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Nigeria’s unorthodox pop-star, Teni and her rise to stardom

The 26-year-old Nigerian singer – full name Teniola Apata – is a breakout star and one of Africa’s hippest artistes

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From streets to stadiums, Nigeria's feminist-humanist singer, Teni rises to stardom
Nigerian singer and entertainer, Teniola Apata aka Teni performs on stage during the Gidi Culture Festival at Landmark Beach, Oniru - Lagos. (Photo by Emmanuel Arewa/AFP)

A self-declared humanist, feminist, defender of the chubby — and a blossoming African talent into the bargain — “Teni The Entertainer” is surfing a superstar’s wave.

The 26-year-old Nigerian singer — full name Teniola Apata — is a breakout star whose performing and songwriting talents make her one of Africa’s hippest artists.

Manager, Edobor “Redman” is amazed to see how far Teni has come in a short time as he mulls over the hits she gets on her Instagram profile.

“Look! I posted this video on her Instagram account 30 minutes ago… and we hit 47,000 views already. It’s unbelievable!”

Few would have ever predicted such a meteoric rise to fame for Teni, the self-styled “vice-president of fat people association”, gleefully free from pressures dominating the entertainment industry to be slimmer or modelesque.

She prefers rakish headgear to the ultra smooth blow-dried hair extensions of other high-profile songbirds and jogging pants to miniskirts. 

Strutting her stuff as a feminist tomboy and sassy superstar is not the easiest act to pull off in a patriarchal, conservative and strongly religious country — making Teni’s rise to fame all the more remarkable on the face of it.

Yet for her, making it big time in the music business comes as no surprise.

Born into a family of musicians she was playing percussion from the age of just two. By four, she had performed before regional governors in Nigeria’s Yoruba west, from where she hails.

From streets to stadiums, Nigeria's feminist-humanist singer, Teni rises to stardom

“If you take music away from me, I would die. Period,” she told reporters. 

Today, most of the country rocks to her hits such as “Case”, “Uyo Meyo” or “Askamaya”.

Her Instagram account has more than 1.5 million followers while her videos have been viewed around 10 million times on YouTube.

Domestic appreciation is one thing — but Teni has loftier goals, saying “wait till I fill up Wembley” stadium in London.

But she adds that real fame to her would be performing in South America.

“I want to go to a Latin country and they will sing my songs. Then you can say I am popular.”

“God has given me a gift,” she says without false modesty. “He’s made me different for a reason. why would I rob the world of my greatness?”

High heels vs football

And different from afro-pop stars, she certainly is.

Her similarly successful sister, Niniola more closely reflects conventional beauty ideals in Nigeria– often in trademark ultra high heels, artificial eyelashes and long manicured nails.

“She’s always been a diva, very pretty, even when we grew up… (whereas) I would play soccer, basketball,” Teni says, speaking of her sibling with affection.

“The biggest fight a human being can fight is to be yourself,” she concludes — though that requires some guts in a country where “women are second class citizens.”

From streets to stadiums, Nigeria's feminist-humanist singer, Teni rises to stardom

In ‘Case,’ a tale of street gang love, she tells the putative love interest: 

“I slap police for your Case, I go to war for your Case, I go to court for your Case … I punch the judge for your Case … anything you want baby, get for you baby.”

As part of pushing the envelope on cultural conventions, Teni doesn’t hesitate to portray menfolk as serving women — even as far as sending them out to buy sanitary towels in humorous videos.

Although that gives her a non-typical image for a Nigerian woman, she’s not sure it makes her a feminist.

“Is there a word for humanists?”, she asks to cover her world view.

“I just don’t want anyone to be treated badly — women, men, rich, poor… I don’t want anyone to be treated any less because they are less privileged.”

‘Just a regular girl’

Such talk is at odds with the kind of patter usually associated with the world of African music, where many singers prefer to show off private jets and bejewelled teeth than empathy with the less well-off.

Yet, her approach goes down better than might be expected.

From streets to stadiums, Nigeria's feminist-humanist singer, Teni rises to stardom

At this year’s Gidi Fest, one of the biggest festivals of contemporary African music which Lagos hosts annually, an audience of thousands roared its approval when, wearing trainers, she bounded onto the giant stage.

The cheers resounded again as she launched into some ‘Shaku Shaku’, a trendy street dance which has been dubbed Nigeria’s answer to ‘Gangnam style’.

Women profess to like her “because she is herself” while male fans say “she’s entertaining.”

“Teni is one of the hottest artists right now,” Gidi Fest co-founder, Chin Okeke told reporters.

“She’s really great, super talented, with a beautiful voice and wonderful stage presence.”

“I saw her in concert in Accra, in Ghana, and Port Harcourt,” says Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, a journalist for Music in Africa.

“It’s really incredible — all you associate with Nigerian singers, she’s the opposite. 

“She’s not too pretty, she’s not super rich. That’s why people like her, She’s just a regular girl like all of us.”

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Culture and Tourism

Being Kenya’s International Tourism Ambassador is a Privilege – Naomi Campbell

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English model and actress, Naomi Campbell, has described her confirmation as Kenya’s international tourism ambassador as a privilege and an honour.

Najib Balala, the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, had announced the appointment of 50-year-old Campbell as Magical Kenya International Brand Ambassador in January, a development which was widely criticised by Kenyans.

News Central reports that Kenyans had queried why the appointment was not given to Hollywood’s Kenyan-Mexican actress, Lupita Nyong‘o. But, Balala defended his decision by saying Campbell had taken up the role pro bono.

He also added that his ministry had not been able to reach Nyong’o for at least three years.

Gushing over her role as the face of international tourism for Kenya, a country famous for its wildlife safaris and beach resorts, Campbell in an Instagram post said:

“I feel so privileged and honoured to be confirmed as Magical Kenya International Brand Ambassador. Not just because of the obvious benefits that tourism brings to an economy but also I am proud to be able to represent such an important country as Kenya.

“We all know about the astounding areas of natural beauty, the beaches and of course the wildlife but there is much more.

“Kenya has a history going back 100 million years and is considered by many to be the cradle of civilisation so I am humbled to be talking about the country.

“Of course the people are the wealth of any nation and it’s no different with Kenya. It’s people have excelled in the arts, sciences, political thought and sports just to name a few.

“Tourism does of course bring jobs to the local economy, vital for so many small and big entrepreneurs. It helps unleash ideas, creativity, talent and makes for worthwhile and productive lives.

“Tourism is vital on many levels and it is my hope that I can play a small part in helping remind the world about Kenya and on a bigger level wouldn’t it be wonderful if Kenya could help inspire the world after this terrible pandemic we have all been through. Reminding us to be grateful for nature’s beauty and enduring history of our wonderful planet. #NAOMIAFRICA🙏🏾 @magicalkenya 🇰🇪🇰🇪🇰🇪”

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Conservation News

Three Endangered Rothschild’s Giraffes Die of Electrocution in Kenya

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The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has confirmed that three Rothschild’s giraffes have died after being electrocuted by low-hanging power powerlines at a Soysambu conservancy in Nakuru.

News Central reports that Rothschild’s giraffe are one of the most endangered species of the animal with estimate putting their population at less than 1,600 in the wild.

Kenya has about 600 Rothschild’s.

KWS said officials from the state-owned power distributing company, Kenya Power, would replace the poles.

“Preliminary reports indicate that the height of the electricity poles crossing Soysambu Conservancy are low, below giraffe’s height,” a statement read in part.

Dr Paula Kahumbu, the Producer and Host of Wildlife Warriors CEO WildlifeDirect, alleged in a tweet that the deaths could have been prevented if experts’ advise was heeded.

In another tweet, Kahumbu added that these deaths were not the first, and that they could have been prevented if expert advice had been followed.

“These power lines have been killing giraffes, vultures and flamingos. Advice from experts was ignored. RIAs [Risk Impact Assessments] are notoriously poor on many development projects. Sad that it takes these kinds of deaths to wake some people up!” she tweeted.

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Culture and Tourism

Icons on Nigeria’s ₦10 Note Inspired Oscar Nominated Movie, ‘Milkmaid’ – Ovbiagele

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It may no longer be news that Nigerian movie, ‘Milkmaid’, is in contention for an award in the 2021 Oscars International Films Category, what is news is the revelation that the film was inspired by a denomination of the Nigerian currency.

“The screenplay was inspired by the two iconic figures at the back of the 10 Naira note, those are the Fulani milkmaids who were carrying their calabashes.

Desmond Ovbiagele, who produced Milkmaid, said his film was inspired by two iconic figures on the ₦10 note. The movie, itself, tells the story of two sisters who were abducted from their village during an insurgency in Northeast Nigeria.

“So I sought to imagine what would happen if the two characters were caught up in an insurgency situation. How would their lives play out and how would they adjust to the new way of life that would be imposed on them.

On the choice of language used in the movie, Ovbiagele said “one could have chosen the easier decision to shoot the film in English language, but because we were striving for authenticity, we didn’t think it would be authentic enough for people in that rural area setting to speak `Queens English’.

The former Investment Banker turned movie producer said he was overwhelmed by the nomination of the movie for the Oscars adding that it was an accolade to reward the efforts of the cast and crew.

“… to fly the Nigerian flag at the Oscars, a Nation of 200 million people, the most prolific film making industry in the world by volume is a tremendous honour,” he said.

The film has already won five Africa Movie Academy Awards, including Best Film.

Oscars organisers, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, will announce nominations for the Academy Awards on March 15 in Los Angeles, U.S.A.

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