His beginnings were in a two-bedroom apartment in a South London estate he shared with his mother, aunt and cousins.
That’s all Zimbabwe-born Percelle Ascott had, besides a childhood filled with beautiful memories.
“I remember riding my bike everywhere, playing football and making treehouses. All the kids who grew up on my estate knew each other, and it was probably where my love for acting grew from.
“I had a wild imagination for all the things I didn’t have. I would make something out of nothing.”
Such mental calisthenics obviously helped. Today, the 25-year-old Ascott is a British actor with a plum role on the Netflix sci-fi romance series The Innocents.
His family moved to London when he was three. His recollections are a mixed bag – struggles and triumphs, and a mother who is his role model and motivation.
“I’m sure every family has struggles, especially financially, when you live in London, but I was blessed to have a hard-working mum and aunt who always provided for me and my cousins,” he says.
There are an estimated 700,000 Zimbabweans in the United Kingdom (UK). Most jokingly call the UK ‘Harare North’.
Ascott didn’t need much coercion to take to acting; his first stint was at the age of 11, in a school play.
“I played Mowgli in Jungle Book. My mum told me how I would recite everyone’s lines if they forgot them. But it wasn’t until I went to secondary school where I came across an exceptional drama teacher who instilled so much confidence in me.”
He dreams to be a part of some exceptional storytelling.
“We only remember the stories that shaped us, shaped our perspective on the way we view the world. I hope I can create meaningful real characters people can relate to; [they] can laugh with me, cry with me and go through a journey together.
“I remember watching the film Philadelphia starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington and couldn’t help but think about Denzel’s character. The journey his character goes through is so powerful given the timing of the film. At the start, he has this ignorance toward HIV/AIDS which is shaped differently when he meets Tom and becomes his lawyer fighting his case. I’m sure it must’ve informed the opinion of audiences who had the same perspective on HIV/AIDS.”
Ascott’s new role in The Innocents has been since June 2018.
“The casting was a lengthy process that required me to do a few rounds plus chemistry tapes with different actresses, but I guess that’s what it takes when you’re trying to find Harry and June [the lead protagonists]. Their romance being so crucial to the story, that energy between them being something that just has to fit,” he says.
Ascott proudly represents a country many wish they didn’t come from.
“Since the launch of the show on Netflix, I’ve had a huge number of fellow Zimbabweans reach out to me. I find that special because it’s not something a kid from Zimbabwe has as their career trajectory, to be a lead on a Netflix show.”
In the future, he plans to lead film projects in Zimbabwe.
“There are more and more projects being funded in Africa as a whole. South Africa has a fast-established industry growing there. Why not Zimbabwe? I told my dad already we’re going to build a film studio in Zimbabwe one day. There are so many stories from Zimbabwe because of its vast history. Let’s show the world what the real Zimbabwe looks like…”
Other than acting, Ascott produces, writes and directs films. He is also co-owner of The Wall of Comedy, a platform on social media with a following of eight million people.
For young African aspiring actors, he also has some advice.
“Hard work, determination, and perseverance. Ultimately, I would say love. A love of what you do. A love of why you do it and to always use that as a compass for the choices you make.”
Soweto Gospel Choir: Three Heavy Grammys And A World Singing Their Praise
Songs of the struggle and music steeped in South Africa’s apartheid past. The story of how the Soweto Gospel Choir captivated the world
Three Grammys in 12 years. And more global awards in their 17 years of existence.
In February this year, at the 61st annual Grammy awards in Los Angeles, South Africa’s child and Africa’s pride, the Soweto Gospel Choir (SGC) walked up to the stage to a rousing ovation.
They had won the Best World Music Album for Freedom. More than an album dedicated to Nelson Mandela, that word stood for triumph, it stood for the freedom where it all started – Soweto.
Since its inception, the gospel choir, hailing from South Africa’s biggest township, Soweto (short for South West Townships), has been on more international stages than they can keep count of.
Its founders, Australian promoter Beverly Bryer and the late David Mulovhedzi, created something so monumental that the world had to sit up and listen. Bryer was born in South Africa, and lived and worked in the Australian music scene for a few years before moving back to South Africa in 1995.
During her stint in Australia, she connected with a number of music promoters who took talent from all over the world to Down Under.
Her love was always music but pop and rock rather than African gospel.
In 2001, Bryer received a call from one of the promoters she had met in Australia asking if there were any interesting South African artists he could showcase in Australia. She suggested Umoja, a South African theater production. Bryer knew the producer and the production was a huge global success.
After watching the cast on stage, the promoter was blown away and backed the production all the way to Australia.
In 2002, Bryer received another call saying the gospel aspect of Umoja was extremely popular and everyone loved it.
“I was asked to form a choir with Mulovhedzi and we had about three months to form one because they didn’t want an existing choir but a new one. I asked Mulovhedzi to bring his choir director expertise and I learned very quickly about gospel music,” she recalls.
That was the birth of the Soweto Gospel Choir.
“The name was a very important decision and it came quite naturally because most of the members were from Soweto, so that was giving the artists their location.
“We thought a lot of the languages the choir is going to be singing in, people around the world were not going to know or understand, but the only thing they knew was Soweto, Nelson Mandela and the struggle. So, we marked it with something that people knew, the name,” Bryer says.
Through word-of-mouth, within the three months given to them, they had auditions, and went into studio and recorded their first album, Voices From Heaven, which shot up to number one on the Billboards World Music Chart within three weeks of release in 2002. Three months after that, the choir went on to tour Australia.
The six-week tour sold out and the milestones have not stopped since.
Bryer recalls promoters coming out for a show and one saying to the choir that they had something special.
“We said to her that ‘we don’t know how it’s going to go, so if you want to take a chance with us, sure. If it doesn’t work, everyone goes home’.”
Bryer was advised the Edinburgh International Festival was where musicians cut their teeth and that was where promoters from around the world looked for talent.
There were thousands of acts and the SGC were ultimately among the most popular at the festival, and that’s when other international promoters wanted to work with them.
Edinburgh got the ball rolling.
At the end of 2003, the choir was presented with a big local event in the form of the first 46664 concert; an AIDS benefit concert in honor of the late South Africa president Nelson Mandela.
That concert still gives Mandlenkosi Modawu the jitters when he thinks of its scale and magnitude. One of the older members in the choir, Modawu is the bass singer and drummer from Witbank, Mpumalanga, but moved to Mofolo, Soweto, shortly after joining the choir. He has been with the choir for over 15 years now.
“The drummer prior to me was troublesome, so it was easier for me to get into the choir after my auditions; fortunately, I am also a singer and that was a bonus for me,” he says.
He speaks of the Edinburgh International Festival as though the performance was yesterday and keeps reiterating that among the 2,000 acts, they were the best.
In the ocean of experiences, Modawu has moments he will always treasure.
“I think our break came after Scotland (Edinburgh International Festival), and when I think about the 46664 concert in 2003, I get shivers even today, mainly because we were considered one of the smallest acts in that concert but we ended up backing a whole lot of artists like Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, U2 and other big names,” he says.
In 2007, SGC won their first Grammy.
South African gospel was recognized globally and their mantel was filling up.
“The second Grammy came as a surprise, I think it’s because of the collaborations we did with big name artists around the world. They got us recognized in the global music fraternity.
“While working on the album that got us our third Grammy, we drew from the experiences we had from the struggle, stories told by our parents during apartheid and those songs really touched the world because of the emotions, and it moved people,” Modawu says.
Sadly, Mulovhedzi could not share the excitement of their third Grammy.
“His passing was devastating because he was our founding father. It shocked us, but we had to accept and keep the legacy. One of his sons is the choir manager now,” says Modawu.
“The first Grammy just came out of nowhere. It started with someone contacting us and asking what we think of this idea, we carried the idea and, sadly, in 2009, he (Mulovhedzi) passed.”
And now 17 years later, they are the most successful choir in the world.
“I have watched my children grow up for 17 years, from the start, especially those coming from disadvantaged communities, very few had ever been on a plane.
“We had tried getting people who had never sung professionally before and we never thought they would be on stage with Celine Dion, Stevie Wonder or John Legend and through the years, artists wanted to collaborate with the choir.
“So, for them, it would be coming from Soweto and now on the stage in New York City with Aretha Franklin or recording with Peter Gabriel or doing shows with Johnny Clegg. To this day, it is an unreality for all of us.”
Bryers still remembers Mulovhedzi as the most important man she had ever met in her dealings.
“He was absolutely super-special,” she says, and that he was the kindest gentleman with an absolute love for music and a great knowledge of gospel.
He helped her with the knowledge of gospel and working with him was the most enriching experience, she adds.
“Regarding our latest Grammy, the album called Freedom was recorded in 2018. One group toured Europe and the other one did America. It was recorded for that tour, which was called Songs of the Free to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s centenary. So, it was concentrating on freedom songs, and songs that come from the struggle, with a little bit of gospel in between…
“It was special because it’s an album that included their (choir members’) history; it was an extra special feel for them.”
Bryer recalls previous accolades with fondness.
“The first Grammy had more attention because it came out of nowhere. I remember in 2007 looking at my email that we were nominated for a Grammy. It was special and we were there with David [Mulovhedzi].
“The second one was like, ‘been there, done that’. The third one is as important as the first because of the history, it’s more personal and dedicated to Madiba, and it also shows that even after 17 years, the Soweto Gospel Choir is on top of the music game.”
At the beginning of their journey in 2002, the choir started with 24 members, but because of international travel, they had to form a second choir about 18 months later to stay and perform locally.
Last year, the choir formed a third group because both groups were traveling; now the choir has grown to 50 members.
Alto singer Cecelia Manyama from Diepkloof, Soweto, joined the group in 2016. She was spotted by Bryer at a charity event playing the violin for a classical group. She is one of the newer members.
“I met Beverly in the line to the loo. She had just heard me singing on stage and she called me aside and introduced herself and invited me for auditions that took place two weeks later. I was excited and couldn’t sleep, the two weeks felt like two years,” Manyama remembers.
A week after the auditions, she received a message with details of where the next rehearsals would be. She was in disbelief and told everyone.
This was a choir that she admired and a choir she used to watch on television.
“I was told to lead a song I did at the charity event; I was terrified. I remember the late Portia Skosana when I froze, and she came next to me and sung the lead and let me continue.
“When I started singing, I immediately felt the connection and we were in sync and it didn’t feel new. With just that rehearsal, I was blown away,” she recalls.
Three months later, it was her first concert and performance in Vosloorus, east of Johannesburg, for the Clap N Tap concert with the choir.
“I will never forget that experience, I led with Avulekile Amasango (The Gates Have Opened). That was the first song I was given. I then felt there is no stranger there in the choir,” she says, taking a deep breath.
“Being with a Grammy award-winning choir and performing with them for the first time, you have fear and excitement at the same time. We are in sync and I realized I was not alone.
“The backing behind me was speaking in volumes, it drove me, it pushed me and from that day onwards, I never looked back and wanted to learn more. It was an amazing experience.”
For each new member who joins the group, the awards reawaken something within.
“I remember with my first Grammy with the group, we went to the airport to get it. I had never held a Grammy in my hand, but with Soweto Gospel Choir, I held it,” laughs Manyama.
“It was amazing. At first, I didn’t understand the kind of impact it has on the nation but now I realize this is huge; being called everywhere to perform, and being in the same room with the president holding the Grammy. That Grammy is heavy and after taking a picture with it, you just want to pass it on or put it down.”
Although many have come and gone over the years, the choir have prioritized succession, as they make it a point to gradually hand over management to the younger generation, who no doubt have big shoes to fill – and the legacy of three very heavy gramophone trophies to uphold.
The Bookstore That erupted Like A Volcano
A gargantuan eight-storey second-hand bookstore in the heart of downtown Johannesburg, not far from the city’s hipster havens, has for over four decades stocked nostalgia and hidden treasures on its shelves. FORBES AFRICA stepped into the time capsule that is the Collectors Treasury.
In the mid-1970s, Rissik Street in downtown Johannesburg was a tranquil road featuring an important landmark – a second-hand bookstore that offered an escape from the city’s orchestrated chaos. It was a true literary world in a period devoid of the sensory overload of today’s technology.
Books were the only source of knowledge for the young intellectuals in bell-bottoms and halter dresses that trickled in to spend hours pouring over the treasures in this bookstore called Collectors Treasury.
It has since moved shop from Rissik Street, and today, 45 years on, a little over a kilometer away, the same wonders, and much, much more can be found at 223 Commissioner Street. The 3,000 books, records and antiques collected since 1974 have now grown to over two million items.
All the vintage collectables are housed in an eight-storey building bursting at the seams with the sheer volume of material in it.
Brothers Geoffrey and Jonathan Klass, the co-owners of Collectors Treasury, have come to this realization, that the books are literally everywhere. From the entrance to the office where the men have to walk around them with caution, and from there, to the elevator, the staircase, the passages and even the restroom that has been turned into an impromptu storage space.
“People are definitely reading, and they are reading more.,” offers Geoffrey.
“We are at a stage where reading is not for pleasure. Reading is for utilitarian purposes because it is something that we seek to learn, something we have to know in order to advance.”
Also a recording engineer and musician, his brother Jonathan remarks that growing up with a doctor for a father, and a mother who collected antiques, inspired them to start the business.
Jonathan shies away from talking about his own personal collection of antiques because people always end up bargaining for him to sell it.
Their upbringing taught the men the value of history. This is the backbone of their business.
“Whenever we get anything into the shop, the first thing we want to know is what its origins are and where it comes from,” Jonathan says.
“You can’t know where you are or who you are in a particular context unless you know what has come before you. It is becoming part of a culture amongst the youngsters now, the so-called ‘hipsters’; they are the population coming in a lot.”
Young, inquisitive minds, in search of a deeper understanding of the world, feed their curiosity here while others walk in to simply explore the massive bookstore. Jonathan says it provides a much-needed alternative and relief to today’s smartphone-obsessed world.
“People are stuck in an electronic loop and they can’t get out of it. They haven’t studied the people who are the masters of their craft to know where they should go. I absorbed as much material as I could, and I still do it all the time.
“That is what our shop is about. You can’t come in here for five minutes and expect to absorb what is in here.
“It doesn’t matter what you read, so long as you read because ultimately the book is the theater of the mind.”
Geoffrey argues that despite the vast amount of information shared on the internet, it won’t ever replace the simplicity of a book.
“People’s knowledge is not as in-depth as it used to be, which is why this particular generation of youngsters is more enthusiastic about older stuff than the generation that came 15 years ago,” he says.
Books on African history are the top-sellers at the store because people are looking to make sense of their place in society.
By preserving what is often discarded, the store can become a repository of tradition while it allows the bookseller to determine what to sell.
“If I banned half the books, I’d be cutting out half the cultural influencers that someone could be exposed to. We cast our net widely, and limit it simply because of the volume of material there is. We make our own choices,” Geoffrey says.
Although digital innovations continue to grow in popularity, the culture of reading for the brothers will never be substituted for the sensory experience provided by a book.
“The world does not stand still. What we often think is the beginning of the revolution is the end. I think in a lot of ways the digital experience is in the decline. It goes back to the hipsters wanting to know what came before because they want to be hands-on. They want to feel, touch and see it.
“They don’t want the black box effect. Nobody is going to come in here with something the size of a cellphone with 7,000 books loaded on it and say, ‘I want to sell my library’. No one else will buy it,” Geoffrey says.
Jonathan says the shop has hidden treasures in the form of collectables that aren’t sold by regular retailers.
“As a toy collector, when I see the tin toys I used to have and played with as a child, it just brings back all those memories.”
“Nostalgia is a big part of it. So many times when I am in a market stall [selling goods], somebody will come along and say, ‘this is so nice, I remember it from when I was five years old’. It may be a vase or a piece of furniture or a gramophone. It could be anything and people will remember it,” Jonathan says.
Going out on Sundays for window-shopping at any time of the day is an activity the brothers certainly miss.
Since the early 1990s, the inner city changed from being an upmarket commercial space to an area rife with crime and dilapidated buildings. But the high levels of crime and population density have not hindered the brothers’ love for the inner city and the time capsule they step into daily.
When asked how the business survived the advent of the internet, an excited Jonathan explains the exclusivity of the store and its organic growth that few can imitate.
“Nobody can start Collectors Treasury if they wanted to. It developed on its own like a chemical reaction. We started collecting some stuff and it developed into what it is now, rather like a volcano. You can’t create a volcano,” he says.
A unique passion for selling second-hand books and understanding collectables is needed to stand the test of time. For Jonathan, the online model is not feasible because it is expensive on the one side, and on the other, it minimizes the effort it takes to acquire knowledge or a skill.
“It has got to be an educated thing. There are people trading from their homes, making it look easy. The same way people who write a book using spellcheck, or musicians using apps to write music who think they are musicians and they are not.
“The online experience is that anybody who can use a computer can become an instant ‘expert’, at times, they steal descriptions off the net, they steal inventory and market it. They do this to make out more than they know. They sound like they have a bookshop where, in fact, they have a garden shed,” Jonathan explains.
Understanding how the internet works helps buyers and sellers spot scammers from a mile away. With about 85,000 books up for sale on the internet, the brothers have expert knowledge on how to identify a legitimate seller.
Over the years, the few dealers and buyers have increased to over a million since the duo began selling online.
“You need to build a business, and not just sell. We buy what people want, and sometimes we reject books. People usually ask why we reject, but we need to check the market and know what they will buy,” Jonathan adds.
Geoffrey shares a different sentiment about their business model.
“There is a model; it is going with the flow. If someone wants to make money, they need to do something else. It is for the passion; as long as you are making enough to eat, the rest doesn’t matter. The stock is appreciating. If you sell it, you make money. It appreciates in value if you buy correctly,” he says.
He argues that people need to avoid the get-rich-quick syndrome as businesses differ.
“If I made a million, and I write a book on it, how many millionaires would there be? If Warren Buffet made a million, it is because the conditions at that particular time, plus his input, added up to making a million. You could give somebody the same amount of information now but time has passed and the river has flowed.
“You are not the same person that you were at the time that you made the million. I don’t think Bill Gates could make a million today because it was [under] different circumstances,” Geoffrey says.
The store houses items that are priceless from a bygone era. The brothers sell porcelain and antique figures from the early 1900s’ fashionable movement; items rarely sold by local dealers.
“The markets for the antique porcelains have dropped so much. The classical antiques that were fashionable 50 years ago are not wanted by the modern collectors to the same extent as the generation before,” Geoffrey says. “In a way, the subsequent generation tends to concentrate on buying back their youth. They buy the things that they couldn’t afford when they were younger and didn’t have any money.
“Collecting fashions shift so much. Modern collectors look for different things, but pretty is out!” The rustier and older the item, the more people want it. And they don’t mind stepping into a bookstore bursting with nostalgia and with motifs and messages from an era that has been long gone.
Hip-Hop’s Next Billionaires: Richest Rappers 2019
Back in 2007, Jay-Z made a bold statement in song about both his lyrical prowess and his future financial fortunes: “I’m already the G.O.A.T.–next stop is the billie.”
Sure enough, Forbes declared him hip-hop’s first billionaire earlier this month. The news caught the attention of observers around the world—not only due to the breadth of Jay-Z’s financial achievement, but because of what it means for others looking to follow in his footsteps.
“Jay-Z’s entire life is the real blueprint,” says hip-hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy, longtime host of the show Yo! MTV Raps. “He’s one of the best examples in our lifetime of one who’s truly achieved the American dream and billionaire status.”
Naturally, Jay-Z tops this year’s ranking of hip-hop’s richest stars. Who will be the next billionaire from the rap world? The answer is almost certainly one of the names below.
The 32-year-old Canadian is the youngest on this list by a decade, but he’s quickly gaining ground on hip-hop’s elder statesmen. Drake’s fortune grew 50% over the past year, boosted by holdings ranging from real estate to his Virginia Black whiskey, as well as a lucrative tour and new residency at the XS Nightclub in Las Vegas.
“Every year, we just want to get more prepared and better at touring and better at things that make money,” he told Forbes in 2013 (his average gross has since surged from $500,000 to more than $2 million per stop). “That’s pretty much my objective every year, other than making good music.”
4. Kanye West
A onetime protégé of Jay-Z, the superproducer has been making headlines recently for his Sunday Service, an invitation-only get-together mostly in Southern California that is reportedly frequented by the likes of Courtney Love and Tyler, the Creator. He took the show on the road in April for a Coachella service on Easter Sunday featuring appearances by Chance the Rapper, DMX and a gospel choir—while hawking socks and “holy spirit” sweatshirts. But selling church clothes alone won’t be enough to push West into ten-figure territory.
Despite declaring himself $53 million in debt and beseeching Mark Zuckerberg for $1 billion to fund future creations in 2016, West makes his debut on this list thanks to a another patron: Adidas, which lured West and his Yeezy shoe line from Nike several years ago. Our accounting of West’s wealth is almost entirely predicated on a conservative estimate of that brand’s value. As it continues to scale up, he could one day join his sister-in-law, Kylie Jenner, as a billionaire.
“I started my business career at age 12, delivering newspapers,” Diddy explained two years ago in our centennial issue, where we named him one of the world’s greatest living business minds. “Since then, I’ve always understood that if I give the customers my best and service them differently, whether music, clothing or vodka, I’ll get a return on my hard work.”
The artist formerly known as Puff Daddy dips to No. 3 on this list as industry trends weigh on some of his holdings, including cable network Revolt and clothing line Sean John (though Diddy has sold much of his stake in the latter, he retains a sizeable piece). But Ciroc, the main driver of his fortune, is growing again after case volumes fell from all-time highs in recent years—making the impresario perhaps the most likely candidate to join Jay-Z in the billion-dollar club.
2. Dr. Dre
It’s been five years since Dr. Dre proclaimed himself a billionaire, but Forbes still doesn’t agree with the assessment made in the wake of Apple’s $3 billion 2014 purchase of his Beats By Dr. Dre headphone line. The superproducer owned an estimated 20%-25% of the company at the time; of the $2.6 billion Apple paid upfront in cash, another $295 million was earmarked to cover debt payments, leaving Dre with a little over $500 million.
Even with the vesting of his final slug of Apple stock last summer, Dre hasn’t quite made it into billionaire territory. He has spent heavily over the years on property (he paid $40 million for Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen’s Los Angeles estate) and charitable donations (along with Beats cofounder Jimmy Iovine, he gave $70 million to start a school at USC). And with his formal involvement at Apple seemingly wrapping up, Dre will likely need to get back on the festival circuit—or start a new company—if he’s to make good on his 2014 declaration.
Though he’s hip-hop’s first billionaire, Jay-Z’s lead on the rest of the pack is even larger if his entire family fortune is taken into consideration: He and wife Beyoncé are now worth a combined $1.4 billion. So much for the notion that music is a dying business.
“To convince artists that you can’t be an artist and make money … was the greatest trick in music that people ever pulled off,” Jay-Z told Forbes in 2010. “I think the people that were making the millions said that.”
In order to compile our ranking of the richest rappers, we use the same procedures employed in the calculation of our annual billionaires list: poring over financial documents, valuing major assets, and consulting with analysts, managers, attorneys and other industry insiders.
Cover photographs: Getty Images (Dr. Dre: AP Images)
-Zack O’Malley Greenburg; Forbes Staff
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