Veteran Nigerian artist Nike Davies-Okundaye has made her name innovating the art of her heritage and giving other women hope by paying it forward.
The best learning process of any kind of craft is just to look at the work of others,” says Nobel prize-winning Nigerian novelist Wole Soyinka on pursuing a life in the arts.
This observation is perhaps most true when applied to the life and work of fellow citizen and internationally-renowned batik artist, Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye.
Born in 1951 in Ogidi-Ijumu, a small village in western Nigeria known for its spectacular rock formations and traditional art industry, Davies-Okundaye has reached the pinnacle of her career thanks to an enduring dedication to preserve and innovate the culture of her people.
The daughter of impoverished traditional artisans, she did not, like many artists of her stature, receive any formal education in art or preparatory schooling. The poverty of her childhood led her to leave school after the sixth grade. Instead, she was trained informally in the traditional crafts of her people through methods practised by women in her family for generations.
Yet, over a career spanning five decades, Davies-Okundaye has gone on to educate generations of artists, at no cost to them, through a network of art centers across Nigeria. A far cry from the girl shaped by tragedy very early in life.
“I lost my mother when I was six and I lost my grandmother when I was seven. The knowledge was passed on to me by my great-grandmother who was the head of all the weavers in our village,” she recounts.
Following the death of both her mother and grandmother, she was taken in by her great grandmother, an established adire, a specialist in the traditional art of fabric dyeing of southwest Nigeria. From her, Davies-Okundaye learned to weave fabric on traditional looms beginning the family’s fifth generation in the craft.
Her father, too, was a practitioner of the traditional arts. An accomplished basket weaver, he also practised embroidery and leather work and was a known musician in the community.
In Ogidi, parents passed on their skills to their children in a form of vocational training concentrated within the household. Davies-Okundaye started as early as seven.
“Once in a week, they taught me crafts. This craft they [taught] is for [us] to be able know how to do handwork… so that’s how I was learning.” she recalls.
An adept student, drawing from her family’s many artisanal specializations, she quickly developed her own style and technique in textile weaving and painting.
Unfortunately, the young woman wasn’t allowed to nurture her talents for long. Her family made the controversial decision to marry her off when she was just 14 years old, an event that would impact the course of her life very powerfully.
“They married me to a minister who already had four wives! This is why I ran away from home and joined a traveling theater,” she says.
It was the traveling theater that took her to Osogbo, the Nigerian town where she first established herself as an adire in her own right. Historically, it was the source of beautiful handmade indigo textiles and, in the 1960s, it became a nucleus of contemporary African art in the country.
Indigo to the Yoruba people is the color of love. The process of adire-making is therefore a labor of love. It involves extracting indigo from the indigenous elu plant using labor-intensive techniques followed by painting and resist-dyeing the fabric with a homemade cassava emulsion.
As she became better versed in adire, Davies-Okundaye decided to sell her work in what would be her very first gallery, out of her bedroom, in 1968. This was her entry into a formal career in art.
‘I called it African Art Number One Shop and I noticed that it was only expatriates that would come to my shop and buy the pieces,” she says.
During this time, she matured as an artist, experimenting with fabric design and painting as well as teaching herself a new language, English, to communicate with her foreign buyers.
One of them was Alan Donovan, the acclaimed American gallerist and collector of African artifacts. Arriving on the continent in 1967 as an aid worker during the Biafra War, Donovan took every opportunity to travel around West Africa discovering the art and culture of the region.
When he stumbled upon Osogbo, it was inevitable that he would end up at the door of the African Art Number One. Now living in Kenya, Donovan became a repeat customer. He would return time and again, encouraging her to make more work, which he would take to Nairobi.
Her work would be distributed to discerning collectors like Donovan. Among them was Joseph Murumbi, Kenya’s first Vice-President and one of Africa’s most recognized private art collectors. From that one-room gallery, Davies-Okundaye reportedly sent over 100 pieces of her work and that of other Osogbo artists to Nairobi.
In 1972, Donovan organized the Nigerian Festival, part of a pan-African trade fair, in Nairobi. This was officially Davies-Okundaye’s international debut at the gallery of the African Heritage House, founded by Donovan and Murumbi’s wife, Sheila, the same year. The partnership continued for decades, returning Nike numerously to Nairobi for East African exhibitions of her Adire.
Interest in Kenya led to her first international tour, taking her to the United States at the invitation of the American government, along with 10 other established artists from across the continent. The experience, she insists, was a catalyst for the founding of her art centers and business in Nigeria.
“We were privileged to be the first artists from Africa to travel to America in 1974. They asked us to bring something back that would benefit our people. They took us to galleries and museums and they allowed us to see their craft,” she remembers.
What she brought back was an even greater passion and understanding of art, one that has led to philanthropy via her eponymous art centers. The first opened in 1983, where she worked with disenfranchised women on the streets of Osogbo. There, much like her own informal education, she shared with them her skills in adire, weaving, painting and other traditional arts for free. The centers have since grown to three in other Nigerian cities: Abuja, Lagos and her hometown, Ogidi.
The Lagos center also houses Davies-Okundaye’s monumental art gallery, said to be the largest in West Africa with over 8,000 pieces from artists across Nigeria. The gallery, which opened in 1996, was a direct influence of her American tour in the 1970s.
“The gallery that had in Osogbo was nothing compared to what I saw [in the US] and I [wanted] to build a gallery where everyone’s voice would be heard,” she says.
True to form, the gallery has achieved all that and more. She has been responsible for discovering new talent in the country and actively takes on an up-and-coming artist every month, building her collection and diversity of voices piece by piece.
Any one of these young artists may look at her career and wonder where her secret to success lies. She is honest about the obstacles in an industry that in many parts of the continent remains largely unrecognized.
“I always know my work. So whatever you do, you need to do it very well and I tell people don’t rush, you will get there at the end of the day. Have peace in your heart,” is her advice.
However, the patience that has carried her through has been fueled by careful financial planning. As an entrepreneur, Davies-Okundaye has endured because of this. She reinvests at least two-thirds of her income in her business and art centers.
“Always plan ahead because if you make money today, you may not make any for several months. I keep working. Even if I can’t sell any pieces, I’ll find other work to pay for the materials,” she says.
This earnest combination of hard work, frugality and philanthropy has made Davies-Okundaye a veteran artist of not only Nigeria but of Africa. She has had pieces on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art in Washington DC for the past six years.
The Gallery of African Art in London held a month and a half retrospective of her work in 2014. Next year, she will return to the Smithsonian for a celebration of her 50-year-career. Her work is cherished in private collections all over with world.
That doesn’t stop her from adding to her repertoire. Aside from adire and textile painting, she recently began working with beads, producing intricate portraits depicting life across Nigeria, completing a single piece over the course of a year.
Even at 67, Davies-Okundaye has no plans to retire.
“I still make time for my own work… and I still manage to cook for my husband,” she laughs.
Business is my obsession says Sjava
The award-winning South African musician Jabulani Hadebe, known as Sjava, on why he would choose money over pleasure.
1. What sets your music apart?
I always try to make it different.
I think most of the time when people create music, they create it according to what is ‘hot’ and what is ‘popping’; they never really talk about things nobody talks about…
So I just always try to sit in my corner and stay true to it.
2. What specific qualities do you need in order to last in the music industry?
I think talent and discipline, in terms of respecting what you do, and being dedicated towards it. You also need luck and a lot of people don’t believe in that.
They believe that you create your luck, but I really believe in luck.
3. In the future, do you see yourself as a more of businessman or a musician?
Music is my first love and I have been doing it professionally since my first album came out in 2016, however, since then, I have seen and learned a lot of things.
There have also been many business opportunities and lessons on how to use money correctly. Branching into business is my new hobby right now; it has become my obsession.
4. Why do you think it took you longer to find success in the music industry?
Time. I really believe that God’s timing is the best, and I thank God every day that it took forever because I don’t think my music would be what it is today.
I talk about my experiences, and how I view things. I don’t think if I made it 10 years ago, I would have been the same person, and I don’t regret it.
5. What is your philosophy in life?
What keeps me going is not really caring about what people think of me. I also take things as they come. I am not the kind of person who says, ‘I see myself, in five years, achieving this and that…’
I just take it one step at a time. Because what if I say, ‘in two years, I want to achieve this’, and it doesn’t happen, only to find that it is going to happen in the third year? That would mean I have already been mentally defeated.
6. What did winning the BET Awards Viewer’s Choice for Best International Act mean to you?
It was crazy. It felt like they were still rehearsing… I didn’t believe it was real at the time, but it is what it is. I also didn’t think I would win, because of how expensive data is in South Africa as compared to other countries on the continent from where artists were also nominated. I really thought my people wouldn’t have the resources to help me win. They surprised me and I won, that is why whenever I see a group of people, I get out of the car, so I can take a picture with the award, because they helped me get it.
7. What is more important: money or pleasure?
I would definitely choose money. As black people, we have been made to believe that money is not everything and it cannot buy you love and it can’t bring you happiness, and that is not true. We need to teach people to like money, and that it is not a curse.
I come from poverty, so I know what I’m talking about. Where I am now, and looking back to where I come from, my life is better. I might not be as happy as I was then, but my life is better. So I wouldn’t choose the happy broke life I had. I would rather choose where I am now, so I can take better care of my family.
New Ways Of Thinking On Health, Arts And Humanities Are Emerging In Africa
Imagine bringing the best of all academic disciplines, artistic creations, activist experience and health care knowledge to bear on understanding and addressing current health care concerns. Rather than silos of people working in their specific areas of interest, imagine collaborations committed to listening and learning from all participants.
This is the vision of Medical and Health Humanities in Africa. It’s a field that grew out of the medical humanities in the US and UK. It brings together academics, researchers, practitioners, creative artists, health care seekers and providers.
Essentially, it straddles disciplines and practices in an effort to address health concerns. Artists compose music to open up understandings of health care and specific conditions, such as delirium. Some academics open up new conversations about existing health concerns like AIDS or use everything from yoga to photography to observation and drawing to help educate health sciences students. Others pair academics and artists to help young people talk about sex and sexuality or tuberculosis.
At its core, Medical and Health Humanities is about conversations and collaborations between people who are interested in health. This encourages new understanding, practice and knowledge. It also seeks to provide “translators” who can make often complex ideas in science and humanities accessible. They can also use creative arts to change perceptions, frame new questions and direct new discussions that result in more nuanced answers to health issues.
While still a relatively new field on the African continent, it is growing and gaining momentum. The latest milestone is the first English-language special issue of the globally respected BMJ Medical Humanities Journal to deal exclusively with work on and about medical and health humanities in Africa.
The special issue came out in December 2018. It showcases work from various countries in Africa, among them Nigeria, Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.
The projects profiled in this special issue, and others elsewhere on the continent, reveal the vital role Medical and Health Humanities can play across Africa in bridging the gaps between disciplines to improve people’s experiences of health care.
Beyond disciplinary boundaries
One of the Medical and Health Humanities projects highlighted in the BMJ’s special edition deals with digital storytelling and antiretroviral adherence in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Another article shows how opium, thalidomide and contraceptives contributed to the making of modern South Africa.
The projects and articles themselves are, of course, important. But another critical element that must not be overlooked is how the field exemplifies inter-, trans- and multidisciplinary research and practice. It removes people from their disciplinary silos.
This is becoming increasingly important across academia. In the worlds of medicine and health, people often work on similar concerns in familiar ways; in doing so, they miss out on new perspectives. Working across disciplines and practices is a way to learn from each other and reflect on how things could be changed for the better.
And, crucially, it creates conversations about how we might improve our collective understanding of health and wellness.
On the African continent, the Medical and Health Humanities community is also trying to do things differently when it comes to how research is conducted and presented.
If a field is genuinely committed to collaboration, collective engagement, building networks and relationships, it must do more than work quickly to “produce measurable outcomes” limited to academic articles. It must spend time building connections that extend beyond one event or “outcome”.
We attempted to do this during the writing of the special issue of the BMJ Medical Humanities journal. We were among a group of practitioners in South Africa who pooled resources from two universities to bring as many people who were working on the special issue together as possible. We wanted to ensure that experienced and emerging writers from multiple disciplines and practices had a chance to benefit from each other’s knowledge and experiences.
A workshop was held in 2017 at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER). Participants came from Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Swaziland, South Africa, the UK and Canada and presented and discussed their work.
From this, people put together a range of material for the journal and the blog linked to the special edition. Some of this material took the form of academic articles; there are also podcasts, photographs, pieces of music, images and poetry.
This allowed us to present creative and academic work in a format that was more accessible to those with digital access and moved beyond academic journals. After all, part of what the field is concerned with is maintaining critical, intellectual rigour while making information available to people in a number of ways. In doing this the field tries to break down some of the barriers that prevent people from sharing work or ideas.
There is more to come for the Medical and Health Humanities field in Africa. A group called the Medical and Health Humanities Africa networkhas been established. CODESRIA, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, among others, has been drawn into discussions about growing the field’s networks on the continent. The second conference organised by the Malawi Medical Humanities Network will be held in Zomba, Malawi in August and a workshop in Johannesburg in March called State of Dis-ease will continue these exciting new conversations.
-Carla Tsampiras; Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities, University of Cape Town
-Nolwazi Mkhwanazi; Senior researcher, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of the Witwatersrand
Hip-Hop Cash Princes And Princesses: The Class Of 2019
On a blazingly bright morning at the end of the South By Southwest music and technology conference, Rico Nasty takes the stage at the Fader Fort in Austin as part of a panel discussion—and finds another way to increase her earnings. Clad in a swirly black-and-lime-green jumpsuit, she shows off her threads as cameras flash; after the event, she spends a few moments talking up her outfit.
“I bought it a few days ago, and I’m probably going to wear it once, and there’s going to be a lot of pictures in it,” the 21-year-old rapper says before outlining her plan to sell the jumpsuit on the peer-to-peer shopping app Depop, as she does with most of the clothing she wears in public. “We’ve made like, probably $20 thousand in the past two months.”
Born Maria-Cecilia Simone Kelly in Brooklyn, Rico started rapping in high school before releasing a string of mixtapes. She signed to Atlantic Records and has yet to release her formal debut studio album, but she’s already among music’s most promising up-and-comers, earning her a spot on our list. And with more women like Rico rising up the rap charts, we’re formally changing the name of our ranking to Hip-Hop Cash Princes and Princesses.
The list, presented in full below, comprises the genre’s top ten recording artists and producers under the age of 30 in terms of future earning potential, as judged by an expert panel; no repeats are allowed. This year’s list of judges includes the late Nipsey Hussle, a 2015 Cash Prince who sent his picks just days before his tragic passing; songwriter and 30 Under 30 honoree Mickey Shiloh; and NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who found a lot to like about Rico.
“Rico Nasty is one of the best shooting guards in hip-hop right now,” says O’Neal, whose résumé includes careers as a DJ and rapper. “Like a shooting guard, she is able to score in many ways and adapt to the style of play. She is dynamic and always working on her craft, improving her game, updating her sound.”
First, Rico had to work her way off the bench. After moving from New York to Maryland as a child, she started rapping during her teenage years and her mother started working as her manager. For Rico’s first gig, they paid $200 to rent out a performance space, figuring they could more than double that sum by charging $20 per head for tickets. Only six people showed up.
Rico remembers reorganizing her life after that: She moved out of her mother’s house and started working to build her career from the ground up. That meant churning out mixtapes and interacting with her fans on a one-on-one basis—both on social media and in person as she tried her hand at live performances once again around Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
“I’m bringing them out to the shows, and we’re getting our nails done and shit,” she says, recalling her first efforts to bring fans into her corner. “This is my opportunity to make these people lifelong friends, in a sense.”
In 2017, Rico’s single “Poppin” took off on YouTube and was featured on HBO’s Insecure; the following year, she signed to Atlantic and released another mixtape, Nasty. Her pay for live shows started to climb in tandem. From her days struggling to top $100 per concert, she zoomed to an average of $7,000 per gig before snagging an estimated $35,000 guarantee for her performance at Coachella last weekend (she wouldn’t confirm the precise amount).
“Five figures,” she says coyly. “That shit feels amazing to say out loud.”
Rico still has ways to go before she gets to the level of the festival’s headliners, whose gigs fetch seven-figure guarantees. In the meantime, she’s working on other ways to extend her brand. In addition to her work with Depop, she recently launched a line of headphones with Skullcandy. And, with the marijuana accessory provider Hemper, she gets a per-unit cut on sales of Rico Nasty-branded bongs, rolling papers and air fresheners.
Says judge Mickey Shiloh of Rico: “Somebody that creates their own lane like this is bound to make waves for the long run.”
Hip Hop Cash Princes: Introducing The Class Of 2019
“6LACK’s tone is completely his own,” says Shiloh. “His songwriting is also what takes his artistry to an entirely new level … it’s like everything you can’t find the words to say, he says effortlessly.”
A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie
The Bronx-born rapper is no stranger to the Cash Princes universe, having collaborated with list of alumni including 21 Savage and Offset of Migos. He’s becoming a star in his own right: A Boogie’s second album, Hoodie SZN, topped the chart shortly after its December 2018 release.
The trap rapper blends hip-hop with Reggaeton as seamlessly as he weaves English and Spanish lyrics into wildly popular songs like Cardi B’s “I Like It,” his first U.S. chart-topper. He now grosses more than $500,000 per tour stop.
The Cash Money Records signee rose to prominence with his smash song “Thotiana”—from his 2018 mixtape Famous Cryp—which has climbed to No. 8 on the U.S. singles charts. He was a top pick from Nipsey Hussle; both stars have crossed gang lines to record with Cash Princes alum YG.
Five questions with the Chicago-born “Lucid Dreams” hip-hop star:
Forbes: What was your first job? “Factory job creating car parts.”
What’s the app you can’t live without? “Soundcloud.”
How many hours per week do you work now? “168.”
Worst advice you’ve received? “To change my style of music in order to try and be more popular.”
What is your greatest achievement? “I haven’t reached it yet.”
The Atlanta-born emcee is already accumulating princely numbers: His 2018 debut, Harder Than Ever, earned gold certification for sales of more than 500,000 units. He now grosses over $70,000 per tour stop.
The Georgia native got started with the help of Cash Princes alum Young Thug, whose YSL label co-released Gunna’s studio debut Drip Or Drown—which soared to No. 3 on the Billboard charts—in February. His single “Drip Too Hard,” with listmate Lil Baby, earned triple-platinum certification.
Five questions with the hip-hop star who earned $15 million last year:
Forbes: What was your first job? “Busboy.”
What’s the app you can’t live without? “Uber Eats.”
How many hours per week do you work? “168.”
Worst advice you’ve ever received? “Be realistic.”
What’s your greatest achievement? “Being in a place where I can take care of my family.”Play Video
Russ: How I Maintained Control Over My Music | 30 Under 30 2019| 3:05
“I’ve never heard anything like what comes out of Rico Nasty’s mouth,” says Shiloh. “She’s trap, she’s urban, but she’s also rock with hints of screamo … somebody that creates their own lane like this is bound to make waves for the long run.”
With a quirky tone and thoughtful visuals, the Philadelphia upstart made her major-label debut last year at Interscope with the critically acclaimed Whack World. The social-media-friendly album featured 15 one-minute songs. She earned a Grammy nomination in the Best Music Video category this year for her 2017 single “Mumbo Jumbo.”
Our list of Hip-Hop’s Cash Princes and Princesses ranks the genre’s top ten recording artists and producers under age 30 in terms of future earning potential. No repeats are allowed. This year, the honorees were selected by a panel of five judges: Nipsey Hussle, the late 2015 Cash Prince who sent in his picks just days ahead of his untimely passing; 30 Under 30 honoree and songwriter Mickey Shiloh; basketball legend and professional DJ Shaquille O’Neal; and Forbes editors Zack O’Malley Greenburg and Natalie Robehmed.
-Zack O’Malley Greenburg; Forbes Staff
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