Frank Sinatra’s unmistakable voice blasts through the speakers at a trendy coffee shop in Braamfontein: “If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere.”
Of course, Old Blue Eyes is singing about New York but it seems that the words ring true for Africa, too.
We explore a few stars of the continent, whose achievements in their field of passion shine like guiding lights in the night sky, illuminating the path for African.
A biodiversity scientist and managing director of CIDP Research and Innovation, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim is the current president of Mauritius. The first woman elected as president of this small island nation, Gurib-Fakim is only the third female president on the continent.
When asked about her historic victory, President Gurib-Fakim said: “Oh yes, it’s very big – for Mauritius and for the continent.”
Uniquely lacking any prior political ambitions, the self-described “photographer and writer of books on the flora of the tropics, medicinal plants” – Gurib-Fakim said in an interview: “I did not choose politics, but politics chose me.”
Bet you didn’t know this: Gurib-Fakim has written and co-edited 26 books, as well as many articles in the field of sustainable development and biodiversity conservation.
Also on our radar: Muhammadu Buhari and January Maka.
MaXhosa by Laduma
Although it was officially launched in 2011, this fashion brand was born as a solution to a much older conundrum steeped in Xhosa tradition. Put simply: “What could amakrwala (Xhosa initiates) wear for their traditionally prescribed six months of formal clothing?”
For anyone who has seen the MaXhosa by Laduma range, the solution is startling. Distilling the aesthetics of a culture, while remaining modern and fresh, MaXhosa by Laduma is a triumph for African design.
Designer and namesake Laduma Ngxokolo recently won the 2015 Vogue Italia Scouting for Africa prize to present his collections at the Palazzo Morando Show in Milan, Italy. A Port Elizabeth native, Ngxokolo was also awarded the 2014 WeTransfer Scholarship to study masters in material futures at the prestigious Central St Martins until 2016.
Also on our radar: Ubuntuism streetwear apparel and Urban Mosadi.
One can imagine that when you’re included in a Phaidon directory of over 500 of the world’s best artists under the age of 33 – titled ‘Younger Than Jesus’ – it must create certain expectations. However, when your work expresses “the eroticism of knowledge and reconciles the dream with experience”, those expectations are swiftly suspended in favour of pure awe.
Using an eclectic blend of performance, textiles, video and printmaking to explore the border between fashion, contemporary art and performance, Ruga creates work that sears itself into your memory. Those who have been lucky enough to witness his work usually recall it as a part-dream-part-promise of an alternative world where the divide between mind and body, sensuality and intelligence, pop culture, craft and fine art is revealed to be an illusion.
Also on our radar: Bogosi Sekhukhuni, Nolan Oswald Dennis and Haroon Gunn-Salie.
“If I were a country, I’d be right on the equator.” That’s how Yannick Ilunga – also known as Petite Noir – describes his music, plainly unaware that most musicians don’t consider their craft on such a grand scale. However, most musicians also don’t coin their own genre (‘noirwave’) and most musicians certainly don’t experience a cosmic journey of faith, tradition and identity all before their 25th birthday.
But, all things considered, the easy journey was never meant for Ilunga. Born in Brussels to an Angolan mother and Congolese father, his family moved to South Africa when he was a young boy. In South Africa, it was only in his teenage years that he began to engage with the inherent racism of his schooling.
His miseducation and subsequent re-examination of his upbringing provided a catalyst for his self-created genre. “I went in every other direction, then came back to traditional sounds,” he explained. Such a movement of belief, creatively and culturally, has piqued the attention of the likes of Solange Knowles, who featured Petite Noir on her Saint Heron compilation of experimental R&B, and Yasiin Bey, the rapper formerly known as Mos Def, who collaborated with Ilunga. With his highly anticipated debut album, La Vie Est Belle/Life Is Beautiful, recently released and earning critical praise, Petite Noir’s journey has just begun.
Bet you didn’t know this: Noirwave even has its own flag – with the colours representing unity, blood, Africa and life.
Also on our radar: Okmalumkoolkat, Moonchild Sanelly and Riky Rick.
Declining his Young Global Leader award from the World Economic Forum, lamenting that “it would be an act of great fraudulence for me to accept the trite idea that I am ‘going to significantly impact world affairs’”. Binyavanga Wainaina is undeniably his own man: talented, accomplished, brave and, of course, modest.
A simple biography of Wainaina might read: “Kenyan journalist, author and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing.” However, such a biography, although impressive, neglects the nuance of Wainaina’s achievements. His glittering debut, his memoir One Day I will Write about this Place, is perhaps only overshadowed by the book’s ‘lost chapter’ – ‘I am a homosexual, mum’.
Published during the wave of anti-gay laws passed in Africa, the significance and defiance of the chapter is not lost. The founding editor of Kwani? – an East African literary magazine, which has been a springboard for several African writers – Wainaina is also a self-described “sometime satirist”, penning the essay-gone-viral ‘How to Write about Africa’.
Bet you didn’t know this: Wainaina has collected over 13 000 recipes from the continent and is an expert on traditional and modern African cuisine.
Also on our radar: Panashe Chigumadzi, Lebohang ‘Nova’ Masango and Masande Ntshanga.
Kopano Matlwa Mabaso
“Anton Chekhov said it best: ‘Medicine is his wife and writing his mistress.’ I don’t think I’ll ever choose between the two.” That’s how Dr Kopano Matlwa Mabaso reasons her cerebral divide. The author of two books and a medical doctor currently undertaking a DPhil (PhD) in population health at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, Matlwa Mabaso’s enduring affair with her passions remarkably has not taken up all her time.
The co-founder of WREMS (Waiting Room Education by Medical Students), an organisation educating patients and their families on common health conditions in the waiting rooms of mobile clinics, Matlwa Mabaso is also the founder of Transitions Foundation, an organisation providing tutoring and mentorship to high school learners. And recently, Matlwa Mabaso co-founded an antenatal project, Ona Mtoto Wako, which won the Aspen Ideas Award 2015.
Word to the wise: don’t casually ask Verengai Mabika “So, what do you do?” An Ashoka Global Fellow, a Mandela Washington Fellow, Future Forward Fellow and a member of the BMW Foundation Young Leaders Forum, unbelievably, Mabika’s numerous achievements don’t end there.
Mabika also holds several leadership positions, including leading the Internet Society (ISOC) Zimbabwe Chapter and the Zimbabwe Institute of Regional and Urban Planners (ZIRUP), sits on the technical advisory board of the Zimbabwe National Network for People Living with HIV and AIDS, and is a member of the Zimbabwe National Manpower Advisory Council.
Founder of the Development Reality Institute (DRI), which aims to mitigate the effects of climate change in Africa, at only 35 years old Mabika is already preparing himself – and his continent – for an uncertain future. Revelling in new challenges and unknown frontiers, Mabika is also a bitcoin believer, co-founding BitFinance with the intention of providing an exchange to buy and sell bitcoins.
Also on our radar: Jason Njoku, Oluseun Onigbinde and Njeri Rionge.
Tweet us @AfropolitanMag and let us know who you think deserves the title of #AfricasBrightestStar