Phiona Okumu is one of those women whose energy is envious. She is constantly travelling, curating an eclectic collection of pop culture goodness and is a self-professed "quiet storm lover" and "digital hustler." If you ever need to know what's hot and happening, wherever you are, Phiona is your go-to girl. I managed to track this true Afropolitan down, to find out what drives her.
What's your passion?
Variety. I find life without options a little bit hard to handle. I think that’s why I am always on a plane to somewhere. Just to be able to say that I am not stuck in or entirely defined by any one scene or context. I think it is really important that people have the opportunity to decide what it is they want for themselves. Speaking for myself, I can adapt to wherever I am or whatever I am experiencing for as long as I choose.
What inspired your involvement with AfriPOP?
AfriPOP! was conceived and founded by my partner Yolanda Sangweni. She and I met in South Africa in 2004 just as we were about to leave the country – her to Brooklyn and me to London. While she was out there she came upon New York’s thriving Afropolitan scene. She said to me on the phone one day, that she kept running into these funky African people and she wanted a place to talk about them and the sub-cultures they represent. I knew exactly what she meant because it’s exactly the same thing I experienced in London. So we agreed to get AfriPOP! going as a blog. And today it’s a little bit more than that.
What has been your greatest obstacle/challenge?
I find all my challenges tend to be internal. And there are many. I sometimes hold myself to a standard so impossibly high I that I end up inflicting blocks on my creativity and even just routine performance. I don’t even call it perfectionism because that would be arrogant. Perfectionists strive for perfection and eventually get there. I rarely ever reach that point.
How have you dealt with/overcome it?
It’s all still very much a work in progress. But more and more, when I catch myself over-thinking something, I am able to talk myself off the ledge. It does help to be pragmatic and accepting of the fact that, some of the time you will be probably be average. Eat , Pray, Love was so not my kind of book but I got a lot of encouragement from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted talk on nurturing creativity. It’s really about separating who you are from what you do.
What has your greatest achievement been?
It’s hard to say which one single event or incident is the greatest. There are a few for a number of reasons. I will speak specifically about my career. It’s taken me a few years to kick the crutches of formal employment from beneath me and learn to walk with confidence as my own boss. It still panics my parents immensely. They don’t actually know what it is that I do and they show a kind of resigned support, which makes me feel a bit sorry for them sometimes. Lol! I am scared a lot too sometimes but, I am learning how to really listen to myself and the spirit of God that is in me.
How does Africa inspire you?
In every way possible, I would imagine. It directs the way that I respond to the world. It’s who I represent without even saying a word.
Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/year?
Where do I begin?! I have a business partner in Lerato Maunatlala, with whom I have formally set up a marketing and communications agency, Boda Boda Media. East Africans will get it straight away. A boda-boda is one of those bicycle taxis you find in Uganda (where I’m from). They’re death on two wheels basically. An absolute headache to the more suitable vehicles on the road. But they get to where they they’re going despite the weather, via the panyas (back routes), and usually the quickest.
This will be the umbrella brand for all of the projects that I am working on. We have a huge marketing campaign for AfriPOP! underway. There are number of artists we represent: Zaki Ibrahim*, Pebbles, M3nsa, Wanlov the Kubolor, Tumi. All of them have albums released within weeks of each other in the first quarter of 2011. We’ll be at the Miami Winter Conference in March and also at SXSW. We have big plans for the infiltration of all of these brands in Europe and in East, West and South Africa.
Images courtesy of Phiona Okumu (artist images from top – bottom: M3nsa, Zaki Ibrahim, Wanlov the Kubolor, Tumi)
* Check out Afri-love interview with Zaki Ibrahim here