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Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee (Book Review)

watchmanVery few times have we had the pleasure of reading the sequel of a classic novel. In To Kill a Mocking Bird’s sequel, Go Set a Watchman, 26 year-old Jean Scout Finch returns home from New York to the fictional Maycomb County, Alabama. After two decades since To Kill a Mocking Bird, we are taken back to the small town painted in our memories by young Scout and her brother Jem. It’s an extremely enchanting beginning as readers anticipate the new Maycomb and reuniting with our favourite characters.

To move forward, you must first go back to the beginning. Here’s my review of To Kill a Mocking Bird

All the excitement soon dies as Go Set a Watchman turns disastrous. Scout is still a loner even though she has a boyfriend, former childhood friend now working alongside her father. Jem Finch has passed away from a heart attack. Calpurnia, their former nanny, no longer lives at the Finch household. Atticus has moved house. The 72-year-old is ailing from rheumatoid arthritis. Maycomb’s olden hypocritical ideals and race prejudice still exist – like in most societies in real life. The only difference is that Maycomb is today more aware of its very own bigotry.

Atticus Finch, the lawmaker once upheld as the conscious of a community, has changed a lot. Scout finds a pamphlet titled “The Black Plague” among his papers. This prompts her to trail him to a Citizens’ Council meeting to spy on activities. Here she sees her father sit tight as a racist speech is delivered by one of the attendants. This is the man who raised and taught her and Jem that colour or race is no way of judging men. In To Kill a Mocking Bird, Atticus only stood for justice and openly shunned racism. He even defended the case of a black man charged with raping a white girl.

Scout is extremely baffled by the fact that her father would sit silently in such a gathering. This can only mean a few things. Atticus is today either racist or condones racism and racist ideals. This makes Scout literally sick (she even throws up) and repulsive towards her father and his associates. She feels like Atticus no longer lives by the very own non-partisan ideals that he instilled in his children, and entrusted upon a society. Even though Atticus saw her through “the malignant limbo of turning from a howling tomboy into a young woman,” he is no longer her icon. She feels inconsolably betrayed.

There is an accident that involved Calpurnia’s grandson who killed a drunk pedestrian while speeding. Atticus takes up the case but says that he’d rather do it before The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) takes it up, as he questions their contemporary policies and direction. This hurts Scout even more. The real Atticus would take this up simply for Calpurnia, the only mother figure his kids knew, not NAACP.

The turning point of the book is when Scout goes to visit Calpurnia. Her childhood is embedded in memories of Cal raising her and her brother like she would have raised her own children, giving them life lessons every day and even smacking them when she had to.

When she arrives, Cal’s household treats her coldly. To Scout and the reader, there’s an inexplicable moving power in seeing Cal having changed so much after many years. She no longer has strong large arms and hands. Remember the ones that quickly whipped lemonade and baked cakes back in the day? “How small she looks, thought Jean Louise. She used to be so tall. Calpurnia was old and she was bony.” As Scout tries to catch up with her and talk about her grandson’s case that Atticus is taking up, Cal is distant. She completely shuts her out. There is nothing Scout will say to get her attention; she won’t even look at her. She minimally talks about missing Jem and the fact that Atticus is always right.

The town’s contemporary race battles seem to have crept into Scout’s darling old Cal. This prompts Scout to ask a dangerous question that if the answer was Yes – she would be forever destroyed.

“Did you hate us?”

“The old woman sat silent, bearing the burden of her years … Finally, Calpurnia shook her head.”

I don’t doubt that Cal never hated them; I just wonder why she took time to respond and didn’t even utter a word. Maybe it’s because she hates them now or also feels as betrayed by Atticus’ change of heart. This moment leaves the reader and Scout so helpless and disillusioned. For a moment I wished Jem was there to protect Scout’s troubled heart. Where is your big brother when you need him? It’s such a heart-rending scene that literally broke me to tears.

Written before To Kill a Mocking Bird (Harper’s first and only other published book), Go Set a Watchman has sparked a lot of controversy, debate and negative reviews. To what extent can we critique a writer’s ethical criticism of literature? I hate that the book takes away the ideals we upheld about Atticus, and completely thank it for not doing the same to Cal.

Why overturn a hero’s legacy? The clean-cut character of Atticus Finch was humanised and celebrated the world over by many as one of the most important father figures in modern literature. Harper kills Atticus by making him racist. I would have rather she killed him in peace, like Jem passed away.

The book is generally a rollercoaster read – certain parts are boring and drag while others are extremely moving and engaging. Whatever the case, Harper Lee I wish you never published this first draft.

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2015 – Why I’d Do You Over Again

dsc00208-1If my 2015 was a showreel, it would be blockbuster. It was the year of making major moves and taking big risks. I told myself that I would meet and interview D’Angelo in Stockholm when I decided to take a trip to Sweden to attend The Return Tour concert, even though I had no leads at the start. It happening wasn’t only a show of my connects, bravery and the level of hope I’ve nurtured inside of me, it was a dream come true – for D’Angelo is one of my major musical influences. Thanks to the two Cleos who played an instrumental role in the mission.

I wrote about How I Met D’Angelo. Trust me, it’s like a movie and you want to read this.

How I took and posted that viral Sauti Sol Lipala Dance video with President Barack Obama during his visit to Kenya was no mean feat. It wasn’t planned between Sauti Sol and the State House, but we were prepared for it. I remember I had the caption ready to post and the camera ready to record, even before it happened. I was the first person to stand up, unashamed of seeming inappropriate at a presidential ball function. When I got an email that the picture of Sauti Sol dancing with Obama had been placed in White House Oval Office, I said to myself – ‘Dreams do come true’ – but you have to be ready and prepared. Highlight of my career as Sauti Sol’s Publicist. That and the release of our third album: Live and Die in Afrika. Maaan, we had countless late nights and early mornings, and fights. The only reason we are all still friends is God.

 

 

Work during tour and travel was fun! My most memorable concerts were in Zanzibar, Stockholm, Uganda and Rwanda. Sauti Sol’s first show in Kampala was totally sold out – no other East African act has done that in Uganda’s recent history. Working on Stromae’s PR for the last of his global tour concert in Kigali was another career highlight. I wrote all about it:

A review of D’Angelo’s Stockholm’s The Second Coming Tour

To Uganda and Back: of Butts, Matoke and Music

Here’s why 2015 was the best year to see Stromae, and Rwanda was the best place.

 
Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 4.50.36 PM2015 was also my most prolific, in writing matters. Drafted well over 100 press releases for all the artistes and clients I represented from across Africa and beyond, over 100 articles for DStv and over 50 blog posts for Black Roses and Coke Studio’s site. Working as Coke Studio Africa’s first Publicist and Editor in Chief of it’s debut site: The Mash Up, was so dope and enlightening. I was exposed to so much music, contacts and connects. Meeting countless superstars whose music I always loved from my younger days in music entertainment was priceless. From NE-YO, Cobhams, 2 Face Idibia, Ice Prince and Alikiba – we had such an amazing run. Here are some of my favourite interviews:

Chopstix on his Wizard Machine

Ice Prince, “We made a smash with NE-YO”

Nahreel on mastering his craft

Exclusive: Meeting & Interviewing NE-YO

Breaking Bread with Cobhams

Check out Coke Studio Africa Mash Up Blog.

Precious moment at Coke Studio Africa was meeting and making friends with Iona, daughter of Kenyan fashion royalty, and Abiodun, my God-sent angel from a heaven called Nigeria. Together we founded the dance group: Dope Gang

My other dope interviews from last year included Breakups to Makeups: Dru Hill 20 Years Later

As for my Daily Nation articles, below were my favourites:

D’Angelo’s Second Coming a Big Success

Kenyan Club Opens in Stockholm – this was by far one of my best stories.

We criticised Davido, but are Kenyan musicians any better?

New Kenyan movie on plight of female athletes in the works

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 4.57.22 PMI was also killing it with media tours, conferences and events. Sauti Sol’s first media tour in Uganda was kick-ass, so was K.O’s in Kenya handled by yours truly. From the launch of the Kalasha-winning film on the demise of Kenyan boxing: The Last Fight, WhatsGoodLive 2016 Announcement, Sauti Sol x Clarence Peters collabo, media launch of Live and Die in Afrika album, K.O & Mos Def Rapsody Events and Maybelline meets FAFA in a fashion storm, among others – everything I touched turned to gold!

I am particularly excited about two media events that I already have planned for 2016. Can’t wait! S/O to my assistant Tracy.

Sparked by an interest in examining music’s role in defining the African narrative, I also produced an Artist Talk Back event hosted at the 2015 Storymoja Festival. I wrote about it:

K.O Meets Octo in Music’s Role in Defining Africa

Spending two weeks in Sweden, reuniting with my friend Sylvia was magic. I will forever be grateful for how she played the best tour guide and treated me like a princess while there. See what we were up to:

Visiting the Swedish Photography Museum

12459877_10153686144522559_1599998357_nSpending two weeks in Nigeria in December doing work exchange at Sponge Nigeria, and my own business while being hosted by my girl Abi was the crowning of all. I found my twin sister and forever work partner. This girl has changed my outlook on life and friendship, and I will forever be indebted to her. Thanks for making me feel like the Queen of Beesam.

I wrote about being lost in meetings & showbiz: sounds from Nigeria.

In summary and in all honesty, my grind was at its peak in 2015, I even renovated my mother’s house (something I’d been praying for – for years). I told myself that there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do. I had many sleepless nights though – sometimes I would jokingly call myself a 24-hour economy. Sometimes I forgot to be a good friend – why this year, I plan to be a better friend, and lover.

All the risks I took, paid off. My mind took different form – I put it to extremely hard tests. I want to challenge myself even more this year. I learnt that true love to yourself, and others is in selflessness. If you can let the ones you love be their best and with whoever they deem fit – you are indeed on the path to being your best.

This year I plan to keep slaying and making boss moves. There’s so much planned. Wish you all nothing but love, blessings and success in your endeavours. So thankful to each and every person who cared, touched and supported me in one way or another. Let’s do it all over again this year!

Happy 2016!

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Top Music Videos of 2015: Anyiko’s Select 10

top10top10It’s a great music video when I find myself ogling at it even when the TV is on mute. However, I am going to be really pissed off if I put on the sound to find that it’s a terrible song. From Ice Prince’s Mutumina, JAB’s Winning in Life, Patoranking’s Daniella Whine to Diamond’s twerkers in Nasema Nawe, many dope videos had me going goo goo ga ga in 2015. I present you my exceptional 10 in no particular order.

1. Live and Die in Afrika – Sauti Sol (Director: Sauti Sol Entertainment)

Many Kenyan musicians have shot music videos atop Kenyatta Kenyatta International Convention Centre (third tallest building in Kenya) but I am afraid very few have brought to light Nairobi’s iconic beauty from its eyes, like Sauti Sol have done in this video. It’s the kind of cinematic brilliance that will have people all over the world be like, “What African city is this?” Yo! That’s Nairobi and the KICC was designed by Norwegian architect Karl Henrik Nøstvik, as commissioned by Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta in 1967.

 

2. Celebrity Girlfriend – Falz feat. Reekado Banks (Director: Clarence Peters)

This is the most hilarious music video I’ve watched all year! The celebrity girlfriends aren’t lookalikes but doppelgängers–only reason why Falz actually fooled me. I even asked my Nigerian sister Abi while in Lagos, “How did Falz get Omotola to do this?” Throughout the video’s three minutes, Falz, Reekado, the director and the girls don’t drop the ball even for a second. It’s a triumphant turning point when Falz’s unrequited pursuits finally bear fruit – my heart actually smiles when the ladies embrace him. My favourites were Beyonce, Rihanna, Temidollface, Seyi Shay and Yemi Alade. That’s like almost all of them, right? :-)

 

3. Chekecha Cheketua – Alikiba (Director: Meji Alabi)

This is a double sword: hit song and hit video—Alikiba’s retaliation from past mistakes of never producing music videos to songs that became such massive hits. Shot in a South African suburb, this is Alikiba’s most colourful dance video. The director borrows certain post-production elements from Stromae’s Papaoutai video, and it’s perfectly alright. Alikiba is such a star! From how he patronises his female dancers with his charm and waist-wining, to how he makes the damn hard Chekecha Dance seem like child’s play – there’s not one thing that could have been done differently in this video.

 

4. Game – Navy Kenzo feat. Vanessa Mdee (Director: Justin Campos)

We already know that Vanessa Mdee is a slayer. At first sight, many take Nahreel to be a fashion killer rather than a beat maker. VeeMoney joins The Industry’s producer Nahreel with his better half Aika (the two are Navy Kenzo –Tanzania’s hottest and fastest rising music duo) on this bonafide ragga/dancehall track. Following a playful cat and mouse chase between groups of males and females, with couples taunting each other – Game is a tight video displaying what happens when Tanzania’s coolest kids collide with Justin Campos – crazy talented director based in South Africa. Game having held at No. 1 for months on MTV Base African Countdown shows the rest of Africa that East Africa too got game ;-)

 

5. Ndi Mukodo – Cindy feat. Navio (Director: J. Blessing)

Another Ragga/dancehall banger – just what Ugandans love! I am disappointed that Navio is overdressed in this video, and way impressed at how Cindy is flaunting her bod. She is brave enough to bring her sexiness on a track and video – something many East African divas shy away from. Good job by the Kenyan director. This kind of video needs a careful edit or else it risks being plain raunchy. Navio tells me that in their native Ndi Mukodo can be loosely translated to, ‘If that nigga is mine, no one else will have a piece of him, or me.’ You really don’t want to mess with Cindy’s man.

 

6. Ayo – Chris Brown and Tyga (Director: Colin Tilley) & The Money – Davido and Olamide (Director: Sesan)

If you’re going to go big on a theme you better do it well. These two videos have delivered on parading a show of affluence – sometimes it’s so careless it’s silly and hilarious! The scene with Chris and Tyga on top of a skyscraper is so cinematic it reminds me of Dru Hill’s How Deep is Your Love video shot in Hong Kong by the director of Rush Hour. Young ballers in faux fur coats – the styling was also on point!

Read my exclusive interview with Dru Hill – From Breakups to Makeups: 20 Years Later

Still on that tip, big shout to African superstars with the spending power on the clichés of extravagance in music videos: from the women, big cars to sprinkling dollar bills. That joke about people receiving calls on stacks of money is so played out but the part where Olamide receives a phone in form of a stack of dollars passed over by Davido is unbelievably hella fresh!

 

7. Sugar – Yemi Alade (Director: Paul Gambit)

If anybody doubted that Yemi Alade really is the King Of Queens, get enthralled by this pop art imagery video emphasised by her debonair dance moves – as choreographed by Ezinne Asinugo. By the time she is sitting on a throne wearing a crown you know that she’s earned her status. The video reminds me of Rihanna’s Rude Boy. Yes! It’s that good of a comparison.

 

8. Play No Games – Big Sean feat. Chris Brown & Ty Dolla $ign (Director: Mike Carson)

Hands down my best video this year! I am such a huge fan of the 90s sitcom Martin! Wzup Radio was trill! From I know to One Man Can Change the World, in 2015 Big Sean produced videos oozing serious art direction. The 90s sitcom ‘Martin’ themed-music video took the crown. As a huge fan of Martin and Gina, it was so fresh to see Big Sean bring back the full cast: Tommy, Cole, Pam and even the annoying Bruh-Man and the nosey midget in his video. When the real Martin Lawrence shows up in the video’s ending, it’s the most worthy certification that this is a classic video.

 

9. Shooga – Yung L (Director: David Nicol – Sey)

Yung L’s videos are simple and authentic yet captivating all the same. You need to pay more attention to his songs too. I like when the Naija girls pull generators at the start of his 2014 SOS video and how Shooga’s director shows us the flavour of Ghana through bright colours and street dance. I just wish the director would cut off the excessive nyash shaking and have more of Chopstix. That’s all. Through tiny details, Yung L always captures the heart and soul of changing cultures in the face of life and times in modern Africa.

 

10. Wet Dreamz – J. Cole (Director: Ryan Staake)

J. Cole is a genius. It doesn’t get more literal when you get dogs falling in love in the video of a song about puppy love. Cute bitch meets a big dog. How the dogs lay eyes on each other, follow each other and finally meet and play is a stark reminder of the very steps we humans take before relationships transition from the bedroom to the stage of breakups and makeups. It’s the only wise way of shooting the video of a song that bluntly undresses sex. I wish Cole never showed up in the ending though.

P.S: Check out my review of J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive album

Do you dig my selection? Holla!

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Top Albums of 2015: Anyiko’s Select 10

My life and work revolves around music so I thought it would be nice to list the 10 albums that brought thunder and lightning to my world this year. The arrangement comes in no particular order.

1. Live and Die in Afrika – Sauti Sol (Kenya)

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 6.07.01 PMBaddest album cover art! I bow down to Annabel Onyango for the styling and production. I would buy this album twenty times over just for the cover even if I wasn’t Sauti Sol’s Publicist or never knew them. Three years in the making – Sauti Sol’s third album is undoubtedly their magnum opus. Live and Die in Afrika isn’t only an important title but an expression of how and where Sauti Sol intends to leave a mark. This is also their first self-produced album. Big up to producers: Savara and Fancyfingers! If other producers delivered hits like Nerea and Sura Yako they’d be such superstars now. From Isabella, Nishike, Say Yeah, Nerea, Relax to Shake Yo Bam Bam; Sauti Sol have delivered a stellar collection of songs on love, sex, spirituality, hope, dreams, dance and just about any life situation. Consider it an eclectic 15-track album with 9 new songs. Dollar Dollar is my jam.

2. Stories That Touch – Falz (Nigeria)

Falz-Stories-That-Touch-ArtWhat’s not to love about Falz? The Bahd guy sounds as good singing or rapping. A personality so big, see it sip out of Celebrity Girlfriend music video. Hilarious! Touted as one of Nigeria’s best albums in 2015, Falz’s sophomore album is the best music discovery I’ve unearthed this year. Unlike the monotony I’ve encountered with many albums from Nigerian artistes, this is different, versatile, fresh, enriching and an easy listen. I didn’t need to forward any of its 16 tracks. Cutting across genres, this is more than a hip hop album with a 50/50 divide of songs in English and Pidgin. All collaborators fit in like a perfect jigsaw. Falz has penned stories that really touch and we can relate to. For the lovers who experience the difficulty of long distance relationships, Time Difference is your jam. “…How I wish that I could teleport over there … I can’t take it if she flees … but I can’t wait till she says she can’t stay with a G …” In Workaholic, Falz asserts that we won’t carry money to heaven and the body isn’t a machine, “Even mainstream ballers get time out…” He raps. Other favourites include Soft Work, Soldier, Soupé, Karishika (inspired by an olden Naija film on a witch who would enslave men using witchcraft) and Chardonnay Music. It’s a shame that little is known about Falz in East Africa – guess that’s why he’s Nigeria’s most promising export come 2016.

3. Mwooyo – Maurice Kirya (Uganda)

1924326_10205100423283317_8494778152810192877_n-e1425316949713Another album cover to write home about! It should be a crime for a man to be as tall, dark and handsome; and still be a crooner. The sexpot symbol could as well have been Maurice Kirya’s biggest misfortune. Hardly any East African doesn’t know his name but few take time to listen to his music because many think he’s just a hottie. His third album: Mwooyo (Luganda for soul) has cemented Kirya as East African king of soul. In fact, many Ugandans refer to him as King of Mwooyo. Birthing the hot single Never Been Loved, other album classics include Ghost, Mama We Made it and Busaabala (the music video is a must-watch). A masterful composer and songwriter, Kirya has also produced many songs in this album. Everything we Do is easily one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Cop the 12-track album – for Kirya’s charm and charisma cannot be disregarded. I am proud to have worked as his Publicist on several projects this year.

4. Expose Yourself – Sage (Kenya)

IMG-20151228-WA0036Sage is underrated and too talented to be ignored. Not by me. Soon as I heard her debut album (recently released) at least a year ago, I knew she had done for Kenyan R&B what every celebrated Kenyan R&B singer failed to do. We waited in vain for Didge, Sanaipei and Pam to release their solo albums. Her teaming up with Producer Dillie was a match made in heaven. Maskini is the kind of song I can only liken to kings and queens of neo soul like Musiq Soulchild and Leela James. Its production, vocal arrangement (harmonies/adlibs) and lyrics only put Sage way above all Kenyan power vocalists. It’s not just your voice but how well you can arrange it. Look out for my other favourite songs: Heaven and Mistakes. A good thing about Sage, she sings from her heart and sometimes you can tell that her themes are personal.

5. The Collectiv3 LP – (Nigeria)

The-Collectiv3-LP-800x800If you’re looking for the freshest sound from Africa, Nigeria’s Collectiv3 have landed! With a premise of creating art with no boundaries, IKON, Funbi, Kid Konnect, Tec, Ghost and Temidollface have delivered a masterpiece. They are the perfect show for the other sounds from Nigeria. These are Africa’s most promising artistes coming together to produce 9 new songs that will shape how audiences perceive African music in Africa, and beyond. I really love Temidollface in Just Like That and School Your Face, Funbi – Forbidden Fruit, SDC – Shei Bai and Poe & Funbi in Sexy Bitch and Adore her. Happy Day by Nsikak reminds me of The Foreign Exchange’s Love in Flying Colors. Good job Executive Producer Chin Okeke!

6. The Legend of Kaka – King Kaka (Kenya)

wpid-legend-of-kaka-album-coverKenya’s most prolific artiste, King Kaka’s fourth album displays his growth as an artiste. Boasting 18 tracks, collaborations with heavyweights include Chiwawa and Abbas in 2060 and Joh Makini in Najipenda. Look out for the sweet bongo jam Lini featuring Rich Mavoko. Kichinjio (Swahili for slaughterhouse) is my stand out track. Decorated by punchlines and mad rhymes, here is a diss track for every season, perfect to all the haters still struggling to understand his transition from Rabbit to King Kaka. It’s also an excellent show for his status as a Swahili Shakespeare. “Una ngoma moja Mdundo? Upgrade your CV mi nina ngoma na Wyclef produced by Avicii …” POW! So proud of you hommie.

7. On a Spaceship – Burna Boy (Nigeria)

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 6.15.26 PMWanted to say, what’s not to love about Burna Boy but we all know his controversies, as well as the fact that he’s too damn talented to be ignored. I added this album on my list because it’s legit despite talks going around claiming it’s not. I also added it because of the intro. I respect Burna Boy so much for having someone criticise him as an artiste and a human being – not sure if it was a skit or not. However, I am sure that artistes behave differently from normal human beings yet people expect them to be saints. I long for the day when the craziness emitted by artistes will be judged vis-à-vis their talent. Trust Burna to bring in his boys A.K.A and Da L.E.S in Birthday and Nyanda from Brick & Lace in Mine Tonight. All the 15 tracks are 5-star material. My standout track is Single feat. Wiz Kid.

8. Compton – Dr. Dre (USA)

dr-dre-compton-album-art1After sixteen years of waiting, Dre’s third album Compton is a triumphant return, dropping side by side N.W.A’s biopic Straight Outta Compton. Talking to my Diary is my standout track. Here, Dre narrates his life story. From nothing to something, he recalls the struggle of attaining success having come from the ghetto, wisely stating that ultimate strength comprises finance and physical/mental health. The second verse is a letter to Eazy-E. Kendrick Lamar absolutely murders it in Deep Water and Genocide. Eminem, Snoop Dogg, The Game and Ice Cube all brought it. I hated what Dre did with Marsha Ambrosius, but accepted it all the same. My favourites include For The Love of Money, Animals, Its All on Me and Medicine Man. Dre did a great job featuring new and old school cats on the album. From Anderson Paak, Justus, King Mez and Jon Connor, big shout to the new generation of rappers and songwriters storming hard in Compton. As Dre logs off with his last album, he will be remembered for this ode to Compton, and producing hip hop’s biggest collaboration album in recent history. There are more than forty four people credited in Compton. And counting!

9. Wale – The Album About Nothing (USA)

 Wale_-_The_Album_About_Nothing_(Official_Third_Album_Cover)“I ain’t loose my content … Still know what my core needs, fuck who ignores me …” The Album About Nothing is Wale’s stab at his critics, and pundits claiming that over the years he’s lost himself in the commercialising of his music. Breaking out seven years ago with the Seinfeld-inspired The Mixtape About Nothing, it would take Wale three albums later to return to his roots and originality with his fourth studio album: The Album About Nothing—what’s considered as his most personal expression yet. I love the bile with which Wale delivers in Helium Balloon and Middle Finger. All 14 tracks are my favourites but I must shout The God Smile, The Bloom and The Matrimony. How he juxtapositions social class to dope shoes in White Shoes is show for how deep Wale goes. He will never be your typical rapper and even when he pretends to be; real Wale fans know that he never sold his soul to the devil.

10. Tiwa Savage – R.E.D (Nigeria)

Tiwa-Savage-REDFresh release from Mavin’s first lady Tiwa Savage, the 16-track R.E.D is the last important African album dropping in 2015. Love me Hard featuring 2 Face Idibia is my standout track in the album. Other favourites include Bang Bang and the cha-cha-esque If I start to Talk feat. Dr. Sid – such a beautiful song! The danceable African Waist was a quick favourite – a fuse of dance music, hip hop, afro beats and the very R&B we love from Tiwa. She’s done a good job featuring other big music names like Busy Signal and Olamide. I hope all top female singers have gone back to the drawing board because Baby Billz is grown and now the Queen is back!

Special mention goes to The Indestructible Choc Boi Choc Boy Nation (Choc Boys) and Two Kings (Olamide & Phyno).

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Top Songs of 2015: Anyiko’s Select 10

These are the songs that turned my year upside down – the good kind. While some made me fall in love with the idea of love, some made me damage the replay button. Others almost made me burst my eardrums if I wasn’t dancing over and over – to an extent I had to start a dance group: Dope Gang. Let’s go there!

1. Isabella – Sauti Sol (Kenya)

This is the ballad of ballads. If songs were people, Isabella is a beautiful goddess. Stripped down and only layered in piano and violin instrumentals, this is so far Sauti Sol’s best at flaunting their mighty prowess in writing songs for love. Its message is simple, just love in the moment – your race, religion or age doesn’t matter. Savara’s spiralling falsetto in the second verse is chilling. Very proud Publicist and friend to these guys.

2. Jagaban – YCEE & Olamide (Nigeria)

Jagaban is the nickname of Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos. Now sitting as a chief and a chairman in important associations and parties, you still can’t run shit in Lagos without Jagaban’s blessing. The traditional element in the beat of this song is too sick.

Delivering punch lines with an aggressive tiger flow, YCEE does sound like an heir of YBNL. When I first heard the song Nov 2015 while in Lagos, I wondered who dared to sound like Olamide. When I returned in December, I found that YCEE had done a remix with Olamide. “Olamide just put me on, do you know what it feels like?” He raps. Recently Olamide posted their picture performing together at Sound City Urban Blast Festival with the caption – “You gon be great bro.” I don’t doubt that. YCEE is one of the rappers from Nigeria to watch in 2016.

3. Don’t Bother – Joh Makini (Tanzania) & A.K.A (South Africa)

Sickest hip hop song and production I’ve heard all year! Illest dedication to all your enemies! The song is engineered by The Industry’s Nahreel – top Tanzanian music producer well-known as Joh Makini and Vanessa Mdee’s long-term collaborator. A.K.A brought it all. The two should do a collabo album in 2016. I wish the world could hear the Swahili, especially on Joh’s second verse. Joh Makini’s rap – the lines, message, attitude, rhymes and punch lines murdered the careers of all rappers in East Africa. RIP. Good thing y’all can start over in 2016 :-)

4. Nobody But Me – Vanessa Mdee (Tanzania) & K.O (South Africa)

pAnother winning Nahreel production, I really loved the music video and the simplicity of the song’s message. Vanessa teaching K.O Swahili lyrics was so cool. Their chemistry is at 100% and the song was a certified hit in East Africa, South Africa and the West.

5. All Your Fault – Big Sean & Kanye West (America)

Off the album: Dark Sky Paradise, this one is produced by DJ Mano, Kanye West, OG Webbie, Travi$ Scott and Wondagurl. You only top Yeezy on a track he’s delivered on once, and Big Sean did. I am a follower of Yeezus and his protégés and I haven’t seen anyone master Yeezy’s craft as well as Big Sean. Sean’s flow on this song is sicker than Malaria. I like that they both rap side by side each other on Verse 3, at times you can’t tell who’s who. The last line of the song should be everyone’s 2016 policy.

“People ask me how to make it/ I’m just like, “Man if you want the crown, bitch you gotta take it. Straight up”

6. Moto wa kuotea mbali The Kansoul & Nameless (Kenya)

This is my jam and my Nigerian best friend Abi’s song for days! Yo! I will just leave our Dope Gang performances here and pray that The Kansoul and my dear friend Maddy will deliver another mega hit like this in 2016. P.S Nameless killed it with that line, “Respect your elders! I started singing when you were still in diapers …”

7. Talk About It – Dre featuring King Mez & Justus (America)

talk-about-it-lyric-screenshotNot one second in: “I don’t give a fuck!” Have to give it up to the zero chills in this production. There were many sick jams in Dre’s Compton album but I also picked Talk About It because it’s the one time since Still, that Dre has earned all the bravado he flaunts in one song. “I remember selling instrumentals off a beeper/ Millionaire before the headphones or the speakers/ I was getting money before the internet/ Still got Eminem cheques I ain’t opened yet/ MVP shit …”  Goddamn! The song was partly written by A.J. Baptiste-Caselle, the producer/songwriter who goes by the name Jean Baptise. He’s also worked with Cudi, Madonna, Chris Brown and the Black Eyed Peas.

8. Boss – Ice Prince (Nigeria)

This is a banger, and my ringtone. It was playing in every single club I went to in Lagos Dec 2015. I really loved Ice on this one because it showed a different side of him :-) Part of its video was shot in Nairobi. The East African release of BOSS was handled by Anyiko PR.

9. Matrimony – Wale x Usher (America)

Wale has been a consistent NE-YO collaborator in his past two albums before the latest Album About Nothing. I really loved his songs with NE-YO: White Linen (Ambition) and Tired of Dreaming (The Gifted) but they never made it as big as Matrimony. I think it’s because he got my husband on a track – finally! :-)

10. Ta-Ku – Love Again (feat. JMSN & Sango)

This is a dope soul song by the Australian singer. He’s also a dope photographer – his Instagram is magic. I dig the song because it’s so original; he’s my type of underground artiste and sings to my heart. Plus I just want to love again.

Special mention goes to JAB’s Winning in Life and Leon Bridges with Coming Home.

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12 Years a Slave – Solomon Northup (Book Review)

DSC00437Few stories have brought my heart such despair as much as hope as this 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup that I chanced upon in a small hidden bookshop in Amsterdam.

Solomon has “common hopes, and loves, and labors of an obscure coloured man, making his humble progress in the world”. He is born and raised a free man. The lower-middle class industrious man is married with three children: Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo. Together with his wife, Solomon tries to make ends meet by running various short-lasting projects, including a career in music. Solomon is among few black males from Saratoga who can make some good money off his violin playing.

Two circus promoters approach Solomon offering him a job in Washington and promise to pay extremely well for his services as a musician. In desperate need for providing for his family, he follows them immediately without alerting his family. By tricking and drugging him, they kidnap him from his native Saratoga into slavery deep in the south of Louisiana – where he would be bound for 12 years.

“My subject is, to give a candid and truthful statement of facts: to repeat the story of my life, without exaggeration, leaving it for others to determine, whether even the pages of fiction present a picture of more cruel wrong or a severer bondage,” Solomon writes in the first page of the first chapter. I sobbed occasionally while flipping through his pages and now I balance tears reflecting upon the book as I write this. How a free man or anyone could find himself bound in chains and shackles then subjected to utmost inhumane treatment is heartbreaking.

This is a solitary tale yet a painting of the lives of so many – cast and condemned as slaves, either born into it or captured like Solomon.

Life of a Slave

tyas_cvrIn chronological order, Solomon explains to the reader the process of how he was enslaved, and the day-to-day life of a slave. The life of a slave is worthless. Some slave owners feed their animals more than a slave. And some let dogs maul their slaves. A slave’s history, if any, doesn’t exist. The words freedom and liberty must never be uttered from a slave’s mouth (lest they receive several lashes as punishment). The subject of freedom and liberty however was always spoken or thought of in private as revealed by Solomon, discrediting the old assumption that slaves never understood or even fathomed what it meant to be free. Before his kidnapping, Solomon recalls, “I frequently met slaves … Many times they entered into conversation with me on the subject of slavery. Almost uniformly I found they cherished a secret desire for liberty …”

Slave buyers bargain for human beings like they would for any commodity. Their qualities are rated just as a mule’s would. If need be, they are stripped and signs of scars from lashing indicate tendencies of a difficult animal to be made servant – the price immediately depreciates. Once bought, slaveholders can hire out their slaves just like animals or trucks. A slave can be forced to work tirelessly under the watchful eye of the overseer day and night while being whipped all through. They are also whipped if they don’t produce as expected during the cotton-planting season or if their produce fluctuates. If a slave is found walking to other plantations without a pass written by their master, any white man is permitted to seize and whip them.

At this point of the book, I am appalled at the utter darkness of an era when some life was so worthless to be branded with a price tag.

Throughout a whole year, a slave only gets about three or four days off during Christmas season – when they can eat up and meet with friends from other plantations. This is where and when married couples only unite and parents meet their children. Lovers unite too, “cupid disdains not to hurl his arrows into the simple hearts of slaves”.

The Great Escape

During his bondage, Solomon spends every day scheming how to escape and many times attempts it – a dangerous endeavor that always puts him trouble or risk with its worst punishment being death. During his first attempt, he notes, “we resolved to regain our liberty or lose our lives.” At times, he starts to lose sanity. “Were the events realities indeed?” He is constantly baffled.

After a deathly flogging for declaring that he was indeed a free man soon after his kidnapping, Solomon writes, “I resolved to lock the secret closely in my heart … trusting in my own Providence and my own shrewdness for deliverance.” It’s a chance meeting with a good-hearted white man that sees his road to freedom start. Bass risking his life to write for Solomon is show that good can always trump evil. The important letter they both draft finally reaches the right and lawful office in charge of rescuing those illegally sold into slavery.

In the 12 years, Solomon’s spirit defies, among trials, a deadly smallpox outbreak that claims lives and causes him temporary blindness, thorough flogging, whipping, the jaws of hunting hounds, hunger and an escape that forces him to walk miles and camp in a swamp (amongst wild animals like deadly snakes and crocodiles). He also writes that he wouldn’t have made it out alive without music. Many times, his violin granted him solace, favours and visits to other plantations.

This is an extraordinary story on the resilience of the human spirit, especially in the face of the worst of life’s challenges and deepest of sorrows.

America’s Dark History Vs Redemption

This book totally immerses the reader into the darkest period (18th and 19th centuries) of American history when slavery was legal. It brings to full light the brutal horrors and injustice of slavery and how historically it was associated with African descent – contributing to a system and legacy in which race still plays a dominant role.

The book balances a memoir and objectivity – even though a mere slanted moral weighing machine. Not all slave owners or white people were heartless and inclined to slavery. Many times, Solomon expresses his regret in a “unjust, barbarous and cruel” system that empowered slave owners and a mindset that disregarded a people of one race. “It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives.”

Solomon’s mistress cries at losing her most handy servant, as his master is furious at losing their most-priced property. “Ten years I toiled for Epps without reward … I am indebted to him for nothing, save undeserved abuse and stripes,” writes Solomon. But at the book’s ending, his lawyer and associates who come to the rescue, ask him to bid his former master and mistress goodbye, which he does. Though subtle, this is a sign of a forgiving heart on Solomon’s side and it reflects upon one side of how a whole generation and a people would need to deal with the deeply scathing injustice of slavery and racism in pursuit of healing.

Unsung Heroes

12-Years-a-Slave-has-won-best-picture-award-at-this-year’s-Oscars-ceremony
Steve McQueen and the cast and crew of 12 Years a Slave accept the best picture award at the Oscars.

Poor 23-year-old Patsey of Guinean descent was a slave brought over to Cuba on a slave ship. Solomon writes that had she lived another life, she “would have been chief among ten thousand among her people.” Patsey’s life was the epitome of a series of unfortunate events. Among slaves in Bayou Boeuf area, she was known as the queen of the cotton fields and would produce twice as much as any cotton-picker but would be whipped thoroughly at the end of each day if she either picked less or didn’t pick more.

Patsey is also caught in between the lust of her master and overflowing hate from her mistress. “She wept oftener, and suffered more, than any of her companions. Her back bore the scars of a thousand stripes; not because she was backward in her work, nor because she was unmindful and rebellious spirit, but because it had fallen to her lot to be the slave of a licentious master and a jealous mistress.” In the film adapted from the book, it is indicated that their master Epps would also rape her yet in Solomon’s tale, he only insinuates such activities. However, the girl would be branded by hot metal or thrown at glasses by her mistress just for kicks. And even though Solomon endured severe lashing as well as others, he writes that no other worse lashing did he witness during his 12 years as a slave that was worse than that subjected on Patsey by Master Epps.

Patsey is the only one who dares to run after Solomon as he finally leaves Master Epp’s farm as a free man. As she weeps at him, he says nothing at all. This is potentially a sign that even though Solomon left the bondage of slavery, he would remain enslaved by the empathy for his former comrades for as long as they remained enslaved. That’s why he is unable to bid the slaves farewell or urge Patsey to stay alive or strong – for a part of his spirit forever remains in those slave pens.

If you read and reflect upon this book, you will realise that Solomon Northup and everyone who helped him regain his freedom, and tell this story (including the director Steve McQueen) – are the silent unsung heroes of both today and a past time when calling a black man a hero would be despised. It is this unforgettable memoir that would inspire the director Steve McQueen to make the Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave.

The movie befits the story, especially because its characters match the spirit of the slaves as described by Solomon, but it doesn’t come close to the actual suffering and horror slaves in Solomon’s account were subjected to. However, for these two dark-skinned actors in the film adaptation: Chiwetel Ejiofor (BAFTA Best Lead Actor) and Lupita Nyon’go (Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) to win for Solomon’s story is triumphant indeed. I wish he were alive to witness people of all colour and race live and be accorded equally and rightfully. He would assert that the producers, cast and directors who brought his story to life did not trump colour or race but the darkness of an era. He would be proud that they upheld liberty, equality and justice for all.

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Alas! The stories of the voiceless slaves have been told, again, hundreds of years later.

BONUS: You might love my review of To Kill a Mocking Bird. Can’t wait for the book’s sequel coming out this July.

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Men of the South – Zukiswa Wanner (Book Review)

DSC_2613~2Zukiswa Wanner has written an enticing tale about finding love and making ends meet. Set in South Africa’s Johannesburg, this is a story about what happens next after finding everything in life or losing just as much.

Mfundo, Mzilikazi and Tinaye are the Men of the South. Their self-narrated stories in first person divide the book’s three chapters. Zuki does more than shine through the voices of her three main male characters and doesn’t grapple with writing in the voice of an opposite sex, like many writers do – leaving me in awe at her beautiful mind.

Mfundo and Mzilikazi are childhood buddies and have shared a lot, from secret youth pleasures like threesomes to tough challenges as grown ups. They both grow up under the scrutiny of a society that expects them to achieve certain things and live in a certain way.

It is Mzi who is everyone’s connecter. He is best friends with Mfundo, and ends up introducing him to the future love of his life – Slindile. Mzi also indirectly introduces his friend Tinaye to his other best friend Sli.

It’s a swirl of events when, after years of friendship Mfundo discovers that Mzi has a queer sexuality. Mzi, a married man, breaks up his marriage to find his sexuality. How Zuki writes about a blooming relationship between two men simply plays out the innocence of how true love unfolds between two, irrespective of sex or cultural inclinations. Mzi’s finding of true love reminds me of Frank Ocean’s We All Try. As the song goes, “I believe marriage isn’t between man and a woman but between love and love”.

Read my review of Frank Ocean’s EP Nostalgia, Ultra

Through Zuki’s characters, the 2010 book brings to light pertinent issues in African societies like being homosexual (considered a taboo by many) and xenophobia. It never escapes her for a moment that, like many other countries, South Africa and its society is not a perfect picture – as painted by many. At the tail end of the book, her main characters all unite over some beer and end up discussing xenophobia, a recurrence in modern-day South Africa. Recent South African government figures indicate that the unemployment rate in South Africa is at 25%. Many residents have accused African immigrants of taking their jobs and committing crimes, yet it is a crime what the very same residents are doing – murdering and attacking foreigners, even blazing up their business premises.

As Mfundo’s sister Buhle defends the intent behind violent attacks directed at people of other nationalities living and working in South Africa, Mfundo interjects saying, “Some of our people are stuck in a comfort zone, waiting for the government or someone else waiting to do something for them”

To acquire a work permit Tinaye, a Zimbabwean working in South Africa, is forced to marry or risk losing a job that he’s worked for all his adult life. Sli discovers that she can’t be with the man she fell in love with. Mfundo thinks his life is over if he can’t have both his music and family by his side. When the perfect couple Sli and Mfundo break up; though unexpected there is something for Mfundo and surprisingly someone for Sli. Mfundo and Mzilikazi both turn out quite differently from what the society deems fit. How everyone rises above their seemingly non-erasable mistakes is powerful for the reader, Zuki’s way of telling us one thing – you could never be so fucked up not to start over again.

Zuki’s triumphant twist to all these scenarios is the ultimate beauty of Men of the South. How her characters’ life challenges play out is a reminder of my own life and that of my friends. It’s extremely attractive how Zuki’s writing is so original yet so relatable in relation to city life and the challenges of modern societies.

You will love Zukiswa Wanner’s wit and charm. Like a good stir-fry, she has mixed up some comedy and thought-provoking tales that dance around our everyday reality. I really love Zuki for twisting the book’s ending. Just when you expect it to end this way, she takes a different route that either leaves the reader with the power to re-write it or the feeling that the book just started afresh.

Desperately needing to know what happened next, I ask Zuki (a friend of mine – always good to namedrop where you have no other choice), “I am dying to know – did Sli respond to Tinaye’s text? And what did she say????” Her response, “Kwaa. I don’t know. Imagine that’s the end? But as one of my more intelligent readers I know you have your own good ending :-) ” I actually do and I am considering blogging it out for fans of the Men of the South.

BONUS: The South African writer Zukiswa also blogs. She has written about why we should all #Boycott South Africa till South African government takes stern action against xenophobia, what she terms afrophobia.

Men of The South was shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. To my lovely cousin Sharon – thank you for lending me Men of The South – my first Zuki book :) Now can’t wait to read her other books: Behind Every Successful Man, Maids in SA and The Madams.