Black History Month is not only a time for reflection and recognition of the Black struggles throughout history, it is also a time for reconnection with one’s roots. And who better to engage in this conversation than the 50 Days in Afrika team. In 2012, during the celebrations of Jamaica’s 50th year of independence, a team of three Jamaicans embarked on a journey to six Afrikan countries to examine the booming creative industries on the continent and explore the possibilities of creating trade and partnership between Afrika and Jamaica. In the space of 50 days, the team, consisting of Singer/Songwriter Kelissa, and Filmmakers Mykal Cushnie and Donisha Prendergast, travelled through Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya where they discovered endless possibilities and reconnected with their roots.
This Black History Month, we join Mykal, Donisha and Kelissa as they reflect on their journey and growth, and give insight into the future.
Screening RasTa in Kenya
August 17 marks the birthdate of Jamaica’s most renown national hero: Marcus Garvey. This date also marks the screening of Donisha’s documentary Rasta…a soul’s journey in Kenya. Very much a Garveyite in her own right, the filmmaker felt it necessary to observe Marcus Garvey when given the opportunity to screen her film in Kenya.
The feature length film takes us on a journey to the core of RasTa; dispelling stereotypes and myths along the way. Dreadlocks have long been a symbol of liberation in Kenya, with the Mau Mau Warriors leading the anti-colonial struggle against the British in the mid-twentieth century.
The profound global reach of Rastafari’s message is highlighted as Donisha visits Africa, North America, Europe, and Asia, looking at how the movement developed organically in each of these places. Donisha notes that screening her documentary during the filming of 50DNA was made possible a thanks to the much-needed assistance of Dayo Ogunyemi, who facilitated the screening at his cinema where the Kenyan Boys’ Choir opened the event with a rendition of Bob Marley’s “One Love”, a term coined first by Marcus Garvey.
“The documentary has prepared me in so many ways for all that is taking place now with Pinnacle,” Donisha explained. She stated that the filming of the Rasta documentary allowed her to develop a greater connection with Rastas from around the world; many of whom are actively engaged in the Occupy Pinnacle efforts.
Now in her seventh year of screening, RasTa will hit the big screen next in the Met Theatres in the United States for a limited run. The film is available now for purchase on Amazon.
Seeing Kenya Through A Different Lens
The East African country has for years been synonymous with athletic prowess, Mykal however got the opportunity to explore the lesser known side of Kenya. Over the last few years, Kenya’s film industry has been steadily growing to become one of the largest on the continent, with new production houses popping up ever so often and films constantly being created.
On the final stretch of filming 50 Days in Afrika, Mykal was invited by Dorothy Guettuba to assist with a television pilot being done by Spielworks Media, located in Nairobi. The offer meant that Mykal would make a trip with Dorothy and her team to film sections of the pilot within the Lake Nakuru National Park.
The park gave the filmmaker a small taste of Kenya’s natural beauty and exotic wildlife, a trip he considers one of the highlights of his stay with Spielworks.
“In almost three months of being on the Continent I hardly saw any animals, maybe a few monkeys in Dar es Salaam. So when I heard I was going to the Lake Nakuru National Park past the Mara Region, I jumped at the opportunity at being able to one day tell my children that I went there and that I did that!” Mykal stated.
It has been almost two years since he has returned from his trip to the continent, and Mykal is looking forward to not only the release of the 50 Days In Afrika documentary later in 2014, but is also excited about a possible return to Kenya to work with the Spielworks Media team.
A Musical Mission
“I knew I was there as part of a greater mission: to find the many connections between Africa’s cultures and my own, to explore the historic and artistic landscape in each country and most importantly, to document these findings,” Kelissa explained.
In addition to performing at the 2012 staging of Felabration, Kelissa also did a few impromptu performances and radio interviews, all during the filming of 50DNA. When questioned about her ability to balance all of the above, she had this to say; “I think it was all connected. Being an artist in the sense of performance and promotion gave us so many opportunities to link up with people and to shed light on the project. I find that musical events are like a hub for artistic people to connect.”
According to Kelissa, the relation which facilitates a greater understanding of self has predominantly been lost and as a result most find themselves with unanswered questions and an insecurity with their heritage. The trip, she says, is of paramount importance to ones in the Diaspora; “With African culture so embedded in our own, it is very enlightening to make the connections. Afrika is such an expansive place, full of extraordinary people and extensive history and culture. I now understand why everybody in Jamaica is an artist. We come from a land of creators; art is in our blood.”
The first step towards correcting the severed ties between Africa and the Diaspora, she feels, is repainting the image of Afrika. Through music, her Anbessa line of graphic t-shirts and African jewelry, Kelissa has already contributed significantly in this regard.
“The 50 Days in Afrika journey allowed me to continue the work of one of my most significant life missions – and this time I was doing it through a new artistic medium, film.”
Story written by Learie Holt.