Power of Music Part 3: Emmanuel Jal And The Business Of Peace Music
November 9, 2012 | 0 Comments
“I had record labels wanting me to change my style, they wanted me to be more ‘hard,’” he says. “I was being told, ‘You’re soft, you’re not like a real soldier.’”
The executives dispensing that advice had no idea how wrong they were—Jal has been fighting all his life. He grew up in what is now the independent nation ofSouth Sudan, a region that lost roughly one-fifth of its population in a civil war that split the country in two and continues to reverberate today. And at the age of seven, after his mother was killed by government forces, he was sent to a training camp to become a child soldier.
Jal’s story represents one of the more heart-wrenching and improbable paths to a happy and fulfilling life, let alone international fame as a musician. Now 32, he has just released his fifth studio album, See Me Mama, on his own Universal-distributed label. Combined with a healthy dose of live performances, a memoir and a documentary about his life, music has given him not only a voice but a financially viable career that enables Jal to take care of himself and others
On a recent visit to the Forbes headquarters inNew York(see video of the interview below), Jal compared his relationship with music to an airplane’s interaction with air pressure: the level inside must match the level outside.
“What music does to me, it helps me balance my inner pressure so that I can deal with the forces outside that are trying to pressure me,” he says. “And it makes me tell the story in a way that it doesn’t hurt me.”
That story began in South Sudan, where he spent his childhood fighting in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, rebelling against government forces sent in from Khartoum (still the capital of Sudan, where Omar Al-Bashir remains president despite the At age 11, Jal and a handful of other child soldiers broke from the main fighting force, escaping from the city of Juba to a town called Waat. There, Jal met British aid worker Emma McCune, who adopted him and arranged for him to attend school inNairobi. After McCune died in an accident shortly thereafter, he was left to fend for himself inKenya, haunted by memories of his homeland.
“Thinking about the moments when we were walking in the jungle,” Jal recalls. “Or the times when I was tempted to eat my friend because we had no food.”
In the streets of Nairobi, though, Jal found comfort in music. Combining the influence of American hip-hop and African rhythms, he developed his own reggae-tinged, peace-promoting sound. And he soon found that his message was catching on. In 2004 he independently released his first album, Gua, which means “peace” in the South Sudanese language of Nuer and “power” in the brand of Arabic spoken in the region. The title track topped Kenyan charts.
It wasn’t until the following year at the Live 8 concert inCornwall,United Kingdom, that he realized he could make a living as a musician. Performing to a crowd of 5,000 people alongside celebrated artists like Peter Gabriel, it suddenly seemed anything might be possible.
“It was like I was floating in the air,” he remembers. “There were promoters so I was booked for another tour. … From $300 [per show], now you’re being paid 1,000 pounds, 2,000 pounds, and I said, ‘Wow.’ From there I was able to take care of my family, rent a place for myself, establish my charity Gua Africa.”
Though he doesn’t earn as much as the politically-minded Lupe Fiasco, whom I profiled in the second installment of this three-part Power Of Music series, Jal has similarly been able to make a living as a musician while generally resisting pressure to “sell out.” And like Fiasco, he may actually benefit from the distinction of being a “conscious rapper” because it sets him apart.
“[The record label executives’] advice was, ‘Sex and violence sells more than just singing about peace and being lovey-dovey, and so it doesn’t give you street cred,’” says Jal. “But when you look at it, artists are influenced by the system nowadays. Because … if you play more conscious music, then you’re going to raise a more tough generation that will ask questions.”
That impulse has continued to put him in harm’s way. On a recent trip toSouth Sudanto play at a peace concert with hip-hop legend DMC, Jal was beaten by police before being rescued by forces who recognized him as a musician.
For that and other reasons, Jal feels he almost has no choice but to forge ahead.
“I still have nightmares of dead comrades, a long time ago, talking to me,” he says. “’Emmanuel, don’t forget about us, don’t give up, keep telling our story.’ … So it was no longer about me telling my story. It was about telling the story of those people.”
See the full videos of my interview with Emmanuel Jal below. This is the third part in my three-part Power of Music series, which looks at examples of music making a difference in the world. For more, follow me on Twitter and Facebook.
Oluchi’s World: Modeling And More!
November 2, 2012 | 3 Comments
By Obed Boafo*
Oluchi Onweagba-Orlandi makes modeling look so easy. One of the few black models to have hit the global limelight, Oluchi has seen her career grow from good to better to perfect.Her success story makes an interesting read, and the kind you would want to revisit over and over
14 years ago, when she auditioned and won the Face of Africa modeling contest, it was a kind of breakthrough that shot her from obscurity to stardom.
Oluchi winning the Face of Africa contest was special in so many ways. It was the first-ever model competition that covered the whole continent. It was organized by the South African channel M-Net in collaboration with Elite Model Management.
She was seventeen years old at the time and didn’t know zilch about the path she was creating. A three-year modeling contract with renowned modeling agency Elite Modeling Management worked the magic of what would go on to become a beautiful story.
It was not until after she had won that the reality that she has arrived, dawned on her.
The successes that have since followed her triumph on that platform have been extremely refreshing.
She has a long list of clients she has and continues to do work for including Victoria’s Secret, Gianfranco Ferré, Gap, Express, John Galliano, Christian Dior, Costume National, Chanel, and Giorgio Armani, Banana Republic and Ann Taylor. Oluchi has also worked with very professional photographers such as Steven Meisel, Nick Knight, and Patrick Demarchelier.
She has graced covers of well known publications like Vogue, i-D, ELLE, Untold, and Surface; and has featured in campaigns for Nylon, Marie Claire, and Allure.
One of Oluchi’s most talked-about modeling feats so far is her featuring in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue for four straight years from 2005 to 2008.
Oluchi playfully describes herself as an African Fashion mini goddess, a speechless actress, timeless clothes hanger, a game changer, an entrepreneur and a global individual.
The journey to the top of a successful modeling career, just like most of her peers, was challenging. But she scaled through with a great deal of perseverance and dedication to what she loves doing most – modeling.
A successful career woman, she is the brain behind of OModel Africa, a South African-based agency with offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town that focuses on “discovering, developing and delivering a select portfolio of African models to our South African and international clients for catwalk shows, TV commercials, editorials, advertising, feature films and below the line work”.
Through constant “media exposure in interviews, TV appearances and special appearances at events throughout Africa, and through constant contact with clients around the continent,” Oluchi’s OModel are able to position their models for growth.
Ghanaian model Kate Tachie-Menson, 2008 winner of M-Net Face of Africa is one of the models who have had the OModel experience.
Oluchi is married to Italian fashion designer Luca Orlandi.
You can follow Oluchi on Twitter: @OLUCHI
Jim Iyke To Star In New Reality Series
November 2, 2012 | 0 Comments
Iyke, the star of over 150 Nollywood movies, often finds himself in the news and gossip columns for his contentious romantic entanglements. Jim Iyke Unscripted is a joint production from African Magic and Oh Africa TV worth a reported $1.5million. The show is expected to air for a year and will cover all aspects of the star’s life.
Iyke was born in Libreville Gabon in 1976, the youngest child with six older sisters, before his family moved to Engugu Agidi in Andambra, Nigeria.
He worked in banking before deciding to pursue a career in Nollywood in 2001. He is most often cast in playboy roles, and has often been cast opposite Rita Dominic. Jim is the force behind clothing label Untamed Closet, which has boutiques in Lagos, Abuja and The Gambia.
Iyke has won several awards in his 11-year career, including three teenage choice awards, a best actor Nigerian Entertainment award, African Hollywood award, African Achievement award a best African actor at the NET awards held in New York last year and also the Best Actor of the year at the Mode Men Award ceremony in 2010.
Jim established a charitable foundation The Jim lyke Foundation for Children with special Disabilities. A biography of the foundation on its website reads: “The Jim lyke Foundation is a non-governmental, non-religious and non-political organization comprising of persons who are engaged in the advancement of the protection of rights and welfare of children with various deformities. This project is necessitated by the flagrant neglect and abuses of the rights of children born with deformities in Nigeria.”
Iyke’s many fans around the globe will be able to see more of Nollywood’s busiest playboy as the show is set to be syndicated on channels around the globe.
Genevieve Nnaji: Africa’s Screen Idol!
September 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Obed Boafo*
Despite Nigeria’s towering, social and economic challenges such as crime and chronic corruption, it has so far done a good job of keeping the continent entertained, in what could have possibly been an African society without fun, and thrill.
“Nigerians know how to throw a good party,” is the usual line you get from some of its people when you attempt a debate on who among Africa’s 54-state, is a grand “party maker”. With time, this assertion has become an established self-belief most hold on to – quite proudly – even though a tiny minority doesn’t want to be tagged, or come across as profligate.
Entertainment, a minor but crucial source of economic livelihood for thousands of Africa’s citizens – is on a grand take off, gradually beating off competition from attractive “professional jobs”
Few years ago, ten out of twelve African graduates settled for “white collar” jobs but that has changed. With time, Africa’s young and creative heads are shifting away from what used to be the conventional order, and challenging themselves with initiatives that had little or no appreciation a decade ago.
In a quick yet steady growth to the top, Nigeria’s entertainment industry has grown into a modern day screamer. The successes chalked over the years are as assuring as the quantum of revenue raked in by its subjects yearly.
Filmmaking, one of the country’s strategic units of economic growth continue to take an upward fine-tuning – putting food on the table of millions of households.
Not only has Nigeria’s entertainment industry fed its own people; across Africa, their homemade movies, is a major source of employment to hundreds of entrepreneurs.
Thanks to an early positioning, it has grown to become a force that cannot be done away with. Today, the Nigerian film industry, widely known as “Nollywood”, is the second largest in the world by volume.
Genevieve Nnaji, one of the early day saints who got this whole craze off to a start, is about the industry’s most respected and appreciated female act. Across Africa and even in more rooted and hard-to-break-through territories like the United States of America and Europe, the level of appreciation that greets her, is refreshingly awesome.
Nnaji, who at an early stage in her acting career defined what would later go on to be accepted as polished drama, took the industry by storm about two decades ago, when nobody really paid attention.
Gradually taking up roles in low and virtually non-existent budget movies, it was just a matter of time that she would explode into the big material that she is made of today. Role after the other, she proved her worth and managed to catch the eye of some notable producers who gave her subsequent roles in Unbreakable, Dangerous Sister, Not Man Enough, and Church Business among other titles.
Still a local idol after few scripts, it was the 2002 movie “Sharon Stone”, which got her a wider appeal – making her an instant hit in countries like Ghana, Cameroon, Liberia, and Kenya among other African countries.
And the widespread recognition came at a time when Nollywood had made a successful crossover into unfamiliar territories and was getting a lot of positive reviews.
Soon, she blew up. She’s been splendid thus far.
Nnaji, 33, (May 3, 1979), who was brought up in a middle-class environment in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, earned her first screen appearance in the television series “Ripples” as a teen actress.
A few television commercials also followed. She made her debut mainstream screen appearance at the age of 19 in the movie “Most Wanted”.
Her subsequent movies included “Last Party”, “Mark of the Beast”, and “Ijele”, which till date, remains one of her all-time classics
A multiple award winner at home and abroad, Nnaji is one of Nigeria’s most decorated celebrities in terms of brand endorsements, defending and projecting everything from cars, and toiletries. In June this year, she became a Range Rover Evoque Ambassador.
In 2009, she became the first Nigerian actress to be profiled on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
This, together with other achievements, has translated into exciting deals for her, as she continues to act in very challenging and well-packaged movies that has shot her stock up.
Tango with Me, (believed to have been shot on a 326,000-pound budget), is the latest of high quality movies she’s recently starred in.
Directed by Mahmood Ali-Balogun , industry stakeholders expect that the melodrama would achieve commercial success and would go beyond just the usual and conventional VCD and DVD-driven distribution channel, and opt for an aggressive roll out plan that would encourage appearance at film festivals, cinema releases and viewing openings that has the potential of bringing in watchers who aren’t necessarily Nigerians or Africans
Nnaji, a mother of one, also acted and excelled in The Mirror Boy; a film that tells the “uplifting story of a young teenage African British boy who is taken back to the land of his mother’s birth, but then gets mysteriously lost in a foreboding forest; and embarks on a magical journey that teaches him about himself and the mystery of the father he has never seen”.
Shot in The Gambia and England, the well-packaged fantasy adventure drama, written and directed by Obi Emelonye, received three nominations at last year’s African Movie Academy Awards.
It is fair to credit Nnaji for taking Nollywood to greater heights but part of that praise should also go to the industry for creating the platform for young and talented people, to nurture their talents.
But does the Nigerian film industry hold a lot of promise such that the likes of Nnaji can continue to have a cushion they can always lean on for growth and skills enhancement?
Phil Hoad of the Guardian thinks there is hope for the future. In an August 21, 2012, blog he suggested that:
“There’s certainly plenty of other evidence to suggest that it is moving on to a more established, professional footing: more film-makers shooting on film, not video; an increasing degree of international crossovers, like Jeta Amata’s Hollywood star-laden Niger-delta thriller Black November, Holly-Nolly co-production Doctor Bello, and the forthcoming Nigerian-UK adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun; the slick looking streaming-video library iROKOtv – supported by US money – giving ready access to Nollywood’s bottomless bargain-bin of titles”.
*Culled from http://african.howzit.msn.com
Africa’s Rising Top Model: Bertini Heumegni Surges on despite the Odds
July 9, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
It is very challenging for Africans in the competitive world of modeling but there is no turning back for Bertini Heumegni who has emerged as one of the most familiar faces on
the New York fashion circuit. Cultural differences, rejection at castings, and sometimes racism are some of the odds that weigh against aspiring models from Africa but Bertini has slowly but steadily weathered the storm and ranks about the most promising representation for the continent today.
Born in Cameroon and a father of two, Bertini says his first break came from a chance encounter as he was spotted while serving as a bouncer by an agent of the famous Sharon Mulligan Agency in Cape Town. Not shy about the humble beginnings, Bertini reminisces that one of his first booking jobs was with Sting Sunglasses in from Italy for the face of Africa in 1998.Today Bertini has a very impressive resume with a career that spans from Cameroon ,to South Africa, Italy, France, the USA and counting.
Bertini has featured in commercials and events for Fresca and Pure Smirnoff in South Africa as well as for Guinness, and the telecommunications giants MTN in Cameroon. He has participated at multiple fashion events including the Johannesburg fashion week, American Next Top Model, Cape Town fashion week, New York fashion week, Fashion on the Hudson, New York African fashion week, etc.Agencies which have used his services include Sharon Mulligan, Storm Model, Supermodels, Next Models all in South Africa, Paris Models in France, Ricardo Gay in Milan, Cosmo Models, Boss models, Icon Model in New York and Grace del Marco in Spain.
Upon completing acting and directing classes at the H&B Studios in New York, Bertini chronicled his exciting life adventures into a movie called The American Dream.With himself as the star and Helene Faussart the lead singer of the group Les Nubians as co-star, the movie is a cocktail of drugs, love, sex, and betrayal.
After fifteen years of slow and steady progress in the industry, Bertini has grown in confidence and ambition and a perfect illustration is the recent launching of his own underwear line. Dubbed BH, initials for Bertini Heumegni, the model says the line is a fulfillment of a dream he was inspired with when Italian Associate Catherina Fiorillo suggested at a Milan Men collection event that his name will fit perfectly in the fashion industry. The response to the line has been awesome Bertini says as works towards launching the product across Africa, Europe and the rest of the world.
On what makes his line unique or why people should have a preference for it , Bertini in all confidence cites a number of reasons: The first underwear collection, with a 3 inch band, elastic straps adjusted to fit different categories of men, women could throw on in the night to seduce their husbands or boyfriends or in the morning after a night over and still look sensual, the waistband and leg holes are bonded to resist bunching,BH can be worn also to the beaches as swimwear, provides extra support and Stretching. As a model and fitness consultant Bertini says he has insight on what men like to wear and look good. The BH model he goes on has 90% cotton for comfort and slimming effect on the body, 10% spandex for extra support and stretching and 3 inches waistband and woven logo.
Asked if he had any words for aspiring models, Bertini recommends that they remain natural. What is perceived as a weakness may turn out to be your greatest asset. Who would have thought that my natural green eyes which made me a subject of taunts from bullies when growing up will eventually help elevate me to where I am today, Bertini quips. My cat eyes or hassle green eyes are now my strengths, no more my weakness .A lot of people make the mistake of sacrificing their African culture and roots Bertini says, but aspiring models from the continent should bear in mind that Africans are natural and exotic. The continent is full of talent he affirms and young people just have to believe in themselves, show dedication and patience, remain persistent in the face of unending challenges and success will eventually come.
On future initiatives, the New York based Bertini says besides promoting his BH line across the globe and especially in Africa with its huge market, he needs to honor modeling engagements while polishing up plans for a reality TV show that will be unveiled in the months ahead.
More on Bertini and the BH Line can be found at www.bertinih.com