Civil wars, corruption, poverty, and refugees. Throughout the past decades, Western media have played a pivotal role in the one-sided portrayal of the African continent. Then Lupita Nyong’O happened. A sophisticated, eloquent, dark-skinned East African, suddenly dominating the red carpets of Hollywood, and celebrated for her style and unconventional beauty by designers across the pond. Oscar-worthy.
Lupita showed the West a different type of African. Which in the end, is not so different after all. More than ever before, the motherland is boasting a pool of young bright talents under the age of 35, whose creative skills reach an audience far beyond their respective country’s borders. What they have in common is the positive attention they each manage to attract, via their art, music, fashion, or entertainment. They’re each part of the new movement, that is rebranding Africa.
His song Ojuelegba recently got Alicia Keys dancing in an instagram video the Grammy award-winning artist posted on her account, accompanied by the caption “This song makes me happy”. A few days ago a Kylie Jenner video emerged on Snapchat, which saw the reality TV personality moving her hips to the same. Nigeria’s Wizkid – whose name off-stage is Ayodeji Balogun – is on a roll. Local music industry veterans such as 2Face, D’Banj and P-Square have preceded him when it comes to Nigerian artists collaborating with their foreign counterparts of global acclaim. Nonetheless, the 25-year-old BET and MTV award winner isn’t doing a bad job for himself either, introducing the afrobeats genre to a new demographic. Drake, Akon and Chris Brown are amongst the names the Pepsi ambassador, singer, songwriter and record label founder has worked with, while his international following is increasing by the day.
He’s the star of Balmain’s latest fall/winter men’s campaign (alongside his brother Fernando), and is featured on the cover of Details magazine’s September issue as one of the world’s 31 top male models. But being tall, dark and handsome isn’t all the 33-year-old from Guinea-Bissau does. When not in front of the camera, he’s busy building his Armando Cabral shoe empire he founded in 2008. His multitasking skills won him GQ Portugal’s 2013 Men Of The Year Award, in addition to making it onto Footwear News’ Power 100 list.
A successful singer, model agent, record label founder, designer, event organizer, and television producer. Angolan creative Coréon Dú, is a man who wears many hats. José Eduardo Paulino dos Santos, better known by his stage name Coréon Du, is the son of Angola’s sitting president. Nonetheless, he’s managed to step out of his father’s shadow, making a name for himself across various platforms. Coréon Dú is the founder of the Angola-headquartered Da Banda modelling agency and organizer of the Elite Model Look Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique and South Africa. He’s responsible for scouting Angolan top model Maria Borges, Alécia Morais, and the fashion industry’s latest favourite, Amilna Estevão. As a TV producer his telenovelaWindeck got nominated for an Emmy, and as a fashion designer the 30-year-old is now aiming to emerge once again.
eL Seed – whose actual name is Faouzi Khlifi – takes a more literal approach to the concept of rebranding. The 34-year-old French-Tunisian graffiti artist, or “calligraffiti” as he calls it, has turned the world into his canvas. Via his artwork, the artist spreads messages of positivity, written in Arabic calligraphy. His work can be spotted on various walls in Tunisia (most notoriously that of the Jara Mosque in Gabes), in addition to those in South Africa, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Paris’ former “love lock bridge”. eL Seed’s hard-to-decipher writings on the wall travel across borders, while blurring them at the same time.
A staple in Nigeria’s fashion scene, whose designs have been worn by the likes of Lupita Nyong’O, Solange Knowles and Michelle Obama. Her sophisticated, slightly Afro-centric Maki Oh designs, earned 28-year-old designer Amaka Osakwe an invite to the White House last year, in honor of the First Lady’s “Celebration of Design” initiative.
About five years ago, a quirky group of four young African men in their 20s, started making global headlines because of their colorful DIY personal style. Unlike Congo’s Les Sapeurs collective, South Africa’s Smarteez crew designed most of their looks themselves, and would subsequently try their hand at interior design. The Smarteez – made up of Kepi, Thabo, Floyd and Sibu – embody the bright side of life in the country’s biggest township, Soweto.
In his imagery he manages to capture a sense of nostalgia, whilst staying in the present at the same time. Lakin Ogunbanwo, 27 years old, former law student and self-taught photographer, has seen his work featured on the pages of British GQ, iD magazine, WSJ and the New York Times. Most recently his work was exhibited at São Paolo’s Mário de Andrade Library, preceded by exhibitions in Cape Town, Johannesburg, London and his native Lagos.
The topic of LGBT rights remains a sensitive one in his birth country Kenya. Nevertheless, Tahir Karmali was eager to enter into that dialogue through his controversial Value exhibit, which he opened in Nairobi last year. Value is a portrait series focused around a group of Kenyan male sex workers. For the project, each male sex worker was photographed posing with an item that is of special value to him. Currently based in New York, the 27-year-old has exhibited his works across Cape Verde, Morocco, Tunisia, Malaysia, Spain, Germany and Switzerland’s Art Basel. In his next project, Karmali will explore racial prejudice and the interracial identity.
He started drawing at the age of 5, inspired by some of his favorite Cartoon Network characters. Born and raised in Ghana, 23 years old, illustrator and animator. Gyimah Gariba got noticed internationally when his visual adaptions, based on each song from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch The Throne album, started circulating around the web. The same thing goes for most of his celebrity artwork by the way, in which Rihanna, the “Yoncé girls” and an Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong’O have each served as protagonist. More recently the Accra-native partnered with Marvel, for a superheroes-meet-hip-hop art project.
At the age of 22, Davido (born as David Adeleke) already stands at the helm of an enviable career. Several hit songs? Check. Lucrative endorsement deals? Check. BET award? Check. MTV award? Multiple. The Lagos-based singer, producer and record label co-founder, is just getting warmed up, while in the meantime he earned his degree in Business Administration. His most recent music video, Fans Mi, features Meek Mill, and brings Davido one step closer to establishing a global fan base.
The Zimbabwean mixed media artist slash political activist, was forced to leave his country after using art, as a way to voice his disapproval regarding president Robert Mugabe. Today, at the age of 34, Kudzanai lives and works in South Africa, while ever discussing politics and a variety of other issues through his works. Chiurai became the first black student to graduate with a Bachelor degree in fine art at the University of Pretoria, and may consider Richard Branson and Elton John amongst his buyers.
Though currently a fashion student at Ghana’s Radford University College in Accra, Papa Oppong’s claim to fame comes from his work as an illustrator. His fan art of names including Rihanna and Kelly Rowland – which he avidly shares across his social media platforms – have turned his instagram account into a must-follow amongst various celebrities. Furthermore, the 23-year-old has worked on commissioned projects for cosmetics giant M.A.C. and Dutch wax fabric company Vlisco. His next project? Becoming an internationally recognized fashion designer.
By Declan Eytan