From playing characters on the big screen and being creators of the big screen, to literary giants and eccentric artists, Africa is currently boasting of a good number of talented individuals whose skills have transcended their country’s borders and even influenced pop culture. The 15 on this list are just a few in an ever increasing pool of African creatives that the world should constantly be on the look out for.
Rumoured to have been a street vendor, the 14-year old breakout star of Beasts of No Nation went from living the life of a normal teenager in Accra, Ghana, to jetting around the world, attending film festivals, holding press conferences, gracing magazine pages and winning awards.
Attah’s performance in Beasts of No Nation has continuously received rave reviews; according to IndieWire, his performance “marks one of the most impressive screen débuts in recent memory.” Thankfully, the young lad will not be leaving the big screen any time soon as he has landed a movie role in the adventure-drama The Modern Ocean. Attah will be acting alongside Hollywood A-Listers like Keanu Reeves, Anne Hathaway and Daniel Radcliffe. The young movie star has also been cast to appear in a short film by Jonathan Stein – Out of the Village.
Her name is Siyanda and she writes! If you have ever come across any of her articles, you can’t help but fall in love with the wits of this 22-year old who is obsessed with Africa and YouTube. This remarkably bright young lady is the creator of the show “Africa This Week With Siyanda” and the viral hashtag #IfAfricaWasABar.
Last year, she was long-listed for the Short Story Day Africa Prize and just last month, she gave an inspiring TedX talk in Amsterdam titled, Is Africa’s Future Online? Where she discussed the beautiful idea of “social pan Africanism.” On her blog, Mohutsiwa describes herself as “a kick-in-the-face to today’s media and a punch in the throat to your society.” Surely, Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a rising star on this continent and one we should be on the lookout for this year.
The author of Half of a Yellow Sun continues to dominate the media for the right reasons; in April 2015 she was listed among Time’s 100 most influential people. In November, she received the Award for the Best of The Best female fiction writer for the last decade by the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and later that month, she made the list of 100 most influential Africans by the New African Magazine.
As one of Africa’s foremost feminists, Adichie has grown to become a cultural critic and a very influential voice on the global stage. Her last novel, Americanah, was published three years ago, followed by a short book We Should All Be Feminists in 2014, we all wonder what Adichie has in store for the world this year.
With Award winning movies like The Figurine: Araromire, Phone Swap and October 1st, Kunle Afolayan is, unarguably, one of the best film makers in Africa. Having started off as an actor in 1998, Afolayan delved into film making in 2005 and has been churning out one body of excellent work after another.
Last year, Afolayan was named as one of the jurors for the 2015 Emmy awards alongside his mentor and colleague, Tunde Kelani. In August 2015, the actor-director announced the production of his new movie, The CEO, starring Grammy award winning musician, Angeligue Kidjo and veteran Nollywood actress, Hilda Dokubo. The CEO is due to be released sometime this year and Africans eagerly anticipate yet another award winning creative piece of art from Kunle Afolayan.
Ugandan comedian, Anne Kubiryaba Kansiime, is famous for her short and hilarious comedy skits which amasses millions of views on social media. The 28-year old had quite a blast last year clinching several awards from Rising Star – Comedian of the Year 2015 and African Oscar Award for favourite comedian 2015, to Nollywood & African People’s Choice Award for favourite comedian 2015 and YouTube Silver Play Button Award 2015. All the while beating top African comedians like Basket Mouth, I go dye and Klint de drunk.
Her world tour, which ended late last year, was a huge success, particularly in Harare, Zimbabwe where tickets to her show were completely sold out and the 800-seater facility was filled to capacity. 2016 can only be better for this African Queen of Comedy.
Born in Umuahia and raised in Aba, Nigeria, this quirky young woman is a writer and filmmaker “based in liminal spaces.” At 28, Emezi has quite a wealth of experience and achievements. In 2014, her experimental short film Ududeagu, which has been screened in over thirteen countries, won the Audience Award for Best Short Experimental at the 2014 BlackStar Film Festival. Last year, she was awarded a Morland Writing Scholarship and shortlisted for the Wasafiri New Writing Prize.
As a writer, her stories have been been published by Commonwealth Writers, Specter Magazine, Sable Literary Magazine, Golly Magazine and the 2015 Caine Prize Anthology in Lusaka Punk & Other Stories. “Her work moves through spaces of psychosexual dislocation, traditional spiritual practice, loss and death while confronting the intricacies of navigating humanity.”
Victor Ehikhamenor is a multitalented and award winning visual artist, writer, photographer and poet based in Nigeria and the United States. As the Financial Times aptly describes, “Ehikhamenor’s art works are often large-scale figurative works combining complex folkloric, mythological and Catholic iconography.”
As a writer, Ehikhamenor’s book, Excuse Me!, can be described in simple terms as a political satire. The book, a compilation of humorous but factual articles about being a Nigerian has received nothing but rave reviews since its publication in 2012.
In 2014, he collaborated with a famous Nigerian designer, Ituen Bassey, on one of her collections – Ekimini – which featured his works of art. Ehikhamenor has also designed several book covers for prominent authors like Chimamanda Adichie and Helon Habila.
It’s only the beginning of the year, but this creative already has his year booked with a residency/exhibition at the Nirox foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa and another in Cape Town. He’s once quoted to have said, “When a strong idea hits me hard, I respond with the same velocity and go haywire on canvas, paper or any available plain surface with a child-like exuberance.” We sure hope a lot of strong ideas hit Victor Ehikhamenor this year.
Two months ago, Danai Gurira was honoured as “Person of the Year” at the African Diaspora Awards in New York City. Last year was significant for the beautiful, dark skinned “Zamerican”, as she likes to refer to herself as. Besides her starring as the heroic Michonne in the popular series, The Walking Dead, the Liberian Civil War drama Gurira wrote in 2009 titled Eclipsed, débuted at New York’s Public Theatre with Lupita Nyong’o in the lead.
Although she was born in Iowa, Gurira refers to Zimbabwe as home. “I call Zimbabwe home. Living your formative years somewhere. It’s about the home you grew up in and the language your family spoke. It’s the place where people say your name right. There are tons of people like me …”
Her play, Eclipsed, will open on Broadway at the Golden Theatre next month. Though Gurira is quite busy, she’s already prepping the run of her next play titled Familiar. The actress and playwright speaks four languages – English, French, Shona and Xhosa – and has taught playwriting as well as acting in Liberia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
John Boyega is a “confident, Nigerian, black, chocolate man,” who’s super proud of his African heritage. The 23-year old star of “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” was born to Nigerian parents in Peckham, London. Prior to his recent big break, Boyega starred in the 2011 sleeper hit Attack the Block and and played Ugwu the houseboy in the film adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun.
Boyega is currently one of the five new faces in the running for the rising star Awards at the BAFTA’s in February this year. Aside from his brilliant acting talent, Boyega is funny and witty, with the hilarious impression of his father’s reaction when he informed him that he had landed a role in Star Wars and his clever comeback at critics who thought a black person was unfit to play the role of a stormtrooper.
Whether he’s playing a househelp, stormtrooper turned Jedi, or a furry, time-travelling bodyguard in an animated children’s show, this confident, black, chocolate man is one fast rising star to watch.
Lizbet Sempa is a Ugandan singer-songwriter and classically trained pianist born in London. The 20-year old who gained over a million followers on Soundcloud simply by uploading three of her songs, aptly describes her music as a blend of classical and modern – jazz and pop – “relevant and easy for people to relate to.”
Her new single, “All the Things”, is definitely a must listen. According to Sempa, her heritage is very important to her even though it doesn’t necessarily come out in her music. Her grandfather was Israel Magembe Wamala, a great composer and singer who championed Congolese music in Uganda in the 50’s, explaining a bit of her interest in music.
In an interview with OkayAfrica, Sempa said her EP which might be titled “Built for Love” will be out early this year and will be followed by gigging, sharing the music with live audiences and just showcasing her work. It sure seems like 2016 will be the year of Sempa, hopefully.
2015 was quite a year for Olamide Adedeji, as he released one hit single after another, from “Bobo” to “Melo Melo”, then “Lagos Boys”, it’s safe to say the YBNL boss owned the Nigerian airwaves last year. Popular for rapping in Yoruba, the young hip-hop star came from humble beginnings but right from the moment he stepped into a recording studio, he knew he was bound for greatness as he boldly declared in his debut single “Eni duro”.
His follow-up album, YBNL Nation, was spot on with singles like “Ilefo Illuminati” and “First of All”, Olamide quickly became a household name. So far, he’s signed fast rising artistes like Lil Kesh and Adekunle gold to the YBNL Nation label and, like Olamide, these two youngsters, are fast gaining widespread popularity. Olamide’s originality is sure to keep him at the top of the Nigerian music scene, and being just 26 years old, the “Bobo” crooner sure has plenty of time to do so.
45-year old Dumezweni was born in Swaziland to South African parents, but moved to England at a young age. Two weeks ago, the announcement that Dumezweni will be playing the part of Hermione Granger in the forthcoming stage reimagination of Harry Potter titled Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was met with major backlash. But these distressed comments were doused by tweets from JK Rowlings and Emma Watson as both expressed their support for Dumezweni.
Dumezweni is best known for her work in the 2005 London West End revival of A Raisin In The Sun which earned her the 2006 Olivier award for best performance in a supporting role. There’s quite a lot to expect from this South African as she makes her directorial debut with South African writer and playwright Mongiwekhaya’s I See You at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg next month and, of course, the Harry Porter play when it opens in July.
Largely known for his mockumentary TV series and short films, Nigerian filmmaker Abba Makama has an impressive portfolio. Since graduating from New York University (NYU), he has collaborated with some top brands and media like Google, Blackberry, Chanel O and MTV Base.
Abba is the founder and creative director of OFE. In 2011, one of his short films, Direc-toh was screened at the Eko International Film Festival and in 2012, Party of Ministers was screened at the Black Star Film festival in Philadelphia, USA. In 2014, Makama was commissioned by Al Jazeera to direct a documentary on the Nigeria Film Industry.
In October last year, the filmmaker released the trailer for his latest feature film, Green White Green, a story about three young boys from Nigeria’s major ethnic groups on an adventure to make a short film inspired by the history of Nigeria. The film is set to be released in the second quarter of 2016.
Amelia Umuhire is a German-Rwandan filmmaker as well as the creator, writer, director and editor of a new web series, Polyglot. Launched in April 2015, Polyglot is dedicated to young foreigners in Germany, particularly Africans.
With this web series, Umuhire looks to challenge pre-conceived notions of Afro-European lives. “There is this one image of Germany … if you look at the TV landscape for example. Black people only appear as nurses, or cooks,” they said. She said people don’t get to see a true representation of the country because Afro-Europeans are “kind of marginalized in media.”
The series highlights four languages: German, English, French and Kinyarwanda.
If we had just one word to describe Jojo Abot, it would be ‘magic’. Thankfully, there are so many adjectives to qualify this incredibly talented woman – eclectic, soul, edgy, powerful…I could go on. Abot’s emergence onto the global music scene marks the genesis of an exciting new talent and sound. Her music is a beautiful blend of jazz, electronica, Afrobeat and reggae, “a truly cultural and musical sonic fusion.”
The sultry Ghanaian songbird released her EP, “FYFYA WOTO”, in the middle of last year, to a diverse audience that couldn’t get enough of her hypnotic sound. According to her, “the EP delves in to matters related to family, tradition, duty, love, freedom, slavery and of course gossip, but most importantly, it highlights a woman’s right to choose even at the high cost of losing both life and freedom.”
The next thing in line for this enigma is a world tour to tell the compelling story that she explores in her EP.