Interview with Lesley of Ododo Originals

Lesley-of-Ododo-Originals

Lesley started beading flowers in 2008, while in school, and 2 years later, Ododo Originals has blossomed into a full-time enterprise. Pretty, customisable, as dramatic or as demure as suits your personality, her flowers are lovingly handmade and creating a buzz across the interweb and beyond. The self-taught Lesley shared with Afri-love her passion, inspiration and her journey.

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Interview with designer and entrepreneur, Mkuki Bgoya of Kina Klothing

Mkuki-Bgoya

This week, I'm happy to share with you, the passion and work of my Tanzanian brother, Mkuki Bgoya, designer and founder of Kina Klothing. What is Kina Klothing? Kina Klothing is "Pan Afrikan, Art, Bongo Flava, Afro Beat, Taarab, Fashion, Poetry, Sankofa, Jazz, Pop-Culture, Fela Kuti , 60s, 70s, 80s Afrika, HipHop, Illustration, Cassette tapes, Street, Soul, Vinyl records, Politics, Animation, Disco, Electronic, basketball, fun, Zouk, Bolingo, Photography, Soccer, Play, CDs, mp3s, Graphic Design…everyday people.

When he isn't working on new collections for Kina Klothing, Mkuki runs a branding firm, Spearhead, from his base in Dar es Salaam, and is involved with publishing company, Mkuki na Nyota, specialising in indigenous books. 

I set out to find out what drives this busy man …

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Interview with artist Tamara Natalie Madden

Tamara-Natalie-Madden

This week, I'm honoured to share with you the work and story of US-based, Jamaica-born artist, Tamara Natalie Madden. While struggling with a life-threatening illness, Tamara turned to painting and she's never turned back. Here she talks about the value of struggle and celebrating African beauty through her work.

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Interview with Ihsani Culture

Ihsani-Culture-models

Today's interview is with the Design Director of Ihsani Culture. She champions the spirit of Afri-love as she breathes and has been inspiring and encouraging me since the day we virtually met! I'm so happy to present to you her passion, and her fashion…

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What's your passion?
My passion is Africa – just making use of my gifts, and any I pick up along the way, to impact Africa.  

What inspired Ihsani Culture?
Ihsani Culture is inspired by a desire to make beautiful what was considered mediocre or ugly. It is inspired by God – a creator of infinite beauty, not limited to one standard as people are. The December Collection was inspired by African/Dry Lace, an embroidered fabric that usually looks pretty ugly/mediocre in the way it's usually wrapped or worn. 

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What has been your greatest obstacle/challenge in establishing Ihsani Culture?

My greatest obstacle has been learning to let go of control. With the people I work with (who run their own businesses), with the designs I make (which usually morph into something different from the sketches) with the client (who is usually not certain), with God (who has a bigger, deeper purpose than I often see). 

How have you dealt with/overcome it?
Faith and trust. It works for all of the above. I have the most hardworking, talented team I could have prayed or asked for. 

What has your greatest achievement been?
My greatest achievement is BEGINNING the work. I'm thirty. 30 years of seeking purpose. 

Where will you be in 10 years?
I really dont know. But Ihsani will be all over Africa, with its base in Nairobi, and in boutiques across the world. 

How does Africa inspire you?
Africa is who I am and it's Africa that raised me – the rest of the world just barely touched me. So everything that flows out of me is Africa – whether its basic components look or do not look overtly or stereotypically African. 

Ihsani-Culture-December-Collection-2

Anything else you'd like to share?

Ihsani is based on the premise that 'beauty flows naturally from within'' – It is the women who make the clothes come to life beautifully.  

Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/year?
Look out for more innovation and beauty from Ihsani and all the designers sprouting up in Africa. I am not alone or unique in my mission. Look out for African clothing for the cold July weather from Ihsani. 

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Images courtesy of Ihsani Culture

Interview with designer Agnes Kuye of Senga K Designs

Senga-K-Designs-Agnes-Kuye

It's interview day again and time for some more artistry from the sisterhood. AFROlicious fashion designer, Agnes Kuye of Senga K designs, shares with us her passion and her beautiful work. I am especially inspired by Agnes's dedication to her creative expression, considering that she also has a full-time job! Proving again that love will take you very far…

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What's your passion?  
My passion is Africa: I eat, sleep & breathe the beautiful continent's richness.

What inspired you to start Senga K Designs?  
Having a 'natural' talent to design/create.

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What has been your greatest challenge/obstacle in being an designer? 
Not having enough time. I still work full-time as a Senior Accountant, so all my creations are worked on during every spare minute I have in the evenings & weekends.

How have you overcome it? 
I haven't really, I still work every spare minute god sends, but I absolutely love it so it's a blessed challenge rather than an obstacle.

What has your greatest achievement been? 
Selling my goods around the world and having international success, no matter how small. Interest that comes from far and wide always makes me happy. 

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Where will you be in 10 years? 
I have a running joke and say that my sewing machine is my oko (which means husband in Yoruba). I'm not married and have no kids so, as long as my sewing machine remains faithful to me, in 10 years time we will be celebrating our anniversary of creating unlimited AFROLicious goodies and still continue to have national and international success.

How does Africa inspire you? 
Everything about Africa inspires me 1000%. The fashion, food, culture, music, politics & the people in general. Even though I reside in London, I am passionate about Africa, Nigeria especially, being my country of origin. I have fallen in love with African prints, mainly Ankara, hence why they feature heavily in my work. I have definitely inherited Africa's rich spirit in my work – it's  a natural and effortless journey.

Anything else you'd like to share? 
A big thank you to all my clients and friends who have purchased goods from me over the years. The end product of selling is a blessing, but there is no better feeling than to have the  ability to create/design and have people appreciate what you do. It's awesome!!! 

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Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/year? 
Yes, I make my AFRO accessories throughout the year – all unique one-off pieces. I also sell at various day and evening events during summer. Please check my links below and watch out for new AFRO goods and news about events. Clients can send me their email address at senga33 [at] excite [dot] com and join my mailing list.

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Connect with Senga K Designs through the following channels:
Email – senga33 [at] excite [dot] com
Facebook – Senga Kuye
Facebook page – Senga K Designs Afro/Euro Street Fashion Rocks
Website –  www.wix.com/agneskuye/senga-k-designs
Mobile – 07958 647 022

Images courtesy of Senga K Designs: Creative Designer – Agnes Kuye, Photography – Brian Would, Models – Damy Streetzx and Ri'anne Jones. Top image is of the designer herself, Agnes Kuye.

 

Interview with afro-soul songstress, Rafiya

Rafiya CD Amazing

I realised that all the interviews on the blog so far have featured men and some female representation is overdue! What better way to start than with beautiful afro-soul songstress, Rafiya. Born in the US to Congolese parents, Rafiya's music is inspired by her experiences across the globe. She wants to make you smile, dance and think. 

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What's your passion?
Making a difference through music and education.

What inspired you to pursue a musical career?
I've wanted to become a singer for as along as I can remember. Seeing musical talent and artists giving concerts always stirred something deep inside of me. Mariah Carey never failed to leave me in awe and I wanted to develop such vocal abilities and to perform in front of huge audiences. I did that … in front of imaginary crowds … but not for long. 

Growing up in a family of music lovers, my parents encouraged me and nurtured my talent by providing and sometimes by creating opportunities for me to sing and to blossom in that field. My father actually wrote the first song I recorded at age 7. Today music is so much more than performing to me. It's the channel that I use to uplift spirits and I want to continue doing that for as long as I can.

What has been your greatest challenge in being a musician? How have you dealt with/overcome it?
The greatest challenge I faced as a musician was combining being a musician and being a full time high school teacher. The latter being very demanding (lesson planning, grading papers etc.), I often experienced some frustration not being able to fully embrace my singing career. I took a leap of faith and decided to follow my first passion.

What has your greatest achievement been?
I would say having been able to release my debut album, Amazing, independently.

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Where will you be in 10 years?
In 10 years I will be in Africa, married with children, making music and running a literacy school.

How does Africa inspire you?
Africa is part of me. It is translated in my music in the language that I sing in in some songs (Lingala from the Congo) and in the African vibes that we find in the instrumentation.

Anything else you'd like to share?
My album, Amazing, was recorded in 3 different continents (Africa, Europe and North America) and is a real treat 😉

Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/year?
I do have a couple of shows coming up. I will be the featured artist at Lickety Split in Philadelphia on the 26th of this month.In November, I will be performing at the the Built for Haiti Benefit Concert in NY. Also look out for the video of a collabo with the rap group JMNI and one with Marllen, a Mozambican star.

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Get a taste of Rafiya's music here and enjoy some positive mid-week vibes! This week, I'm especially digging her rendition of "Mario", originally performed by Franco and TPOK Jazz.

Images by Magma Photography. Buy Rafiya's album on Amazon or on iTunes.

Interview with TMS Ruge of Project Diaspora

Teddy-Ruge

Today I'm honoured to share with you an interview with someone who so totally embodies the Afri-love spirit. We're starting Uganda's independence day celebrations a day early with Ugandan-born social entrepreneur, photographer, African futurist, Africa by Africa evangelist, African digerati, connector and co-founder of Project Diaspora, TMS Ruge. 

Demonstrating that out of sight does not mean out of mind, Ruge works to engage Africans in the diaspora to consider, and take action towards, charting the future path of our continent. It's about determining the quality of our own lives in the way that ultimately, only we can. 

Through Project Diaspora, Ruge has set up Uganda Medicinal Plants Growers Ltd. (UMPG) that works with subsistence farmers, giving them the knowledge and tools to transform their efforts into commercial with access to local and international markets. 

UMPG

Women-of-Kireka-beads

Ruge has also recently launched Women of Kireka, a jewelry-making co-operative providing a safe livelihood for women displaced by war in Northern Uganda.

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What's your passion?
That's a loaded question. But I suppose the best way to surmise is to say I am passionate about all things that advance the Africa by and for Africans. I think that encompasses everything that I do. Be it using social media to engage with other Africans on the ground and in the Diaspora on development matters; debating technology and Africa in a panel discussion; or investing in the education of individuals on the ground. It all has a purpose and that purpose is to inspire other Africans in the Diaspora to engage the continent and each other.

What inspired you to start Project Diaspora?
I could say cubicle boredom but that wouldn't be completely true. PD started as a mission to have a conversation with other members of the Diaspora. To see what they were doing, where they were and to get a temperature on the strength of the bond between us in the West and the continent. At the time, I was investing in the higher education of my siblings and I could see how it affected their livelihoods. So I wanted to see who else was out there doing bigger and better things.

It continues to be that platform for us: where we get to have a voice on the development of our continent; share best practices on starting your own projects on the continent; engage in wide-ranging debates including the role of technology on the continent and; to showcase the projects we invest in.

What has been the greatest challenge in carrying out your work?
I would be remiss if I didn't say finding our niche has been the toughest thing for us to do. Scaling and sustaining the organization is another. The diaspora is very diverse and immense and nuanced. So much to cover for such a little team. Any of those issues are surmountable with proper funding of course – we'll get there.

How do you deal with/transcend it?
The best way I think, is to focus on what you do and use that as a lighting rod for engagement. We've decided to put our energies and finances into the projects we are investing in, in Uganda. Mainly Project UMPG and Women of Kireka. If the core of our being is to highlight the huge differences we can make in our communities, then showcasing our projects is the best way to do that. Those two projects we invest in, alone make a positive difference in the lives of about 1000 men, women and children.

Women-of-Kireka

Four women of Kireka. Clockwise from top left: Gloria Achan, Getrude Abo, Jennifer Achiro and Jasinta Achen. Click here to read their stories and those of the other women of Kireka.

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What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Not quitting. The refusal to pack it in when the going gets tough has to be my greatest achievement I think. Things will get tough, all will appear lost and I'll get impatient. Tracy, my co-founder, is always keen to remind me that things sometimes take the time they are supposed to take. Not everything is going to be on my schedule. As frustrating as that is to hear, it is very true.

Where will you be in 10 years?
Physically, I hope to have a much bigger presence in Uganda and East Africa, expanding our investments and doing my part to develop the continent. I hope I'll be happy with what I have accomplished so far with Project Diaspora and would love to see other initiatives bearing fruit. But more than likely, I'll be up in a tree, shaking the branches loose of their mangoes.

How does Africa inspire you?
Africa inspires me in so many different ways, but mostly because I see the vast potential for improvements everywhere. I love the entrepreneurial spirit embodied in the informal sector in just about every city you will visit. This thriving spirit to do for yourself and provide for your family against great odds. I am inspired by the children who will laugh, sing and dance despite having only toys they've made from banana stalk. I am inspired by how youthful the continent is. Over 400 million under the age of 16 and growing up fast in a digital revolution. There's a renaissance coming to the continent, and I am inspired by what that means. I am inspired by the promise of the changing of the guards, in our political elite, as new thinking shoves the old guard "hippo" ranks by the way side and, ushers in impassioned leaders with vision and the gumption to carry them out. I am inspired by this promise and so much more…

Anything else you'd like to share?
I don't think we do enough collaboration. I think we must and should increase trade within Africa. Break down the country borders and increase regional trade. If we start here, we can go far in terms of development. And i think this also goes for the members of the Diaspora. I think social media has really made it very easy for us to connect. So extend those connections into real-life action with partnerships. If we begin to work side by side, it is hard not to be excited by the possibilities.

Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/year? 
Yeah, we just launched the new online shop for Women of Kireka. We'll start shipping their first batch of jewelry by mid-month. Next month we are planning on taking the TEDx series of conferences to the village level to talk about the MDGs. We are really excited about this conference because the poor that we always refer to, rarely have a voice. So we are taking the microphone to them. It is hard to foresee the turn out, but I think we'll be pleasantly surprised.

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Follow Ruge's adventures, rallying cries and thought patterns on Twitter. Diaspora Africans: we have our work cut out for us – may the doing begin!

Happy weekend everybody and happy independence day to all my Ugandan sisters and brothers.


Images courtesy of TMS Ruge and Project Diaspora.

Interview with musician Muntu Valdo

 

 

**Muntu Valdo will be performing on Friday 30th October, 2015, at the final of the Afri-love Sundown Sessions in London. Limited space available so book your tickets now.**

 

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Celebrating Cameroon's Unification Day (marking independence from the UK) and continuing the Afri-love interview series that began this week, today – featuring Cameroonian musician, Muntu Valdo. Writing his own music since the age of 15, Muntu has developed a unique style he calls the Sawa Blues. Here's a little about the man behind the enchanting, sincere, soulful music … 

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