The superheroes of Afro-art

Johannesburg - Africa On Fire is a precursor to Absolut’s main event - the One Source Live festival, which will illustrate the extent to which artists, musicians and fashion designers continue to change how the world sees and should see this continent and its people.

The festival, which takes place on 24 March next year in Joburg, will showcase a host of artists from all over Africa in celebration of the creative revolution.

Absolut says there’ll be multiple stages with performances and collaborations that are geared towards rewriting the African story.

Chana says: “One Source Live, being a platform for the growing unification of African creatives, is a perfect opportunity for me to fulfil a long-standing dream to display Africa to the world in the most majestic and powerful way possible. This project defines what being a creative revolutionary means to me – the courage to unite in the face of all physical, cultural and political boundaries and differences as Mama Africa’s offspring, and make her shine; to make her proud; to make her smile.

“This is an important part of the African renaissance. Africa’s creative awakening is ushering in a new era in world entertainment and the arts. As we unite, grow and progress creatively, we influence the world and share the greatest and most effective inspiration the world has ever experienced. I’m proud to be an African leader in my own right and to be championing the advancement of African brilliance in our lifetime.”

Visit OneSourceLive.com to get involved.


MUSIC
COLLAB
THE DIRECTOR

Based in Cape Town and born in Zimbabwe, Sunu Gonera is a decorated director who’s has worked with brands including Nike and Coca-Cola, and his short film Riding with Sugar was screened at Cannes. 

In 2006, Gonera landed his first feature directing gig with Lionsgate. Called Pride, the film tells the true story of US maths teacher Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard), who fought off racial prejudice in the 1970s.

Gonera, who is based in Cape Town, tells us about Africa On Fire: “I’m excited to see Africans from across the continent coming together to celebrate art, music, fashion and creativity.

“The idea of a creative revolution is exciting, especially on a continent so rife with political division. As artists, we have the power to bring people together across different tribes, tongues and nations to celebrate the great creative powerhouse that we are.”

The director is adamant that this project will encourage Africans to “break free from self-imposed creative prisons, some of which are a result of political and colonial pasts. We need to allow ourselves permission to create and celebrate who we are as Africans, as well as our creative contribution to the world.”

Gonera says he wanted to create a film in which music, art and fashion revolutionaries are superheroes.

“When I shot the One Source music video, I always had at the back of my mind the idea of expanding on that world. I’ve always been passionate about seeing what African superheroes look like on screen.

“Africans are able to create art, often with very few resources, so it made sense to me that what these creative revolutionaries are doing is nothing short of superhero-like.”

On the incorporation of African mythology into the storyline, he says: “We wanted to draw from our continent and start telling our stories with a visually unique, Afro-futuristic aesthetic. I think it’s important for us to write our own narrative instead of waiting for Hollywood to tell us our stories.”

THE DRAGON AND
THE RAIN QUEEN

Neither Khuli Chana nor Maya Wegerif – commonly known as Sho Madjozi – need an introduction. Chana is a veteran of the South African rap scene and poet Madjozi (who has graced the cover of #Trending in the past) has quickly become a popular artist.

Chana was born in Mmabatho in North West and developed a love for performing while growing up around creatives at the Mmabana Cultural Centre.

Madjozi was born in Limpopo and grew up in a village called Shirley. She studied African studies and creative writing in the US and presents poetry as Maya the Poet – she was, after all, named after legendary poet Maya Angelou.

Chana is the ringleader of this troop and is seen in the Africa On Fire feature as the catalyst for change.

This is not the first time I have witnessed a rapper referring to themselves as a dragon – and it may not be the last – but if anyone’s raps resemble a dragon breathing fire, it’s Chana’s.

Using the flame, he recruits the others. Perhaps the most visually pleasing of these is Madjozi’s The Rain Queen. Dancing in the traditional xibelani style, she performs what has been framed in this story as a kind of rain dance. Her efforts work and the skies flash with lightning and then the rain queen levitates.

It would have been cool to have the backing track of Africa On Fire feature Madjozi. Maybe a track between the music contingent of the supergroup is in the works.

Madjozi also stars as a radical student activist on Mzansi Magic’s youth telenovela Isithembiso, and her acting skills shine through in this film.

Chana is the first Absolut ambassador to have has his own limited edition vodka bottle, and it is as smooth as his delivery on his tracks.


THE EXPLORER

South Africa’s Trevor Stuurman has been a fashion photographer for five years and has felt the keen sting of creativity since he was a youngster.

“I found myself around creativity and art. I was drawn to it; it’s more of a calling. It wasn’t just one thing brought me to it. It’s who I am.”

This innovator draws his inspiration from “the idea of home, whether that is Africa or Kimberley – just celebrating home and the understanding of it.”

The most important aspect of his work is not the lighting or what lenses he uses, but rather “the story – if it can touch and impact people, provide a shifting emotional experience, that’s the most important thing. It doesn’t matter what equipment you work with, if there’s no life in that still … it doesn’t work.”

Stuurman says this campaign is in line with his ethos: “It’s about changing perceptions; shifting how we’re portrayed. I think this will leave a lasting legacy.”

He says he’s fan of Absolut Vodka, but “also of what they stand for – there’s a level of consciousness, it isn’t just about the cool. They know who they are.”

He says the way Africans are portrayed in these videos is moving perceptions forward in the way we see ourselves and in the way the world sees us.

About the artists he’s doing the project with, he says: “I look up to all of them, they all stand for something. It isn’t every day you get to work with people you have creative chemistry with.”

THE EYE
Osborne Macharia is a photographer from Kenya who has an amazing ability to bring elaborate stories to life with his rich visual language.

He’s been creating for the past seven years, and says that “it’s been an amazing experience. I never expected this kind of reception to my work, both here and abroad. But there is always more work to be done.”

When asked about how important it is to have a sense of conciseness in his work, he says: “Creating good work is more than just the creative flair involved, there needs to be a message or meaning behind it. Creating something different every time can be demanding. You know, different, but rooted in portraying culture and identity.”

Macharia is The Eye, an inquisitive person who lurks in and out of scenes, recording what he sees with his digital eye.

He hopes people will see that their culture and heritage is beautiful.

“If people leave with a sense of that, then I feel I’ve done a good job.”

When asked whether this particular project is sincere in nature, he says: “This is a very cool project. This brand is behind us, offering support and basically amplifying what we all do on our own. I mean, the film and the festival coming up – it’s been a thrill so far.”

He has nothing but kind words for Stuurman and Fabrice and, of course, he gives Chana big ups.

“Khuli is a boss in his lane, his music is massive. The only person I hadn’t met before was Sho Madjozi, and I really dig her style and energy.”

The most crucial element in his work is highlighting three ideas – the pillars or guidelines in all his work: “Culture, identity and fiction in my work is crucial. These provide the code and serve as such for every piece I embark on.”


THE IRON WARRIOR
Benin’s Fabrice Monteiro appears in the short film as a mystical warrior in a scrap yard who heeds Chana’s rhythmic call and uses a force field or supernatural powers to assemble a motorcycle out of scrap in a few seconds.

This was Absolut allowing its budget to stretch its legs, and it certainly ties in with some of the work Monteiro has done before.

This brother aims to make useful art “using the power of images to question society and invite the viewer to a conversation”.

He believes the One Source campaign is sincere in nature.

“Let’s be honest, in this world, nothing is for nothing, but that’s not what is important. What is important is that a big brand has engaged itself by promoting African creativity.”

Africa is the reason he finds himself in visual art and it’s also the inspiration for his work.

“It’s because of Africa that I felt the need to make useful photography that anyone could read and understand.”

Monteiro is mixed race and uses his portals into two cultures to his advantage: “Being as much African as I am European offers me a different perspective and a great source of inspiration.”

He hadn’t met the others prior to the shoot, but he seems to be a great addition to the electrifying chemistry of the group.

The festival will showcase all the avenues of art in the video and hopefully lots more.

Local rapper Khuli Chana’s hit song One Source and its accompanying video have proven to be more than just a once-off offering. Backed by the monetary clout of Absolut Vodka, they have become the basis of a short film and an upcoming festival called One Source Live, which is all about celebrating the creative wave that’s been sweeping across Africa.

The short film, called Africa On Fire, is directed by Zimbabwe’s Sunu Gonera, who also directed the music video. The film reimagines five creatives as superheroes. Viewable on the Absolut SA YouTube page, Chana reprises his One Source role as a character called The Dragon, who is looking for four new talented people to join him on his creation crusade. Sho Madjozi is The Rain Queen, Trevor Stuurman is The Explorer, Osborne Macharia is The Eye and Fabrice Monteiro is The Iron Warrior.


According to its creators, this film is the first time black superheroes have been depicted in such a well-executed manner.

It’s an example of what African film makers can do when furnished with a bid budget, and it’s clear that the creators are hoping to evoke feelings of pride and tradition while looking to the future and the promise of a progressive continent.

Music videos like One Source, local electronic artist Haezer’s Minted and US dubstep artist Skrillex’s Ragga Bomb (shot in Joburg by a local crew) at times fall into the trap of proliferating the same image of Africa – one of a mystical, homogenous continent with a particular fetishisation of witch craft and the supernatural.

Although visually spectacular, we should be careful of this singular representation. As we all know, everyday Africa is very different.

Various scenes show shackled slaves being freed by a blue-flamed staff carried by The Dragon. Considering recent news about modern slavery in Libya, the imagery of people chained in a dungeon evokes a loaded and sensitive history. The idea that the blue flame (in the film a metaphor for creativity and Absolut Vodka) frees them seems a bit gratuitous.

We spoke to the artists involved in the project about creativity in Africa, remaining authentic when sponsored by a big brand, and their vision for the continent’s future.


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