and my first lesson at the museum. During the regime, all black people over the age of 16 were required to carry passes. No black person could stay in an urban area more than 72 hours unless allowed. The law stipulated where, when, and for how long a person could stay at certain areas. As we walk down the corridors, separated from each other by wire meshes, I feel as if we are in incarceration. The separation is a test of being segregated from one another. It’s an inconvenience – we can’t even compare and contrast notes at this point.

After the Classification section, we gladly reunite on the way into another section of the museum. At the ramps, we pass by mirrored pillars plastered with images of people (mostly white immigrants). This area reenacts the pilgrimage into young Jozi that was known as Egoli – the place of gold. By 1886, gold discovery had made Egoli the Mecca of southern Africa, attracting traders, westerners and people of all races, making it at one point the African country that had the most racially varied inhabitants – many of whom would later find a home in South Africa.

Through rooms designed as exhibition halls, prison or detention rooms– the museum transports us back into the past, documenting how, through enforced legislation by the then National Party and its propagandist ideals, apartheid divided the nation. Among several classic themed films, we watch one documenting the contribution black workers at the mines made to the gold trade. As the trade improved South Africa’s overall economy and industrialization, the lives of poor black workers, drilled by the system, dilapidated.

My powerful encounters with the museum include passing through the documentation of black deterioration – lack of education, poverty and hunger. The rooms documenting political killings freak me out with their ceilings garnished in loose hanging suicide ropes – as an enactment of the then government’s scapegoat in explanation of sudden deaths. Government claimed that most political activists either hanged themselves or died of natural causes if not accidents. At this section there are lists of over forty political activists killed, and a documentation of their ideologies. They include Ahmed Timol, Neil Aggett and Andrew Zondo. I particularly love Biko’s anti-apartheid approach of using black consciousness to empower and mobilize the urban black population. I also purchase his self-written memoir at the museum’s bookshop.

Of South Africa’s history, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission section has always been hard for me. There is a room that shows actual videos from the sessions. I can’t stay too long in here. I am unable to watch men expound on their acts of gross human violations – explaining how they would torture others till they either opened up or succumbed. The life lesson here is that to move on and forgive, you must first be open to knowing the truth …

Retracing South Africa’s History – Visiting Apartheid Museum (Part II)

Visiting Mandela House: Retracing Nelson Mandela’s Soweto Home

img_8768I have ardently followed Nelson Mandela’s history from an early age. I remember that as a little girl I wondered what Nelson Mandela had to do to be so respected across the world, and become a whole country’s saviour and arbitrator. When the Nelson Mandela movies started coming out, I was even more enthralled by his legend. I still wonder what sort of man could have had such a strong will to persevere, fight and succeed, and at the same time have such a big forgiving heart. I always knew that if I found myself in South Africa I would have to visit Nelson Mandela’s first home – today known as The Mandela House or The Mandela House Museum. It’s the first place I ask how far it is, as soon as we arrive at O.R. Tambo international airport.

On a fine Tuesday morning, Tomas and I set off to retrace Nelson Mandela’s roots. We first visit the Apartheid museum (blogging about this next), which has an entire section dedicated to Nelson Mandela. However, I can’t wait to get to Soweto (South Western Townships). On our way, I am having thoughts of all the South African movies I’ve watched in the past, which were either biopics of Nelson Mandela, or reenacted and touched on the topic of Soweto’s infamous uprising. They included Safarina, Long Walk to Freedom and Cry Freedom.

As we pass by two of South Africa’s biggest stadiums, our Uber driver mutters, “This is where we held the World Cup.” It’s obvious that FNB Stadium’s grandiose architecture, and South Africa’s feat as the first African country to host the World Cup is another focal point of their national pride. We also get to see Orlando stadium, where South African rapper Cassper Nyovest recently filled in concert.

South Africa’s infrastructure is quite impressive! Even the road to Soweto is well tarmacked. It’s about thirty minutes drive to Soweto from Northern Park Way, where the other museum is situated. When I finally see signs leading us to Soweto, I start to wonder how far street rioters would have to walk to get to Johannesburg back in the day … Looking into the horizon I see that we are approaching a blanket of small houses packed alongside each other. At the traffic stops, we start to see caracaras (their matatus), and boys in the hood walking in between the roads, some hawking paraphernalia and others just idling. “Are we in Soweto?” I ask the driver. “Yes – ma’am, we are,” he replies, asking, “Is this your first time here?”

I blogged about bringing together the rappers: Octopizzo (Kenya) & K.O (South Africa) in a conversation about the role of music in defining the African narrative. Read all about it.

img_8772I know we have arrived at Mandela’s House as soon as soon as we get to Vilakazi Street. It’s a beehive of activities and the mecca of tourists you’d imagine it to be. There are many street hawkers and vendors along the street, selling soda, beads and Nelson Mandela memorabilia and souvenirs—it’s so wonderful! There are also some restaurants and people’s homes right along this street.

Nelson Mandela’s house is number 8115. After paying in, I opt for us to walk around without a tour guide. I hate when I am trying to take in some piece of history and someone is busy explaining to me other things ahead of my thoughts. Nelson Mandela’s House is small and modest. It has three rooms and a tiny kitchen. In the bedroom, there is a lone well-made bed that I overhear the tour guide talking about, “This isn’t Nelson Mandela’s actual bed. He was taller. This is similar to the one his daughters would sleep in.” There is an area with an audio playing with Winnie Mandela talking about her good times, and torturous moments in this house. She was also harassed by security forces and imprisoned, severally.

Build in 1945 – this house is where Nelson Mandela lived with his first wife Evelyn Ntoko Mase and their son, till 1958 after their divorce, after which his second wife Winnie Mandela moved in. During the years that lead up to Mandela’s 1962 sentence to life imprisonment, he lived here while actively participating in South Africa’s struggle for freedom, a situation that had him stay underground severally.

img_8761It’s special and humbling to step into what was Mandela’s personal room/study. Here are some of his beloved items and awards, neatly stored and protected only by a glass cabinet. I start to imagine how in this very room a great South African man would sit, read and write. My imagination relives how in collaboration with fellow freedom fighters and activists, the man would ponder to formulate strategies on how to set his country free. There are several letters and notes handwritten by Nelson Mandela here too. Winnie Mandela’s dope ass boots are also in the cabinet – the babe was stylish!

I interviewed legendary South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka on the role of authentic music during the Apartheid regime, and on meeting Nelson Mandela. Read: Still a Princess – Yvonne Chaka Chaka at 50

After being incarcerated at Robben Island for twenty-seven years, Nelson Mandela returned home, here, on 11th February 1990. He recalled in his memoir – The Long Walk to Freedom, “That night I returned with Winnie to No. 8185 in Orlando West. It was only then that I knew in my heart that I had left prison. For me, No. 8115 was the centrepoint of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography.” It’s also a quote written at the entrance of the house. For some reason, I only see it when we are leaving. It reminds me of the importance of our journey here.

My visit to Nelson Mandela’s house reminds me of the adage – it doesn’t matter where you are from but where you are going, and the steps you take on a daily basis. It’s a reminder of hope, and that home is where your heart is at rest and peace.

The Soweto Heritage Trust has done a great job at renovating, and taking care of the house. The visit doesn’t feel like a museum – it’s so personal. We don’t stay too long, only about twenty minutes. Paying homage to Mandela’s personal space, I refrain from taking too many photos – almost as if I really was a guest in his home, and he was present, watching pensively.

BONUS: You might enjoy reading my popular blogs on museums:

1. A mystery into Lord Egerton’s Castle

2. Visiting the Louvre – Viewing The Monalisa

My week in Johannesburg – 7 things to do in Jozi

img_8677My last week was phenomenal! My first time in South Africa coincided with Sauti Sol’s first win at the MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMA) 🙂 After the madness of managing Sauti Sol’s red carpet interviews at MAMA 2016, post-win celebrations and sending quite a number of press releases; I decided to stay a week to meet some industry people, and taste Jozi’s vibe. Tomas and I have heard a lot about South Africa and South African people, so our expectations were grand. I am not really hard to impress like he is but somehow it took us at least four days to get into Jozi’s vibe. Our last day was magical! From visiting Jozi’s downtown, tapping into Maboneng’s famed cool, shopping all the South African beads I ever wanted, to attending Tresor’s concert – we loved Jozi! I curated you a list of things to do when in South Africa’s biggest city.

1. Visit Soweto (South Western Townships)

img_8772It should be a crime to be in South Africa and not visit Soweto. This is probably South Africa’s most famous hood and known to be home of high profile residents like Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. It is also the founding place of Kwaito and Kasi Rap genres. Soweto is also remembered for the infamous Soweto Uprising, mass protests over government’s policy to enforce education in Afrikaans language rather than their native language, that lead to twenty three deaths and several sanctions on the country thereafter.

If you’re keen, you will spot two of South Africa’s largest stadiums: FNB Stadium (where the FIFA world cup 2010 was held) and Orlando Stadium (where Cassper Nyovest recently filled) while driving around Soweto.

Mandela’s House, number 8115 is along Vilakazi Street. This was Mandela’s home from 1946 to 1962. You will know you have arrived at the house as soon as you get to Vilakazi Street because of the beehive activities and the number of tourists in the vicinity. It was so surreal yet humbling to be in Mandela’s actual house.

Read: Visiting Mandela House: Retracing Nelson Mandela’s Soweto Home

2. Visit Apartheid Museum

img_8735Opened in 2001, the museum is situated in The Complex along Northern Park Way and Gold Reed Road. Anybody visiting Jozi should take time to visit the museum to learn South Africa’s history. Digging deep into their apartheid history (1948 – 1994) will augment on your basic history and humanity lessons. Through rooms designed as exhibitions, prison or detention rooms, and videos, films, audios among news excerpts – the museum documents, era by era, in detail how apartheid segregated the majority of black inhabitants and other ethnic groups from certain rights, associations and movements while maintaining white minority rule.

The apartheid museum brings to light the origin of segregation from Day 1 bush-man-days. It documents how South Africa was just another African country up until the discovery of its gold mines, and how that discovery made it the Mecca of traders, westerners and people of all races – making it at one point the African country that had the most racial and varied inhabitants. It takes you on a journey beyond the rise and fall of apartheid. It left Tomas and I baffled by the reality that if we had been together in South Africa at a different time, our relationship would have been considered a crime based on our skin colour. Even more disturbing is that this situation existed within our lifetime … I will post a separate blog on the museum, soon.

3. Shop till you drop

fullsizerenderYes! Everything is cheaper in South Africa – from fashion items, beads to fast/gourmet food. Most times, you get better quality. One extremely annoying thing about Jozi malls and shops, however, is that they all close early, starting 5 p.m. and almost all by 8 p.m. This might make sense to South Africans because they can always decide to shop any other day and time. For tourists like me, we like to start our days early and finish quite late, preferably with shopping starting 8 p.m. like in Amsterdam and Stockholm shopping districts. That said—check out Jozi’s Sandton and Mall of Africa malls for your H&M, Zara and Mr. Price basics. Rosebank has open walks and small shops stocking cool South African fashion brands, and unique collector’s items. Shopping freaks like me – be careful! The malls are grandiose! By the time you are done, it’s going to feel like you were on a treadmill. Don’t take a picture by the massive Nelson Mandela statue by Mandela Square – my friends say that it’s so lame and considered to be the most touristy thing to do while in Jozi. I had already done that by the time I knew it 🙂

4. Sample Local Designers

Stop by Melville’s 27 Boxes for an equally nice spread of local designers – got a dope neckpiece there. Work Shop New Town in town. It houses unique shops stocking more local designers like Maria Mcloy’s unique fashion items, and Laduma Ngxokolo’s knitwear designs, inspired by Xhosa heritage. International designers include Kenya’s Adelle Dejak – was so proud to see her stuff. Also got the Zulu traditional married women’s hat (for only about 15 Dollars) and some really cool shoes and bangles at Maria’s store 🙂

Check out my travel tales from Amsterdam: Love, Sex and Drugs (Part I

5. Visit Sandton & Melville

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We split our Jozi stay by staying four nights in Rivonia, Sandton and three nights in Melville. I loved Rivonia’s peace and calm, and our airbnb crib’s swanky design – it was like a magazine! Staying as Jozi’s business district was convenient during the MAMAs weekend because it was near Radisson Blu and Hilton Hotels—the HQ of MTV activities.

While in the area, rave at Taboo. We left Taboo half full at about 8 a.m. at the MAMA 2016 after party 🙂

I am history buff so while in Rivonia, I remembered the setting of one of my best speeches of all time. Nelson Mandela in the dock, 1964 at the Rivonia Trial: “I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Most of our South African friends described Melville as the bohemian place that had its heydays. Oneal tagged it as “artsy” like I am. Today, it’s unanimous, that Melville still gives off a good vibe, very different from the affluence and the snobbishness of Sandton and other high-end suburbs. While in Melville, stay at Life on 3rd – a good B&B aptly situated in between residential homes and just a walking distance from Melville’s boisterous 7th street. The bars and restaurants along 7th street exude a laid back yet funky aura. We both had a jamais-vu. Melville is like the cool street in downtown San Fransisco we’ve never been to.

You must dine at Federal and drink at Hell’s Kitchen. Federal served us the best food in South Africa. Their service was stellar too! For starters order – Corn hush puppies served with baba ganoushe radish, and mange tout micro salad and Chicken pops served in salted caramel popcorn and a BBQ mustard dip for starters. Your mains should either be Braised beef or their specials – pork or burgers. When I saw Hell’s Kitchen, I ran in to inquire if it’s Gordon Ramsey’s – they must get that a lot. Melville’s Hell Kitchen is a rock-themed Whiskey Bar, not at all affiliated to Gordon Ramsey, with the naughty neon sign: BE NAKED WHEN I GET HOME.

6. Gautrain to Downtown

img_8804Best thing we did while in Jozi! Most times, tourists never get to feel the complete pulse of a city’s heartbeat because locals always warn them against crowded areas or downtown, but these places are usually the spice of the meat. Accompanied by my designer friend Maria – also top Publicist in SA – we take the Gautrain into town. First of all let me commend South Africans! Their train station is properly organized and neat. It actually puts to shame some of the shitty train stations in Paris. Will not even comment on Kenyan trains.

That time I tried a Kenyan train: Makadara Train Hell on Valentine’s Day – never again!

Jozi town is crowded but trust me Nairobi and Lagos are thrice as crowded. This makes me feel like I am cruising in Nairobi’s Westlands area on a Saturday. Some clothes we saw at Rosebank Mall shops were going for less than half price in town. Street vendors were hawking fruits, beads, funky shades and just about anything you would want. This is the South Africa I wanted to experience. I bought so many beads – my boyfriend literally banned me from walking close to the vendors at some point. Downtown and seeing ordinary South Africans provided a different experience. It was also good to be in town and free of Mkokotenis and blaring motorbikes and Tuk Tuks, like in Nairobi. Jozi is orderly. And of course, there are similarities, in design and feel, between Jozi and Nairobi colonial buildings. It just looked like uptown Nairobi on a grand scale.

7. While in town – visit Maboneng Precinct.

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It’s the place of creative and cool people—I’ve been told even before my arrival in Jozi. On our last night we head over to Maboneng for dinner and to party with our South African friends. The first thing I spot is Pata Pata restaurant. Bless Miriam Makeba! The general aesthetic of the streets, establishments and apartments is catchy and creatively thought through. On the street where we are dining, one block fits all. There are apartments and rooms to let on the upper floors with the bottom, as well as warehouses across, housing patios with open restaurants, art galleries, theatre, studios and coffee bars. There is a theatre next door to the make-your-own- pizza place where we dine. What’s more? The cinema allows guests to walk in with their pizzas 🙂 I wish we had visited Maboneng during the day, caught a film and got to see the Museum of African Design. There will have to be a next time. I think this would be my kind of hood if I lived in Jozi. Once a dangerous and boring part of town, today Maboneng is perhaps one of the best expressions of South Africa’s new age and restoration.

BONUS: Thanks a lot Maria, Valentine, Oneal and Titi – for making my time in Jozi memorable. Can’t wait for you to come to my city 🙂

I also wrote 6 Things to do when in Rwanda you might like this!

Wizkid and Chris Brown Mombasa Concert: The Bigger Picture (Part II)

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Meeting Judo Kanobana. Pic: Kevin Amunze

In the six years that I’ve been actively and aggressively working in the entertainment
sphere, I haven’t seen or heard of a Kenyan event presenting a combo of an international African artiste paired with an American A-List pop act – like the Wizkid and Chris Brown duo. Correct me if I am wrong but when Sean Paul was at the height of his career, he played in Kenya solo. Same with so many other artistes like Erykah Badu, Anthony Hamilton and Shaggy. Another point to note about the international artistes who have performed in Kenya in the recent past, most of them have niche audiences like people who are into festivals or genres like reggae, R&B, neo soul and the like. For such reasons, it’s obvious that it couldn’t have been easy to book both Wizkid and Chris Brown – two mainstream global pop hit makers. The fact that the event’s promoters started running promo only two weeks to concert date is also another reason why a lot of East Africans were skeptical at to whether the event would go down. A lot of my industry friends warned me prior that the event would flop, and if it wouldn’t – the artistes would disappoint. I am glad to report that none of that happened. And even if they did, I would forgive them because of the bigger picture.

Read part I of this blog:  Wizkid and Chris Brown Mombasa Concert: Bebe Cool State of Mind

Back to the concert (Saturday 8th October)—when Wizkid finally hits the stage, I know that he was ready for his second Kenyan performance. He’s accompanied by a tight live band, which I didn’t expect – I’ve seen Wizkid perform using playback at many events, and this always works for hit makers. This time however he knew that there was a chance that Chris would outshine him, so he came prepared.

Last night watching @wizkidayo live in Mombasa, Kenya was so surreal! More vids/pics @anyikopr

A video posted by ANYIKO OWOKO (@anyikowoko) on

Chris on the other hand doesn’t come to Mombasa with a live band, unlike what I anticipated. All proper international acts of his caliber always play live music. From Caro, Sound It, Ojuelegba and Show Me Your Money, among hit songs, Wizkid is the one who rocked Mombasa Festival. I still loved Chris Brown though because watching him was so surreal. His dance moves alongside his dancers was just effortless out of this world! It was a proper turn up!

Think about it. If we had more of such high profile events, bringing together all these industry movers and shakers, what would become of East Africa’s entertainment industry as a unified front? If Mombasa, or any other county, had more of such mega concerts, with commendable numbers of attendees, what would that additionally do to decentralize tourism? Most high profile hotels in Mombasa’s CBD were fully sold out during that weekend. There is need to better plan these kind of events to also create new job opportunities for the youth from the country. Even if just two months worth of promo and marketing – that’s good enough of a job for at least thirty of Mombasa youth.

Irrespective of all the challenges and difficulties that the event’s management might have faced, I am impressed by what the debut Mombasa Rocks Festival achieved. For that reason, I will concentrate on its importance in relation to music business in East Africa, with Kenya, Mombasa as the focal point. This one event unified East Africa’s music industry players. Top artistes accompanied by their managers and publicists included Sauti Sol, Alikiba, Vanessa Mdee, Bebe Cool and P-Unit. Renowned artiste managers included Sunday (Wizkid), Saalam (Diamond Platnumz), Marek (Sauti Sol), Seven (Alikiba) and Aly (Navio and Bebe Cool). Top booking agents and event organizers included Kigali’s Bruce, Patrique and Judo (the team who brought in Stromae to Rwanda) last year. Head honchos at MTV and TRACE were among international music executives in Mombasa. Top media from across the region were also present. I was so happy to bump into Millard Ayo reporters, they are such good people.

Read on my travel tales from Kigali when I worked on Stromae’s PR: Stromae in Rwanda: Best Concert of 2015 (Review)

We (Me, Sauti Sol, Navio and Tomas) end up meeting Wizkid on Sunday at his apartment. He doesn’t remember that I met before in Lagos. I still try to remind him. I like that he is so chill and honest. “I don’t remember meeting you maaaan!” He is at the apartment with DJ Maphorisa and Jada, from his London management team. His convo with Sauti Sol gives me so much life. They talk African music achievement, the growth and permeability of afro beats in the global music scene, and what Wizkid’s One Dance with Drake did for Drake in Africa vis-à-vis Wizki’s stature worldwide. In summary, Sauti Sol, Wizkid and DJ Maphorisa agree on an impending collaboration that should be recording in South Africa in the coming week. They of course also exchange vibes and compliments. While Wizkid says that Kuliko Jana’s viral Facebook video featuring Redfourth Chorus gave him “chills”, Bien reminds Wizkid that he is the “Guinea Pig” of African music to the world, concluding, “The world is now watching you.”

Happy to have exchanged contacts with Chris Brown and Wizkid’s management and PR. What an important event and weekend that was!