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Fri,24Nov2017

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Theatre: Beyond the rainbow

While apartheid ruled outside, all colours shared the Market stage. Photo©All Rights ReservedJohannesburg's Market Theatre celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and complacency is not on the program.

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Cinema: Mozambique's film revival

Vintage projectors in Maputo’s INAC film institute. Photo©Alex MacbethThe industry famed for its cinema "of the people by the people" in the 1970s and 1980s is finding its feet again.

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Art: Zimbabwean visions on a profound journey

Tauya Naye, printing ink on paper, 2013. Portia Zvavahera. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and JohannesburgPortia Zvavahera is one of a band of brave new artists crossing borders in Southern Africa.

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Africa's small screen rivals

Photo©fotolia; ebonylife.tvThe arrival of satellite channel TV Telemundo is bad news for the fledgling sector of African-made TV series. Will demand for African content allow our local heroes to stand up to their Latin American cousins?

 

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Film: Comedy is not an African reality - Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (R), director of Grisgris, whose Cannes festival selection shone a spotlight on Chad. The film’s handicapped protagonist must choose between his dreams of being a dancer and smuggling petrol to save his uncle’s life. Frank Verdier/Pili Films African film-makers must speak up for the young and dispossessed, says the Chadian director, whose films, delving deeply into the human heart and its suffering, have made him an ambassador for the seventh art.

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Somalia: Mogadishu's artistic rebirth

“Before the law, all people are equal,” says this billboard art going up near the airportWith hope and transformation in the air as Somalia experiences its first sustained period of peace for two decades, a group of veteran Somalian artists have taken up their brushes again to send out a message for a better future that can be seen large and clear all around the city.

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Animation: Africa's pixar takes off

Image©Sporedust-All Rights ReservedA small animation start-up wants to bring back traditional African storytelling. Sporedust's short cartoon Chicken Core will serve as the basis for a TV series or film that is part of the rapid expansion of the creative industries on the continent.

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Entertainment: Your guide to 2013

For Africa, 2012 was a year of sporting triumph, as men and women brought home medals galore from the Olympic and Paralympic games.

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Revival for Zimbabwe's education sector

Zimbabwe's education sector has struggled over the past few years due to economic hardships/Photo/ReutersZimbabwe on Tuesday approved a massive US$2.1 billion five year medium term plan for its education sector, boosting the sector which suffered years of under investment.

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Telling theatrical tales in Tiata Fahodzi

Actor Lucian Msamati is artistic director of Tiata Fahodzi/Photo/BBC BBC.CO.UK/DOCTORWHOThe UK-based theatre company struggles against funding cuts and audiences with fixed mindsets about how stories should be told

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Arts: Notes from Nairobi's revolutionary underground

 

Nairobi’s youth have cultivated their own underground hip hop scene, but dependence on foreign funding means it lacks lasting roots

 

 

 

On the first anniversary of the signing of Kenya’s National Accord on 28 February, the new British high commissioner threw a party at his house in Muthaiga, the oldest and most exclusive of Nairobi’s colonial suburbs. This was not the usual high commissioner’s garden party: there were no expats, no ex-colonials milling about sipping gin-and-tonics, white wine or Tuskers, discussing the state of the nation and the state of the domestic help with government and NGO big men and their wives. Instead, the party had been taken over by about 300 members of Nairobi’s hip hop community. 

 

It seemed like a scene straight out of Radical Chic: the new high commissioner, a generation younger than the typical stiff-upper-lipped career diplomat on a last posting, had opened the doors of his home – in a neighbourhood that Nairobi’s angry young hip hop poets refer to as “Babylon” – for a Saturday afternoon concert staged by these same young people. And it got better, or worse, depending on how you saw it. 

 

As the baby-faced master of ceremonies – with a girlish voice and a Stetson jauntily angled over his forehead – presided over a fashion show on a makeshift stage in the middle of the garden, his voice somehow piercing through the spit and boom of hip hop emitting from giant speakers, it was what was happening inside the house that lent the event its surprising quality. 

Nairobi Nights

 

A brief guide the city's
nightlife. Read more. 

 

Three graffiti artists were working on the high commissioner’s living room walls. On one, an innocu ous image was signed off with a message that captured the essence of that Saturday afternoon: “From tha streets to tha castle”. But it was the centrepiece that brought home Radical Chic in all its confusing glory. A 24-year-old artist by the nom de guerre of Uhuru had spray painted a huge, astounding image of the Mau Mau leader and war hero, the much-feared Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi.

 

Uhuru’s Kimathi dominated the room, dread-locks spiked, eyes spitting fire above a set of fists, which could have belonged to Che or Tupac Shakur, in a manifestly revolutionary poise with gangsta hip hop appeal. This was Kimathi vividly recreated for a generation for whom uhuru was a notion that reeked of betrayal and could only be reinvigorated using perhaps the sole current art form that properly captured the righteous anger of the young and the dispossessed: hip hop.

 

But even as the image glowed in that Muthaiga living room, speaking defiantly of the street in the castle, it had already been disarmed. Dedan Kimathi, captured and hanged by the British in February 1956 for terrorism against the Crown, was now a ghost in the living room of his former captors, conjured not to terrorise but to entertain. ?

 

For Uhuru, the artist, the Kimathi image in the British high commissioner’s house was powerfully restitutive. “People always took Kimathi to be a bad person, but he was not. He fought for our freedom,” he said afterwards. “I was trying to remind people that we can actually move forward by look-?ing back and remembering our history, because at the end of the day it was all a misunderstanding. The high commissioner appreciated it, although he seemed a little bit overwhelmed.”?

 

It is a strange irony of Nairobi’s cultural land-scape that it was the British who enabled Uhuru to paint the Kimathi image in Muthaiga. Uhuru belongs to a group of underground hip hop artists that over the past three years have established themselves on the Nairobi arts and entertainment scene. Called WAPI (an acronym for Words and Pictures, it also means ‘where?’ in Kiswahili), they work in various forms – rap, spoken-word poetry and graffiti.?

 

The project was conceived by the British Council, which organises a WAPI session every month at the Council’s offices in Nairobi. From a small audience at the first WAPI session in late 2005, it has grown hugely and now regularly hosts between 2,000 and 2,500 hip hop aficionados per session.

 

?WAPI itself is an odd fusion of ideas. “Around 2000, we started having conversations about what kind of arts work we should be doing,” says David Higgs, the local British Council director. “There was a feeling that, going by the huge impact of the culture industry in the West – it contributes about 7% of GDP in the UK, roughly the same as the financial services industry – we could begin to replicate that experience in Africa, where you have a predominantly young population locked out of the economy.”?

 

A place to do battle

 

?At the same time as the British Council was rethinking its arts policy, a group of hip hop enthusiasts were gathering every Saturday evening and staging ‘battles’ – hip hop contests between MCs in downtown Nairobi at a club called Chillers.

 

?“There was no conduit where ‘hip hopas’ were able to converge, listen to and express themselves within the structure of the hip hop culture,” says Muki Garang. Together with two other MCs, including Mwafrika, a popular radio DJ who had just walked out of his job, and Menirex, another MC, Garang turned Chillers into the only underground hip hop scene in Nairobi. ?

 

The Chillers battles were advertised primarily by word of mouth and text message. They were important to those taking part because they rejected the mainstream FM radio culture. Young people would gather at Chillers, occasionally watch documentaries of the New York hip hop scene and then battle. Young new believers were committed to maintaining their outsider status in opposition to a mainstream culture infected by commercialism.?

 

“There were no sponsors. The MCs who availed themselves did so out of their own interest,” explains Muki Garang, adding: “Even the hip hop night sessions were clear-cut deals between the bar owners and the Mwafrika entertainment company that ran the event. It was self-sponsored.”?

 

When the Chillers scene died out, WAPI took over, opening up new cultural possibilities through it poetry slam sessions, hip hop battles and acoustic jazz sessions.

 

?It has also created new cultural power brokers. Buddha Blaze (aka Moses Mbasu) arrived back in Nairobi from North America in the 1990s, determined to create an entertainment scene in a city that was, entertainment-wise, slowly grinding to a halt. At a time when crime was limiting the city’s night-life, Blaze set about trying to recreate his American experience. Today, with his entertainment company SPARK-Africa (Something People Aren’t Ready for in Kenya), he has positioned himself as a prominent figure on Nairobi’s hip hop scene. ?

 

Above and below ground

 

?“I’m scared of what Kenya would be if we weren’t there,” says Blaze. As WAPI’s first host, he has popularised the event and even exported it across the continent. “We are in a very imperfect situation and we have no support from the government. If we don’t create these platforms, what’s there?”?

 

In the absence of any government-backed endowment fund for the arts, Nairobi’s foreign donors and embassies have stepped into the breach, creating programmes that promote local artists who are not yet prominent enough to carry their own audience and helping them to launch their careers.?

 

“If you’re a young musician, fashion designer or artist, where do you go?” David Higgs, the driving force behind WAPI, asks. “The best thing we’ve done with WAPI is exposed a wider population to the creativity of young people.”?

 

With the potential for cultural expression along the lines of the Dedan Kimathi graffiti displayed in Muthaiga, the spaces being created by the foreign missions have been invaluable for young Kenyan artists.?

 

The French are especially proud of their achieve?ments. For the past decade they have been promoting Kenyan Afrofusion. They have produced a series of CDs called ‘Spotlight on Kenyan Music’. “We’re trying to promote Kenya’s traditional musical heritage,” says Harsita Waters of the Alliance Française.?

 

A national cultural policy may yet emerge, but for now the foreign missions run the show, with the risk they could easily change direction any time. David Higgs leaves Kenya for his next posting at the end of August. “The question for us right now is what we’re going to do with WAPI. I want to let it go without necessarily dismantling it,” he muses. “It’s become a boys’ club, almost exclusively hip hop. It should be more. There’s no longer enough dynamism in it to keep it interesting.” ?

 

Many of the hip hop artists who started out with WAPI three years ago have had enough exposure to make it on their own, but if the programme comes to an end, many others will find themselves back underground. 

 

 
 

Arts: Notes from Nairobi's revolutionary underground

Nairobi’s youth have cultivated their own underground hip hop scene, but dependence on foreign funding means it lacks lasting roots

On the first anniversary of the signing of Kenya’s National Accord on 28 February, the new British high commissioner threw a party at his house in Muthaiga, the oldest and most exclusive of Nairobi’s colonial suburbs. This was not the usual high commissioner’s garden party: there were no expats, no ex-colonials milling about sipping gin-and-tonics, white wine or Tuskers, discussing the state of the nation and the state of the domestic help with government and NGO big men and their wives. Instead, the party had been taken over by about 300 members of Nairobi’s hip hop community.

It seemed like a scene straight out of Radical Chic: the new high commissioner, a generation younger than the typical stiff-upper-lipped career diplomat on a last posting, had opened the doors of his home – in a neighbourhood that Nairobi’s angry young hip hop poets refer to as “Babylon” – for a Saturday afternoon concert staged by these same young people. And it got better, or worse, depending on how you saw it.

As the baby-faced master of ceremonies – with a girlish voice and a Stetson jauntily angled over his forehead – presided over a fashion show on a makeshift stage in the middle of the garden, his voice somehow piercing through the spit and boom of hip hop emitting from giant speakers, it was what was happening inside the house that lent the event its surprising quality.

Nairobi Nights

A brief guide the city's
nightlife. Read more.

Three graffiti artists were working on the high commissioner’s living room walls. On one, an innocu ous image was signed off with a message that captured the essence of that Saturday afternoon: “From tha streets to tha castle”. But it was the centrepiece that brought home Radical Chic in all its confusing glory. A 24-year-old artist by the nom de guerre of Uhuru had spray painted a huge, astounding image of the Mau Mau leader and war hero, the much-feared Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi.

Uhuru’s Kimathi dominated the room, dread-locks spiked, eyes spitting fire above a set of fists, which could have belonged to Che or Tupac Shakur, in a manifestly revolutionary poise with gangsta hip hop appeal. This was Kimathi vividly recreated for a generation for whom uhuru was a notion that reeked of betrayal and could only be reinvigorated using perhaps the sole current art form that properly captured the righteous anger of the young and the dispossessed: hip hop.

But even as the image glowed in that Muthaiga living room, speaking defiantly of the street in the castle, it had already been disarmed. Dedan Kimathi, captured and hanged by the British in February 1956 for terrorism against the Crown, was now a ghost in the living room of his former captors, conjured not to terrorise but to entertain. 


For Uhuru, the artist, the Kimathi image in the British high commissioner’s house was powerfully restitutive. “People always took Kimathi to be a bad person, but he was not. He fought for our freedom,” he said afterwards. “I was trying to remind people that we can actually move forward by look-​ing back and remembering our history, because at the end of the day it was all a misunderstanding. The high commissioner appreciated it, although he seemed a little bit overwhelmed.”


It is a strange irony of Nairobi’s cultural land-scape that it was the British who enabled Uhuru to paint the Kimathi image in Muthaiga. Uhuru belongs to a group of underground hip hop artists that over the past three years have established themselves on the Nairobi arts and entertainment scene. Called WAPI (an acronym for Words and Pictures, it also means ‘where?’ in Kiswahili), they work in various forms – rap, spoken-word poetry and graffiti.


The project was conceived by the British Council, which organises a WAPI session every month at the Council’s offices in Nairobi. From a small audience at the first WAPI session in late 2005, it has grown hugely and now regularly hosts between 2,000 and 2,500 hip hop aficionados per session.


WAPI itself is an odd fusion of ideas. “Around 2000, we started having conversations about what kind of arts work we should be doing,” says David Higgs, the local British Council director. “There was a feeling that, going by the huge impact of the culture industry in the West – it contributes about 7% of GDP in the UK, roughly the same as the financial services industry – we could begin to replicate that experience in Africa, where you have a predominantly young population locked out of the economy.”


A place to do battle


At the same time as the British Council was rethinking its arts policy, a group of hip hop enthusiasts were gathering every Saturday evening and staging ‘battles’ – hip hop contests between MCs in downtown Nairobi at a club called Chillers.


“There was no conduit where ‘hip hopas’ were able to converge, listen to and express themselves within the structure of the hip hop culture,” says Muki Garang. Together with two other MCs, including Mwafrika, a popular radio DJ who had just walked out of his job, and Menirex, another MC, Garang turned Chillers into the only underground hip hop scene in Nairobi. 


The Chillers battles were advertised primarily by word of mouth and text message. They were important to those taking part because they rejected the mainstream FM radio culture. Young people would gather at Chillers, occasionally watch documentaries of the New York hip hop scene and then battle. Young new believers were committed to maintaining their outsider status in opposition to a mainstream culture infected by commercialism.


“There were no sponsors. The MCs who availed themselves did so out of their own interest,” explains Muki Garang, adding: “Even the hip hop night sessions were clear-cut deals between the bar owners and the Mwafrika entertainment company that ran the event. It was self-sponsored.”


When the Chillers scene died out, WAPI took over, opening up new cultural possibilities through it poetry slam sessions, hip hop battles and acoustic jazz sessions.


It has also created new cultural power brokers. Buddha Blaze (aka Moses Mbasu) arrived back in Nairobi from North America in the 1990s, determined to create an entertainment scene in a city that was, entertainment-wise, slowly grinding to a halt. At a time when crime was limiting the city’s night-life, Blaze set about trying to recreate his American experience. Today, with his entertainment company SPARK-Africa (Something People Aren’t Ready for in Kenya), he has positioned himself as a prominent figure on Nairobi’s hip hop scene. 


Above and below ground


“I’m scared of what Kenya would be if we weren’t there,” says Blaze. As WAPI’s first host, he has popularised the event and even exported it across the continent. “We are in a very imperfect situation and we have no support from the government. If we don’t create these platforms, what’s there?”


In the absence of any government-backed endowment fund for the arts, Nairobi’s foreign donors and embassies have stepped into the breach, creating programmes that promote local artists who are not yet prominent enough to carry their own audience and helping them to launch their careers.


“If you’re a young musician, fashion designer or artist, where do you go?” David Higgs, the driving force behind WAPI, asks. “The best thing we’ve done with WAPI is exposed a wider population to the creativity of young people.”


With the potential for cultural expression along the lines of the Dedan Kimathi graffiti displayed in Muthaiga, the spaces being created by the foreign missions have been invaluable for young Kenyan artists.


The French are especially proud of their achieve
ments. For the past decade they have been promoting Kenyan Afrofusion. They have produced a series of CDs called ‘Spotlight on Kenyan Music’. “We’re trying to promote Kenya’s traditional musical heritage,” says Harsita Waters of the Alliance Française.


A national cultural policy may yet emerge, but for now the foreign missions run the show, with the risk they could easily change direction any time. David Higgs leaves Kenya for his next posting at the end of August. “The question for us right now is what we’re going to do with WAPI. I want to let it go without necessarily dismantling it,” he muses. “It’s become a boys’ club, almost exclusively hip hop. It should be more. There’s no longer enough dynamism in it to keep it interesting.” 


Many of the hip hop artists who started out with WAPI three years ago have had enough exposure to make it on their own, but if the programme comes to an end, many others will find themselves back underground.

 

Business Schools: Bringing the costs down

 

Making business schools affordable is a tough challenge in the African environment, but some show the way

 

“Ashesi is the most expensive university in Ghana and also the least expensive university in Ghana,” says Patrick Awuah, president of Accra’s Ashesi University. Established by Awuah in 2002 as a private, not-for-profit foundation, it charges between $5,000 a year and $10 a year, using an endowment to support 50% of its students through financial aid. “We were very unabashed about saying publicly that, in our opinion, it should not be controversial that rich families pay for their education,” says Awuah.

 

Public universities dominate Africa’s education systems, but the last 20 years has seen growth in private institutions springing up to offer courses in business, computing, marketing and communications – all subjects where public universities were slow to meet demand.?

 

While some are for-profit, not-for-profit universities like Ashesi have been busy raising standards. Their relationships with government can be controversial, though. In Ghana, for example, there is debate over whether private schools should be eligible for support from a government trust fund, which has already donated computers and buses to private institutions.

 

?In Morocco, where the state is still the main actor in tertiary education, Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane has shown the way for Moroccan institutions to achieve financial autonomy. Though Al Akhawayn, founded in 1993, is essentially still a public body, with its board appointed by the king, it is managed privately and controls its finances through a foundation generating donations. ?

 

“We have a lot of flexibility in reviewing the curriculum,” says Mohamed Derrabi, dean of Al Akhawayn School of Business Administration. He says the school benchmarks its success on international accreditation, for which independence from the state is important. “Institutional accreditation agencies, they really look at this as a very good advantage for us because we can adapt without too much bureaucracy.”

 

?The curricula offered by Ashesi and Al Akhawayn follows the US liberal-arts model, with a broad range of subjects. At Ashesi, business students study technology and philosophy; at Al Akhawayn, they study arts, science and history. ?

 

Ashesi’s not-for-profit model is based on an endowment, philanthropy and high fees that support 90% of operating expenses. The university has secured 94% of a $3.4m fundraising target to build a new campus and is seeking a further $2.5m from the International Finance Corporation.Although the majority of Ashesi funds come from donors in US’s Pacific north-west, its young alumni also contribute – a potentially lucrative income stream for the future. 

 
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