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.
Bad Times For Billionaire Branson–Staff At Virgin Atlantic Asked To Take Unpaid Leave As Coronavirus Cripples Air Travel
Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has been criticized by a U.K. politician for airline Virgin Atlantic’s request on Monday for staff to take eight weeks unpaid leave during the coronavirus pandemic.
Labour MP Kate Osborne, the second U.K. politician to be diagnosed with coronavirus, described Virgin Atlantic’s decision as “an absolute disgrace” on Twitter.
Author Liam Young tweeted, “Virgin Atlantic have 8,500 employees and Branson has asked them to take 8 weeks unpaid leave. It would cost £4.2 million to pay all of these employees £500 a week to cover this leave. In total that’s a cost of £34 million for 8 weeks.”
The implication appears to be that billionaire Richard Branson, whose net worth Forbes estimates $3.8 billion, could afford to cover this cost.
Virgin Atlantic confirmed in a statement Monday that it plans to reduce its schedule and prioritize routes based on customer demand. The airline predicts an 80% reduction in flights per day, and adds, “As a direct consequence we will be parking approximately 75% of our fleet by 26 March and at points in April will go up to 85%.”
Virgin Atlantic describes the changes as “drastic measures” put in place to “ensure cash is preserved, costs are controlled, and the future of the airline is safeguarded.”
Adding, “Staff will be asked to take eight weeks unpaid leave over the next three months, with the cost spread over six months’ salary, to drastically reduce costs without job losses.” The airline confirms its decision has received the support of unions BALPA and UNITE in agreeing to the unpaid leave.
A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: “The aviation industry is facing unprecedented pressure. We are appealing to the [U.K] government for clear, decisive and unwavering support. Our industry needs emergency credit facilities to a value of £5-7.5 billion, to bolster confidence and to prevent credit card processors from withholding customer payments.”
Bad Times For Branson
Branson’s business empire has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 14 the Virgin Voyages cruise ship operation decided to postpone the launch of its new Scarlet Lady cruise line. “The current global health crisis is understandably making many people rethink upcoming travel plans,” Virgin Voyages confirmed in a statement.
On March 5, British airline Flybe — which is part owned by Virgin Atlantic— collapsed after it succumbed to its financial woes and weakened demand because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Following the announcement of Flybe’s collapse, Virgin Atlantic said: “Sadly, despite the efforts of all involved to turn the airline around, not least the people of Flybe, the impact of Covid-19 on Flybe’s trading means that the consortium can no longer commit to continued financial support.”
Flybe, which once was Europe’s largest independent regional carrier, narrowly escaped collapse in January, after being bought by Cyrus Capital, Virgin Atlantic and Stobart last year.
Virgin Galactic, Branson’s publicly traded space tourism arm, has seen its shares slump since its mid February high of $37.26 on the NYSE. Having lost another 10% of value as of 4:30 pm U.K. time on Monday, Virgin Galactic is priced at $13.30 and falling. Branson’s Virgin Investment Limited owns 47% of Virgin Galactic through an investment entity, Vieco.
Emerging Economies, But Weaker Passports
Africa dominates the bottom of the rung in the 2020 Henley Passport Index. A majority of the continent’s passport-holders don’t have the luxury of visa-free travel around the world.
The African Union may be gearing for a common African passport, but for now, it seems like most African passports don’t have what it takes to get to other parts of the world.
In the recently-released Henley Passport Index, which measures all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa, only two African countries –Seychelles and Mauritius — are in the top 50.
The rest of the continent dominates the bottom quarter of the rankings with weaker passports than most, pointing to difficult and intensive visa processes in most cases.
Africa’s biggest economy and one of its most influential, Nigeria, is at the end of the travel freedom spectrum, at a pitiful number 95 with Djibouti. Nigeria’s population of 200 million can only travel to 46 countries without obtaining a visa in advance.
Even passport-holders from Samoa and Serbia have a better chance of traveling to most places in the world, visa-free, than those in South Africa, the African continent’s second biggest economy.
Ranked 56, the number of global destinations South African passport-holders can travel to is 100.
It is followed by its southern African neighbor, Botswana, ranking at 62 with a score of 84.
Seychelles, the archipelago country in the Indian Ocean, is Africa’s top-ranking African passport in this regard, at 29 with access to 151 destinations worldwide.
It is quickly followed by Mauritius which is at 32 with a score of 146 destinations passport-holders of this country can visit.
The lowest-ranking African country is Somalia at 104. Passport-holders from this tiny nation in the Horn of Africa can only visit 32 countries without a pre-departure visa
Globally, Asia dominates the list. For the third consecutive year, Japan has secured the top spot on the index — which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 191. Singapore holds on to its second place position with a score of 190.
Executive Travel: Slikour’s Mexico
The South African hip-hop artist and entrepreneur experienced a hurricane and a seismic spiritual shift in the city of Cancun.
It has been a journey, a lot to learn and a lot learned,” says Siyabonga Metane, popularly known on South African hip-hop stages as ‘Slikour’.
The learnings have been in music and business, but the journeys have been beyond both.
Just two years post South Africa’s democratic elections in 1994, Slikour was part of a rap group named Skwatta Kamp, formed on the streets of the country’s Gauteng province, with the aim of commercializing the local hip-hop scene.
The group consisted of seven members and most of them went on to release solo albums. Slikour released two, Ventilation Mix Tape Vol.1 and 2, in 2005 and 2007. Long before that, in 2002, Slikour had turned entrepreneur, co-founding Buttabing Entertainment, a record label and artist management organization.
Today, he is also the founder of SlikourOnLife, a prominent urban culture online publication that he started in 2014 catering to music lovers.
Returning to the word ‘journey’, it especially sparks memories of a trip he undertook in 2011 to Cancun, a Mexican city on the Yucatán Peninsula bordering the Caribbean Sea, known for its beaches, resorts and nightlife. Slikour was there for a television shoot as part of a group. The trip still stands out in his mind.
He was not blown away by the city initially, but as he visited some of Cancun’s tourism attractions, he began to change his perception.
Ultimately, it proved to be what he calls an amazing rendezvous.
“The people were pretty much speaking Spanish,” he chuckles, recalling being immersed in the local culture.
READ MORE | Executive Travel: Mpho Popps’ Ghana
“There are a lot of laborers there and the people are beautiful and accommodating, but we never really spoke or interacted with the community.”
Slikour decided to savor the city’s famed nightlife instead and see for himself what all the hype was about.
It all began and ended with tequila, a distilled alcoholic drink and one of Mexico’s most famous exports, made of the blue agave plant from the city of Tequila in Mexico.
“Everything you do there is done with tequila. I don’t drink alcohol, but I had to accept and apply myself because there, they don’t use tomato sauce, they use tequila; I literally had to get into the tequila swag; it’s everything there. Tequila started there,” Slikour says.
Mexico is known for its recurring hurricanes too, which Slikour also got a taste of while there.
“After a few days of getting there, we were warned of a hurricane, and asked to close our doors and windows, and because these things happen regularly, there’s a drill to follow. The hurricane wasn’t a major one but I was excited because I wanted to see it. I had to look through the window,” he says.
The hurricanes are so frequent in Mexico that he likens the precautions taken to lighting a candle during South Africa’s frequent power cuts.
Despite this exhilarating encounter with nature, the real earth-shaking experience for him, however, happened deep inside a cave in the city of Cancun – and also deep inside him.
READ MORE | Executive Travel: Nomzamo Mbatha’s Kenya
“My spiritual [epiphany] was when I went into those caves. You go in there with your self-assurance, claiming you understand everything. Thereon, they tell you where everything comes from and all of a sudden, you become this very small thing in this big ecosystem. It just shows how everything affects everything,” Slikour says.
The tour guides explained how everything inside the cave came from rain, elaborating how it was connected to the core of the earth; which is where they were at the time.
Slikour was in Cancun for two weeks, and also visited the pyramids.
“The Mexicans didn’t have all the mathematics that we have now but the pyramids were built to perfection. It just showed you how forward-thinking they were and how behind we are in as much as we think we are forward; we just have technology. We don’t think the way historic societies used to think,” says Slikour, in deep reflection.
Mexico is a place he would return to, anyday, in a heartbeat.
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