Photo credit: AP Images

Film & TV

The Top 2023 Cultural Moments Across the Continent

Photo credit: AP Images

2023 marked the pinnacle of Africa’s cultural renaissance, showcasing its global rise and creativity across diverse forms

By Wale Oloworekende

December 2023

If African cultural cachet has been on the rise since the tail-end of the 2010s, 2023 was the year when it reached the peak of that global ascendancy across diverse forms, giving credence to the idea that Africa is at the cutting edge of global cultural inspiration and execution despite the structural issues confronting creators on the continent. From music to fashion, art, sport, and film, cultural output from the continent has made a huge leap in quality led by an eager diaspora keen to change the narrative surrounding Africa and help facilitate a humane and contextual understanding of the continent. 


At STATEMENT, we compiled a list of some of the moments that have piqued our interest and have deeper significance for Africa’s reputation as a future cultural powerhouse. 


Mami Wata’s International Success 


African cinema’s big year kicked off with C.J. “Fiery” Obasi’s Mami Wata premiering at Sundance to rave reviews in January 2023. The movie, based on West African folklore, was a victory for indie filmmaking and picked up the Special Jury Prize in the World Dramatic Competition at Sundance for its cinematography, and has continued to receive rave reviews across the world for its ingenuity and socio-political commentary. Additionally, Mami Wata has played in major cinemas in the United Kingdom, United States, and more since its theatrical release. 


Rema’s Historic Billboard Hot 100 Run


When Rema released his debut album, Raves & Roses, last year, it was seen as a major landmark for the Mavin star, who has been at the forefront of Afropop’s next-gen since his introduction in 2019. However, few would have predicted the global success of “Calm Down,” one of the album’s lead singles. After initially debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 2022, “Calm Down” has gone on to become Afrobeats’ biggest crossover hit and in June 2023, it hit a stunning peak of number three on the Billboard Hot 100 Additionally, the Selena Gomez-featuring remix of “Calm Down” has crossed over 1 billion streams on Spotify, joining the platform’s prestigious Billions Club.  


Amoako Baoafo’s New York Solo Debut With Gagosian 


This year, art from Africa made its big splash on the global stage, entering spaces that were previously considered out of reach for creative work from the continent. Earlier this year, Ghanaian visual artist, Amoako Baoafo, held a solo exhibition at the Gagosian New York titled what could go wrong, if we tell it like it is. Following in the footsteps of some of the most influential artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, Baoafo’s showcase, which featured large-scale portraits commemorating friendship and black identity, was a groundbreaking moment for African art as it’s one of the few major galleries to showcase an exhibition by an African-born artist. It was also the first time a major gallery would collaborate with an African artist to stage a show in Africa with Baoafo’s showcase coming to dot.ateliers, his artistic space in Accra following its display period in New York. 


Tems’ Dress At The Oscars 


The Nigerian singer was nominated in the Best Original Song category at the 95th edition of the Oscars that took place in March 2023. Tems turned heads with her ethereal white gown from LA-based Lever Couture. A prominent feature of the dress was its headgear, which was deemed to be obstructing the view of other attendees in the gallery by many on social media, and it sparked a debate on whether it was an appropriate dress for the Oscars. This turned out to be a nice moment that emphasized the star power of Tems and the social media currency of Nigerians and Africans in general. 


Kamala Harris’ Visit To Vibrate Space 


Since its Year Of Return campaign in 2019, Ghana has steadily become the location of choice for members of the black diaspora looking to rekindle their ties to the continent. This year, United States Vice President Kamala Harris visited the country, becoming the Biden administration’s highest-profile official to visit the continent. And in recognition of the rising power of African culture, Vice President Harris stopped at the Vibrate Space in Accra, a creative spot where she held court with some of the country’s most innovative stars like Black Sherif and Amaarae. Her decision to visit highlights the growing appeal of African youth culture in the Western world, and represents the biggest intersection of Africa’s cultural scene and political authority in the West. 


Grammy African Category Announcement 


Beyond just breaking into the American market, receiving Grammy nominations has always been the preeminent goal for Afrobeats acts eager to make their mark on the global music scene. Over the years, several African acts like Burna Boy, Wizkid, and Black Coffee have received Grammy Awards in a number of categories. However, the continual nomination of African acts in the Best Global Music category was frustrating for many African music fans. In June, the Grammys announced the addition of a Best African Music Performance category ahead of the 2024 edition of the awards, showing the growth of African music.. 

Some of the continent’s foremost acts, like Tyla, Asake, Davido, and Olamide, have been nominated for the inaugural edition of the award. 


South Africa’s Rugby World Cup Win 


We’ve seen the Springboks–South Africa’s Rugby national team–win the Rugby World Cup four times, but seeing their triumphs doesn’t get old. After their last win in 2019, the Springboks, led by captain Siya Kolisi, clinched the biggest prize in rugby once again [this year], sparking celebrations in South Africa and across the continent as they remain the only African country to make it at the rugby’s world stage.


Disney+’s Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire 


Due to a dearth of funding, it’s quite rare that animated content tells the story of what is happening on the continent. The release of Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire in July 2023 by Disney+ was an important date for the continent’s fledging animation industry as 10 short stories inspired by African lore and customs were reinterpreted with futurist lens by some of the continent’s leading lights. From shorts like Moremi to First Totem Problems, Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire presented a vision of Africa that was worth celebrating and helped propel African animation to global audiences. 


Release of The Black Book


The subtext of Editi Effiong’s feature directorial debut, The Black Book, might be the institutional decay that plagues the police force in his native Nigeria. Still, even that grimy circumstance could not dim the light of his masterpiece. A runaway Netflix hit, The Black Book has been a resounding success worldwide, with praise for the performance of its stacked cast. It has quickly become the most successful Nigerian movie on Netflix with over 70 million views and hit number one on Netflix charts in South Korea as well as breaking into the top 10 movies on Netflix globally. The film stands as a good omen for Nollywood and African productions in 2024.


Tyla’s Billboard Hot 100 Hit 


South African music has been on the rise recently thanks to the global popularity of amapiano. But South African music goes far beyond the wavy bass lines and log drums of amapiano with a vibrant soul and pop scene that is also taking off. This year, pop wunderkind Tyla made a global impact with her single, “Water.” Originally teased on TikTok, the single has gone on to be a monster hit, charting in the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making her the first South African in 55 years to enter the chart. The song also reached number one in New Zealand and the top ten in Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, UAE, Philippines, South Africa, Ireland and Sweden. “Water” also received a nomination in the Best African Music Performance at the 2024 Grammy Awards.

Photo credit: AP


Inside The Rise of African Culture

Photo credit: AP

New technology spurs cultural appreciation, helping Africa to foster a complex, honest global identity

By Wale Oloworekende

October 2023

When Canadian pop giant, Drake, hopped on the remix of Wizkid’s balmy 2014 hit, “Ojuelegba” in 2015 — he ignited a global interest in the burgeoning Afrobeats scene. The musical union was brokered by British-Nigerian rapper and entrepreneur, Skepta, and in the eight years since, Afrobeats—and African culture by extension—has taken off, setting the stage for the continent’s recognition as a rising power in music, fashion, art, and film.


African culture’s rise to global prominence has, undoubtedly, been powered by its ingenious acts that combine their homegrown identity with global ambition. But it’s the contributions of key players like Skepta and members of the African diaspora scattered across the world who serve as unofficial ambassadors that have enabled this international awakening. 


“The African diaspora is the bridge between what’s happening internationally and on the ground in the continent,” Ronx Bamisedun, the VP of international Strategy and Artist Development at Love Renaissance, tells STATEMENT. “They’re well-traveled and are always on the move between where they live and their homeland, so they’re the ones showing their colleagues at work what’s happening or what talent to look out for.”


The African diaspora is largely responsible for the rise of Afrobeats as popular acts like Wizkid, Davido, and Burna Boy have steadily progressed from playing theater dates to selling out stadiums across Europe and North America. According to Bamisedun, the close involvement of the African diaspora with these acts comes from a place of pride in the culture. “10 years ago, it wasn’t cool to be African in America or the UK,” she explains. “In the past, you’d ask people where they were from, and they’d lie and say they were Jamaican when they were probably from Lagos because it wasn’t cool. Now because our creative currency is so strong,  our music, food, and culture are traveling.”


While popular music from Africa has undoubtedly been a success, other art forms are gaining similar prominence. Visual artists with African origins like Victor Ehikhamenor, Amoako Boafo, Ayanfe Olarinde, and Kwesi Botchway, have received critical praise globally for their work across painting, sculpting, and design. Ghanaian culture reporter, Gameli Hamelo, says that the rise in popularity of work by these artists is linked to a desire to change the narrative about Africa. “It got to the stage where the diaspora got tired of the negative imagery that is typically associated with the continent,” he says. “They have the power and accessibility of the internet now and want to use it to tell the world more robust stories about the continent. Supporting the art and artists from Africa is one of the ways to do that and it helps to project a different image of the continent.”


Outsider financial support has historically meant that African artists have less control over their output and the frequent elevation of works that propagate colonial biases, but the diaspora’s renewed investment into the continent has enabled a new level of freedom.  “The African diaspora is in a space where they have the power to control the narrative,” Hamelo adds. “In the past, that wasn’t the case because western institutions like the BBC and CNN were often the sole source of information about culture. Now it’s very different; you have people on YouTube, podcasts, X, and many social media platforms being the primary source of information for a new generation and it’s being used in the right way.”


Technology continues to play a critical role in allowing African creatives to share their work with a global audience, find diasporan audiences who get behind this work, and ensure that it’s not lost to time. The arrival of streaming platforms, in film and music, has played a key role in helping to shape fuller and more contextual narratives around the African experience. “I think streaming is a powerful tool,” Nigerian-American filmmaker, Amarachi Nwosu, tells STATEMENT. “I think it’s amazing to have these different conglomerates invest in Africa.” 


The investment made by Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Showmax allows African filmmakers to curate empathetic and multi-layered stories about the continent. “Even if you are in Japan and your friend doesn’t know anything about African filmmaking, you can go and show them films,” Nwosu says. “You can show them The Black Book and be like, ‘Hey. This is a really interesting film that tackles so many different narratives coming out of Nigeria. This is a story you should watch,’  and they can learn something from that experience.”


Ultimately, Nwosu believes that collaboration between the African diaspora and the continent is key to maintaining momentum going forward. “I think the African diaspora plays a role in just making sure that there’s an opportunity for the people that are the future storytellers,” she points out. “I think, on both sides, that I want to see an African diaspora that directly invests in the stories that we want to see come out of the continent, but I also want to see a continent that is equally engaged in stories from the African diaspora, especially these experiences of people who are navigating new terrains.”

Photo credit: Lolu Photography; Styled by: Overdosed Kulture


A New Dawn for Fashion and Afrobeats Kings

Photo credit: Lolu Photography; Styled by: Overdosed Kulture

New artists are using fashion to challenge cultural boundaries, spurring both controversy and diversity

By Elvis Kachi

September 2023

Last week, Afrobeats king, Asake, who currently ranks as one of Spotify’s best, with over 634,218,132 streams, started a “How to Dress like Asake” challenge, featuring funky jeans and signature jewelry. That challenge has since garnered over 2,000+ posts on Instagram alone. It is a stark reflection of how much power artists and superstars have in shaping and influencing the cultural zeitgeist. Asake came into the limelight in 2022, after being signed into Olamide’s YBNL record label. Almost immediately, his bold fashion choices became a conversation focal point for fans and critics, and he has only continued to pique interest with his signature style.


“A lot of these artists are now very aware of fashion trends both locally and internationally, and they try to infuse their personalities in their styles, so it reflects who they are,” PR officer and music journalist, Robert Solomon, tells STATEMENT when talking about the ever evolving fashion of Afrobeats artists.


The evolution of fashion within the Afrobeats genre reflects the cultural shifts and ever-changing landscape of men’s fashion. Afrobeats, characterized by its fusion of African rhythms and contemporary sounds, emerged in the early 2000s. During this period, male artists often incorporated elements of traditional African attire into their wardrobe. “If you looked at the men from back in the days, you’d see that artists like Lagbaja, Fela and Olamide would always infuse African prints,” Solomon says, “but I think this shift [in men dressing more expressively] is as a result of Afrobeats getting more international acclaim.”


As Afrobeats has gained global recognition in the last few years, the experimental fashion of male Afrobeats artists lives at the intersection of cultural preservation and contemporary expression. Artists have been embracing a more eclectic and globalized style, drawing inspiration from international fashion trends while maintaining a distinct personality flair. Artists like Asake, Flavour, Adekunle Gold, and Boj have fashion senses that are notoriously gender fluid— exaggerated pants, multiple accessories, skimpy tops, and platform shoes. Their sartorial sensibility is important as they are Black men in a conservative country like Nigeria. By embracing a wide range of styles, they encourage dialogue about diversity and individuality within the fashion world.


Flavour, styled by celebrity stylists Swazzi and Oray, caused quite the stir back home, while on tour in the UK last month. On stage in London, he wore a white ensemble with cinched waist and hips and loosely fitted bell-buttons. He paired that with a top made from glittery stones, designed to show off some skin. The current [conservative] nature of Nigeria is one that rarely allows for expression, especially from men. These artists are at the forefront of societal attitudes toward not only fashion, but masculinity as a whole. Inspiring many a dialogue about diversity, their flair for expression has extended far beyond the music industry, impacting the entire fashion industry as well.


Aguocha Chigozie Hillary, stylist and founder of Overdose Kulture, who has worked with the likes of Wande Coal, Joe Boy, Zinoleesky, and Buju, thinks that it’s essential to understand the physical and innate attributes of the artists. “I personally look at their skin type, eye color, features, who they’re inspired by, the part of their bodies that makes them confident, etc.” There is no doubt that how an artist chooses to represent themselves impacts our experience of the music itself.


The marriage of Afrobeats and fashion highlights the dynamic nature of both the music and fashion industries. It reflects their commitment to preserving tradition, embracing global influences, and promoting gender-fluid fashion. Their impact is starting to extend beyond music charts and runways, inspiring individuals worldwide to break free from conformity and express their true selves through fashion. These artists are trailblazers, reminding us of the power of style to transcend cultural boundaries.

Photo credit: AP


African Music has Arrived on the Global Stage. What’s Next?

Photo credit: AP

As artists around the continent hit the mainstream, Africa is injecting new life into the global music scene

By Wale Oloworekende

August 2023

“This is for Burna Boy! Burna Boy is among the young artists from Africa that is changing the way our continent is perceived,” Angelique Kidjo proudly declared while accepting the 2020 Grammy for Best World Music for her album Celia. Giving Burna Boy, another nominee in the same category, due attention is nothing new for the decorated musician.  In 2016, after triumphing in the same category, Angelique foretold Africa’s coming musical explosion.


In the three years since that moment on stage at the Staples Center — widely seen as a passing of the torch between Africa’s classical music epoch and its modern iteration led by stars like Wizkid, Burna Boy, and Tems —African music has come leaps and bounds globally. Music from the continent in all its variations from the west African-led afrobeats to South Africa’s house derivative amapiano led by stars like  DJ Maphorisa and Tyler ICU and east Africa’s bongo flava have gone from niche sounds among eclectic Western tastemakers to a core part of global pop’s expansionist post-2010 framework. 


A key part of African music’s success on the global scene has been built on the individual successes of a new generation of music stars. Just one year after losing out on a Grammy gong for his African Giant album, Burna Boy snagged one for Twice As Tall while Wizkid’s titanic album, Made In Lagos, remains a touchstone for a cross-continental black experience rooted in experimentation and joyful expression. Tems, arguably the biggest breakout star from Made In Lagos, has become the toast of Hollywood, guesting on songs by Beyoncé, Drake, and Future. At the 65th edition of the Grammy Awards held in February, Tems won in the Best Melodic Rap Category for her contribution to Future’s chart-topping hit, “WAIT FOR U.”


All these successes have led to more propulsive motion for African music in 2023. Last month, after years of discussions and criticism about the labelling and handling of African music in the American market, the Grammys announced the creation of a Best African Music Performance Category starting in 2024 that “recognizes recordings that utilize unique local expressions from across the African continent.” This category will encompass music from a variety of genres that cuts across the sonic fabric of Africa with selections from afrobeat, afropop, asakaa, kwassa, mapouka, and South African house among others to be considered. 


Kenyan music and PR executive, Camille Storm believes that the creation of the standalone category is a step in the right direction of recognizing the incredible contributions of African music to the global music ecosystem. “I think this is a positive thing because it will highlight more genres of African music and more of the excellent and rich artistry that is coming out of many different parts of Africa,” she tells STATEMENT. 


Nigerian music journalist and essayist, Dennis Ade-Peter, recognizes the utility of “recognizing the scene on ‘music’s biggest night,’” but is less enthused about the politics of recognition and which African music genres receive the most acknowledgement. For years, critics, journalists, and observers of African music have criticised the conflation of African music with afrobeats–arguably the biggest sonic form from Africa–saying that it represents a one-dimensional outlook of the continent. With the introduction of the Best African Music Performance Category, many fear that afrobeats would continue to be the default representative form of African music. “The music coming from the continent is so diverse that we can only know the true ramifications of the category when we start seeing nominations and the resulting awards,” Ade-Peter concedes.


Regardless of perceived limiting factors surrounding language, cadence, and enunciation, African music continues to connect with a global audience. This year alone, afrobeats was celebrated in a themed showcase at the NBA All-Star Game Halftime Show in February that displayed the increasing impact of African music on American pop culture. In a remarkable showcase of African Music’s globalisation, Rema–one of the performers at the NBA All-Star Game Halftime Show–had his hit single, “Calm Down,” go to number one in India for multiple weeks leading to a much-heralded tour of the country. 


Presently,  the Selena Gomez-assisted remix of “Calm Down” is charting at number three on the Billboard  Hot 100 in continuation of a 43-week stint on the chart that has cemented Rema’s position as one of the most recognisable African acts in the world. He’s not the only one to enjoy stateside success with a sound that harkens to the rhythmic signature of African music. In December 2022, a young down-on-luck Cameroonian-American singer, Libianca, released a single inspired by her struggles with cyclothymia. That single titled “People,” a mix of soul and afropop’s peculiar percussive pattern, has since become one of the most popular songs in the world. It has since been streamed over 340 million times on Spotify. Late last month, Libianca beat another African breakout star, Asake, to the much-coveted BET Best New International Act award, completing a remarkable rise to fame. 


Ade-Peter believes that these achievements speak to the permanence of African music on the global stage. “It means that the success is sustainable,” he says. “There’s always the fear that the momentum behind the urban African music crossover run can stall due to lack of interest, but these feats bolster confidence, that there will always be greatness to be exhibited by the bigger superstars and the newer artists.” Storm agrees, noting that this is just a glimpse of what is to come. “As an executive, it is an exciting time to not only watch these milestones occur, but be part of some of them, the future looks incredibly bright.”


While the future might indeed look exceedingly bright, the journey of African music’s current iteration to being embraced by the West has been years in the making. The sustained regional success of music scenes in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana at the turn of the 2000s set the pace for the African music global outbreak. As migrants moved out of those countries to the West, they often took cassettes and CDs of music from their home countries and regions with them to maintain a connection to the motherland and foster new communities in their adoptive countries. This gave rise to the famous hall parties in the UK and United States that served as a music discovery point for plenty of second-generation immigrants, tastemakers, and crate-diggers looking to find what was hot in African music. 


For all the successes since then, perhaps the biggest sign that African music has arrived is the belated institutional embrace of music from the continent with digital service providers like Audiomack, Apple Music, and Spotify leading the way. In June, Spotify launched a microsite called Afrobeats: Journey of a Billion Streams with the aim of tracking the key moments in the rise and continued growth of the widely-popular African music genre. The archival project, led by African writers, critics, and historians, who lived through Afobeats’ rise is an integral first step to properly contextualising an ever-evolving story that includes multiple players, cities, and genres operating with the goal of bringing African music to a global audience. “The positive is that there’s unabashed pride about the quality of music being made by our artists and that is playing a role in keeping people everywhere engaged,” Ade-Peter says. 


The pride that African music is inspiring is having an outsized impact on the continent itself and its viability as a music destination. Last year, Pulitzer award-winning rapper, Kendrick Lamar, released his long-awaited album, Mr Morale & The Big Steppers, while on a visit to Ghana. This year, another popular American rapper, Travis Scott, was spotted shooting a video in the ancient city of Kano in Northern Nigeria and has already announced plans to launch his new album, Utopia, with a live show in Egypt. African music also continues to serve as inspiration for some of the biggest pop stars in the world as well: in May, Puerto Rican singer, Ozuna, released Afro, a seven-song dispatch that is an immersion into the pulse of popular African music. 


With African music delighting people the world over, Storm wants to see a focus on improving the music process on the continent. “We need to leverage these gains and efforts should be focused on strengthening infrastructure locally like creating better recording studios and concert venues. Artist development and education are also very important especially around streaming, music distribution and publishing, so that artists and industry professionals are aware of how to take advantage of the opportunities in the market and make the best out of it,” she opines. “By implementing these strategies, we can hope that the gains made in streaming and global recognition of African music can translate into a more organized and flourishing local music ecosystem.”



Fally Ipupa: A Sure-Footed Caretaker of Congolese La Rumba

How Fally Ipupa took La Rumba across the Atlantic and became a powerhouse

By Kingsley Kobo

July 2023

  • Amidst political unrest, Rumba, a genre of music known for its danceability, has united Congo for nearly a century.

  • Since the early 2000’s, Fally Ipupa has kept Rumba at the forefront of the music scene and culture as a whole.

  • Many Rumba artists fled the country during its civil wars, thus cementing Ipupa’s importance as a crucial figure in keeping the musical genre thriving.

  • Ipupa’s dreams of winning a Grammy aren’t far off, as he sells out arenas in Africa and continues to gain attention from Western media.


Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire — “The foremost ambassador of the Congolese people is their traditional music,  and that’s somehow our identity,” says Jean Pierre Muyumba, a researcher at the faculty of social, political, and administrative sciences of the University of Lubumbashi.


The Congolese Rumba — the genre Myumba refers to — originated in the Congo basin, notably in the now Democratic Republic of Congo and the Congo Republic, in the 1940s.


Unlike most African traditional tunes, Rumba is not affiliated with any ethnic group. Mainly composed and delivered in the Lingala language – the most popular dialect in the region – Rumba cuts across ethnic and religious boundaries in the vast DR Congo of more than 100 million people spread across some 2.3 million square kilometers of land mass.


Rumba is to the Congolese what Kung Fu Kuoshu is to the Chinese!


Throughout the years, legions of colorful musicians, song writers, interpreters and raconteurs preserved the Congolese Rumba, which was added to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage in December 2021. And one of the most prominent custodians of this hallowed music currently is Fally Ipupa of DR Congo.


The 45-year-old Kinshasa-born singer, dancer, songwriter, and record producer is not the only artist whose melodies and compositions are supplanting the works of the previous generation of musicians. However, he is widely seen as one of the leading voices of the Congolese Rumba in this day and age.


“Due to the great rhythms and melodies we have consumed in the past, the Congolese people have grown to be very selective in their taste in music. Almost every Congolese can dance or sing to some extent, so we know what or who is good when we see them,” says former Kinshasa-based radio presenter, George ‘KG’ Akolo.


“Ipupa, over the past few years, has been able to convince almost everyone that he’s got the talent and charisma to be the torchbearer of the Rumba music even beyond our shores. The reason behind his success is that he took his time to hone his skills under a maestro in the business, unlike many youngsters of today,” he says.


Coming to the fore


Born Fally Ipupa N’simba, Ipupa spent seven years (1999-2006) working as a member of Koffi Olomidé’s music band known as Quartier Latin International. Olomidé, the late Papa Wemba, and the group Wenge Musica, amongst a few others, were the dominant forces of the genre in the mid-1990s and early 2000s. Fondly referred to as the “intellectual of Rumba” following his university studies in France, Olomide kicked off his career in the late 1970s as a member of Papa Wemba’s Viva la Musica band before founding his own group later on. The 66-year-old boasts 29 studio albums including Effrakata, released in 2001, which won four Kora Awards in 2002.


Ipupa went from a back-up chorus singer in the famous orchestra to become a conductor and then a composer, including one of his own compositions “Eternelement” in Olomidé’s 2000 album, Force de frappe.


“I’d say I had two special formative periods in my musical life: as a member of my church choir, a Catholic Church. Although I was very young then, I learned so many things about music, singing, and facing the crowd – very important,” Ipupa tells STATEMENT. “And secondly while working with Quartier Latin International. It was a period of professional apprenticeship that truly shaped and prepared me for this journey,” he adds.


Ipupa had already been attracting public interest, particularly among women, thanks to his looks, showcased by his neatly trimmed long sideburns that connect to his immaculately cropped beardstache.


“Looks matter a lot in the rumba genre because we are in the Congos where fashion and demeanor move in tandem. Most rumba singers are men and their music generally talk[s] about women. When you’re accepted and adopted by women, your first battle is won. And the women, even before listening to your music, weigh up your looks,” says Kellys N’Ganga, a Paris-based former DJ from Brazzaville.


“Ipupa scored high in that regard when he burst onto the scene with his debut album, Droit Chemin, in 2006. I’m of the older generation; 62 now, but he impressed me then. So imagine the women,” he says.


Droit Chemin was certified gold after selling more than 100,000 units and led to Ipupa’s win of the Kora Awards for Best Artist or Group from Central Africa in 2007.


A common bond between Congolese


Those early achievements played out against the backdrop of DR Congo’s first and second civil wars, which stretched intermittently from 1996 to 2008, claiming close to six million lives, causing countless internal and external displacements and indescribable atrocities.


The Rumba was one of the few bonds that held the Congolese people together in the face of the “senseless and barbaric massacre,” says Kinshasa-based historian, Eric Lusamba.


“During the Liberian civil war in the 1990s, soccer became the sole and national respite. Alienated locals came together and interacted with each other only when there was a soccer game involving their national team, the Lone Stars. Everybody was connected to George Weah, who was leading the team then. He brought hope and strength to those who had lost everything. That was exactly the role Rumba played during our wars.”


However, the tragic events took a toll on the entertainment industry, as some of the artists who fled the wars eventually abandoned the field due to the hardship they faced living abroad as refugees.


The Congolese Rumba suffered a decline in intensity, production, sales, promotions, etc. Ipupa’s arrival on the national stage couldn’t be any timelier.


“His first and second album, Arsenal de Belles Melodies, reinvigorated and revolutionized the genre and its derivative forms, the Soukous and Ndombolo, which are more funky and danceable than the original rumba, which is more contemplative. Ipupa collaborated with many non-Congolese singers like  Olivia Longott, a former member of G-Unit, and M. Pokora, which helped push the boundaries for the genre,” says N’Ganga.


Meeting and exceeding expectations


Arsenal de Belles Melodies was certified gold, shipping out 40,000 copies in one week, a record for a Congolese artist. It won multiple awards, including the Best Francophone Artist and Best Music Video: “Sexy Dance” in the MTV Africa Music Awards of 2010.


As of December 2022, Ipupa boasts seven studio albums including Power “Kosa Leka” (2013), Tokooos (2017), Control (2018), Tokooos II (2020) and Formule 7 (2022). He has also released seven singles – three as a lead artist and four as a featured artist.


“Like I have always said, my utmost dream remains the Grammy Awards. African artists have been winning it, and so it’s coming closer,” says Ipupa, in reference to the 10 African musicians with Grammies, which include Ladysmith Black Mambazo (South Africa) and Angélique Kidjo (Benin). 


In February 2020, Ipupa held one of the grandest concerts of his career, pulling more than 20,000 people to AccorHotels Arena in Bercy, Paris.


“In fact, that concert was a seal of approval on his career, I’d say. It moved him into la cour des grands, which means an area or place reserved for the elite or the experienced. A Rumba musician can never earn bragging rights until he or she fills that stadium, which was formerly known as Bercy. All past Rumba stars did it to confirm their greatness, and now Ipupa has joined their rank,” says Muyumba.


However, a move to replicate Bercy’s success back home in Kinshasa ended in chaos and desolation. After multiple postponements, the mega concert of El rey mago, as he’s fondly known in DR Congo, was announced for October 29, 2022, at the country’s largest stadium, Stade des Martyrs.


Organizers and the local police said more than 100,000 people attended, surpassing the facility’s 80,000 capacity, which resulted in a stampede and suffocation that killed 11 people including two policemen.


The tragedies sent shockwaves across Central Africa, but Ipupa’s reputation emerged unscathed from the fallout as investigators put much of the blame on organizers, claiming the artist had been oblivious to “the day-to-day field operations.”


In 2020, Ipupa was named among the 50 most influential Africans, compiled by France-based pan-African magazine Jeune Afrique. A reputation many are urging him to safeguard like he is doing with the Congolese Rumba.


“Ipupa has held himself up as a clean artist without drug, police, judicial and moral issues unlike most of his peers in the business. He needs to build on that in view of carving for himself the status of a singer without the blemishes capable of tarnishing his legacy,” says Akolo.


Mandon Lovett Helps French Montana Tell his Personal Story

For Khadija: Sacrifices only a mother can make

By Chisom Peter Job

July 2023

Moroccan-American rapper French Montana—the most streamed African-born artist—credits his mom for making some huge sacrifices that have had a major impact on his life. This changed the direction of Mandon Lovett’s documentary, For Khadija, to focus more on the rapper’s mother and how her love helped propel her son to stardom.


For Khadija premiered at the 2023 Tribeca Fest on June 17.


As director Mandon Lovett explained to STATEMENT about his process for making the documentary, “over the course of time, as French and I got to spend more time together, and I got to observe him just in more personal spaces, I was able to understand that he had a very unique relationship with his own mother.”


STATEMENT sat with Lovett to discuss his process for filmmaking, shooting in Africa, retracing French Montana’s steps in the Bronx, and his upcoming projects.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


STATEMENT: You’ve worked on a couple of documentary projects over the years. What’s your process for directing a doc like this or for directing documentaries in general?


Lovett: First, it’s finding a story. It all starts with the story which can come from different places like my own personal research, newspaper clippings, books, or word of mouth. Sometimes stories are pitched to me by other production companies or studios or by other people. I always do my own research if it’s a story that interests me, and from there, I come up with my own take on the story by asking what it is that I want to say about the story, or how I would tell it.


So how long does it take to carry out your research? What is that process also like?


It depends, as it could either be a long or short process. Sometimes I’ll start researching, pitch an idea, and then we’ll start producing the project, while research is still happening. So the research process can go on for a while and take place over the course of filming. You could be finding out other pieces of information during this time because you can’t find out everything that you need to know or understand about a story all up front.


Right. So what was it like blending and balancing the different styles in this doc? That is, the interviews with people, the French, the shots.


That was a really fun process in the edit. I think the documentary is unique in that it’s not just reviews and archival footage. There’s a lot of really stylish broll, and we were able to travel to different parts of the world, so you got to see the juxtaposition of the two continents, Africa and North America. So we just played with a lot of different things in the edit and really landed on a style that I felt like fit the film and fit the story.


Why are documentaries an important part of filmmaking? Why is this a medium you mostly work on?


I love authenticity and real stories. Sometimes I joke about whenever I go to see a movie, like a scripted movie, in the theater. I can be disappointed when certain things doesn’t ring true to me, when they feel like it’s too fabricated or too made up. I think there’s lots of people around the world that love fantasy films or crazy action sequences, but what I appreciate the most is reality and authenticity. And I feel like real stories can be as compelling as any sort of fictional story. So it’s just a personal preference of mine because I love real, authentic, true stories. I find a lot of value in them.


What’s your favorite part about creating documentaries?


It’s really getting to know my subjects on a different level. I love people. I like to observe people, and I like to find out more about people, especially celebrities and stars. I think there’s a lot more depth to artists and famous people [and people in general]. They put out so much content that we see, but a lot of it is curated, so I just love telling real stories about real people and allowing people to look at their lives in a different way.


Okay, so away from documentaries you’ve made, do you have any favorite documentary out there that you’ve seen and you loved so much?


Sure. One of my favorite documentaries is OJ Made in America. It came out maybe five or six years ago, I’m not exactly sure when.


What I loved about it was fascinating because it took an event and a person that I think a lot of us here in the United States already knew, who was a big American football star named OJ. Simpson, who was accused of a crime. And this crime had sort of captured the attention of American society for a long period of time, and there was so much media attention given to it at that time that I think all of us who experienced it thought that we knew the story, the beginning, middle and end of the story.


But what I thought was interesting about this film and the filmmaker was that he took this event and was able to show it from a totally different, much broader perspective and how it affected different parts of America, and how the life of this person might have come to shape that event. It took an event that we all knew, gave it a much broader perspective, and then shed a lot of new light on it. So that’s a documentary that I really sort of hold in very high regard.


As the director of For Khadija, what are some of the conversations you hope people have after watching it?


I want people to walk away being inspired because French really did go through so many obstacles, starting from the first time he set foot on American soil. I think there’s this idea that when people from other countries come to America, it’s going to be a path full of roses. Everybody has to work hard and everybody has their own journey, and America represents a lot of opportunity, but it doesn’t happen freely. It’s not just given freely in the sense that it’s handed over to people as they have to work and sacrifice, and French, his mother, and his family really did that with their dreams coming true, despite all of the setbacks and the personal tragedies.


So I want people to see these things and understand that, yeah, this is a real story. This really happened to a person that you all know, and he went through all of this, but he persevered and had a spirit of resilience that I think that we all have inside of us.


What were some of the difficulties faced while filming?


Sometimes, when you’re traveling internationally, you run into some issues. I know there was a funny story where the film starts off with these aerial footage of Casablanca, Morocco, and I had brought a drone which I was able to get into to the country and film freely. However, on my way out, for some reason, the customs confiscated it. I’m still not sure exactly why they did, but I know they did. They told me it wasn’t allowed, and so I had to think on my feet, and I took the memory card out of the drone right before they went and took it from me. The drone is still in Morocco in the airport somewhere.


But what was more important than the drone was the memory card, which contained the footage that I shot. Yea, so that was just one of the early obstacles we went through. But in general, it was a very collaborative and fun process, but it was also a lot of hard work.


Yes. So you mentioned the drone, the confiscation and everything. So what was it like filming in Morocco and the Bronx?


It was a lot of fun. I’m blessed that film, the camera, and these ideas have been able to take me to so many different places. I’ve been to so many countries in the name of my work, and I feel incredibly blessed in that regard.


Shooting in Morocco was my first time in Africa, and I was ready to take it all in. As a person from the United States on the continent for the first time, I was just seeing it like a child. I wasn’t taking any of what I was seeing for granted, so I really wanted to shoot everything.


I had a lot of fun just walking around the city with my crew and filming the culture, the people, anything I saw, and not necessarily knowing at that moment where this stuff might be placed in the film. The Bronx was great as well. I spent some time in New York after college, so I knew that part of town, but getting to see it in a new light and sort of retracing French’s steps — going to his old apartment where he lived with his family, and the playgrounds that he played on, talking to some people that knew him, — in a place that is very much alive and full of so much culture was cool.


Right, so what’s next for you?


I’m working on a couple of films that are just in the development and the production process right now. It’s too soon to say what they’re about, but I have some really cool projects up my sleeve, and I’m super excited about them. I love music, sports, and love to do projects that are interesting to me. So I can say that the projects I have coming out are around the two [sports and music].