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    A good read: African writers we’re loving

    After the unusually long hot British summer, the nights are drawing in and the temperature is dropping down to single figures. What a great time to curl up on the sofa with a blanket and a good book. Right?

    Some really fresh and inspiring voices from Africa and the diaspora are emerging onto the British and international literary scene.

    Three writers who have been receiving some well-deserved attention and a clutch of prestigious awards are Diana Evans, Chibundu Onuzo and Michael Donkor.

     

    Diana Evans

     I write from inside blackness, from inside black experience…..I don’t think you can write about black characters without writing about race, it’s so deeply engrained

    Books:

    • 26a (2005)
    • The Wonder (2009)
    • Ordinary People (2018)
    Diane Evans and the cover of 'Ordinary People'

    Diane Evans and the cover of ‘Ordinary People’

    Diana Evans, of Nigerian and British descent was born and raised in northwest London with her 5 sisters, one of whom was her twin. Sadly, it was the suicide of her twin sister at the age of 26 which prompted her to write her first novel, 26a. It is the strongly autobiographical story of identical Nigeria-British twins growing up in Neasden, London. Tragedy, fantasy, secrecy and humour are all there in this page turning debut novel. It won the Orange Award for New Writers and Betty Trask Award, Society of Authors.

    The Wonder explores in lyrical prose the life of a dancer – before becoming a journalist and writer, Diana Evans was herself a dancer. The novel, a ‘dance mystery’ is currently being considered for TV dramatization.

    In her most recent novel, Ordinary People, Diana Evans tracks the troubled relationship between Melissa and Michael, a couple in their thirteenth year of being together. In an interview with the Guardian, Diana Evans explains,

    “I wanted to write a book about contemporary London,” she says. “Black people, thirtysomethings, couples. Part of what I’m trying to do is to make us visible, because we aren’t visible in imagery.”

    The novel explores the impact of Barack Obama’s election as President of USA in 2008 and Michael Jackson’s death the following year on her characters’ lives.

    After the publication of each novel, Diana Evans rewards herself by buying a chair for her home! That’s three so far!

     

    Chibundu Onuzo

    Books:

    • The Spider King’s Daughter (2012)
    • Welcome to Lagos (2017)

    Chibundu Onuzo and 'The Spider King's Daughter' cover

    No doubt about it, Chibundu Onuzo is a literary phenomenon and prodigy. By the ripe age of 26, she already had two published novels under her belt. In fact, she began her first novel when she was just 10 years old! At 19, she was the youngest ever writer to be signed by publishers Faber and Faber and in 2018 was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Quite an achievement, right!

    Born in Nigeria, Chibundu Onuzo was exposed to storytelling at a young age. Her father was an oral storyteller whereas her mother passed on her love of 19th century British literature to Chibundu.

    She is currently studying for a PhD in history at Kings College London – somehow, she also manages to write novels, produce and perform in a spectacular musical autobiography and fit in publicity tours! What a superwoman!

     

    The Spider King’s Daughter is a ‘forbidden love’ story. A tumultuous relationship develops between Abike, the pampered but often lonely daughter of a wealthy, corrupt Lagos businessman and an impoverished street hawker whose family have lost everything. Many strange and uncomfortable truths about the two families and about Nigerian society come to light in the course of the book.

    The novel was the winner of a Betty Trask Award, shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Commonwealth Book Prize

    Welcome to Lagos is a very different kind of book and arose from a dream Chibundu had about two soldiers. In contrast to The Spider King’s Daughter which focuses on its two principal characters, Welcome to Lagos is an ambitious ensemble piece involving a whole cast of people from very different walks of life thrown together by chance with often surprising alliances and hilarious results.

    Michael Donkor

    Book:

    Hold (2018)

    Michael Donkor and 'Hold' book cover

    Michael Donkor, a secondary school teacher turned novelist was born to Ghanaian parents and grew up in London. The Observer referred to him as a new face of fiction and named him as one of the best debut novelists of 2018.

    Hold, a coming of age story and Michael Donkor’s first novel was inspired by the numerous silent housemaids he saw on childhood visits to his extended family in Ghana. Set in 2002 and moving between Ghana and South London, the story revolves around 17year old Belinda, a housemaid sent from Ghana to tend to Amma, a challenging London born teenager who lives with her Ghanaian family. In the novel, Donkor tackles female friendship and sexuality, generational and class differences and the taboos around homosexuality in the Ghanaian community. A riveting thought-provoking read.

     

    So, you’re probably already rushing out to your local bookstore to buy one or other of these inspiring books to immerse yourself in on chilly days and evenings.

    And what awesome gifts for friends and family on the Christmas present list!

     

    Author: Yvonne Lloyd

    A Season of African Cinema – Film Africa

    If like us you’re interested in African cinema, you’ll be looking forward to the eighth Film Africa, the annual London-based film festival hosted by the Royal African Society. The film extravaganza showcases the best films from across the continent and the diaspora from both established and brand new directors from 2 to 11 November 2018. Since its launch in 2011, more than 22,000 people have watched 388 diverse films from directors across Africa.

    Yes Film Africa is about bringing a mouthwatering buffet of African films to audiences in UK, but it’s also so much more than that: Director Q&As, talks, debates, school outreach programmes, family events, live music shows, professional workshops and a selection of master classes are all on offer during the festival.

    What’s on at Film Africa 2018?

    Not that we’re biased, but this year’s festival line-up is looking awesome. Shorts, documentaries and feature films – take your pick or better still mix and match! The opening gala which takes place at BFI Southbank is the UK premiere of The Burial of Kojo by Ghanaian musician and film director Blitz Bazawule.

    The closing gala on November 11th, at Rich Mix, will feature Kasala by Nigerian director Ema Edosio. In between, a trawl through the eclectic selection reveals films by directors from countries as diverse as South Africa, Tunisia, Kenya, Egypt, Sudan, Gabon, Burundi and Somalia.

    For more information on this year’s programme, go to http://www.filmafrica.org/full-programme/

    Whether you’re in London or not, you can still get involved in upgarding your African cinema repertoire. Thanks to global streaming sites and online DVD sellers, we’ve found more (not enough!) African cinema available for global viewing.

    We’re making this our season of African cinema, and this is our top 10 to watch – from across the continent and covering different genres. Join us!

    1. I Am Not A Witch (Zambia, 2017) – “Approaches real-life injustices with a beguiling blend of sorrow, anger, and humour, marking debuting writer-director Rungano Nyoni as an exciting new talent.” (Rotten Tomatoes, 97%)

    Image result for i am not a witch7

    2. Moolaade (Senegal, 2004) – From legendary author and film director Ousmane Sembene, “A vibrant, powerful, and poignant glimpse into the struggles of women in modern Africa.” (Rotten Tomatoes, 99%)

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    3. Tsotsi (South Africa, 2006) – Directed by Gavin Hood. With Presley Chweneyagae, Mothusi Magano, Israel Makoe, Terry Pheto. Six days in the violent life of a young Johannesburg gang member who is beyond redemption…or is he?

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    4. Yeelen (Mali, 1987) – (Bambara for “brightness”/”light”) It is filmed in the Bambara and Fula languages, and is based on a legend told by the Bambara people. Cissé presents a thirteenth-century legend seemingly from the perspective of its characters, for whom the supernatural realm, the domain of divine powers realized concretely on earth, is demonstrable, evident, and visible.

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    5. Waiting for Happiness (Mauritania, 2002) – The film pictures Mauritania as a kind of limbo, where everyone is waiting, watching, dreaming of going to France or elsewhere. A boy tries to install an electric light. A rootless man’s shirt is the exact same material as his curtains and sofa. As these people drift and dream we see, through their eyes, street scenes of utter beauty, and we hear, through their ears, Malian Oumou Sangaré’s gorgeous score.

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    6. Touki Bouki (Senegal, 1973) – Directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty, the film tells the story of Mory a cowherd who rides a motorcycle mounted with a cow’s skull, and Anta, a university student as they try to make money in order to go to Paris and leave their boring past behind.

    7. The Gods Must Be Crazy (South Africa, 1980) – Written and directed by Jamie Uys. Financed only from local sources, it is the most commercially successful release in the history of South Africa’s film industry. Set in Botswana, the poignantly insightful comedy follows the story of Xi, a San of the Kalahari Desert whose tribe has no knowledge of the world beyond, Andrew, a biologist who analyzes manure samples for his PhD dissertation, and Kate, a newly hired village school teacher.

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    8. Hyenas (Senegal, 1993) – A quirky but visually decadent film from director Djibril Diop Mambéty. After being banished from her village three decades earlier for getting pregnant out of wedlock, and finding great fortune on her travels, Linguere has returned home intent on punishing Dramaan the man who made her pregnant.

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    9. Teza (Ethiopia, 2008) – Intellectual Anberber returns to his native country after several years spent studying medicine abroad, he finds the country of his youth replaced by turmoil. Seeking the comfort of his countryside home, Anberber finds no refuge from violence.  Anberber needs to decide whether he wants to bear the strain or piece together a life from the fragments that lie around him.

    10. Half of a Yellow Sun (Nigeria, 2013) – Based on the novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and directed by Biyi Bandele. Sisters Olanna and Kainene return home to 1960s Nigeria, where they soon diverge on different paths. As civil war breaks out, political events loom larger than their differences as they join the fight to establish an independent republic.

    Image result for half of a yellow sun movie

    Why is Film Africa and contemporary African cinema such a big deal?

    To fully appreciate the significance of Film Africa, one needs to look at the history of film-making. At best, most films about Africa in colonial times (and beyond) showed Africans as exotic, living in outlandish places. At worst, they were depicted as savage, primitive, or as submissive and childlike, with little to no agency, dependent on the mercy of western masters for their survival.

    Post independence, African filmmakers started to emerge, vigorously challenging the narrow portrayals of the continent and its inhabitants. The themes were overtly political and social in nature, representing characters as dignified, intelligent, articulate people who felt love, hatred, greed, ambition, fear and joy as deeply as all humanity. These films show Africa unapologetically, threading cultural context and music, costume, ritual into the telling of the stories.

    Sembène Ousmane, the Senegalese director is widely regarded as the founding father of African cinema – an ever-growing list of directors, both men and women have been inspired by him and followed in his pioneering footsteps.

    Hence the massive importance of Film Africa to set the records straight and help give African cinema a platform – African culture, African history, African stories related by African directors.

    Words: Yvonne Lloyd & Daphne Kasambala

     

     

    Q&A Interview with Eloli

    Our Summer of pop ups continues with a one-week event by Eloli, an exciting fashion brand that embodies sisterhood across the oceans. Kelly from Team Sapelle sat down and asked Dibo, one of the founders of Eloli for a quick-fire interview. Read on…

     

    -Tell us about you and your brand, to start… who is Dibo?

    I am a creative director of Eloli, a fashion brand which I run with my two sisters. I am based in London while Fese is based in Yaoundé, Cameroon and Sume is based in Toronto, Canada. We are all self-taught in fashion design however we are from a family of creatives and grew up in a household where we learned how to sew early on and developed an interest in fashion and retail. As children, we restyled and designed our clothes and having our mum’s machines and amazing fabrics at home made experimenting, an everyday part of our lives.

    Product shot dress

    -What is Eloli ?

    Eloli is an award-winning contemporary fashion brand which showcases African design.

    Eloli means “it is beautiful” in Bafaw, a language spoken in Cameroon.  We wanted a name that was rooted in our heritage evocative of the feeling you get when you wear one of our pieces. Through countless conversations with our mum and aunts, we landed on Eloli. It has proved to be the right choice – beautiful is the most common descriptor we hear. It makes us smile each time.

    We currently have a handbag  line, and a collection of men’s and women’s clothing available in our boutique in Yaoundé, our website and through other  select retailers and e-commerce.

    Making of _Design process

     

    Making of _Manufacturing bags 2

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    -How would you describe the style of your brand ?

    The Eloli woman and man stands out from the crowd with their adventurous and confident nature. A man and woman of the world, they are glamorous with a chic and unique style allowing them to revel in being the centre of attention. They are free and confident, living life on their own terms while caring for the world around them. They are curious, adventurous and comfortable in their own skin.

    The brand incorporates our love for vibrant colour and pattern. Through Eloli we channel our shared passion of introducing an African aesthetic to contemporary design.

    Our brand promise is to help our girls and guys live life boldly – in colour, texture and print.Designers_l_to_r_Dibo Sume&Fese

    -Are your inspirations coming from all over Africa or from a particular country?

    Our inspiration is global with our aesthetic firmly grounded in our Cameroonian heritage. We live in 3 different cities on three different continents, we love to travel and discover different cultures. We are very influenced by our heritage and remain forward looking in our designs.

    We are inspired by the people we design for: adventurous and fearless women and men.

    Affichage de jordan green shirt 1.jpg en cours...

    -What motives you as a fashion designer ?

    As a fashion designer I am motivated by a sense of beauty and style which is heavily influenced by the glamorous men and women who I grew up around. My sisters and I have a huge appreciation for African fashion and aesthetics and try to incorporate that in our designs.

    We are keen to contribute our culture into the fabric of contemporary design and tell our own story so to speak.

    Seeing our designs on people in everyday life is a great reminder of why we decided to start the brand in the first place and keeps us going.

    Working with talented people and seeing how we are contributing to their families and the local communities in our own small way keeps us driven.

    We have also been very blessed with some recognition for our work which is amazing for such a young brand. We were featured in British Vogue last year and also named one of the ‘4 Canadian Start-up Companies You Should Know’ by The Kit Magazine, Canada. We have also won a few awards and all of this helps us focus knowing that that voice in our heads telling us we can achieve just about anything if we keep going, is not so crazy after all.

    Plus, having sisters to rely on keeps us pretty motivated!

    the kit magazine canada eloli

     

    -What are your greatest strengths, and how will they help you as a fashion designer ?

    Well, I did a strength finder test a few years ago and according to that, being creative and strategic are amongst my top 5 strengths. Being creative is obviously essential for a designer and being strategic helps in defining how we turn our creativity into a sustainable and relevant business. The business of fashion is very competitive and it is easy to fall in love with the glamour and not put in the hard work however it is a business and you need to be able to see the bigger picture and plan accordingly.

     

    Thank you Dibo.

     

    Kelly B.

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    Our Pop-Up Partner FKA tells us about Senegalese Rabaal Textile

     

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    We’re thrilled by our summer pop up programme, and are counting down the days before we welcome FKA Atelier, a luxury Senegalese accessories brand that features the beautifully crafted Rabaal textile in its pieces. FKA will be resident at our 281 Portobello Road shop from 10 June until 8 July, with special events being held during that period, so don’t miss out!

    Who is behind FKA Atelier brand ?

    My name is Fanta, I’m an accessories lover and a life traveler. I’m inspired by the traditions and aesthetic codes of my mixed cultures: a bridge between Europe and Africa. Over m
    y blog H&Y, I already shared afro-metropolitan inspirations and stories. FKA Atelier is the junction between my interests. Besides me, I have a team of free spirits, crafting products with a soul, for free spirits, with a style.

    FKA Founder, Fanta Ka

    FKA Founder, Fanta Ka

    How does your brand celebrate your Senegalese culture?

    We exclusively use precious and meaningful materials, such as Rabaal, traditionally used in West Africa for all the key events (birth, naming, wedding…) handwoven by Senegalese craftsmen, but also the best leathers and skins. It’s a way to show our culture.

     

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    Can you tell how Rabaal is made?

    Rabaal is a typically African fabric, handmade with cotton and silk fiber. What makes its particularity is the richness of its colors, the diversity of patterns, and finally its robustness. Made from woven strips, the pieces are assembled by a tailor to fit its final size.

    How is Rabaal used traditionally in Senegalese culture?

    You could find Rabaal in the ceremonies of marriages : the bride is covered with a Rabaal before entering the house of her husband. But also in naming : newborn is wrapped in the most beautiful Rabaal of the mother. However, it is also used on a daily basis. The mother covers her child during his outings, noble women regularly ordering Rabaal to the weavers who settled on the property, time to realize the fabric. The hostess provides thread, food, and pays the labor.

    Does the fabric you use have a meaning?

    Yes. The pattern punctuated by geometric lines and ornaments contains a symbolic message. Just as with proverbs, we proceed by analogy and decipher the meaning; it became a relay of the word, a vehicle of communication requiring no words. These are mystical pieces with a powerful magnetism that link critical moments of life. Rabaal is one of the means of expression at the disposal of women and men, to express their feelings with subtlety and refinement.

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    Interview with Daniele Tamagni, Photographer & Author of ‘Fashion Tribes’

    Dear Daniele, We have and love your latest book, “Fashion Tribes”. You are also the Author of “Gentleman of Bacongo”, dedicated to The Sapeurs of Congo.
    We wanted to learn more about your work with the Fashion Subcultures, especially those based in Africa.

    Daniele Tamagni The Xalay Fashion Ladys # 2 Lambda c-print 41 x 56 cm Courtesy October Gallery London low res

    Daniele Tamagni, you are an Art Historian by training, how did your current career of Photographer start?

    My career as photographer started around 2004. I was still working on history of art, cataloguing and researching, but gradually I realized I wanted to dedicate myself full time to photography. Transform a passion, a hobby in a job is not easy but I think photography was and is the medium I prefer, to communicate to people.

    My photography is about people not still life, paintings or Architecture so I totally changed; but said this, I think studying Art for years helped with constructing a picture because I always have in my mind composition, light, colours etc. that remind me of paintings even if it is for street photography or reportage. The esthetic plays an important role in my photography style.

    daniele tamagni copy

    You started photographing “The Sapeurs” before they became known internationally, can you tell us how you discovered them and what attracted you to them?

    I was in Brazzaville in 2007 while doing different reportages for ‘Africa’ magazine. One night I saw these elegant Dandies during Papa Wemba’s concert. Their style was unique and so unusual compared to other Congolese: a western neo-colonial style that reminded me of the past; at the same time so provocative and creative. I really wanted to know more about them so I researched them when I was back in Europe and I decided to go deeper, going back, meeting them and doing a story.

    It was 2008 when I decided I have enough documented for the book; of course I could never have imagined the success of this project that led them to be known internationally. “Gentlemen of Bacongo” was published in 2009.

    Daniele Tamagni, Ngor, La Renaissance Africaine, 2012. Lambda C-Print, 80 x 57 cm. Courtesy October Gallery London copy

    The fashion subcultures featured in your book defend fiercely their individuality. How are they perceived in a wider culture that can put the emphasis on group identity and where the pressure to conform can still be difficult to resist?

    It is true that they defend their individuality. They ask for respect and stand out to defend their style and creativity but also their sense of belonging to a community. At the same time, what we can call subculture or counter-culture can influence the mainstream culture. I am talking about sapeurs who influenced designers like Paul Smith or pop star singers like Solange Knowles. Also let’s think about the punk movement born as a rebellion movement and now is still so alive and established in the world of fashion.

    Daniele Tamagni Playboys_of_Bacongo 2008 Lambda c-print 74.2 x 126.5 cm Courtesy October Gallery London copy

    What is the level of influence these groups have on their societies? Especially on the new generations?

    I think the impact is very strong. The sapeurs for example have been invited to talk to young generations because of their example of elegant and stylish man not just for the outfit but also for the good manner, the behaviour and the moral code that a real sapeur must have together with the “allure”.

    Your work has given “The Sapeur” a new level of exposure – especially with the video with Solange Knowles. How has this new notoriety impacted their lives? Are they moving from the fringe to become mainstream?

    Not yet unfortunately, recently a well-known brand, Guinness, did a campaign with the sapeurs. I really hope these occasions can help sapeurs financially. But they are still episodic and not enough to change their lives.

    Daniele Tamagni, Jerry Moeng del gruppo Smangor Johannesburgi Courtesy October Gallery copy

    Discover the work of Daniel Tamagni and James Barnor at the October Gallery in London. Their joint exhibition runs from 8th to 30th of September 2016.

    The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.