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.”
‘If You Are An Artist, You Need To Be Out There As A Healer’
An artist and theater owner who interrogated his own cultural story.
When culture meets art at the revived Dance Umbrella Africa Festival, a rapturous applause offers the stamp of approval to the cast of Ubizo, The Calling who take their bows through the exaggerated plumes of smoke at the South African State Theatre.
Under the theme, Figure-ring – the state of dance in Africa, the annual festival which shut down a year ago, has been rebranded to incorporate a continental approach.
With over 54 shows performed, over 100 artists were given a platform to showcase their work from March 31 to April 7.
A diverse program celebrating narratives from beyond South African borders, the new home of the annual gathering encompasses a variation of dance genres, ranging from the local dance popular in townships, Isipantsula, to diverse classical contemporary performances.
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A tribute to Africa performed by the Inkaba Theatre Productions, Ubizo, The Calling enticed the audience with a riveting set.
A man dressed in a white and blue cassock wails on his back, as he stretches his arms to the ceiling, his rhythmic movements emphasized by the sounds of wind created by a plastic pipe.
He is pleading to his ancestors for a son.
The show was directed and performed by Sibusiso Mbokazi, the artist from Durban who came to Johannesburg to pursue a career in theater. Unable to explain to his father that the arts are a recognizable career, Mbokazi was left to fend for himself in his first year of studies in Johannesburg.
“I survived with a two-liter coke and a loaf of bread for a week. It was that hard, but my mother saw the passion and love. Today, every time I go back to KwaZulu-Natal, every high school wants my attention because they have that understanding that I worked hard,” he says.
Today, he owns a theater company with the focus of raising awareness of the arts in his hometown and communities across the country.
With Inkaba Theatre Productions, learners are given a platform to showcase their talent at a much younger age than he was at the beginning of his career.
A performance alongside South African entertainment personality Somizi Mhlongo changed his parents’ perception of the arts.
“We need to invite our parents; we need to be open with them too,” he says.
Mbokazi’s work is deeply embedded in spirituality which speaks to his personal and artistic life. He says art shouldn’t only be created for money but for passion.
“One thing you lose when you create your craft for money is the focus of your creativity. You will lose the audacity of your work. You will lose the understanding of who you are in your craft work. If you are an artist, you need to be out there as a healer…
“We create work with a storyline and a motive but the audience may read it differently.”
Performed for the first time in 2013, Ubizo, The Calling, amalgamates Christianity and African spirituality in order to interrogate misconceptions around rituals.
“When you are called by your ancestors, it becomes a calling. I realized that people think being called by your ancestors is stigmatized. If you trace it back, you will be told that religion and ancestry has not been separated,” he says.
He feels African artists need to go back and interrogate their own cultural stories in a way that will celebrate the authenticity of the continent.
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It starts with remembering, he says.
“We are running out of an understanding who we are because we do not have [a place] where we are teaching and giving the understanding of our own culture. To embody and remember them, is something we need to start teaching,” he says.
Mbokazi argues that a lack of self-love is what stands in the way of the future of most black artists.
‘There Will Always Be A Need For Live Art’
South African dancer Mamela Nyamza revived a 30-year-old dance festival to help local artists connect with the rest of the world.
An eight-year-old graces the pulpit of her hometown church capturing the attention of the congregants with her nimble dance moves. Little do they know she would go on to dazzle audiences on some of the world’s most prolific stages.
As the deputy artistic director of the South African State Theatre, it all still feels like a dream for the award-winning contemporary dancer who never imagined her passion for dance would lead her here.
Mamela Nyamza owes it all to her childhood.
Your upbringing will always find a way back to your artistic life.
From running in the rain to dance classes, with a leotard packed into a plastic bag, to curating one of the biggest dance festivals in South Africa, Nyamza is hoping to transform the art form in Africa.
Sitting in her office in South Africa’s capital Pretoria, she understands the responsibility of her position.
“I know how important it is for people to come and showcase their work in this theater because I came from a space where doors were not opened for me. The space I come from has taught me a lot as an artist and it has actually made me the artist I am today because everything I do will always reflect that life,” she says.
She hopes to merge the line between art and life by curating the Dance Umbrella Africa Festival.
The festival, formally known as Dance Umbrella Johannesburg, which downed its curtains in 2018 due to lack of funding, has been revived by Nyamza to incorporate a continental approach towards contemporary dancers.
She took it upon herself to revive the program that gave her an opportunity at the start of her career.
“I cannot sit back and watch a festival that groomed many artists in this country close in front of me while I am watching. If it was not for Dance Umbrella, I would have never performed internationally,” she says.
For Nyamza, the festival brought programs to South Africa which opened a gateway for artists to connect with the rest of the world, allowing them to showcase their body of work on international stages.
Institutions that support the dance community are needed to assist both aspiring and established dancers, she says.
“You cannot do it alone; you need these structures to help you help others. Our role here is to serve the patron, the audience, the artists and everybody.”
The position seemed daunting to her, at first, but she soon realized it was time for change in the industry.
An office job has not tethered the artist’s free spirit.
“I was not going to leave the industry; it is all about leading the industry. I still go out there and work, I still practice my art and I feel, as an artist, I have done Mamela a lot. So why am I still holding on to me? It is time to give back. Right now, being here, I feel like there is a reason for being here. I feel like this is a calling.”
Heeding the call to make a difference, Nyamza, who is dressed in African print, recollects the challenges she faced when she turned her hobby into a profession.
As a black woman, taking it on as a career was the hardest part, thus turning a love into a strange relationship.
Being the only black woman in her dance classes made her feel like “the other” at all times.
“It [ballet] was not accepting me as a black woman. It made me interrogate [ballet] as an artist. Hence, most of my work will always go back to ballet,” she says.
“I was deconstructing something that I know. I was not just talking about ballet, I was deconstructing something that did not accept me as a black woman or did not accept my body.”
This interrogation is reflected in most of her work.
Surprised by the high number of artists in their early 20s who showcase their work at the State Theatre, Nyamza applauds the transformation that has made these spaces accessible since her early 20s.
A kind of access she had to fight for.
“Right now, my son does not know that we used to walk while it was raining to go to ballet classes. We were not dropped off in cars. It was not easy, it was something you did for love and that is when passion is created. Because of the different times that we come from, it took me years to even put my work at the Artscape [Theatre Centre in Cape Town]. You always look at these differences and not that you are against them, you always just say ‘wow, this is great’.”
As much as there has been the incorporation of digital innovation to ease access to dance and performance, the need for live theater will always be imperative for her.
“There will always be a need for live art because it touches different parts [of us]. When something is live, you remember the liveness of it, the body of it. With technology, you can see it [a performance] there and also have it here, it is easy access but a live body is not easy access and that is what people forget. You have to go out there, pay money, support and watch it live because that live memory stays with you,” she says.
“As artists, it is hard for us to say, ‘here’s my DVD’ and as artists who perform outside of the country, people ask ‘can you show me something online?’. I tell them that they can see me online but it is not the same. It is never the same. It is all about liveness and experiencing it live.”
The upside is that it opens the window of opportunity for African artists on international stages, which, at times, may pose cultural barriers.
“By being a solo artist, it has been easy for international people to get the whole history of South Africa from one artist and you don’t have to bring the whole [cast of] 80 people to talk about the story. It is easy because you are in South Africa, you are South African. Your work is South African. How you do it is up to you because you are an artist and as an artist, you can interpret your work in any way.
“When showing your work, there is already the assumption that you are from Africa and you need to do celebratory work or ceremonial work and if you don’t do that, there is a question of, ‘I did not accept that from an African woman’. There are so many ways people engage with us as artists coming from Africa,” Nyamza says.
At times, it was easier for men to succeed in the industry, she says.
“When we came as women, we didn’t entertain too much. There was an element of [not all men, some], ‘we are men showing six packs and the body’ and actually giving exactly what the other wants to see. With women, we came with issues that needed to be interrogated and debated. We provoked things and sparked some conversations that will stay with people. We were talking about things that are happening in our country and became the window to our country.”
But back home, the locals are still grappling to understand the art industry, leaving artists like Nyamza with a greater popularity beyond African shores. Locally, she feels the audiences are not as supportive and open to attending live shows.
“At home we don’t have that culture of knowing what is good and understanding our own artists. It is not something our people have grown up with. Much like me studying dance was questioned as ‘what else do you do?’ Nobody will know that I am an international artist. They know us internationally but at home they will ask ‘who is Mamela?’ Not that I want them to know. I am an artist, I just do my work and it speaks for itself.”
Looking at the growing interest for ballet-dancing among black people in South Africa, Nyamza argues that ballet is moving away from the traditional format of only wearing pink tutus and has become more accessible, thus allowing locals to make their own interpretations of the artform. However, the lack of continuity concerns her.
“I always see young black kids doing ballet and then later on there are none. Where are they? What happened to them? But then again, I think this situation is because we don’t have many black female dance teachers who these kids can relate to and aspire to be.” It is a fact most artists and art managers agree on.
The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative managing and artistic director PJ Sabbagha says the arts are socially marginalized but it is the artist’s responsibility to change the way it is viewed. Through exposure in his community-based work in Mpumalanga, Sabbagha has realized that an appreciation for the arts is increasing.
“The art is very alive in communities and so is dance, in various forms. We still live in a world where people don’t view the arts as being real. They view it as a hobby or part-time activity. It partly has to do with the way art has positioned itself and also the way society views the arts, it has, basically, never really been seen as a real economic driver with potential for social change.
“The older generation doesn’t see how people’s lives are impacted through the arts. They can earn an income and that it can be a meaningful career or that it can benefit society. Although, things have changed, the economy in the country does not help; there is less investment in the arts because we need to save failing infrastructure,” Sabbagha says.
These are nagging concerns to answer. Because the work of many unknown artists is based on personal impact and interpretation, it becomes challenging to assess what art in small pockets of the world mean to those viewing it. Perhaps, the greater question is, what can be done to get people interested enough to attend an art show? Should it all lay at the feet of artists or should people be more proactive about who and what they view?
Artist, Icon, Billionaire: How Jay-Z Created His $1 Billion Fortune
Nine years ago, two unlikely lunch partners sat down at the Hollywood Diner in Omaha, Nebraska. One, Warren Buffett, was a regular there. The other, Jay-Z, was not. The billionaire and the rapper ordered strawberry malts and chatted amiably, continuing the conversation back at Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway offices.
Buffett, then 80, walked away impressed with the artist 40 years his junior: “Jay is teaching in a lot bigger classroom than I’ll ever teach in. For a young person growing up, he’s the guy to learn from.” This moment, which was originally captured in our 2010 Forbes 400 package, made it clear that Jay-Z already had a blueprint for his own ten-figure fortune. “Hip-hop from the beginning has always been aspirational,” he said.
Less than a decade later, it’s clear that Jay-Z has accumulated a fortune that conservatively totals $1 billion, making him one of only a handful of entertainers to become a billionaire—and the first hip-hop artist to do so. Jay-Z’s steadily growing kingdom is expansive, encompassing liquor, art, real estate (homes in Los Angeles, the Hamptons, Tribeca) and stakes in companies like Uber.
His journey is all the more impressive given its start: Brooklyn’s notorious Marcy housing projects. He was a drug dealer before becoming a musician, starting his own label, Roc-A-Fella Records, to release his 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt. Since then he’s amassed 14 No. 1 albums, 22 Grammy awards and over $500 million in pretax earnings in a decade.
Crucially, he realized that he should build his own brands rather than promote someone else’s: the clothing line Rocawear, started in 1999 (soldfor $204 million to Iconix in 2007); D’Ussé, a cognac he co-owns with Bacardi; and Tidal, a music-streaming service.
Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean, the superproducer behind some of Jay-Z’s biggest hits (“On To The Next One,” Beyoncé’s “Upgrade U”), looks at Jay-Z as something others can model: “It’s bigger than hip-hop … it’s the blueprint for our culture. A guy that looks like us, sounds like us, loves us, made it to something that we always felt that was above us.”
“If he’s a billionaire now, imagine what he’s about to be,” Swizz Beatz says. “Because he’s only just starting.”
What’s Jay-Z Worth?
To calculate his net worth, we looked at the artist’s stakes in companies like Armand de Brignac champagne—applying our customary discount to private firms—then added up his income, subtracting a healthy amount to account for a superstar lifestyle. We checked our numbers with a roster of outside experts to ensure these estimates were fair and conservative. Turns out, Jay-Z really is a business, man.
Armand de Brignac
Jay-Z has used his music to shill the $300 gold bottles of the “Ace of Spades” champagne since launching the brand with the 2006 video “Show Me What You Got.” More recently, his verse on Meek Mill’s “What’s Free” put a half-billion-dollar value on the wine, which seems like a bit too bubbly a number.
Cash & investments
A vast investing portfolio includes a stake in Uber worth an estimated $70 million. He reportedly purchased his piece for $2 million back in 2013—and then wired founder Travis Kalanick another $5 million in an attempt to increase his holdings, but was rebuffed.
Jay-Z’s cognac, a joint venture with beverage giant Bacardi, moves almost 200,000 cases and has grown nearly 80% annually. “Jay-Z resonates with consumers who are attracted to the ultra-premium lifestyle,” says Eric Schmidt, Beverage Marketing Corp.’s Director of Alcohol Research.
In 2015, Jay-Z submitted a bid to purchase the Scandinavian streaming service’s parent company for just shy of $60 million. He relaunched Tidal later that year with a roster of celebrity investors including his wife, Beyoncé, and other music luminaries, from Kanye West to Calvin Harris.
This wide-ranging entertainment company started over a decade ago as part of a joint venture with concert giant Live Nation. Roc Nation represents some of the top stars in the entertainment through its sports agency (Kevin Durant, Todd Gurley) as well as its record label and artist-management arms (Rihanna, J. Cole).
Before the beginning of his stint as Def Jam’s chief in 2004, Jay-Z negotiatedthe eventual return of his master recordings from the aforementioned label that helped launch his career; in a separate deal with EMI, he clawed back his publishing rights. Wise move: his hits now clock close to 1 billion streams annually.
In the song “Picasso Baby,” Jay-Z boasted about a “Basquiat in my kitchen corner.” He probably wasn’t kidding. For over a decade, he’s been scooping up masterpieces like Basquiat’s “Mecca,” purchased in 2013 for a reported $4.5 million. “He’s rapped about it all in detail,” says Fab 5 Freddy, a contemporary and friend of the late painter. “Jay-Z helped educate millions of hip-hop fans mentioning Jean-Michel.”
After welcoming twins in 2017, Jay-Z and Beyoncé bought a pair of homes to match: a $26 million East Hampton mansion and a $88 million Bel Air estate. Jay-Z also owns a Tribeca penthouse, snagged for $6.85 million in 2004.
–Zack O’Malley Greenburg;Forbes Staff
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