What a year it has been. A global pandemic that has changed society as we knew it, heightened levels of racial tensions and injustice being exposed all over for the world to see.
The cycles of lockdowns and shutdowns have sparked new strains of creativity. From fashion to art, to social activism – new modes of expression have been fostered to take advantage of the time we have on our hands. Much of our homegrown talent – rooted, raised and nurtured on the continent, as well as in the diaspora – have shone through this season. Many who were once unseen, have now become an unexpected yet dependable beacon of light – and they deserve their kudos. Here’s to 10 that made our 2020.
Ekow Barnes, Producer & Storyteller
Hailing from Ghana, his words are sealing African excellence onto the pages of renowned publications the world over. That is, GQ South Africa; CNN Style; Vogue Business; Wonderland and I-D magazine – this year alone. In addition, Barnes has worked on projects in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz, Essence and Daily Paper. This creative is unarguably an integral part of bringing African voices to the forefront.
Anthony Mmesoma Madu, Ballet Dancer
He defies the misconception that ballet is tailored to white females, by honing his skills deep in the heart of Ajangbadi, on the Lagos outskirts. His video – practicing pirouettes and pliés in the rain – went viral. The footage was reposted by Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis, who tweeted: “Reminds me of the beauty of my people. We create, soar, can imagine, have unleashed passion, and love…despite the brutal obstacles that have been put in front of us! Our people can fly!!!”
11-year-old Madu has since been offered scholarships, to fulfill his dream of practising ballet around the world. In January, Anthony relocated to New York for a 5-year programme at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of American Ballet.
Adesuwa, Model/ Filmmaker/ Designer/ Artist
You can’t miss her delicate eyebrows, lengthy braids and slender frame that have made it onto nearly every major fashion editorial and ad campaign this year. Two Vogue covers and a Savage x Fenty show in one year. It’s rare to come across models whose personal style and look are given full reign on shoots. Adesuwa is one in a million.
Falz the Bahd Guy, Rapper
The images of bloodied Nigerian flags and viral live stream recordings of brutal attacks on Nigerian #ENDSARS protesters at the Lekki toll gate, flooded Instagram and Twitter. It was the bravery of those like 30-year-old rapper Falz – who participated in the protests and pressured government officials on his social media – that moved many to action.
DJ Switch, Musician
For years the unruly SARS units had abused power by harassing and killing innocent civilians, who became victims of the force’s bribery and prejudice methods. Switch’s mobilisation of social media with her passionate and selfless outcries amplified the severity of the issue.
The continued violence against SARS protesters was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Switch was in the midst of the stampede and chaos, following gunshots by the police. Her bold move to livestream whilst taking refuge, is commendable. She summed up her motivations whilst speaking to United Nations and Amnesty International reps: “It was indeed hopeful to see the new generation of Nigerians stand up for Nigeria, not based on religion or tribe.”
Aisha Yesufu, Activist
Celebrated for her relentless advocacy – not only as co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls movement, but also for her support of #ENDSARS and good governance on all levels. Recently featured on the BBC 100 Women of 2020 list, Aisha believes it is imperative for women from all walks of life to be involved in activism. “I am not your typical civil society person. I am an active Nigerian citizen who had time for Nigeria after working on her financial independence.”
Clamp Agency, Digital Agency
The projects by the newly formed Clamp Agency this year have been nothing short of milestones for our generation; worthy of recognition. The team – 5 bold multidisciplinary creative consultants (tech & architecture) of Congolese, Sierra Leonean, and Gambian descent, have made it their mission to innovate all forms of “contemporary phygital & digital experiences”.
It’s safe to say they’re off to a great start. Take their most recent UX/UI design work for the website of fashion brand Hanifa. In the midst of fashion shows being shut down left and right, the ladies took advantage of the growing interest in virtual characters to showcase Hanifa’s Spring Summer offerings in 3D form. They came up with an impressive and seamless site interface to match. The site offerings single-handedly revolutionised how customers shop, preview designs and determine the perfect size. The result? A visual experience, arguably, more captivating than the usual runway show.
The one-take wonder released his long-awaited album this year. Who knew it would be his best? Apparently he did. “I was intentional, I came to make a great record that people listen to 10 years from now,” the artist said. “Bittersweet,” that’s how Wiz described the current social climate, from SARS police brutality to the coronavirus outbreak. He is known to be a calm, collected homebody. It’s said he can sometimes hook the studio mic to the end of his bed and produce a hit. And so it’s clear he took this downtime as a chance to perfect his craft, dig deep into his creativity and harness his matured sound. From the house, to the studio (London studios, Jamaican studios, Nigerian studios), family time and repeat. The result was Made In Lagos, a smooth, sax-heavy album that effortlessly flows song after song – no skips needed. Without a doubt, the Starboy has found his “formula,” or in true artist terms: his pocket. The musician is running his race and sealing what it means to be an African global superstar. An audience of 1.4 million viewers tuned into Wizkid’s 3-hour long live Youtube session.
One inspiring thing about Wizkid in a time like this, is his sense of gratitude. Not only does he appreciate what music did for him, it also helps him empathise with the youngsters still striving in Nigeria. “Music saved my life, if it wasn’t for music I’d still be on the streets,” the music talent explained. Wizkid’s established sound this year is undoubtedly a win for all of us.
Kenneth Ize, Fashion Designer
Things were on the up and up for Kenneth Ize this year. Within the space of a year and some change, he’s become a rising star that has aligned himself with global fashion talent and represented Nigerian design on the fashion world stage. The designer has ticked off some of the highest milestones for an emerging talent; from being featured as an LVMH-prize finalist to debuting at Paris Fashion Week. Much closer to home, the Lagosian recently won the Arise Fashion Week 30 under 30 award. He was presented the award by his friend and supporter – who even sashayed down the runway in his garments – Naomi Campbell.
Kenneth – with the help of a community of weavers on Nigerian soil – has balanced the rigidity and sturdiness of traditional aso oke handwoven African attire and translated it to more fringy, flowy, youthful and expressive looks.
His next goal is to uphold ancient heirloom traditions, by bringing textile weaving into the Nigerian school curriculum and normalizing the African fashion narrative.
A true example of possibility, the designer paves the way for more emerging talent and luxury fashion approaches from Africa to be recognised and spotlighted on the main stage.
Elsa Majimbo, Comedian
Notorious for her diva-like, borderline narcissistic, dry comedy (all in jest of course). A 15-time chess champion from Kenya, Majimbo broke through with her comedy as it reflects everything we’ve been thinking this year. From overeating to not wanting to facetime or exercise, Majimbo defied the concern of her parents and their friends, to make videos on random topics. With all the bragging she does in her monologues, the irony is in the simplicity of her signature “costume”: traditional braids, plastic Wesley Snipes style 90s shades, her high pitched laugh and her bed to dramatically fall back on. Pretty much like everyone else bored at home. Her meteoric rise to millions of followers won her the GQ Entertainer Of The Year and E! Entertainment People’s Choice awards. In her own words, “With great power, comes money.”