The Nigerian vocalist and agri-preneur on everything from Obama to Mandela and being inspired by nature in South Africa.
On a cold July evening in Johannesburg, Nigeria’s leading vocalist, simply known as Waje, emerges on stage to thunderous applause from a packed room of 200 Africans. They have been selected from across the continent by former American President Barack Obama for the inaugural 2018 Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa Program.
Waje delivers a flawless note-for-note rendition of her trademark performance, which has won her accolades across Africa and secured her a place as one of the celebrity coaches on the The Voice Nigeria talent show unearthing undiscovered vocalists competing for the final prize.
Singing in near operatic fashion, her powerful vocals energize the room in South Africa, turning the night celebrating leadership into an impromptu concert.
For Waje, this performance was significant on two fronts.
As a member of the ONE Campaign, an international advocacy organization of more than nine million around the world taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, she has been a fierce activist in Nigeria, lending her voice to fight for better health. Through her work with the ONE Campaign, she is using advocacy and pop culture to drive that narrative and that is what brings her to Johannesburg tonight, to share the successes of the program.
The second reason for her trip, however, is a lot less selfless.
“My favorite destination at the moment is South Africa because I headlined the Africa Day Concert here and two years ago, I did something with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and I immediately fell in love with the country. I feel it has always taken something from me and I always feel like I am bringing something to the table, so that is why I love South Africa,” says Waje.
Amongst her favorite cities are Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
“I love the weather in South Africa; it is not always too hot. I love that it is Africa but it can compete with anywhere in the world. I think the culture here is deep and rich and I like that no matter how advanced they are with technology, you can still tell a South African either by the way they dress or their accessories. There is still something very African about them.”
Outside her advocacy work, which is her main attraction to the region, it is the warm reception she receives here that has also led to the place becoming a home from home.
“I get more of an ovation outside Nigeria so I enjoy performing more outside Nigeria in places like South Africa because it also teaches me to treat myself a little bit more. But I get more when I am here and I think people here love Nigeria a lot so they embrace me, embrace my style and embrace my music so I actually enjoy it.”
This July trip is special to the soulful crooner because it comes at a time when, according to Waje, there is a movement of young leaders from all over the continent drawing from each other’s energy to build the future.
“There is just something magical about this place and its ability to galvanize the younger generation. I think Mandela was the catalyst of that movement and that spirit still lives on. Many times people say young people are the future but the truth is we are the now, we need to start now. We can see the president of France who is so young and the things he is looking to achieve means all young people should start looking forward and making that happen wherever they are,” she says.
It seems Obama also shares her love for South Africa. The first convening of his cohort is in Johannesburg over a five-day period where leaders learn a range of skills-building and leadership concepts to help them impact their communities.
For Waje, her platform drives her to achieve more.
“The glitz and glam is great and people loving your music is great but then what? You have to go into the hearts of people by actually doing stuff for them; that is where true success comes from,” she says.
Traveling has become somewhat of a therapeutic experience for her. As a creative, it helps her overcome writers’ block that affects most songwriters. In addition, her travels have also unlocked new entrepreneurial pursuits.
“Travel is good because when you travel, you pick bits and pieces of different cultures, which will help you. For a long time, outside of being a musician, I always thought about agriculture but I did not know how I was going to do it. One of the reasons I started my agriculture business was because I realized that nature was something I enjoyed and I did not realize that until I traveled to South Africa,” says Waje.
Her voice has taken her to places far and near where she has performed before kings and presidents. Many may call her lucky but she does not believe in coincidences. It is all part of life’s grand design according to Waje.
A design, which brings everybody together with a common purpose, and for her, that purpose is being a voice for the less fortunate. Luckily, her travels have helped amplify her message.
A Solution To Improve Madagascar’s Local Economies
Madagascar is a priority country for conservation and preserving Earth’s biodiversity riches threatened by a rampant rate of habitat destruction. Ninety percent of the natural habitat of Madagascar has been destroyed and 91% of the lemur species are critically endangered, endangered or threatened.
Since the political turmoil of 2009, coupled with security issues and illegal extraction activities, the conservation situation has worsened. The presidential election that took place in January offers hope that this new regime will make preservation of the unique wildlife of Madagascar a priority.
President Andry Rajoelina ran on a platform of eliminating poverty for his people.
Ecotourism is good for the economy, but there are doubts if it is enough. Our conservation teams in the Ranomafana region are hoping that we have a solution for improving local economies.
Centre ValBio (CVB), a 30-year-old research center, is nestled overlooking the Ranomafana National Park rainforest near Fianarantsoa, and is an eight-hour drive from the capital Antananarivo.
CVB is a hub of modern science with laboratory equipment to study genetics, infectious diseases and mapping from satellites.
Substantial efforts by scientists have led to an improved understanding about taxonomy, species distributions, the evolution, behavior and population size of the flora and fauna, and the impact of habitat loss on Madagascan biodiversity.
This knowledge has been successfully used to guide conservation planning and action, as well as new discoveries in medical science. Scientists investigate the impact of anthropogenic influence, edge effects, climate change, and fragmentation on ecosystems and communities in these lush rainforests.
The CVB campus has five buildings and a staff of 130 local scientists, technicians and administrators who work year-round on research, training and conservation.
This station conducts studies of cyanide-eating lemurs, climate change, new leech species, lemurs that have genes that might be related to diabetes and Alzheimer’s, and genetics of an ecosystem.
All around, the parks, forests and the rare species within them are still disappearing. Slash-and-burn agriculture is the main threat to rainforests in Madagascar.
READ MORE | The Professor Who Saved An African Rainforest
Forests are sacrificed to plant rice, the staple food for humans.
CVB has launched an alternative against this destruction of natural resources. First, the village elders are engaged to ensure a buy-in by the communities.
If the villagers are enthusiastic, workshops and training begin in the fields.
Next, using years of botanical knowledge, the reforestation team (technicians and scientists) helps villagers plant endemic saplings of tree species eaten by lemurs. We don’t plant a monoculture, but rather use natural dispersion as a guide.
We know from our pilot experience that it takes about 15 years for the endemic trees to fruit and flower, and for birds, bats and lemurs to return to these ‘new forests’ where they could help ‘plant’ more forests by dispersing their seeds.
We are hoping that this strategy will help to stabilize the soil, prevent erosion and river silting, and expand the habitats for wildlife.
But what value do these trees have for the Malagasy farmer?
Using these trees as structure vines of high value crops such as vanilla, wild pepper and cinnamon that need shade to grow well are transplanted onto these trees.
With assistance in processing and marketing, the local farmers can harvest these high-value crops and earn great economic gain.
The prices of Malagasy spices are high in the world market and spice venders project that the high prices will continue into the future with new markets in China and India.
There is hope that not only will this strategy increase biodiversity, but it will also bring affluence to the farmers and merchants of Madagascar.
Rajoelina’s promise of prosperity is possible and the unforeseen benefits could be transformative.
– The writer is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Stony Brook University in the US and Founder of Centre ValBio Research Station, in Ranomafana, Madagascar
From Fishing Village To Gastronomic Heaven: Tables Turn For Wolfgat
In a small fishing village on South Africa’s rugged west coast, restaurateur Kobus van der Merwe is struggling to process his meteoric rise to gastronomic stardom.
He recently got back from Paris, where four days ago his 20-cover Wolfgat was named Restaurant of the Year at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards, also winning the remote location prize.
“In our category, which was for the off-map destination… there are restaurants that we literally hero-worship and we were like, this is insane,” the food-journalist-turned-chef told Reuters TV on Friday in his first interview with foreign media since returning home.
Others on that shortlist included Japanese wild dining sensation Tokuyamazushi.
Of both prizes, he added: “We never dreamed of making the shortlist, let alone winning.”
Situated in Paternoster, about 160 km (100 miles) northwest of Cape Town, Wolfgat’s speciality is seafood.
Van der Merwe’s seven-course tasting menu pays homage to the region’s long-gone indigenous inhabitants, and his signature dishes are flavored and supplemented with ingredients foraged locally, such as seaweed and succulent plants.
They include Rooibos tea-smoked yellowtail with dune spinach and buttermilk rusk, and freshly baked bread served with bokkom (salted dry fish) butter and infused herbs.
Guests at the 130-year-old whitewashed restaurant, nestled above Wolfgat cave within hearing distance of crashing waves, pay 850 rand ($60), or 1400 rand including drinks.
Van der Merwe, who took the plunge into full-time cooking before completing his culinary studies, said he had no wish to expand or replicate Wolfgat in an urban setting.
“We certainly don’t aspire to be in the city because the west coast is our muse and I can’t see Wolfgat existing anywhere else,” he said.
His clientele is split evenly between foreign tourists visiting the village and well-heeled South Africans.
But those who make the two-hour drive from Cape Town had better be sure of their reservations before they set out – because he’s fully booked for the next three months. -Reuters
– Wendell Roelf
Entrepreneur And DJ – Oskido Tells Us Why Brazil Is His Favourite Place
This South African DJ and entrepreneur is never home-sick when in Brazil. He says its food and music fill his soul.
After traveling the world and the concomitant culinary outings that come with it, kwaito (South African music genre) pioneer, DJ and businessman Oscar Bonginkosi Mdlongwa, popularly known as Oskido, counts Brazil his most favorite overseas destination.
In enjoying the fruits of his success, Oskido has come far.
He was born in Brits, a large town irrigated by the waters of the Hartbeespoort Dam in the North West Province of South Africa.
His childhood was in Bulawayo, a city in the southwest of Zimbabwe, before returning to South Africa to pursue a career in music in 1988.
His influences may be primarily South African and Zimbabwean, but the South American country is what he regales about when we meet him in late November last year.
“What amazed me the most was the food. I have traveled all over the world but the way they cook their food and the way they love their food stunned me,” says Oskido.
The memories are still fresh.
In September last year, Mdlongwa had traveled to the centrally-located capital of Brazil, Brasilia, on a cultural exchange program between Brazil and South Africa.
During our interview, he also compliments the city’s culture and the friendliness of its people.
“When I come back to my country [South Africa] after traveling, I just want our food. When I start going to Europe, I think of home, missing the food, but when I went to Brazil, it was like I’m home.”
He goes on to elucidate that they have their own traditional way of cooking, which includes beans that he enjoys the most.
Oskido especially appreciates Brazil’s restaurants because of the different meat cuts they serve customers.
“They will bring you a paper and describe the part that you are eating. Also, their way of cooking is healthy,” he says.
“We normally just eat and say ‘rump’; you don’t even know where it’s coming from. Therefore, they come in and you keep eating different cuts until you find the one you like and they will keep feeding you until you are full.
“What amazed me the most is when you get to our [local] food courts, you will find all these chain stores. It’s the same thing [there], but there isn’t anything that is like a buffet. Their food courts are designed that way, there isn’t any of the junk food,” says Oskido.
He speaks about connecting to the people despite the language barrier. He remembers going to a shopping center to buy things and having to explain.
He would speak on the phone with a translator and communication would be delayed.
But he found his own comfort zone.
Whenever he talked about music, he says there would be an instant connection with the people.
Oskido was invited by the South African Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa as a delegate for the exchange program.
“The minister and his office went to a school of kids aged between four and five years old. The kids were told to look for a song on YouTube that resembled Africa. Coincidently, they found Tsa Mandebele as the song of choice. I found that these kids could sing along to my song and dance to the moves because of the music video,” he says, joyfully.
“It was good to see a Limpopo language [song] sung in Brazil. That was the moment when I was really touched, and felt that there was something about Brazil.
“After the festive season, I want to go back, take my family and go relax.”
These are the notes from the South African DJ who has gone from Brits to Brazil.
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