FLASHBACK: Cool cool Africa: 10 brands that will you get you into the in-crowd...or open doors

It's not just material things - it's people, places and ideas too.

DECEMBER 3, 2014: Africa has been the coolest kid on the block lately (the small reputational hit from Ebola notwithstanding) with many folks who matter falling over themselves to land a piece of the continent. 

African culture, music, art and business are increasingly entrenching themselves in the global consciousness. But even within Africa, there are those who are cooler than others, and here’s our list of TEN:

Bandeka

Bandeka is an invite-only social network/dating site started by Yaw Boateng and Tunde Kehinde, alumni of Harvard Business School. Upon their return home, Boateng and Kehinde say they found it difficult to connect with similarly well educated, professional Africans, so they founded Bandeka to make networking easier. 

Think of it as the country club of social networks – you can only get in if a member invites you and if you have the right credentials - but is not accessible to those outside. Also, the connections formed on Bandeka are not entirely virtual. Bandeka also hosts private offline events where members can network and socialise – and “maybe fall in love”, according to a profile by Forbes. So here’s the place to find your date in the first place – if only you can get someone to invite you in.

Americanah

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s latest book, her third novel, was received to rave reviews when it was published early this year. It’s been described as “fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender”, it’s a story of race and identity, primarily told from the point of view of a smart, strong-willed young Nigerian woman who emigrates to the US, and then returns home years later. 

Adichie’s stardom, particularly among younger African audiences, goes against the common stereotype that Africans don’t read, and young Africans especially, who supposedly have no interest in the complex intricacies of serious literature. This is sure to spark great conversation.

Being a Tutu Fellow

The Archbishop Desmond Tutu fellowship, run by the Africa Leadership Institute (AFLI) is one of Africa’s most prestigious leadership programmes, targeting exceptional African professionals aged between 25 and 39. 

AFLI says it is providing “a platform of leading, thinking and action on improving leadership in Africa”, and since its inception in 2003, the programme has produced dozens of Tutu Fellows, many of whom now hold influential positions in some of the highest levels of business, government and civil society in Africa. 

It’s the kind of brand that can “take you far” in Africa, but the competition to get in is very tough - every year, AFLI say they receive over 200 applications, but only 20 are selected.

soleRebels

Africa’s fastest growing shoe brand, according to Forbes, is the Ethiopian-based soleRebels, created by 34-year-old Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu. The first, and only, Fair Trade certified footwear company, soleRebels is also one of the very few African brands to run stand-alone retail stores globally. 

Apart from the flagship store in Addis Ababa, the brand also has stores in Barcelona, Spain; Nyon, Switzerland; Vienna, Austria; Kaohsiung City, Pingtung City, TaiChung, Taiwan; Singapore and Japan, and recently opened its 18th store in Silicon Valley, California. 

Being a Hugh Masekela buff

The South African jazz maestro has been around for ages, but his music never seems to get old. At 75, Masekela still has “a level of energy befitting of a teenager” says this profile by New African magazine. His socially conscious music portrays the struggles and joys of living in South Africa, and voiced protest against slavery and discrimination. Masekela continues to produce music and tour extensively throughout Africa and the world, and it helps if one of his many albums to be spotted on your car dashboard. But the real points are to be gained from displaying knowledge of his vast work—it proves not just that you are knowledgeable, but also that you are liberal, and sophisticated.

A selfie with Lupita Nyong’o

Lupita is Africa’s golden girl, having won an Oscar this year for her sterling performance in 12 Years a Slave, her first role in a major film. Lupita, who grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, has gone on to score win after win this year – she was the cover of People magazine’s Most Beautiful edition; was Glamour’s Woman of the Year; and was named the new face of Lancôme cosmetics. If you can track her down, you can ride on the social mileage that that selfie will give you for a whole year.

A Baloji concert

Baloji has taken DR Congo by storm, his music is an edgy fusion of Congolese rumba and soukouss with hip-hop and rap. It’s socially conscious, energetic and original, and he combines it with the sharp dressing sense of the sapeurs, Africa’s celebrated “dandies”, who use fashion as a public spectacle and art form. Baloji was born in Lubumbashi, DR Congo in 1978, though he grew up in Wallonia, Belgium. 

The disconnection he felt as a immigrant brought him back to Congo aged just over 30, and he says of his first album Hotel Impala, “This album is my response to a question from my biological mother during our only telephone conversation in April 2005, ‘What have you been up to over the past 25 years?” Let it be known you attended his concert - from row - and the hip crowd will figure that you are truly avant-garde.

The face of Anas Aremeyaw Anas

Anas is half Batman half Sherlock Holmes, the ultimate investigative journalist who is so keen on protecting his identity that he always appears in public functions with his face covered – so no one actually knows what he looks like (except perhaps his mother). 

Even his photos on the internet are either masked or digitally doctored. He has exposed illegal mining rings, cocoa smugglers, evil witch doctors, people traffickers, and many more criminals in his home country Ghana, has won fourteen major international awards and put major bad guys behind bars. 

If you can get a photo of his face, that can be some serious show-off points. But then you have to live with the fact that a photo of the real Anas destroys the anonymity of one of Africa’s most successful investigative journalists. 

A visit to Robben Island

A prison isn’t usually the ideal location for a date or to earn yourself the reputation of a person with a great sense of history, except if it is Robben Island. Africa’s most famous prison, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 of his 27 years in jail, received over 210,000 visitors in 2011 alone, an average of 618 people a day, so be prepared to share Mandela’s “holy places” with many other people. You will meet few people who won’t want to hear the story. Though steeped in tragedy and suffering, it’s also a place where you can experience triumph of the human spirit. The tour lasts 3.5 hours. 

Manta Resort - the Underwater Room

We’re not prescribing how your date should conclude, but imagine this: encapsulated in a turquoise bubble with shoals of reef fish swimming lazily by, the coral reef just outside your window, and at night, the light from your room attracting some of the shyer creatures, like squid. 

At the Manta Resort just off Pemba island, Tanzania, the underwater room is actually designed as a human aquarium, completely immersed in the water “for the fish to behold human beings as though they themselves were in an aquarium - thus reversing the roles. Now who wouldn’t want their date to end like that.


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