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The Gap gets RED for the holidays

August 24th, 2006 | No Comments | Posted in Charity, Fashion

Gap REDThis winter The Gap will join American Express, Motorolla, Converse and others in support of PRODUCT (RED) and expand its RED product line. 50% of all profits from the sales of (RED) items will be given to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. PRODUCT (RED) is one of my favorite initiatives from Bono.

Gap’s PRODUCT (RED) for Holiday 2006 includes tees, hoodies in cotton and in cashmere, jackets, jeans, bags, belts, caps, scarves, a bracelet, candle and Individuals, a book of celebrity portraits taken over the years by Gap (100% of sales from the book will be donated to the Global Fund). Prices will range from $10 to $350. Some PRODUCT (RED) tees are currently available in the U.K. The full line will be carried in flagship/key stores in the U.S. and U.K. starting in October (limited items in other stores), and will also be available online.”
– Cool Hunting

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Senator Obama fashionable on Vogue cover

August 24th, 2006 | No Comments | Posted in Books/Magazines, Fashion, Politics, Travel

Senator Barak Obama on Men's VogueOprah Winfrey’s favorite politician,U.S. senator Barak Obama, is the new fashionable public figure to grace the cover of Men’s Vogue. Following previous cover stars, Tiger Woods and George Clooney, Senator Obama, whose name means ‘blessed’ in Swahili, at first thought seems an unlikely candidate for the cover of a fashion magazine. Since he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois on Nov. 2, 2004 in the biggest landslide in state history and became the only African-American currently serving in the U.S. Senate, the fifth in U.S. history, Obama has continued to charm the American public. Senator Obama is currently using his star power to draw attention to Africa’s needs, on a 5-nation tour this week. He touched down in his fathers home, Kenya, yesterday, where he is seen as an inspiration for all Kenyans. Having visited Kenya a few years ago, Senator Obama, rediscovered his roots and made a commitment to the country. With others talking of him running for the U.S. presidency, Seneator Obama is certainly the right candidate to put Africa in the spotlight. To learn more about the Barak Obama’s connection with Africa, read his book, Dreams From My Father.

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Djimon Hounsou finds Blood Diamond in December

August 21st, 2006 | 2 Comments | Posted in Events, Film/Television, Politics

Djimon HousouThe word is Warner Bros. has finally set a December 15 release date for the highly anticipated movie ” Blood Diamond”. This comes as a surprise for me considering the pressure they’ve been getting from the Diamond industry about how the movie will hurt holiday sales of diamonds. The movie has been talked about for at least the past year, with people on all sides jockeying for position on the issue conflict diamonds. Though the movie stars Djimon Housou, one of my favorite actors, I’m skeptical about the portrayal of Africans. Having read an early script myself, I am not sure if the movie will do justice to the topic of conflict diamonds nor will it help the image of Africans in the public eye. At first reading the movie seems to be another attempt at hollywood to dumb down an important topic, but I’m reminded by a movie industry expert that scripts can be changed during production. By sticking to their original plans to release the movie during the holidays and not pushing it to the diamond industry proposed release date of January 2007, Warner Bros. is obviously confident about the star power – Leonardo Dicaprio plays the lead character – , pr controversy, and possible academy award nominations to push box office sales. The diamond industry in hopes of saving face have also got some star power of their own, partnering with Nelson Mandela to lend credibility to their efforts to change their business tactics. Despite my pessimism about the movie itself, I’m interested to see how this will play out in the coming months. Check back here for updates.

DiCaprio Housou Blood Diamond

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Namibian Venantia Otto wins Face of Africa 2006

August 16th, 2006 | No Comments | Posted in Events, Fashion, Film/Television

Vanentia- Winner, Face of Africa 2006Venantia Otto was announced as the winner of the the 2006 Nokia Face of Africa competition. The Namibian-born Venantia beat out the other 10 finalists from all over Africa and was announced as the winner of the US$150,000 prize modeling contract courtesy Elite Model Management – which has represented models such as Cindy Crawford, Tyra Banks, Iman, and Naomi Campbell. Venantia hopes to take New York by storm when she begins her tenure with one of the world’s biggest and boldest agencies. The Nokia Face of Africa 2006 Final was broadcast to over 40 African countries.

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Trend Alert: Celebrities “help” Africans

August 14th, 2006 | 2 Comments | Posted in Charity, Events, Film/Television, Politics

Lindsey Lohan at event with African childrenA couple of posts ago I commented on Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent ad for the Keep a Child Alive organization. Though there was a lot of talk going around about the sincereity of the ad and even some good parodies, it seems the New York Times, in true hype fashion, has taken the ball and run with it. This weekend the Times ran an article titled “Into Africa” speculating on the trendy-ness of Americans’ – celebrity and otherwise – interest in Africa. The article was a dis-jointed analysis of why “saving” Africa is suddenly a new trend. While I feel the interest in the continent can be a good thing, I know that this particular type of interest can only hurt efforts to change the continent’s problems. Yet again, those who have a warped sense of self and belonging, have turned to the poor Africans to validate their existence. Lindsey Lohan? Madonna? Alyssa Milano? Give me a break!!! When issues relating to Africa are sensationalized without follow-up or perspective, the result can cause more harm than good. Africa has a lot of problems but none of these “celebrities” are able to put it in the perspective it needs. What’s the sense in installing an irrigation system in Ethiopia on your summer break if there’s no one to maintain it when you leave for your freshman year at Harvard? I’m not against celebrities lending their voice where needed, but anyone who will develop an interest in “helping” Africa because Lindsey Lohan says so is only going to make things worse. Africa may need a lot of things, but random acts of blindness is not one of them.

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Songstress Goapele Receives Activism Award

August 14th, 2006 | 1 Comment | Posted in Events, Music, Politics

GoapeleFor those who don’t know, get familiar with this songstress. Goapele (the name means ‘to move forward’ in Sitswana, a South African language) has been doing her thing for a while both on the music and political front.

“The Bay area-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights will honor neo soul singer Goapele with its first ever “Human Rights Cultural Hero Award” next month.
Known almost as much for her political activism as for her smooth voice and groove-driven music, the singer will accept the award on September 12 during the Center’s 10th Anniversary Celebration, “Tribute to the Dream.”

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Gwyneth Paltrow declares “I am African like David Bowie”.

August 11th, 2006 | 4 Comments | Posted in Books/Magazines, Charity, Fashion, Film/Television, Politics

Gwyneth Paltrow As I was perusing the new Fashion Rocks Magazine during my lunch the other day. I stumbled upon this ad of Gwyneth Paltrow, actress/wife of Bono’s humanitarian heir Chris Martin. I must say I was quite shocked. I still haven’t decided if it was a good or bad shock but a shock nevertheless. As someone who actually is African, I am excited to see Alicia Keys’ Keep A Child Alive organization doing whatever it takes to push the envelope and make people realize the seriousness of the African AIDS epidemic. On the other hand I get the feeling there is the usual subconscious pandering which comes from many “humanitarians” who see themselves as saviors of poor helpless Africans. On the previous page of the magazine is a similar ad with David Bowie which seems to be less offensive on sight. The mixed feelings which the Gwyneth Paltrow ad is sure to get will no doubt come because she has been quite private causing the media to create an image of her as an All-American girl to satisfy the public’s need for more information. Paired with her marriage to Chris Martin of Cold Play, her public image becomes even more confusing. While Ms Paltrow might genuinely have a humanitarian streak the ad ends up getting the wrong reactions by the confused American public. We all know David Bowie to be a cause conscious celebrity and the fact that he is married to another humanitarian , supermodel Iman, solidifies his African-ness in our eyes. This should be a lesson to Gwyneth Paltrow and all other celebrities who want to keep their private lives private. You can’t rely on your celebrity to validate your cause if we don’t know who you really are. Thanks for trying though.

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Can hip hop change Africa?

August 8th, 2006 | 5 Comments | Posted in Events, General, Music, Politics

Krazy Native aka Saba SabaWhile many hip-hop fans in the US have started feeling that hip hop is dead, it’s becoming clearer that there is a totally different sentiment in other countries. A major reason for the pessimistic feeling of the US hip hop fans is the commercialization of hip hop culture and the preference for rap which, without the other hip hop elements (graffiti, breakdancing, dj-ing etc), loses all reference and meaning. Gone are the days when there was a balanced view of urban life through hip hop. As major media outlets have welcomed/accepted the art form many US artists have have become comfortable and have lost their focus. The hijacking of the rap element of hip-hop culture has resulted in corporations like Viacom (MTV, VH1) creating a rap culture which has no purpose and looks outside of itself for direction.

But take a trip to any major African country like Senegal and Kenya and you’ll find the music as it once was in the USA. Because of the newness of the music form to Africa and the growing accessibility of it, hip hop is now the voice of the new generation of Africans. What is amazing about the music is how the youth have begun to adapt and use it as a vehicle to change the world around them. More than an entertainment form hip hop is now the standard among young people and as they become more empowered, they put it in song. The accessibility of technologies like video, internet and mobile phones have provided them with the resources they need to connect to one another in real time and develop a unified voice. With all the problems that ail the continent the youth are attempting to make the much needed changes themselves.

I attended a forum last week at The Rotunda Gallery (Brooklyn, NY) put together by my friend Ben of Nomadic Wax records about this particular subject. The conversation was an excellent one with a panel featuring MC’s Chosan (Sierra Leone), Saba Saba aka Krazy Native (Uganda) and poet and activist Toni Blackman. What became evident through the discussion was that the African hip hop movement is a potent one which sees community and social issues as it’s focal point. African hip hop artists are taking the blueprint of US groups like Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, and even Tupac Shakur mixing it with national pride and using it to push their community forward. A recent Reuters article discusses how Senegalese rappers have been able to influence government in the past. Whether by inspiring others or taking the reigns themselves, the artists are hopeful for a new Africa. But the question is will the art form survive the corporate and governmental assaults? I would hope so

Info:Spine Magazine

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Rwandan coffee makes it’s way to Starbucks

August 8th, 2006 | No Comments | Posted in Business, General

Starbucks Blue Ribbon RwandaI received my copy of Business 2.0 magazine last week and was pleasantly surprised to see a number of articles referencing doing business in Africa. But these were not just your basic help the Africans by building water sheds articles. The articles were part of the cover article on the Best business ideas in the world.

One of the articles was about Rwandan entrepreneur Arthur Karuletwa whose company Inzozi Coffee Traders, LLC is tapping into Rwanda’s supply of coffee farms and helping change the image of the war-torn nation. I remember going into Starbucks a while ago (like a true New Yorker I love my coffee) and seeing a promotion on Rwandan coffee. I didn’t pay much attention to the coffee special but I did get a sense of relating Rwanda to coffee. Mr. Karuletwa had partnered with coffee giants Starbucks on their Black Apron Exclusives coffee campaign. According to a Starbucks’ Report the Black Apron Exclusives coffees are a rare honor bestowed upon only the best and most exceptional coffees found in the world, and are produced in limited supply. It turns out coffee is big business in Rwanda, and if you listen to the writer’s suggestions, there is great opportunity for anyone who is willing to bridge the gap between the coffee farmers and the the caffeine starved American public

For further information about where to get into business in Africa check out this excellent video Africa Open for business. Put your money where your mouth is.

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Virtual game teaches African history to MTV generation

August 8th, 2006 | No Comments | Posted in Film/Television, Games, General

Africa MMO by Africast and Rapid RealityThough it is part of our history many young Africans (myself included) cringe at being characterized by drums, spears, and war paint. But one innovative company is hoping to change the implications of those descriptions. With their creation of a virtual Africa circa 1200 AD, Rapid Reality is hoping their game Africa MMO, a multiplayer online video game, sheds light on the misunderstood continent. The brains behind the Africa MMO game are John Sarpong, grandson of Ashanti king Prampeh of Ghana who runs Africast Global Media, Inc., a company that acquires and distributes a variety of Africa-focused media content, Adam Ghetti, a 19-year-old creative director at Rapid Reality, and Tracy Spaight, a 35-year-old lead designer who studied history at the PhD program at Cornell University and taught world history for five years, to include African cultures. Due to be released in December 2006, the game has already received the Most Innovative Concept Award at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3 Expo). To add to the draw of the game the developers are making the game accessible to Africans on the continent as well. “Africa,” which will be distributed via the Internet, will be designed to run well even on the less powerful computers frequented by Africans in their countries’ cybercafes. While I’m not familiar with online gaming (I stopped playing video games at Super Mario Bros.) I am quite optimistic about the game.

Here are some quotes from the game’s developers:
“We’ll take African mythology, folklore and legend and take all the bits that are somewhat familiar – we want it to be new so that people experience something they’ve never encountered before any MMO before and it’s rich and deep and fun.”

“We felt very strongly that video games can help increase understanding and education about Africa and get the unmotivated public fired up about what is going on with Africa”

“The African mythology back from 1200 to 1400 A.D. is thousands of times richer than the J.R.R. Tolkien series of novels. Don’t get me wrong, he was an amazing individual with brilliant ideas. But that’s been milked for 80 years now.”

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