Tinashe and his Road to Sparta

Tinashe Marufu is a busy man. Trying to schedule an interview took days of negotiation and rescheduling, but when you’re starting your own sportswear brand, life gets very busy. He was in the middle of organising a braai for Road to Sparta, his fitness brand. Tinashe apologised profusely for having to reschedule the interview again, assuring me that once the event was over, he’d be free to sit for an interview. He ends the message with a personal invitation to the braai, promising that it will be a “lituation.”

We only manage to sit down for our interview two weeks later.

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Tara and her art

Her room is immaculate, save for the papers and notebooks on the desk.  The chime of a dream catcher on the wall is interrupted as Tara closes the window and sits down, cross-legged, on her bed.  Some of her drawings are up on the cupboard, with a gemstone chart stuck on her door.  Looking at it, I can identify some of the stones on her windowsill. A tinge of citrus lingers in the air, and Tara moves to tidy her bed, which she thinks is less than presentable.

“Art is the only thing I focused on.”

 

Tara the Artist

Tara paintingTara Dena Jack is an artist.  She always has been.  From her days in nursery school, to high school at Hellenic, and now studying towards her Bachelor of Fine Art.  That she was meant to be an artist, Tara never doubted that.  “It (art) has always been a strong point, since I’m not really academic.” Tara points to the paintings stacked on top of her bookcase as proof.  Even when she’s meant to be studying, her fingers itch for pen and paper and Tara draws instead.  “Art is an outlet for me.”

As happy as she is with her degree and career path, art wasn’t always her  first choice.  For a time, music held sway.  “I started music when I was 4 or 5, and I started playing the clarinet when I was 14, so in Form Two,” Tara says as she adjusts her legs to get more comfortable.  “I also taught myself basic piano, so I can play a few tunes.”  When it came down to choose between art and music, the decision boiled down to what gave Tara more creative license.  Art it was.

 

“I can express myself more with art. Art is more liberating.”

2016-06-03 (2)What of her art itself?  Tara scrolls through her Instagram and flips through her book of doodles as she talks about her style and what she’s created.  I notice a lot of pencil work and inking, but not much in the form of paintings.  A slight frown on her mouth as she readjusts her seating again and ties up her hair.  “With painting, I don’t have a style that I’ve developed.  With my pencil work, it’s more detailed.  I like stuff like pencil work and pen work, stuff that you can control.”  Her pencil work is stunning. Images of skulls and candles flit across her phone screen.   Tara’s proud of her pieces, but she admits that her work is dark. “In O Level, I did kitsch, still-life, like ‘pretty pretty girly stuff’.  But I find skulls more interesting. You think about a painting of a skull more than just a painting of a flower.”

 

“I always try incorporate a hidden meaning in my art.”

 

Tara fiddles with her hairbands as she talks about her plans for the future.  She wants to get her art out there for people to see – something she hasn’t been doing.  She thinks back to her art teachers in high school and how they’ve shaped her life so far, and continue to play a role in deciding her future.  “Most of my role models are my art teachers.  They see what I’m capable of, they’re more confident in my abilities than I am.”  It was Greg Shaw, her high school art teacher and artist in Harare, who pushed Tara to develop her skills as an artist.  It was her O Level art teacher who convinced Tara to study Fine Art at Rhodes University.  Their influence has motivated Tara to pay it forward and become an art teacher and artist.

 

Tara the Zimbabwean

Would she work in Zimbabwe?  Tara pauses, and takes a breath before responding. “I’m drawn to political stuff.” She tilts her head in inference.  “Political stuff that I wouldn’t be able to do that. And I can’t do kitsch stuff either.”  I ask her the question again.  She looks up, frowns and responds, “I don’t know.”

To see more of Tara’s work, check out her Instagram.

All the art pieces in this story are property of Tara Dena Jack. 

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So far so good? Young Zimbabwean identity in 2016

36 years ago, Southern Rhodesia was wiped from existence and Zimbabwe was born. Great pomp and ceremony ensued as the populace celebrated the end of a long guerrilla and the establishment of majority rule. Bob Marley even wrote a song for us, and he came down and performed, free of charge, at the official Independence Day celebrations:

In 2016, things are different.  Zimbabweans are scattered across the globe. Many people have left for their studies or employment. There is a generation of people with Zimbabwean heritage who have not set foot in the country.  And for a born-free generation, navigating their Zimbabwean identity is a chore in itself. Four such Zimbabweans, all studying at Rhodes University in South Africa, speak of what it means to be Zimbabwean, 36 years after Independence.

Marshall, 23

“Being Zimbabwean in 2016 comes with many arduous challenges and a lot of hard work in the quest to get opportunity and recognition necessary for the meaningful success in the global village we live in today.

As a young Zimbabwean, I find it hard to break barriers no matter how good I am – barriers that, if broken, will propel my career to dizzy heights. This is largely due to negative political connotations that come with being from Zimbabwe.”

Perpetual, 23

“Being a Zimbabwean youth is tough. Particularly a patriotic youth. You yourself fail to explain where you draw your strong allegiance to the country from.

It’s quite an amazing phenomenon really. I can rave and curse about the situation in Zimbabwe but dare someone else do it. So what does it mean to be a Zimbabwean in 2016, 36 years after independence? It’s a myriad of emotions. Love. Hate. Love. Hate even more.”

Mholiwethu, 21

“My Zimbabwean identity means being resilient in the face of all adversities and having faith and hope as strong a mustard seed.”

Varaidzo, 18

“I like that Zimbabweans, we’re peaceful people. Yeah our country’s messed up, but we’re survivors. It hasn’t broken us.  If you’re outside of the country, you know you’re not alone. You’ve got a community of Zimbabweans there with you.”

Zimbabwean Identity, 36 years on

So what does it mean to be a young Zimbabwean in 2016? There isn’t a straightforward answer to that. There’s a constant tug of war in establishing your identity.  Inheriting the past, surviving the present, building for the future – often times, it can be suffocating to live such an existence. Nevertheless, for many of the young Zimbabweans out there, their national heritage and identity is a badge they wear with pride.

Simudzai mureza wedu weZimbabwe
Yakazvarwa nomoto wechimurenga;
Neropa zhinji ramagamba
Tiidzivirire kumhandu dzose;
Ngaikomborerwe nyika yeZimbabwe.

Phakamisan iflegi yethu yeZimbabwe
Eyazalwa yimpi yenkululeko;
Legaz’ elinengi lamaqhawe ethu
Silivikele ezithan izonke;
Kalibusisiwe ilizwe leZimbabwe.

Godfrey: life through his lens

The camera has always fascinated Godfrey Tafadzwa Kadzere. Even though he’d studied commerce since high school, photography remained a presence in his mind, an area he’d always wanted to explore, but never got the occasion to do so.  That all changed when his aunt got him his first camera – a small BenQ digital camera, a present for his 19th birthday.

“I had a growing desire to capture special moments and cherish them, hold onto them in the form of pictures.”

From the pictures he took with this first camera (a camera he still has to this day), Godfrey’s connection with photography grew.  His camera became an extension of him, so much so that people at his university referred to him as the Camera Guy.  Seeing Godfrey without a camera of some sort felt almost unnatural, like a tortoise without its shell.  The more photos he took, the more photography became a part of his life.  “I found myself spending a lot of time carrying my camera everywhere that I would go, then going through each and every one of them, analysing and reflecting on why I took it and looking at how I could improve.”

The Creation of Liyon Media

Liyon Media

Liyon Media’s logo

Godfrey saw an opportunity to make some money off his skill. In July 2013, he started his own media company, Liyon Pictures.  The name has significant meaning for him – a way to honour his past whilst setting the foundations for the future:

“I wanted a name that identifies with my heritage and values. Ndinoera Shumba, proudly. That was key in setting it in stone. The Lion part was going to stick. At the back of my mind I recalled the significance and symbolism of a Lion – noble, respectable, presence. Lastly, I looked up any pages that has similar names. There were several. So I decided to add a twist with an ‘i’. Then it ended as Liyon.”

The venture was strictly meant to be photos only, but over time, Godfrey realised that incorporating other media would work in his favour.  So he started LOTv in 2014, which covers all types of video content: events, panel discussions, one-on-one interviews.  As it stands, Liyon Pictures and LOTv are subsidiaries of Liyon Media.  Liyon Media also has Brand Management and Design sections.

Back to Zimbabwe

Godfrey started his company when he was still a student at Rhodes University.  The campus environment provided fertile ground for his creativity to breathe and flow.  His first clients were his fellow students: they still form a solid support base for Liyon Media.  However, Godfrey finished his degree programme at the end of 2015, and it was time for him (and Liyon Media) to move back across the border. The adjustment to full-time life in Harare has not gone as easily as he’d anticipated.

godfrey3

“I pretty much started from scratch as the new year rolled in. Since I was hardly in Zimbabwe due to my schooling commitment in South Africa I had a long way to go in building relationships, partnerships and networking with influential industry stakeholders. I am steadying the ship slowly but surely. I am enjoying the experience so far, learning as much as I can from as many people as I get through the year.”

Although not a seamless transition, Godfrey’s enjoyed the experience so far. Working with Zimbojam as well as establishing a name for himself has kept him very busy, and it’s also allowed him to connect with people in the same industry.  Events such as Hustler’s Market,  Unplugged, and the Allied Arts Music Festival have opened avenues for engagement and collaboration – opportunities that Godfrey is excited to explore.

The Road Ahead

From collaborating with other creatives, to maintaining ties with established contacts, and never letting his relationship with God slip or stumble, Godfrey has big plans and even bigger dreams. “So far I am still developing and learning. Soon I will expand – more partnerships, more high quality content, and my own establishment that will house all things media, which I am extremely excited about. That’s my dream – to have a renowned, sort after media house that provides high quality content timeously.”

With every photo and video, he does his own bit to contribute to Zimbabwe’s creative culture, and I’m excited to see more of his work out there.  We could use a few more Godfreys: young, daring and hardworking people who aren’t afraid to embrace their talent and live out their passion.

Godfrey b&w

All photographs and videos in this post are courtesy of Liyon Media

To see more of Liyon Media’s photography, follow them on Twitter @LiyonMedia.

Check out Godfrey’s personal Twitter account @GodfreyTafi

 

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Michelle: the scientist, the DJ

Michelle Mukonyora a.k.a Ella, has put on quite a few caps in her life so far. Both scientist and music lover, she has had experience in different spheres of life. Her story is particularly fascinating for me, because it was the first time I’d heard of an aspiring bioinformatician.

Michelle the DJ

Her journey into her first role began in 2008, after finishing her honours degree.  She decided to take a break for a few years, and during this period she got into the DJ booth for the first time.  “I’ve always had a passion for music, but I was never musical. The one day I got one of my DJ friends to teach me how to do it for fun and I got hooked.”   Michelle was fortunate enough to get a residency soon after she started.  Although this career path was wholly unintended, DJ Elle M was spinning the turntables for a few years.

Michelle the Student

Michelle got involved with biotechnology from high school.  “At the time it was being described as the ‘new frontier’ of the life sciences,” she says, and she was more than ready to launch herself into this scientific unknown.  The initial plan had been to continue her higher education in Australia, where she could do a joint degree in business and biotechnology.  Unfortunately for Michelle, life had other plans: that was the year that the Zimbabwean dollar crashed.  Australia was off the table.  South Africa was the next best option, and that’s where she got her undergraduate degree from the University of the Western Cape in Applied Biotechnology.  She graduated and after she left DJ Elle M behind, Michelle went back to her first love.

“Science is my life. I always knew I’d be back it was just a question of when.” 

Currently a student researcher at the Agricultural Research Council in Pretoria, Michelle’s main focus is drug and vaccine design in Africa, working on animal vaccines and predicting virus structures.  It’s in this team that Michelle can flex her brain muscles and push the boundaries of biotechnology. “I have been given the opportunity to drive my own research process with a wealth of resources at hand. Being exposed to the best equipment and computing power makes one better able to compete globally.”

“My biggest challenge has been not having an emotional support system as a postgraduate student.”

 Michelle has had to deal with a tough and often isolated environment: science is truly her life now. “Science is all consuming with very little reward when you are a student. Your work doesn’t stop when you leave the lab and I wasn’t prepared for that.”  It’s a break from the structures she was used to from her undergraduate studies.  To add to this list of problems, the field of science can be difficult for a young black African woman.  Michelle has been lucky enough not to have experienced any discrimination, but it’s a fact that she’s keenly aware of.  “When I look up to higher positions that I aspire to I don’t find many women, more specifically black women.  I know the ‘Black woman in science’ hurdle is coming up soon for me.”

Michelle the Biotechnologist

“Compared to the rest of Africa we have the potential to be leaders in the field.”

Despite the challenges in the past and the ones to face in the future, Michelle remains optimistic about her relationship with science.  Although studying in South Africa, she has every intention of coming back to Zimbabwe and tapping into the world of potential.  ” In terms of biotechnologists there are plenty of Zimbabweans across the world doing cutting edge research. The key would be to convince them to come back home to the right infrastructure in place.”  Invested in her work as a biotechnologist, Michelle created a website this year, Nyenyedzi Bio, whose aim is to provide a platform for all things science related in Africa.

What struck me the most about Michelle is her dedication to her craft. Although she has done other things with her life, she keeps coming back to her calling.  Zimbabwe is lucky to have people like Michelle: people always questioning the limits of our reality and pioneering the push into our country’s uncharted territory.

“The most exciting part about biology for me has always been how structure relates to function. I love the idea of predicting the structures of small molecules that we can’t see with the naked eye like proteins and DNA and predicting how they work.”

Keep pushing Michelle.

Michelle

You can follow Michelle on Twitter at @EllaBellaBleu

To find out more about Michelle’s interests and work, visit  http://nyenyedzibio.com/index.html. 

A comics creator named Bill

We are living in the age of the comic book.  From tv adaptions such as Arrow and Jessica Jones, to box office smash hits such as the Avengers and the Batman movies, comic book properties have never enjoyed such immense popularity.   In Zimbabwe, Marvel and DC have many diehard fans and loyal readers.  Admittedly, I am one of them (Team DC all the way).  Despite my unwavering love for all things comics, I couldn’t help but wonder why there weren’t more African based comics – comics that would speak true to the realities and stories on the continent.  That’s why my interest was piqued when I heard about Bill Masuku and his work.

Bill The Illustrator

Bill Comics Work

Some of Bill’s rough sketches

Bill Masuku recently graduated from Rhodes University with a degree in Commerce, but he chose to pursue a career in comics full time.  His relationship with them began thanks to an overactive imagination as a child. “I was but a wee lad (when his fascination with comics started), although reading comics religiously came in Form One.”  He created his first full comic when he was in Grade 5.  His first reader base were his fellow classmates, and Bill’s creation was a hit amongst his friends. “It was about a group of kids with superpowers fighting tyrant teachers. Shamefully it was titled BillSaga.” From the moment he saw how people received his comic, it was the beginning of a life of combining illustrations with compelling storylines.

“It was like self actualisation, like the precipice of my human potential.”

Bill the Storyteller

However, after this preliminary break, Bill took a break from comics.  Not only was schoolwork a major factor, but he still couldn’t wrap his head around the art of the good comic story. “My ideas for a good story were incomplete. Writing takes time and it’s a constant refining process.”  For example, his first was to create a story around a team of superheroes whose origins were in South Africa, with the plan of eventually expanding the team to include heroes from across the world.  Such a team made sense in Bill’s mind but translating it on paper proved harder than expected.  He decided to cut down the team and keep the focus on Africa.  This was the golden idea, and with this in mind, Bill started to flesh out the story, incorporating elements from his imagination and current African events to produce an interesting yet relatable story.  “There was that proposal from Gaddafi to initiate the United States of Africa.  Tearing down trade boarders, unifying the currencies and just being great.  In my current universe, the African Union, or the United States of Africa, is in effect by 2014.” In addition, Bill plans on reviving old forgotten folk tales, an audio series, as well as a separate title he calls ‘The Third Chimurenga’, whose premise is a cross between speculative literature, sci-fi, and historical fiction:

Blending fact and fantasy, the story starts in the Rhodesian Bush War, where scientists conducted experiments to create a human weapon. With the death of the lead scientist and the end of the war, the test subjects were put into suspended animation in a facility located a few kilometres outside of Harare.  An unfortunate stranger stumbles onto the site, unleashing these human weapons into modern Zimbabwe.

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Creating the stories behind the comics is a long process for Bill.  Not only does he do historical research, but he also has to test out the plausibility of the powers he gives to his characters. Bill explains his current concepts: “I’m currently struggling with human flight – somewhere between warping one’s own electromagnetic field against gravity and or adjusting the density of fluids in the body and treating the atmosphere as a liquid.”  Bill adds to the superpower factor by grounding his characters to ordinary, relatable people that Zimbabweans encounter on a regular basis:

“The secondary theme I’m following is what would an ordinary person  do with powers. Not a super buff millionaire or an alien.  A kombi conductor with the power to teleport. The circumstances of his life. And what choice would make him a hero or villain. Because in my universe, there is no evil.”

However, he’s hit a few speed bumps when it comes to fleshing out his stories.  Especially when it comes to writing female characters, Bill wants to present heroes that are complex but don’t fall into the stereotypes and tropes that have come to characterise representations of women in comic books.  “It’s harder to write believable female characters that weren’t raped, recovering from some trauma, or the converse depiction of them as a Mary Sue. A lot of thought has to be considered. It’s even more difficult for a black female character.”

Bill the Strategist

As invested as Bill is in his craft, he is not naive to the realities of the comics industry in Zimbabwe and Africa.   The industry is growing – with independent publishers in South Africa, and Nigerian comics gaining more prominence and publicity.  However, comics as a business is still not taken seriously – at least in Bill’s opinion.  “The obstacle,” he says, “is getting over the idea of ‘maPopeye’ and stagnant creators.”  MaPopeye in this case refers to the old style of animation, where people produced brief 10 minute clips of cartoon, such as Popeye. “It’s good for 10 minutes of laughs, but not really a career path or anything of value.”  For young artists and creators to have some kind of success, they have to continue in this old model without exploring their own artistic avenues, leading to a stagnant market.  Bill remains optimistic of the comics industry, and points to the Comics Conventions held in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Zambia.

“The number of dynamic creators has risen tremendously, but the perceptions mean that we can’t make a living off it and it becomes a sub-craft, coupled most commonly with graphic designers.”

SILVER DIAMOND issue 1 cover

With his recent graduation Bill moved back home, and whilst Zimbabwe’s economic situation isn’t the most ideal setting for a young illustrator like him, he’s learnt to appreciate the little things that are to his advantage.  “There are some pleasant conveniences, like EcoCash.  It’s the card that registered my patreon account.  I have more time free time to research and draw.”  To get some funding for his work, Bill set up a Patreon account, which works in the same way as Kickstarter or GoFundMe.  His mother and his friends have been supportive thus far, but he needs financial support to expand his work and produce more comics.  “I need to buy a scanner, so that as soon as I’m done with a piece I can edit and upload.  Then partner with a printing store so I can sell at conventions like AfriNerd Con and maybe even HIFA.  Later I’ll buy a tablet so I can do digital art.”

“Why walk when you can teleport?” 

Bill’s drawings and story arcs illustrate a growing artistic industry and space in Africa.  With non-African comic companies and creators possessing the lion’s share of the readers and collective imagination, it’s high time that young Zimbabweans like Bill get the opportunity to represent their narrative in comic form.  Who knows, perhaps in a few years, the continent could see its own crop of comic book adaptions.  And one of them just might be one of Bill’s creations.

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If you’d like to support Bill via Patreon, check out his account here for the details.

For more illustrations and comic creations, follow Bill on his Instagram at @billmasukuart

Thembiso and her road to the A-List

You can almost hear Thembiso’s voice, even over the static medium of text.  The smiley faces and exclamation points that dot her responses paint the image of  a young woman whose face that’s just as expressive as her voice.  You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking this: a recent graduate living in California, Thembiso’s planning on making full use of her social skills to propel her to an anchor spot on E! News.

“It’s (the constant moving) definitely made me really social and friendly because I was forced to put myself out there in order to make new friends with each move.”

Thembiso Mawema was used to travelling around.  “My dad was a diplomat so I travelled a  lot but moved to Malawi, Kenya and Zim.”  2007 spelled the big move across the ocean to the United States, but after moving  around so often it wasn’t anything new for her.  Schools were on winter break when Thembiso and her family arrived, but she started school almost immediately after settling into her new home.  “That was definitely the biggest change, from going to a Zimbabwean private school like Convent to an American public school! Major shock! I went from an all-girls school were discipline was a big deal to a co-ed school where kids would make out in front of their teachers like it’s  nothing.”

“I got the most ridiculous questions a lot of the time tho like ‘how did you learn how to speak English so fast’, ‘do you have cars in Africa or did you ride elephants to school’.” 

Apart from the usual comments on whether she lived in a hut or how could she speak such good English, she had no problems fitting in and finding friends.  Travelling and moving so often helped Thembiso hone her social skills and she’d learnt to adapt to new places and cultures.  She upgraded to university, where she graduated with a degree in communications this year.

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“My goal has always been to be a host on E! News, but I just love entertainment, & pop culture & fashion so as long as I’m doing that I’m golden.”

Thembiso had always been set in her career goals.  “My endgoal is to be a host/tv personality”, she says, and true to form for Zimbabweans the world over, she’s started laying the foundation for her dream.  It all started with one of the newer social media platforms, Snapchat.  “I just used it like anyone else & people always tell me how much they enjoy them & how I need my own show. I was just being myself too so it was nice to see that people enjoyed that I suppose.”  Thembiso laughs as she thinks back to where she started.   She’s continued with her Snapchat stories (hosting a #AskThembi every Sunday) and now has her own blog and Youtube lifestyle channel:

Whilst Thembiso has started the journey to create her own brand, she did meet some initial resistance from her parents, who didn’t see entertainment journalism as a legitimate profession.  They naturally had other plans. “My mum has dreams of be becoming a lawyer  which would definitely be my first choice if I didn’t want to be an entertainer.  So I would say they definitely prefer me to do something else, but they support me in what I want to do which is more than I can ask for. My mom gives anyone and everyone the link to my blog to boast.”

 

“I want young guys and girls, to live the life they want for themselves, to not be afraid to not want to be an engineer.”

Thembiso hasn’t been back to Zimbabwe since her family moved, and being away for so long has had an effect on her connection to her old home.   She arrived in California when she was 14 and Thembiso spent the all-important adolescent period in a new surrounding.  However, she never let go of who she was and what she’d learnt when she lived in Zimbabwe.  Her parents and friends (those who are still Zim based) are her touchstone.  “Being close with them and them keeping me grounded and reminding me where I came from is what keeps it (her Zimbabwean identity) going.”  Although she hesitates on whether she’d permanently move back to Zimbabwe, Thembiso’s firm in her resolve to maintain and represent her Zimbabwean roots whichever platform she’s on.AhrRisgu-Q5LU3fMBbH1YME-kOhE9tzBAGqrxhBPki0q

You can check out  Thembiso’s work at www.justthembi.com,  as well as her Youtube channel.