Puku is a stylish, high-powered, high-capacity USB charger for mobile devices that has been garnering a lot of buzz in the tech world. The company was started by Meck Khalfan and Abraham Merishani who are Tanzanian, and Ani Onuorah who is Nigerian.
I had a chat with Ani Onuorah, who is the president of the company about the journey so far.
This short video gives an account of massacres of civilians that happened in Asaba, Nigeria, 1967, in the early months of the Nigerian Civil War. It uses interviews with survivors and witnesses, and historical photos and documents to tell the story of an event that has largely been ignored for decades.
<p>Africa is a grand and diverse continent. I am continually amazed at the sheer brilliance, ingenuity and talent that is seldom seen outside the continent, particularly in countries that don’t have much visibility beyond their borders. As a Nigerian, the world knows us. Perhaps not in a nuanced manner, but they know of Nigeria. As the most populated country in Africa, Nigeria has visibility. Nigerians are seemingly everywhere and in every sector. In contrast, Malawi is the opposite. Malawi is a landlocked country in Southeastern Africa, and it is a country seldom discussed.
In my years documenting African musicians, I had never documented any Malawians. This all changed when a quartet of young men named ‘Malawi Mouse Boys’ performed in NYC on October 7th, 2014. The Malawi Mouse Boys are Zondiwe Kachingwe, Nelson Muligo, Alfred Gavanala and Josephy Nekwankwa. All four are self-taught musicians and they have been singing and making music together from childhood. Not having access to top-tier instruments was not a hindrance for them. They fashioned four-string guitars from scrap and used tin cans for percussion. This stripped down, back to basics instrumentation highlights what is truly charming and extraordinary about these men; their voices.
The Mouse Boys made their living selling skewered mouse meat kebabs to passing motorists on the side of the road, while singing, whistling and playing instruments. While in Malawi, it was here that the Grammy-award winning producer Ian Brennan spotted them during a roadside performance. Brennan was so impressed, he brought them to the WOMAD World Music Festival.
The Mouse Boys recently embarked on a short fall 2014 US tour which saw them playing dates to a sold out crowd in Los Angeles, at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco, Oakland, and a final stop in New York on October 7th as part of Live@365’s Fall 2014 series at Elebash Hall at CUNY’s Graduate Center. This was their first performance in New York City, and I was looking forward to it.
The Mouse Boys took to the stage at the Elebash Hall quietly. They started playing in a calm and subdued manner. I read that they played songs of praise and worship, and indeed this sounded like that. It was tender and beautiful. I don’t think anyone would have been upset if the rest of the show went on like that. I certainly wouldn’t have minded. Alas, it didn’t. Things became supercharged as the Mouse Boys took turns dashing through the audience, much to the audiences delight. This wasn’t just a show for quiet spectators. As the Mouse Boys worked their way through the crowd, they wanted participation from the audience and routinely put a microphone in their faces to repeat what they were saying.
The ingenuity of the Mouse Boys cannot be overstated. Sure, they were using coke cans for percussion, but I saw a cardboard box on the stage. I thought surely a cardboard box isn’t going to be played as an instrument. How would it work? I thought wrong. The cardboard box was played superbly with gentle, but firm taps.When was the last time someone told you that a cardboard box was played superbly? Better yet, have you ever envisioned a cardboard box being used as a makeshift instrument?
As the show went on and sweat drenched the stage, the Mouse Boys disrobed until they were all shirtless. This is not gospel and praise music like in your grandparent’s day. The Mouse Boys were in their zone and the audience didn’t need much coaxing to get on their feet. The seated show became standing room only as the Mouse Boys once again made their way through the crowd, playfully encouraging audience participation.
The Malawi Mouse Boys will embark on a tour in Australia and New Zealand this spring. If you’re around those parts, do yourself the favor and see them live. The band is an absolute delight. You’ve never seen anything like them before. I guarantee it.
The last time I spoke to Seun Kuti, he was coming off the heels of his “From Africa with Fury: Rise” album and was about to embark on the US leg of his tour with a stop at the Highline Ballroom in NYC along the way. This was at the height of the Occupy Nigeria protests, and Seun was in the thick of things organizing and galvanizing people to take a stand against bad leadership.
Two years later, Seun returned to the Highline Ballroom with the Egypt 80 in tow and a new album titled “A Long Way to the Beginning” on Knitting Factory records. He has been at the forefront of the Stolen Dreams demonstrations, and his music reflects his activism. For Seun, this isn’t armchair activism, this is a way of life. His music embodies a sense of urgency. He speaks plainly and openly. The first single off the new album is titled IMF (International Motherfuckers). It leaves no ambiguities or innuendos. Nothing is left to interpretation. You know where he stands. The track is a scathing attack on the lecherous, predatory and imperialistic banking practices of the International Monetary Fund that only benefits Europe. He highlights the parasitic relationship Europe has with Africa.
Seun always begins his shows with a nod to his father by playing one of his songs, and the show at the Highline Ballroom was no different. He started out by playing V.I.P. (Vagabonds in Power). The show was frenetic, energetic and fast-paced. Like most of his shows, Seun usually takes a few moments to pepper the crowd with commentary. While afrobeat is music you can dance to, it also comes with a message. If you aren’t listening to the message, then you have missed the entire point.
One point Seun hammered home was about the disrespect of the black woman. He chided Pharrell for his “Black Marilyn Monroe” song, taking umbrage with watered down blackness being promoted as the ideal image for black women. Seun asked “Why do we need a black version of a white woman? Why can’t black women just be black women? What’s wrong with Angela Davis? What’s wrong with Maya Angelou? What’s wrong with Nina Simone? What’s wrong with black women that look like them?” This brief social commentary was followed by the slower paced track Black Woman.
Later on in the evening, Robert Glasper sat in with the band much to the delight of the crowd. The 2 hour set didn’t seem long enough. Thoroughly drenched in sweat, the band came out for an encore to satiate the cries from the audience. The encore only prolonged the inevitable; this brilliant show had come to an end. If you were in NYC and weren’t at the Highline Ballroom to witness it, then you missed a hell of a show.
For his Spring/Summer 2014 Ikiré Jones collection, Nigerian designer Wale Oyejide places Africans in the context of Renaissance art. I caught up with him to discuss what he has titled “The Untold Renaissance”.