Browse Category: Blog

African Women in Tech: Learn More about SpeakYoruba App Developer, Abake Adenle

In my last post about the challenges of learning African languages in adulthood, I mentioned that there aren’t as many resources available to help people (re)learn African languages (as compared to the suites of products available to learn western or eastern languages like French, Spanish, Mandarin, etc).

However, due to innovations in e-learning — including the use of smartphones, this is changing; African language learning resources are becoming more readily available and accessible to not just Africans, but the entire world.

Take for instance a new app developed by mobile content developer AJA.LA: SpeakYoruba is the first in a series of mobile apps aimed at preserving and promoting African languages. According to the site:

“SpeakYoruba is perfect for kids young and old looking to build a basic Yoruba vocabulary, or for anyone with an interest in African culture, music and heritage!”

As the African diaspora continues to expand its borders, the need to promote and preserve African languages becomes increasingly important. Through the SpeakAfrica Apps project, the team aims to develop a series of apps capturing the aesthetic beauty of African culture and providing a modern platform linking Africa’s diaspora with heritage African culture.

I recently interviewed the lead developer for the SpeakYoruba app, Abake Adenle, a Nigerian diaspora living in the U.S. about her motivation for developing the app, including its reception so far.

Side Note: I must say, I was already pretty excited to have discovered the app, but I was even more thrilled to learn a women tech entrepreneur was behind it. We need more e-language-learning tools for African languages in the world, but we need more African women entrepreneurs in technology and innovation, too. #proud

Check out the short interview with Abake Adenle posted below.

SPECTRA: This app has created a way to connect Diaspora to their home countries, namely first generation Yoruba Nigerians for now. How much pressure are you getting from other Nigerians to produce apps for the other languages?

ABAKE: A lot! Before the app launched Techloy (Nigeria’s top tech blog) posted about the app and numerous people on twitter started asking about when a version for their language would be made available. Since the app launched in the Apple App store, I’ve asked users to provide feedback on additional features and updates for the app, and beyond developing a version for Android, expansion to other languages has been the most frequent request.

SPECTRA: Do you have any interesting stats on the users who have downloaded the app so far? Where are they based? Age range? Nigerian or other Diaspora?

ABAKE: The majority of downloads come from the US and UK (with most coming from the US) and only a handful of downloads coming from Nigeria, which is pretty much in line with my expectations and broader app download trends. I think the most interesting “trend” I’ve noticed is interest in the app from what I call the “young adult” demographic. I initially designed the app with children in mind thinking their parents would download the app for their kids, but so far most of the downloads seem to come from “young adults” looking to build basic Yoruba language skills.

SPECTRA: Which other languages are in the pipeline? (Don’t worry, we won’t hold you to it)

ABAKE: At the moment, I am working on adding more cool features and tools to SpeakYoruba, developing a version for Android and hopefully expanding to include more languages popular across West and East Africa :)

SPECTRA: Beyond teaching people the basics of African languages? Do you see any other uses for the app thus far? 

ABAKE: I think SpeakYoruba is a great platform for presenting various aspects of Yoruba culture in a modern way. For example the app’s soundtrack is a Yoruba folk song performed by Baba Ken Okulolo, one of Nigeria’s high-life legends. The song is one of the things people say they like most about the app and I am extremely happy to be able to use a Yoruba song/a piece ofYoruba culture many children may not get the chance to hear in a way that is modern, fun and educational.

SPECTRA: It’s refreshing to see African women in technology. Most power lists in technology coming out of Africa contain men predominantly? Your thoughts?

ABAKE: It is unfortunate that more women aren’t part of the “tech scene”, especially in Africa. However, I think it is important that women who are there now, women like Sheryl Sandberg and Ory Okolloh, should be recognized. Also, there are numerous programs in place outside and within Africa encouraging women to participate in technology. Hopefully, with each new generation, we’ll see more and more women becoming part of the tech scene.

SPECTRA: What are some of YOUR favorite apps? 

ABAKE: My favourite apps are usually news-related (New York Times, Bloomberg, etc.) or just good old iBooks as I have been reading more and more books on my iPad. One standout app for me is BeatSneak Bandit, a fantastic game by Swedish gaming company Simogo; it’s pretty addictive!

SPECTRA: Anything else you’d like people to know? 

ABAKE: I am currently running a promotion where anyone who sends proof of download (a screenshot showing the SpeakYoruba app icon) to will receive a free “I Can Speak Yoruba” t-shirt or tote bag! I am very pleased with the feedback the app has received so far and am looking forward to updating the app with more and more features and expanding to more languages. Download links can be found at!

SPECTRA: How do you say, Love Is My Revolution, in Yoruba? 

ABAKE (taking the hint…): Download the app ;)


Check out the SpeakYouruba App trailer below:

To Nigerians Who Don’t Speak Any Native Nigerian Languages, And Their Bullies

A Conversation at the Airport (Which Represents 99% of the Initial Exchanges I Have with Nigerians) 

— Begin Scene —

Me: Good Afternoon

(I hand over my passport to security check and brace myself for the interrogation that’s sure to follow…)

Officer: Mmm. (Doesn’t look up. He studies my passport seriously for a moment, then…) Where are you from?

(He can see it. It’s on my passport. But he asks anyway, because he wants us to bond over our ethnic groups.)

Me: Delta State.

Officer: Ehhh? I am also from Delta.

Me: (feigning surprise) Really? So you are my brother.

Officer: (Finally looks up, his face warmer, a small smile breaking out across his face.) Yes, my sister. You are from Agbor?

Me: Yes, my father. My mother is from Abia state.

Officer: (He lights up even more, cocks his head to the side for dramatic emphasis.) Na true? My wife is from Abia state oh.

Me: Great… (I smile politely.)

Officer: You know Abia women are very beautiful.

Me: (I laugh nervously. This is beginning to get awkward. I just want my passport back before…)

Officer: I’m from [insert name of town I don’t know, here]. You should know it. It’s not far from Agbor now.

Me: Oh okay, is it [insert name of town I don’t know, here]? By….

Officer: Just one hour, not even up to, by road.

Me: Eh, I know it now. (A lie.)

Officer: Eh hen! So you see we are relatives. Kedu? (“How are you?” in Igbo)

Me: O di mma (“Fine” Please don’t ask me to say anything else.)

Officer: (Speaking more Igbo)

Me: (I shake my head, smiling) My brother, I don’t understand oh.

Officer: (exaggerated look of horror) Ah, you no hear Igbo? How come? Your said your mother is Igbo now. Your father is from Agbor!

Me: I knooow! My parents didn’t speak the same language growing up. (A half lie – it’s proven efficient at evoking sympathy vs. a full on lecture)

Officer: Ohhhh. So you don’t speak? Not at all? (It worked. He pities me.) That is not right!

Me: (feigning disappointment) I know, I know. (Please just give me my passport so I can be on my way.)

Officer: Ah, but your parents should not have done that. (More pity.) So, okay, what about you? (Now comes the challenge: are you really Nigerian or not?) English is not your language now. You should have learned to speak Igbo by yourself now. Why haven’t you learnt it?

Me: (Deploy damsel in distress followed by light does of flattery) No one has taught me oohhh. I’m always asking people but nobody wants to teach me. Also, I wasn’t living in Nigeria. But now that I’m back and you are my brother, you will now teach me, abi?

Officer: Ah but of cooourse! Anytime. Because you must speak. You can’t say you are a Nigerian if you don’t speak. You should be speaking Igbo by the next time I see you. You hear?

Me: (laughing, subtly, as I gesture to my passport.) Yes, yes. I really want to learn. (That part is true, though. I want to learn Igbo, for myself, not for the benefit of appeasing cultural gatekeepers at the airport, bank, in taxis etc.)

Officer: And you must learn. Ah ah. You are a daughter of Delta State, Iboland. You must hear Igbo. This is not America. You must speak your language! Or how will you find your husband? No, you must speak Igbo, and you must teach your children to speak Igbo. (He hands back my passport, laughing).

Me: (I swallow the response I would have loved to give him for that last diatribe…) Thank you.

Officer: So when I see you next time, I will greet you in Igbo. Only in Igbo!

Me: (I go for the conversation-ender as I turn my back to him, walking away from the counter.) By God’s grace!

— End Scene — 

For the Nigerian Who Doesn’t Speak Any Nigerian Languages, I Feel Your Pain

I’m anticipating two major responses to the scene above: 1) vigorous nodding in shared understanding about how native language fluency is policed in Nigeria (or anywhere really), or 2) *blank face* from folks who don’t get it, and agree whole-heartedly with the officer. To the latter category, this post is really for you. 

Earlier this year, I wrote an article titled, “What Kind of African Doesn’t Speak Any African Languages? Me.“, in which I proposed people stop using indigenous language fluency as the yardstick by which to decide one’s cultural belonging, or at the very least, refrain from using it as a way to invalidate people’s identities, given that culture comprises many elements, not just language. The article was published in the Diaspora Debate section of Royal African Society’s African Arguments, news aggregator site, and ended up sparking quite a bit of online debate. Seems language as is pertains to cultural assimilation is quite the conversation starter.

I reference this article because a few points stood out to me from the conversations inspired by the piece and now, also, from having to navigate Nigeria as someone who doesn’t speak any native Nigerian languages:

  • I am not alone; based on the outpour of comments that affirmed my own experiences and shared similar, there are so many people who’ve experienced social exclusion due to not being fluent in their mother tongues.
  • This is not a Diaspora issue; per my article, even Africans who grew up and live on the continent aren’t learning their languages due to various factors such as globalisation, migration, and intra-country socio-political history.
  • Contrary to popular assumptions, not many people actively choose not to learn their native languages; this decision is often made for them at a young age, by schools and parents, perhaps pushing for assimilation into the dominant culture in which they live, or due to other factors. (See previous point.)
  • When people can choose to learn their native languages, usually in adulthood,, the tension between indigenous languages and the language of business and cultural access in an increasingly globalised world — dominated by English, French, Spanish, now Japanese and Mandarin — is in part responsible for people choosing to learn other languages over their own.

A Few Barriers Worth Noting to Learning Nigerian Languages as an Adult

Following from that last point, and in response to the skeptics who commented on my last post who insist that the only reason one does not attain language fluency in adulthood is strictly a matter of personal choice (sigh), I think it’s important we all consider the challenges to learning African languages post-childhood learning from parents/relatives at home or after one no longer lives in an environment. So, do consider the following:

1) Language Immersion Isn’t the Most Practical in Diaspora Communities

Unlike some other immigrant communities, the presence of Nigerian/Diaspora communities across the US doesn’t translate to pockets of America in which only Nigerian languages are spoken. To the best of my knowledge, our versions of say, “Chinatown” will contain everything we need – clothes, food, travel agencies, hole-in-the-wall restaurants etc, except a universally spoken Nigerian language. Why? I’m guessing it’s because we’re not a monolithic culture. Nigeria comprises well over 300 ethnic groups, and just as many languages. We wouldn’t be able to communicate across all those dialects without English. So, given that even in the most isolated of Nigerian communities outside of the country, you’ll always run into people speaking English, finding opportunities to practice a single Nigerian language using mass media (TV, Radio, even street signs), or every day communication, etc., would be challenging.

2) Language Immersion Isn’t the Most Practical in Major Nigerian Cities, Either

The best language teachers will tell you that immersion is the way to go: visit the country where the language is spoken, spend some time there, consume copious amounts of their media, make local friends, and you’ll surely pick it up. Except, part of why immersion works is that you’ve given little to no choice but to learn to communicate in the local language. The immersion strategy would work well in countries in which the local language is the language of trade, commerce, media. That is not the case in Nigeria, a former English colony, in which English is spoken in all major cities. Moving back to / living in a major city in Nigeria (after having not learned your mother tongue growing up) wouldn’t necessarily guarantee language immersion either, unless of course you quit your day job or take time off and relocate to a remote village, which brings me to the next point…

3) The Costs – In Both Time and Money – of Learning a Language Can’t Be Ignored

Not everyone can afford to take time off long enough to move into a city, town, remote village for language immersion. I remember when I started schooling in the states and met Americans who understood at least one other foreign language. Most of them had learned it at school, and then spent some time (either via a study abroad program or volunteer gap year) in their specific country practicing via cultural immersion. (Oh, and by the way, it’s not like there were “Learn Igbo Abroad” programs when I was at school in the states.) This approach to learning languages can cost quite a bit of money; there’s a reason why study abroad programs and the voluntourism industry are primarily sustained by white westerners with class privilege. Nevertheless, while I was in college,  I would often have conversations with my parents about moving back home after I was done, and going to stay with my grandfather in the village for 6 months to a year, for the purpose of immersing myself in my culture and picking up the language. It seemed like a great idea, but with over 30K in student loans, day to day financial responsibilities, and of course, my own career ambitions, finding that chunk of time (and financial support) to do nothing seemed impossible, and honestly, didn’t make much sense.

4) (Good) Nigerian/African Language Learning Resources Are Few and Far Between

African countries haven’t really invested in language cultural preservation the way some other nations have. So naturally, the pool of resources for learning indigenous African languages isn’t as large as say, for Spanish. Nigerians, for instance, have rarely said to me, “Hey Spectra, if you wanna learn Igbo, go to this website.” Or “Check out this software on – it’s like the Rosetta Stone of African languages!” Or even, “There’s a school near you that offers Igbo and Yoruba, and I hear they’re really good.” What’s more, is that if one lives outside of Nigeria, where distribution of local media is minimal/non-existent, don’t bank on finding any children’s books or cartoons to learn the basics. (No, Barnes and Nobles doesn’t carry Nigerian children’s books. Don’t pretend to be surprised…). Mind you, it’s not because these resources don’t exist at all; in comparison to e-learning tools available for other languages, sure, African language learning e-tools and software are few and far between, but even that’s changing. So it would best serve advocates of African languages to spend less time criticising people for not learning their languages, and more time learning about which resources already exist so that they can share them.

People Like Me Want to Learn Our Languages; We Need Support, Not Criticism

And here come the look on people’s faces when I explain why I haven’t been able to learn either of my parents’ native languages till now. They’re thinking, “She’s making excuses. If she really wanted to, she would have. She just doesn’t take pride in her culture.” And I’m not being paranoid. These very words have been said to me time and time again, and especially after the post I wrote about speaking African languages. But they piss me off, not because I care so much about what people think, but because such singular opinions are riddled with uninformed assumptions that reduce such a complex issue to trivial polarities: “Who’s really African and who isn’t? Who’s really proud to be African and who isn’t?”

Rather than reduce this conversation to cliche criticise of Africans who never learned their mother tongues, wouldn’t it be more productive – and in better service of African cultural preservation — to frame our conversations about language around solutions to the diminishing fluency of African languages i.e. what we could do to increase interest AND access to learning? Not just for Africans, but for everyone?

Digital Media and Technology Could Spawn the Next Generation of African Language Resources

When I think about the popularity of the Rosetta Stone series, I can’t help but crave an entire suite dedicated to African languages. Even focusing on Nigeria alone could lead to at least four product lines, for Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, and Fulani. But why wait for the Language Learning industry to pay attention to the demand for products that promote Nigerian/African languages? It seems Nigerians (including in the Diaspora) are taking matters into their own hands.

Incidentally, when I google “Learn Igbo Online” there are actually a surprising number of online resources, including a software coaching tool (with an accompanying manual), an e-portal for connecting with Igbo teachers, an entire site dedicated to Igbo culture, history, and language, and even a YouTube channel. I swear, none of these resources were around when I was younger, but with globalisation and the development of so many different e-learning platforms and tools, clearly, things are changing. For instance, I recently “met” (online) a young woman – Nigerian Diaspora – in the US, who’s developed an iPhone app to each toddlers Yoruba. (I’ll be publishing my interview with her early next week, so stay tuned.)

Technology alone won’t be able to solve the problem of diminishing fluency in African languages. Africans themselves must demonstrate through their actions a commitment to ensuring that our history and traditions, embedded in our indigenous languages, are safe guarded. And more importantly, our commitment to seeing this through must move beyond the admonishment of those who are not fluent, to ensuring that we support and encourage each other to strive towards Africa’s cultural preservation, together.

Have you experienced the kind of language policing I described above? People make fun of you because you don’t speak your native language? Have you yourself done the poking? I’d love to hear from you. Meanwhile, if you know any good Nigerian / African language learning resources — books, DVDs, computer software and/or digital platforms — please share them in the comments section! 

Straight Allies, White Anti-Racists, Male Feminists (and Other Labels That Mean Nothing to Me)

“You only know my name. You don’t know my story…” 

Afrofeminism: The What vs. The How

I’m often asked to elaborate (and in some cases, “define”) afrofeminism. I’ve spoken about how afrofeminism informs my work, explored themes about Love and Afrofeminism series on this blog, and I regularly share afrofeminist perspectives on current affairs and pop culture with my fans on Facebook.

From the work that I do and from the things that I say, I’ve seen quite a number of people over the past year or so been calling themselves Afrofeminists. In fact, just very recently, someone sent me a letter thanking me for offering her a new way to think about her own identity. She asked permission to call herself an afrofeminist because she dug my approach and could relate to most of my commentary, even though she actually had no idea what it meant! It turns out that connecting with people — or even inspiring them — doesn’t start and end with what you are but who you are.

So have I put forth a single definition? No. A single definition (of a single label, among many others I might add) wouldn’t actually help anyone get to know me. I rarely introduce myself using labels; I tell stories, instead… about growing up in Nigeria, about the first time I fell in love, and about the friendships my coming out broke then repaired. I’m so much richer experienced as a complex, whole being than as a cluster of politically correct, ideologically pure sentiments.

“Hi, my name is Spectra, and I’m an afrofeminist”? It would almost feel like cheating: here’s this cute little label that sounds like an amalgamation of afro and feminist, meaning she must have an afro and she must be feminist, and somehow that’s supposed to serve as a shortcut for people to actually get to know who I am. And then, I‘m supposed to gather in large numbers with people who dig the afro and/or the “feminist” and because we totally understand each other, we’ll be better equipped to change the world. Ha! That almost always backfires.

(Don’t believe me? Ask the white “women’s” movement. They still can’t seem to agree on what being a woman means, and are constantly up in arms about which women are being represented, silenced, side-lined etc. Meanwhile, non-women/everybody else is getting away with murder while women are figuring this out).

Straight Allies, White Anti-Racists, Male Feminists, Blablabla

Now don’t get me wrong; labels can be very useful in facilitating initial connections. But people get so hung up on them, activists especially. And as a society, we’ve become so narrowly focused on the theoretical “what” at the expense of the practical “how” of creating change, we’ve forgotten that change happens primarily through our personal relationships, not just passionate rhetoric.

The use of identity labels (the “what”) to build unity and shared understanding often sidelines the need to actually explore complexities and difference i.e. just “how” said identities intersect and manifest in different contexts; since a single word can carry so many subjective meanings for different people, movements are often stumped or stunted the minute they realise that not everyone’s “how” is the same or — even worse — not even functioning.

The Curious Case of “Allies” In General

If my detest for words and definition stems from anything at all it’s the “allies” I’ve experienced in both my personal life and my work as an activist. I’ve met hundreds of “white allies,” for instance, many of who profess their “consciousness” via some digital channel (e.g. an overly serious twitter bio or utopia-inspired vision statement) or, in person, via some self-congratulatory speech masquerading as a relevant anecdote… especially when surrounded by women of color.

“We white allies have so much work to do,” they’d go. “Women of color shouldn’t always have to be our teachers.” When I first heard this tune, it was music to my ears, and oh boy did I fall for it. It worked every. single. time.

“Oh my god, yes!” I’d exclaim, “Wow – truth! You’re seriously my favorite person right now!” (‘Cause it was my turn to offer music to their ears.) In retrospect, I realize that many of my initial responses to white allies were pre-programmed — a socialised reaction to ensuring that white women never lingered too long in their vulnerability without affirming their “goodness.” I resisted any responses that would risk making white people feel wrong–or exposed–in their self-righteousness. In fact, making them feel like they needed to *do* anything at all to earn my trust and respect as a woman of color always felt more like a risk than an opportunity. So I’d find myself dishing out exaggerated, empty, endorsements, couching my emotions in the elation I felt at even just the idea that a segment of white people had taken it upon themselves to give a damn about me.

But, here’s the thing: half the time, I never ever remembered their names, or remembered any of our conversations moving beyond the scope of the burden of racial consciousness they had taken up for themselves as “the good white people.” In fact, it took me quite a while to figure out that most of the “white allies” I’d meet in social change spaces (never – NEVER – at work, or at the grocery store, or in my regular every day life) were only ever “white allies” around women of color, and mainly to seek my/our approval.

I’ll never forget this one time a “white ally” had offered to volunteer at a professional networking event I was hosting for women of color a few years back; she’d insisted that she wanted to “do her part in supporting queer women of color community” by showing up and offering her help. She justified this act of good will with all the right rhetoric too: women of color rarely get this space, as a white ally I’m happy to do labor etc. Honestly, I felt so relieved and grateful for her support. I had no idea that her “help” would become my burden for the entire duration of the event.

It’s as though the minute she walked in, all eager and ready to be put to work, she realised that there’d actually be no more than a handful of white people at the event, and became really uncomfortable. “Oh wow, I’m one of the few white people, here…,” she said awkwardly, as she set down her bag and coat, “So cool.” [Replace with “Fuck! I’m not ready for this.”] So what did she do? This seemingly racially-conscious, well-meaning white ally followed me around like a nervous baby duckling for the entire event.  Yup, the entire event. She was so nervous about being left on her own to mingle and – god forbid – socialize with any of the women of color at the event, that she didn’t give me a single moment to have conversations with anyone else but her. Over 100 women of color attended my event that evening, and I don’t think I was able to really connect with any one of them because I had an over-eager, jittery, nervous white girl all up in my business every single minute.

I learned very quickly that being a “white ally” had nothing to do with how I, as a woman of color, needed them to show support when it mattered. Shoot, it was in a conference room of “white allies” that I found myself on the verge of tears (of anger and frustration), my voice shaking as I tried to explain to a privileged white gay dude that doing community outreach to people of color for a program that claimed to be advocating for diversity wasn’t a “distraction.” The “white allies” in the room sat back and watched the carnage as I pushed, and I fought, and I fell back, defeated. Then the “white allies” came to me after the meeting was over and denounced their brethren — “privileged white guy, he needs to do a lot of work on himself.” Apparently, being a white ally meant reminding women of color that they weren’t “those kinds” of white people, that they had our backs, just only ever in private, conveniently away from any of the actual emotional work involved in standing up to racism.

But here’s an afrofeminist principle for ya… “Relationships Over Rhetoric”

Don’t get me wrong — not all people who identify as “allies” do such a terrible job. I know dozens of self-identifying “allies” who hold themselves to a much higher standard, and actually practice their values. (Stay tuned, I’m running a series of interviews with them in June!). That said, terming oneself an ally doesn’t necessarily imply this standard. Some of my closest friends and family are the fiercest “allies” I have, but they’d never call themselves that. They’d insist, instead, that they’re being considerate, trying to get to know me better, or, as one of my best white guy friends says, “resisting against the default of being an asshole.” And you know what? I prefer it that way.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’d rather experience people–and their politics–through unlikely, awkward, strained, challenging, beautiful relationships built over time. That way, when we do clash or differ, we love each other enough to express the full range of our raw emotions – cry, yell, storm out – and always return to build the deeper, more intimate connections we need to take on the world together, truly united.

When someone fights for me, I want them to do so because they care about me as an individual – or as someone who reminds them of someone else that they care about – not just as some abstract theoretical concept. I’d rather that the “white allies”, the “straight allies”, the “male feminists” of the world do the work to build authentic relationships based on real love and respect, not just politically correct lexicon and rhetoric.

So, despite starting off as an activist who was really excited about the concept of “allies”, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found less use for words and definitions in social justice; labels like feminists, anti-sexists, radicals, allies etc simply don’t mean much to me anymore. Though I certainly see these ideas/concepts as a way of connecting with others initially, ultimately, relationships that last aren’t sustained by what you are to each other, but  how you treat each other.

Falling back on words and phrases that are intended to convey some sort of ideological purity won’t ever trump the transformation you’ll  experience within yourself (and others) if you truly put yourself out there — if you dare to be vulnerable, admit wrongs, take responsibility for your blind spots, hold your damn self accountable, an not for show, but for real.

So, screw the definitions; experience the ideas and world views through the relationships we build with people. Let’s commit to living in principle, and remain mindful of the core values that help us navigate our lives in the gray. Let’s embrace ambiguity, and its potential for unearthing surprise and disappointment in equal measure, because only through the natural bombardment that arises when we converse with strangers, can we learn more about the world, and about each other.

Shishani, Queer Namibian Songwriter

African Women Musicians: Queer Namibian Songwriter Shishani Launches Debut Album Campaign

Shishani, Queer Namibian SongwriterHere’s some fantastic news from one of my favorite African women musicians: queer Namibian songwriter Shishani, has launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund her debut album!

Diaspora Art and “AfroSoul”

I rarely post about media that isn’t in the form of a review, but after seeing her perform live in Namibia last year, and hearing some of the tracks that’ll be included on the LP, I strongly recommend you give her music a listen.

Earlier on this year, I interviewed Shishani about her experience growing up away from her home country, Namibia, finding inspiration within its thriving art and music scene upon her return, and contributing to the movement to end racism, homophobia, and all forms of discrimination through her music.

In her popular single, “Minority”, Shishani calls for the world to embrace differences by acknowledging that each of us, in some way, is a minority. The video of the song earned a Namibian Music Awards nomination earlier on this year, and Shishani hopes to use the momentum to successfully fund her debut album.

Here’s a short note form Shishani:

“An African proverb goes, “It takes a whole village to raise a child” – I need your help to raise this one of mine.

I’m an independent artist and activist. In 2011, I started my solo career in Namibia – travelling back and forth to the Netherlands (where I’ve been based) and studying Cultural Anthropology & Musicology in between. After winning the Last Band Standing competition in 2012 (a Live Band version of “Idols” in Namibia), I started working on my debut album. I’ve been working on my album for the past 2 years. And it’s been a journey ever since. Now, all the stars have aligned – it is time.

My song, “Minority,” got nominated for “Best Single Non Album” at the 2012 Namibian Annual Music Awards. And recently the “Minority (Jazz Remix)” was nominated for Best Music Video at the 2013 Namibian Annual Music Awards. This song advocates for Human Rights, Equal Rights, Right to Love throughout our societies. Through social media this song has been able to spread, and I hope to reach even more through the release of my album.”

Shishani’s Indiegogo campaign goes till June 15th, so supporters of indie musicians have about a month to contribute.

The perqs include the usual: digital and hard copies of the album, T-shirts, other signed merchandise, and private performances. Undoubtedly, even newbies to Shishani’s music will need no convincing; her songs are, at once, catchy, sensitive, and inspirational. If Bob Marley, Nneka, and Tracy Chapman could birth a child together, she would be it. If you have any doubts, listen to the music that soundtracks her campaign video: pure talent, pure heart. The debut album will feature Shisani’s most popular singles, including “Minority” and “Raining Words”.

Support LGBT African Artists and Media Makers

If music isn’t your thing, and you stand more for movement, take pride in knowing you’ll be supporting an LGBT African icon in the making. Shishani is not the first queer Namibian or African artist to produce music or rise to stardom; there are other LGBTI African artists who have for obvious reasons have stayed mum on the subject of the persecution of gays on the  African continent.

As an outspoken member of the Namibian diaspora, Shishani graciously acknowledges that she stands on the shoulders of musical and revolutionary icons who weren’t afforded the same privileges she has, yet paved the way for her as an artist whose work is political. Still, it would be remiss of us to ignore the fact that her outspokenness is a risk to her career and thus, she is deserving of our respect and support as advocates for justice and freedom for everyone, everywhere.

Watch the Campaign Video

I’ll be getting my copy of her debut album, and I encourage you to do the same here. Note: Shishani plans to have completed production of the album by July 2013. For more information, check out her video campaign below, and visit her IndieGoGo campaign page.


Love and Afrofeminism: 5 Core Self-Care Principles Every Activist Should Live By

AfrofemLoveIn March, I shared my philosophy about using self care as a tool to creating sustainable movements in a piece I wrote following an appearance: Celebrating Audre Lorde with Jamaican Feminists: Media Activism, Self Care, and Virtual Sisterhood.

The responses I received–both at the event and around the post–were overwhelming positive. But the subsequent requests for practical day-to-day advice for caring for oneself while caring for community prompted me to reflect on what it means for activists to really practice self care… not just as some fluffy theoretical concept reserved for the privileged, but as an accessible set of principles, applied consistently towards a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.

Incidentally, it was around this time last year that I launched my popular Love and Afrofeminism (#afrofemlove) series, through which I explored gender, sexuality, and race issues through the lens of empathy, compassion, and self-love.

Hence, I couldn’t be happier to relaunch my #afrofemlove series with an offering of the principles that have guided me in my own journey thus far. The following principles can certainly be used by everyone, but I especially hope they resonate with my fellow activists, people whose work revolves around the practice of loving so many others that, too often, they forget to love themselves, and each others.

Here’s to no more of that.

5 Core Self-Care Principles Every Activists Should Live By

1) Self-Care Requires Planning 

Plan the pampering ahead of time. Okay, to be honest, it’s often not “pampering” I’m doing; I’m recovering, resting, slowing down. The truth is I’m a workaholic; if I don’t plan or schedule my self-care ahead of time, it’ll never happen; I’ll just keep going and going, until I crash. It’s a shame, but after years of teetering on the verge of burnout, I’ve learned to stop denying that I have a problem, and have learned to work around it. 

For instance, as a way of punctuating my non-stop work schedule with “rest stops,” my partner and I now plan at least one semi-sized vacation every 6 weeks or so, and about six months ahead of time. The rest stops could include anything from visiting family for a long weekend to traveling overseas. I apply the same planning effort to my weekly and monthly schedules as well: mid-week lunches with friends and lunchtime runs are my favorite. The best part? I usually that forget I’ve planned ahead.

Nothing beats getting a vacation calendar reminder (“France Vacation in 5 Days!”) right in the middle of a hell week, receiving a text from a friend confirming that we’re still on for cooking dinner together the following evening, or even taking a “Disney sing-a-long” break for 15 minutes on Youtube during my lunch break. Laugh all you want, it puts the biggest smile on my face and it costs me nothing, which brings me to my next point…

2) Self Care Doesn’t Have to Cost Money

Yoga retreats, spa days, and island getaways are awesome, yet, despite perceptions, they’re definitely not the only way to practice self-care, and they’re certainly not always accessible (or sustainable); such  luxurious activities require that you interrupt your regular schedule (and budget) to “recharge”, but not everyone can spend money on a last minute getaway.

As a child, I remember always being able to create fun in and out of any environment–my leftover food, bedroom walls, my mother’s lotions. Then, adulthood happened, and I went from being the child whose imagination could fill an entire afternoon to living as a young professional who only saw fun in five categories: shopping, clubbing, movies, dining out, and gyming. And whilst, I enjoyed those activities, when I left the steady paycheck for the life of a social entrepreneur, I experienced a serious decline in my mental health because I could no longer buy my way into feeling stronger or healthier.

The sudden change in income was probably the best thing that happened to me now that I think about it: after years of belonging to a gym, I learned to run outside; after years of late night takeout, I discovered the joy of cooking new recipes I found online; I got back into playing music (guitar); and most importantly, I got back into reading, writing, and in the case of no internet, singing entire segments of my iTunes library by choosing a random letter of the alphabet. (Don’t judge). The best part? All my favorite hobbies are free.

3) Self Care Doesn’t Have to Cost Time, Either

A few months ago, an important, provocative (albeit insensitive and condescending  article titled, “An End to Self-Care” sparked debate in activist circles about the elitism and individualism in self-care (vs community-care). I was pissed, yet, I must admit, the article forced me to reflect on the ways  in which I practice self-care as a lifestyle (vs. a quick fix when I’ve been “bad”); I practice integrating self-care into my everyday and approach it the way I do brushing my teeth, eating lunch, even using the bathroom–not as activities that ‘cost’ me time, but as necessary aspects of every day, healthy living.

That said, as a business owner who works *all the time* (’cause when I stop working, I stop getting paid–most startup entrepreneurs don’t get paid time off), coming up with accessible, every day self-care practices that I can seamlessly incorporate into my day has been critical. Sure, there are days on which I can afford the time,  and thus choose working out, taking leisurely walks, playing video games, watching films on Netflix etc. But I have many more “hell days” when I’m up  at 6 am and can’t stop working till 9 or 10 at night. How to sustain myself then?

Several simple ways, actually. For one, I make sure that I enjoy my workspace. As this is a room in my home, I need to make sure it’s tidy, organized, and flowing with clean, fresh energy, since this boosts my productivity. I build in a reward system into my workplan (e.g. “Once I turn in this article, I will make myself some yummy honey-ginger tea!”); this may seem silly, but it keeps my work outlook positive, and based on successes (rather than failures), which reduces the risk of stress.

4) Self-Care Doesn’t Come in a One-Size Fits All

Quite often, when I mention that I’m feeling overworked or managing stress, people will tell me to do yoga. “Yoga is awesome. You should really try it. There’s nothing better. Om Om Om. Namaste.” I love asking other people what they do to recharge, how they integrate self-care into their routines, and what new home remedies I can try out for myself, precisely for the reason that not every “revolutionary self-care practice” will work for me.

Take yoga for example: one cannot deny the benefits, but I’m not disciplined enough to practice yoga on my own and attending group sessions filled with white women dressed in fancy yoga garb (and who repeatedly give you weird, othering looks) only reminds me of my work as an activist–fighting racism and classism everywhere, even in a damn yoga class. This is not my idea of relaxing. But, when I voice this to others, I’m often told, “You haven’t tried it long enough… Find another class… Trust me, it really will do wonders for your mental health.”

But the truth is this: I tried yoga for ten years. I prefer a good, sweaty run outside to sitting still and breathing any day. On cold, rainy days, dancing in my living room to Afropop music for 30 minutes works just as well. For nurturing mindfulness, I write in my journal while listening to epic movie scores, such as my favorite from Lady in the Water, “The Healing.” And for a sense of “inner peace,” I sit on my porch next to my favorite tree, Sanchez, and daydream. Sometimes, I draw my daydreams–stick figures mostly; I trace out scenes from my life as it is and call forth the future I want using colored pencils and magazine clippings. See, what works for others, won’t always work for me, and that’s okay; caring for yourself means taking the time to learn what your self needs.

5) Self-Care and Community Care are Interconnected

There’s been quite a bit of debate between proponents of self-care and community care, but they needn’t be oppositional forces. In fact, I’ve found but personally and professionally that both are critical for sustainability and survival.

The fact is this: If group spaces practiced mindfulness more intentionally, I wouldn’t have to retreat into ‘self-care defense mode’ as often I as do. If all my bosses respected vacation days, if meeting facilitators integrated more 5 minute breaks, if activist leaders extended their principles of self-care to the management of their teams and partners, if companies — hell, I’m on a roll here — reimbursed gyms alongside all the fancy dinners and booze, we’d all be better off; we’d all feel better supported in our own efforts to take better care of ourselves. 

So that’s it folks–my work in progress: 5 self-care principles to help guide (y)our practice, and help ensure that we’re living and sharing self-care and community care tips, advice, and tools that are accessible to as many people as possible. I hope you find them useful. 

What other core principles would you add to this list? 

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