Culture/Arts

The Empowering Beauty of Travel for People of African Descent

Photo by Besir OZ on Unsplash

By KalaLea

Some of you may understand me when I say that there’s something empowering and even invigorating about seeing your people, in my case, people of African descent, in positions of power and play. People who look like me…smiling and laughing in an ocean inherited by them from Mother Nature.

Before European-led colonization, there were many vibrant coastal cultures with traditions tied to the ocean and seas. I often imagine my ancestors basking in the sun then refreshing themselves in the cool waters.

The majority of my travel experiences have landed me on various coasts around the world. It’s where I feel loved and connected to all living beings. After landing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the first move I made was to remove my leggings and dip my toes in the vast Indian Ocean. I looked around at the brown-skinned beauties and wondered when it became safe again to frolic, to linger, to float, to be free.

This second trip to the continent immediately felt different because the ocean is healing, it pushes and pulls me to higher spirits. The ocean grounds me on my worst days because I know there is something to run into, nature’s enormous retreat.

It’s been nearly two weeks in Tanzania and our time has been truly wonderful. I couldn’t possibly share everything here but I wanted to mention some highlights and lessons learned thus far.

Traveling grows you. It molds and bends you in unexpected places. My traveling partner aka my boyfriend has remarked a few times how great of a traveler I am. I’ve had years of practice but I was still flattered. He’s been great too.

We made a list of a few main characteristics needed to be a cool traveler and I added some explanation to give you a sense of how we prepared for our trip:

Stamina – it took us 48 hours exactly to arrive in Tanzania. Two weeks before leaving, we made fresh green juices every day and took a multivitamin twice daily – we also exercised more than usual and took plenty of naps so that we were particularly ready for the 12-hour layover in Dubai. Remember: the cheaper the flight, the longer the layover. Not sure we’ll ever do this again.

Patience – we created a code word so if we were getting on each other’s nerves we could simply say the word without offending the other … I’ve only had to use it once thus far and he used it two times for me, or vice versa. Either way, it’s working!

Flexibility – Our first day in Dar, the power went out for the entire day. We had planned to run a few errands but plans change. We spent the full day at the beach with friends who made a bonfire while we listened to someone’s mp3 player under the brightest of stars.

You’ll also need to practice your bargaining skills, exercise non-judgment, pay attention to small signals, use your intuition and embrace being alienated, foreign and different. Everywhere we go, we encounter the Tanzanian Stare Down. It’s intense and usually subdued with a casual greeting of “Mambo!” We may be brown but it’s obvious we are not locals and this garners a great deal of attention.

KalaLea is the founder of Why Did I Eat That? (WDIET), a wellness site where you will find inspirational stories, news, her favorite things and educational resources. WDIET’s goal is to improve the well-being of anyone who eats — especially busy creative professionals.

Femi Agbayewa: Making Universal Films from an African Perspective

Headshot of Femi Agbayewa taken for Enodi series, in Midtown New York.

By Ayesha K Faines

The gates of Hollywood rarely budge for outsiders, but they are notoriously impenetrable for film makers of color. Of course, it’s always been this way, hence the reason most prolific Black filmmakers have possessed an uncanny combination of creativity and pluck.  From Oscar Micheaux to Spike Lee, 20th century film greats created a template  for Do-It-Yourself filmmaking before DIY was even “thing”.

Today, the path of marginalized filmmakers is a bit broader, thanks largely to social media which gives creatives alternative methods of circumnavigating Hollywood’s gatekeepers, and bootstrapping their own projects. Indie filmmaking is far from easy–Hollywood remains shockingly homogenous in spite of America’s shifting demographics. But as more “indie” films reach mainstream success, take Dear White People and Selma as recent examples, it is  evident that there is an ever-growing space for trailblazing storytellers of African descent.

Femi Agbayewa, founder and creative director of Real Livin’ Films is one of those trailblazers. The Nigerian-born, Canadian raised writer and filmmaker first received acclaim for God’s Own Country, short film that highlights the challenges facing African immigrants attempting to start a new life in North America. He followed up with Brooklyn Shakara,  a romantic comedy he wrote, directed, and screened at festivals around the world.

Femi recently spoke with ZNews Africa contributor Ayesha Faines about his entree into the world of film, what it takes to survive as a independent filmmaker, and his latest project, On The Rise Africa, a series profiling African entrepreneurs.

ZNews (Ayesha): How did you get your start in the film industry?

Femi: I was working in an immigration center that helped immigrants who recently left their country  to come to Canada and a lot of times I’d find that a lot of these immigrants were very educated in their country but then they’d come here and be forced to drive a cab. So for me, I was like wow, this is a story that I keep hearing and hearing.  I started writing a script. I went on the internet, learned, and asked my friends who are in the industry. I had a rough apprenticeship.

I wrote a script called God’s Own Country and that was the story of a young African immigrant. He was a lawyer back in Nigeria. He came over and when he arrived, he just couldn’t find work. He started falling in between the cracks. So we made that film and that was really what sparked things for me.

Ayesha: Your film Brooklyn Shakara also received ample acclaim. How did that come about?

Femi: After God’s Own Country was finished and the hoopla died down, I had to figure out what was next. I realized that I needed to have a team that was within the film world, and skilled. I started making sure that I was making the right connections.

That culminated in the film Brooklyn Shakara, which is probably one of the works I’m best known for. It is a romantic comedy. We had some amazing actors. The team on the production side was amazing. We went to festivals in London, we showed in Harlem and pretty much all over the world.

Gbenga Akinnagbe (HBO's The Wire, 24) and Esosa E. (An African City, Mother of George)
Esosa E. (An African City, Mother of George) and Gbenga Akinnagbe (HBO’s The Wire, 24) in a scene from “Brooklyn Shakara”

Ayesha: One of my primary interests as a journalist is the concept of “cutting out the middle man”. I think that’s what distinguishes our generation from those in the past. We are constantly finding ways to bypass gate keepers. What inspired you to chronicle entrepreneurship for your latest project, On The Rise Africa?

Femi: It took me a while to really recognize that I was an entrepreneur. I used to go to a lot of events  in New York City that were surrounding African business and what not, so I had the opportunity to really engage. One of the things I was walking away saying every time I’d come from these meetings and conferences is, “Wow, a lot of these guys and gals are doing some amazing things”. And that to me was inspirational, but the film maker inside of me is always looking for a story and I saw that common thread running through it. It was a thread of excitement, innovation, and progress.

From entrepreneurs, one thing I kept hearing is we don’t have a platform. In addition to that , as a community, we don’t always have opportunities to inform each other.

Once again, I wanted to cut out the middleman and become that platform and say hey look, here’s an opportunity for you to stand out among your peers. These individuals are at the tipping point. Within two to three years  you’re going to be reading and hearing a bout them on the mainstream level but I wanted to get to them before they reached that level . I felt it would have a trickle down effect. You’re that young kid that’s growing up in New York or Nairobi and you’re watching someone who looks just like you talk about all these great achievements and hurdles they’ve over come.

Femi Agbayewa on the set of Brooklyn Shakara
Femi Agbayewa on the set of Brooklyn Shakara

Ayesha: For most of us with an entrepreneurial vision, money seems like the greatest hurdle! How do you find money to finance your film projects and “keep the lights on” while you chase your dreams?

Femi: Access to funding or sponsorship is constantly changing. What may have worked in the past may not work today so you have to keep yourself aware. Apart of that is establishing relationships and contacts. When it’s all said and done, yes, [social media] is great, but this is still a people business.

The other side, keeping the lights on– I don’t think you’re ever comfortable. It’s one of those things where you work three of four jobs, what ever it takes to keep those lights on because you have the understanding that, no, we can’t live off a dream only. You’re living in a real world.

Ayesha: There seems to be a renaissance of Black independent filmmakers right now, aided perhaps by the advent of social media, and non-traditional methods of building a platform for your content. What are your feelings about this?

Femi: As filmmakers, we don’t have to wait to be chosen from the crowd like “You, you and you—You’re allowed in”.   We don’t even recognize there’s a door to walk through. We’re just walking. And that’s what excites me about some of the work I’m seeing.

And when you look at it, it’s global now. There’s a global market. A lot of times people just focus on one market, Hollywood, but then there’s Nollywood which is massive and  Bollywood, and all of these different film industries that are saying hey, we can survive without telling stories that are tied to [corporate interests] or anything else. We can tell stories we can tell that reflect our audience.

Myself, I want to take it one step further. I make universal films from an African perspective. I want to arrive at the  point where you don’t have to be African to watch my movies. I’m taking an African perspective of universal themes. So at the end of the day, you just have to be a human being enjoy the content I’m producing.

To learn more about Femi Agbayewa, visit FemiAgbayewa.com and follow him on Twitter @femiagbayewa.

____________________

Ayesha K Faines is a television journalist and writer who contemplates culture and millennial entrepreneurship. Follow her work at xoayesha.com and selfmademillennial.com.

Experts discuss the politics of hair and identity in Harlem

From left to right: Brittany M. Walker, Diane Da Costa, Adeola Adejobi, Esq.; Derick Monroe, and Ayesha Faines

On Thursday, July 30th, ZNews Africa hosted its first hair and identity event, “We Are Our Hair,” at ImageNation’s Raw Space in Harlem, New York City. The series is a collection of community conversations about topics important to the global African diaspora using hair as the lens.

The panelists at the event included Brittany M. Walker, the editor-in-chief and founder of GypsyJaunt.com; Adeola Adejobi, Esq., the managing member of the Avant-Garde Network and co-founder of the Worldview Realty Group; Diane Da Costa, the creative director of the hair salon SimpleeBEAUTIFUL; and Derick Monroe, a freelance Hairstylist who has worked with prestigious magazines such as Essence. The moderator was ZNews Africa Contributor, television journalist and writer, Ayesha Faines.

The topics discussed by the panel ranged from personal hair to the complex nuances of navigating one’s hair in the black community and greater community at large. One of the first themes to emerge was the ability of the current natural hair movement to endure.

WOAR07302013 Ayesha Fanies copy

ZNews Africa contributor Ayesha Faines

“It’s definitely not a fad or a trend. This is a movement that has been here since the sixties, the blackout movement started all of this,” said Da Costa. “Now this millennium movement, I call it the curly revolution, what we’re in right now, is only going to get bigger and expand more than anything. London, Paris, Japan, and Africa are all embracing natural hair and you’ll see more and more. It’s really moving fast.”

Da Costa also talked about necessity for education and research in caring for natural hair. Though she advocated for patronizing natural hair salons, she acknowledged that they are not accessible for everyone in every location.

“Of course in the major cities, there are so many stylists that specialize in natural hair; however, across the country there are not as many who specialize and can do natural hair, expertly,” Da Costa said. “You have to go on and google things to research it.”

Monroe also discussed the lack of education even within the general cosmetology community.

“When I look back on my cosmetology experience, you’re whole discussion in ethnic hair is the relaxation process. It’s never been that this type of hair texture needs moisture, or it needs this. Or that these type of hair products work well, etc.” he said.

“Do you see a problem in the way the media glorifies black female features including our hair as long as they’re not attached to a black female?”

Walker said that the media was at fault and referred to this problem as an “illness” in America.

“Serena Williams has been in the media for quite a bit, ever since she started her career. And the demonization of a beautiful black woman like Serena Williams is disgusting, and it comes from the media. These are the ways people continue to perpetuate these stereotypes discussed about black people,” Walker said. “But you go in the media and you see Kylie Jenner or whomever injecting their lips or the hair or whatever is the case to look like us. Of course I have a problem with that. That’s the illness in America.”

The discussion also touched on the perceptions of class and its relationship to hair texture or hair styling.

“Even though we have this natural hair explosion, we still haven’t been able to divorce it from colorism,” said Faines. “We still have to deal with good hair politics even though we are in a natural hair revolution.

Adejobi shared her own experience with good hair politics telling an anecdote in which a man on the subway told her that she had “good hair” meaning to pay her a compliment, even though she was offended.

“The hair that God gave me is the best hair,” said Adejobi. “People make assumptions and judgments within our own community about you just based on your hair, and it’s very superficial.”

Adejobi also spoke about her experience with hair politics in interviewing for jobs as a lawyer. Though her own hair was relaxed at that time, she said that many of her friends felt conflicted.

“People that had their hair natural, they were very concerned about how their appearance would affect their opportunities to get into a firm,” Adejobi said.

WOAR07302013 Crowd shot 2

Audience member eagerl to join the discussion

An audience member raised a question concerning segregation within the natural hair community, where some might consider those who wear a weave or have braids with natural hair underneath, to not be truly natural. Monroe jokingly referred to the more extreme natural hair advocates as “natural hair thugs.”

“When people come out of relaxing, when they come to the self-discovery that, ‘I kind of like my hair the way it is;’ it sort of bothers them to see other people don’t have that same outlook,” Monroe said. “That’s where that divide comes from. It becomes kind of militant and you end up turning people off or coming off as aggressive to people.

Walker emphasized that health is a very important aspect of hair care.

“At the end of the day it’s really about what’s going on with you, and it’s about your health,” Walker said. “You decided not to put chemicals in our hair because it’s unhealthy for us and unhealthy for our bodies.

“We Are Our Hair“ was held at RAW Space, via the ImageNation Cinema Foundation, a media arts group dedicated to highlighting progressive media by and for people color based in Harlem. The foundation bought RAW Space with the intention of converting it into a cinema cafe to provide Harlem with a venue for appreciating black independent films, music, and other culture. ImageNation is currently raising the funds to turn Raw Space into Soul Cinema through the #iLoveSoulCinema fundraiser.

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Danielle Smith is a senior at Columbia University studying English and History. She is currently the head of the news department at WKCR 89.9 FM NY and a freelance contributor to various news organizations. You can reach her on Twitter at @daniellesmithny.

For editorial inquires contact: stories@znewsafrica.com.

The Fashion Designers to Watch

Aprelle Duany with her collection of bags in New York. Photo by Eric Acquaye.

By Eric Acquaye

It’s no secret that there is a new wave of African designers that are making a major splash in the world of fashion. We already know and love many clothing designers that are breaking the mold on the Continent, but there’s also a bevy of new accessory designers that we have our eye on to be the next big thing in fashion.

We recently stopped by the Nolcha lounge during New York Fashion week in New York City to shed light on some of these talents. We discovered some of the hippest accessory designers in the business today. These four designers are doing everything from handbags, to shoes, to jewelry design–are are doing it big and very right. Each one with a different style and story, they are without a doubt the ones to watch.

Aprelle Duany

Aprelle Duany stands with her collection in New York. Photo by Eric Acquaye.
Aprelle Duany stands with her collection in New York. Photo by Eric Acquaye.

The first designer that caught our attention was Aprelle Duany. Aprelle is a New York City raised, Kenya based, handbag designer, and her brand boasts the best of both worlds. She says that the calling to create her brand stemmed from her being unsatisfied while working her 9 to 5 job in New York City. Cautious, but craving change, she saved her money, quit her job and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology where she graduated Summa Cum Laude. Just as she was ready to take on the big city, she decided instead to relocate to South Sudan so that her husband could also live his dream of helping his home country.

After doing well to establish two successful children’s organizations there, they suddenly found themselves in the middle of a war. Aprelle says it was then that she prayed for protection. She promised God and herself that if her and her family were to make it out alive, she would no longer take her gifts for granted and make the most out of life. In 2014, she got the chance to make good on that promise and launched her brand, APRELLEDUANY. Since then she has been making beautiful custom leather handbags for the modern woman. Handbags we adore! You can find them and more on Aprelle at www.aprelleduany.com

Sammy Abdella

Sammy Abdella in New York. Photo by Eric Acquaye.
Sammy Abdella in New York. Photo by Eric Acquaye.

The next designer we met was Sammy Abdella. Hailing from Ethiopia, Sammy and his company strive to strengthen the local communities there. He spoke to us about how passionate he was about preserving the country’s long history of weaving while trying to infuse it with new inspiration and styles. He hires local weavers, embroiderers, cotton spinners and dyers to ensure that the local talent is utilized and employed. His company’s mission has been to empower and employ marginalized groups while ensuring the production of quality products. One of which we admire very much.

Having started the company in 2007, Sammy, handmade in Ethiopia, has grown tremendously. They have now expanded to making a large range of scarves, bags, throws, pillow covers, runners and even curtains. If you are the kind of consumer that appreciates local handcrafted goods, then Sammy is the brand for you. You can find Sammy, handmade in Ethiopia, in many stores around the world, including Africa, Asia, Europe, The UK and The USA. Even high end department stores like Barney’s have picked up the brand and Sammy hopes that this is just the beginning. He plans to expand the brand with more product ranges and added artisan efforts. You can find out more about Sammy, hand made in Ethiopia, at www.sammyethiopia.com.

Ami Shah

Ami Shah in New York. Photo by Eric Acquaye.
Ami Shah in New York. Photo by Eric Acquaye.

Words like chic and luxurious should be no stranger to our third designer, because that’s exactly what her brand exemplifies. Ami Shah is a Kenyan based jewelry designer that is setting a standard for the best in her field. Her sleek, contoured designs are undeniably chic, and they take after their designer! This comes as no surprise seeing as though Ami holds a degree in jewelry and silversmithing from the Burmingham School of Art and Design in the UK. She was also the recipient of the Goldsmith’s award for best design in 2001. Then after taking a 14-year detour to work in advertising, she decided to return to her passion of jewelry making, and that’s when IAMI was born.

Ami describes her collections as pieces for the design conscious woman or man that have an adventurous and eclectic sense of style. Since the brands conception, IAMI has won several other awards, been featured in two books and has been exhibited in multiple venues around the world. The future of IAMI may include new design products including lighting, home accessories and furniture. All with the continued theme of sourcing and producing locally in Kenya as her collections currently are made. We see big things in this brand’s future and we’ll surely be watching it in the years to come. You can find more information on IAMI at www.amidoshishah.com

Mahlet Afework

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MAFIMAFI by Ethiopian designer, Mahlet Afework. Photo by Eric Acquaye.

The last but by no means the least on our list was MAFIMAFI by Ethiopian designer, Mahlet Afework. Some may recognize this brand, as this designer is no stranger to the fashion industry. A formal model and musician having transitioned into a clothing designer and now taking on a shoe line with the same drive and individuality, MAFI is definitely one on our list to watch. Using only hand woven fabrics and materials made by women, she has created a company that not only compliments her stylish clients, but also one that uplifts and empowers women in her community.

Shoes are not usually an accessory that you associate with weaving, but let us be the first to tell you that MAFI is breaking the mold with their new woven shoe collection! So beautiful and unique, you purchase a piece of Ethiopian tradition and art with every pair. We’re not too surprised as Mahlet has shown at Africa Fashion Week and has already won several awards. This brand is a well-oiled engine that is not set on stopping anytime soon–a train we are happy to jump aboard anytime. Find more on Mahlet and her brand MAFI at www.mafimafi.com

So there you have it! These are my picks for ZNews accessory designers to watch. We expect big things from all of these brands in the seasons to come and we encourage our readers to look them up and support their brands. You can find more highlights on these designers and many other great brands by visiting www.nolcha.com  

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Eric Acquaye covers fashion and travel for ZNews Africa. He is an award-winning fashion and celebrity Photographer, Writer and Creative Director based in New York. His editorial work and commercial campaigns have been featured in a variety of international print and digital publications. He is a GQ Magazine Insider, with a degree in styling and fashion from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

View his work at www.ericacquaye.com, follow him on Instagram at @ericacquaye and Twitter at @ericacquayeNYC

For editorial inquires contact: stories@znewsafrica.com

Black Travelers Are Still Treated Differently Domestically and Abroad

Photo by Ryan Tang on Unsplash

By Brittney M. Walker

Remember when Airbnb’s discrimination issues blew up? Rohan Gilkes the co-founder and inspiration for Innclusive, experienced a cancellation based on what he believes was his race. So he and Zakiyyah Myers founded Innclusive because of the Airbnb’s lax handling of discrimination issues prevalent among many travelers of color. In fact, I experienced some discrimination of my own on Airbnb’s platform.

And when I looked into it more, so many African-American travelers are affected by their ethnic background, skin color and hair texture when they travel. Some people say they’re stared at awkwardly, followed, taken pictures of, refused service, called names and more. I hadn’t really registered this as part of my travel experience before (simply because it’s just a part of my everyday life as a Black woman). But it is.

The issues are so prominent among Black travelers that we are going within our communities (Nomadness Travel Tribe for example) for survival tips, looking for Black-friendly destinations, asking about what type of discrimination to expect and more.

What ‘main-stream’ travel service provides that kind of information for us? I suppose that is the beauty of being niche.

This is why I founded Beyonder. I want to address the discrimination problem travelers like me face and provide a service that does actually help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety many of us have when we go places.

Through Beyonder, we are creating safe spaces and experiences that allow Black travelers to move about the world with a little more ease and less anxiety, at least during the experiences we curate. We want to experience the world and all of its beauty and not have to always worry about whether or not our Afro’s will be inappropriately groped or if someone is going to take a photo of us because we look like a caricature or get cursed out in a different language because the locals are disgusted with the entire Black population.

Beyonder wants to be that local friend, the go to resource and platform that helps Black travelers connect with local Black communities in the new cities they visit. We want to make it easier for travelers to discover those cute, hole in the wall spots only the locals know about or those fun cultural events and gatherings Black travelers want to experience.

Imagine this Itinerary. A half-day experience that includes a beautiful yoga session with a curvaceous Black yogi who is nothing like the typical yoga instructor. Then walk a few blocks to a local juice bar where they will enjoy a ginger beer tasting and chat with a woman who has been healing and helping locals through natural foods and juices. You will end your journey at a local urban farm where otherwise disenfranchised residents are empowered through agriculture.

These and other immersive experiences are what we curate for travelers. It’s about connecting Black travelers with local Black communities, services, business owners and practitioners to create a safe, Black-friendly travel experience.

Beyonder wants to be that local friend, the go to resource and platform that helps Black travelers connect with local Black communities in the new cities they visit. We want to make it easier for travelers to discover those cute, hole in the wall spots only the locals know about or those fun cultural events and gatherings Black travelers want to experience.

Let’s explore the world unapologetically.

Brittney M. Walker is a journalist, hommie and founder of Beyonder, a venture that creates elevated experiences for travelers. Her experience includes journalistic work for CBS Radio, EURweb.com, NV Magazine and the Amsterdam News. She’s a native of Los Angeles and when she isn’t experiencing the world outside of the U.S. is based in New York. Find her on Twitter as @BrittneyMWalker.

 

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