The Storytellers is a research project executed by author, event manager, researcher and creative director of the website Africa On My Sleeve, Makanaka Tuwe. Now living in Morocco, Maka has been running projects for years. This one in particular began as a university requirement for her masters qualification, but grew to become an intrinsic bond between the nine young Afro/Kiwi women involved; exploring ways to shift the mainstream narrative of African people and perceptions of them, the answer was to become the storytellers themselves.
Maka says “Over a period of two months The Storytellers and I met on Sunday afternoons and what was a creative research project soon became a space of healing, seeing ourselves reflected in our worlds and a safe space were we could unravel. Through the creation of content we produced visual outputs that explore and share the experiences of third culture identity, African representation, being a woman of colour, black love, cultural heritage, colourism, tokenism and intersectionality within African identity.”
“On the food chain of life it goes white men, white women, black men, black women.” – Makanaka Tuwe.
“This research is aiming to provide an impetus for researchers, policy makers and those interested in African development to start exploring different participatory and alternative methodologies to countering the issues that come with migration, identity and representation for people of African descent in the New Zealand context. I begin the exegesis with a personal narrative I wrote as a reflexive diary entry during the research process. The decision to begin Chapter One with Home but never Home was to highlight the reality of navigating life as a woman of African descent in New Zealand and the conversations I engage in about identity and belongingness.” Download Maka’s research HERE.
Go behind the scenes with S E R U M and T H ES T O R Y T E L L E R S photo shoot/interview processes below:
“For a long time I felt ‘stuck’ between living in western societies norm and following the path of my cultures. Unfortunately, society made me feel discouraged to be who I intrinsically and biologically am. I was trying to mould myself into someone I wasn’t just to fit in and feel ‘white’ – for lack of a better word. Eventually, the more I grew, I started to learn more about my culture, heritage and customs and realised that in order of representing who my family and I am, I would have to stand out at times. I wouldn’t need to wear my hair straight to school or eat promptly with a fork and knife. Some people took my dad’s broken English and heavy accent to mean ‘welfare’ or ‘refuge’, when I saw it as intelligence and wisdom. My brother would even simplify or change his name so people wouldn’t overlook his CV or just to make it easier for people. My dark-skinned friends and I would be labelled at school as the troubled kids and be disciplined without having done anything wrong. Women in my family who wear cultural clothing in public would be labelled, ridiculed, mocked or stared at when they were innocently walking through the city. I am now at a place where I am 100% proud to be a Moroccan-Samoan Kiwi. The values I learn from each enable me to grow, I feel like I have roots when before I felt discouraged, ashamed and a little lost. I love celebrating everyones differences from the inside to the outside because with difference there is no learning, growing or understanding.This song is about finding my love and appreciation for my heritage and culture in my early adulthood.” – Laila. Listen to her song HERE.
These holidays 22-year-old designer and personal stylist Jett Nichol is dropping some golden knowledge and then taking a one way trip to the United States. It’s his dream to intern for Kanye West. “Me and Kanye are going to be friends one day” he tells me, and somehow, the intelligent part of me can picture it. Jett has a confidence about him, he’s passionate, articulate and has a work ethic to aspire to. Since he moved to Auckland two years ago from Taradale, Hawke’s Bay he’s been flipping burgers for 80 hours a week, at a joint called Better Burger. This year he’s managed to save enough money to buy a Rolex and a new pair of Rick Owens for ‘his bag’. He explains:
“There’s a thing called ‘the bag’ which they mention in hip hop – they’re not talking about money they’re talking about God. Straight up, they’re talking about that feeling in your chest when everything is going correctly and you understand that the stars align sometimes – it’s when you get that feeling in your stomach.”
Plans to fill his bag include spending downtime with girlfriend Poppy and swimming and sitting in a Japanese sauna. Having researched everything down to his suitcase when preparing for his trip, to me, it’s a reflection of the designer in him. After Japan the plan is to head to the States solo. “Either New York or LA, I might flip a coin or some shit. Some rooms, you can only get into alone,” he explains. In this interview we talk about the right way to ‘get clout’, styling rappers and having the confidence to recognise your own greatness. “Kanye’s the one guy I wanna work for. Designer’s have always got apprentices. Masters like Yves St Laurent was the apprentice of Dior… My friend Taylor Burn from Auckland though is now Virgil [Abloh’s] personal assistant.”
SERUM: Isn’t it incredible what Kiwis can do these days?
J: Crazy. Kids here are different. There’s actually a demand now, it’s building really fast.
SERUM: Yeah we’ve got so much talent here, like a little concentrated island/country.
J: Cause we’re so friendly. Obviously there’s exceptions but I think we admire the culture of whatever we wanna way too hard. We’re fans but since we’re so far away we get a misconstrued idea of all of it and we end up putting a spin on it into our own shit, the kids here are so different, we’re fire as.
SERUM: Describe what you’re style’s like?
J: Bold, bright, but it’s equally as dark. I don’t know it’s just bold without being dramatic or offensive, like cartoonish I guess. I like big letters, big colours, a lot of textured fabrics, shit you ain’t gonna find in AS Colour.
Shirt designed and made by Jett.
SERUM: Where do you shop?
J: I actually don’t. Last place I shopped was at Zambesi and that was probably like mid to end of last year. I bought some Margiela and some Rick Owen shoes. I don’t like shopping man, there’s so much shit product. When I buy something I have to do a lot of research. I started looking into best suitcases to buy and they were all shit and so dumb. I was like ‘How could I have this? This doesn’t represent me in no way’, so I bought a $300 suitcase, rimowa, aluminum, it’s fucking hard. I like minimal utilitarian products and the best of it. I feel like Rick Owens makes the best shoes in the world. I like to buy really little of high quality things. If I was a girl I would not be touching Glassons or anything.
SERUM: Fast fashion is a big fucking problem.
J: It is. But the best way to get clothes is just like the type of shit you run into in your life – there’s something natural and sexy about it, the way you got it. Some of my favorite pieces ever are pants, jackets that were hand-me-downs from my uncle. They’re ripped and old but it’s just dope. Shit that you find in your parents’ wardrobe as well – it’s that shit that creates the most vivid homegrown styles
SERUM: For you. How much is too much to spend on a garment?
J: None – there’s not too much. Those t-shirts, green ones, $600. Like who the fuck is going to own a t-shirt for $600?! I believe everyone should own their dream pair of shoes, whether they cost $300 or $5k.
I feel like everyone needs their dream pair of shoes as soon as you can afford that shit – get them shits. I mean, what the fuck are people spending money on like what is there?
SERUM: How in your words would you say fashion is an extension of personality and why is it important?
J: It’s all about mood. The word fashion is …fashion is almost like an accessory to style. Style is just essence of character you know. It’s the purest form of someone’s soul, I don’t wanna say soul but it’s really deep rooted. Style is – they know what they’re doing they know where they’re going and why, even if they don’t realise they know. It gets quite spiritual I think style at least and then fashion is there to aid and protect style in a way and sometimes replace it. You get some losers out there that replace style with fashion though.
SERUM: When you wake up how do you know what you’re going to put on?
J: It’s always about what type of character I wanna be that day like what type of movie am I in today. Sometimes I feel minimal like right now I’m wearing black and two white stripes, Ricks. For sure sometimes I feel busy as and I wanna wear mad accessories like patterns, I feel like fucking people off.
SERUM: Name your top four designers.
J: Without saying me times four, lets go Margiela number one because I feel like that was the first guy to inject irony into the industry, like the element of almost dark humour in a way; he really criticised the industry and the ins and outs of it through the clothes which is kind of buzzy. Obviously everyone’s doing it now, the idea of just rarity. That guy, there’s like two known photos of him ever. He was very anonymous, very strange. Doesn’t really have a solid logo either; he’s got a tag that’s blank – all of that shit. So yeah Margiela, coolest.
Prada – it’s uniform, really minimal, classy – you now devil wears Prada, obviously.
Kanye – he’s not my favorite designer in the world but I still think he crushes it. He’s making a lot of statements I mean Season One, that fucked fashion up for sure in menswear.
SERUM: Yeah I fell for that real quick, completely in love.
J: Yeah and I don’t think the effects of that have been seen yet either, people are going to click maybe 10 years later but nah, Season One meant fucking heaps.
SERUM: Also the choreographer he chose for those shows was the same woman – Vanessa Beecroft and I just loved that human installation approach.
J: Yeah it was rare aye.. I think Helmut Lang did that as well. They had a kinda stand-still-army-type vibe.
SERUM: What do you think of celebrity designers?
J: I don’t know if I think anything of celebrity designers. It’s all good, after hearing so many Kanye interviews I try to stay away from the whole class-ism thing. Like try to not box people in you know if there’s a celebrity and they wanna do something different it’s like fuck yeah do it.
SERUM: Rihanna, FENTY
J: Rihanna’s so fire. .
J: Who is a shitty one?
SERUM: I just think for someone who lives it, breathes it, and then a random comes along and dabbles in it, must get frustrating, no?
J: Well I’m tryna live it. I’ve been doing 80 hours a week there. I’m not even playing, I’ve been just saving money this year to try and bag myself. Aw wait, first designer is Nigo!
Nigo – he designed BAPE and then Human Made – I think BAPE is the best streetwear label ever to do it. It brought streetwear to a really childish place but like, luxury. It was just buzzy like straight out of SpongeBob and then Pharrell… great celebrity designer, shout out to celebrity designers.
SERUM: I mean these days no one is one thing.
J: Yeah it’s kind of a renaissance huh.
SERUM: How do you feel about clout chasing ?
J: I’m a clout chaser. LOLS. There’s just a way to do it and a way to not do it – everyone wants to be popping so it’s like – you got to do it but you’ve got to know that you’ve got the bag. You’ve got to chase the clout within yourself rather than following other people’s clout. Sure people can give you followers but no one’s really giving you clout like passion and it always comes down to how you’re feeling inside. That’s where style sits, style is the essence of clout which comes back to God. It’s all very spiritual. You’ve just gotta focus on yourself – watch your own back and don’t bother about anyone else’s. If you can help someone else’s bag do that and if you can see that someone can help your bag – do that. But it’s about your bag, don’t steal anyone else’s cause you’ve got your own right there. Everyone’s got it. The people that are hating or clout chasing the wrong way – they’ve got a bag of their own but they dropped it on the floor, forgot about it and are going after someone else’s. It’s dumb. Focus on your own name, spend a lot of time alone ..
Quetzal Guerrero sits at the back of the Wellington Opera House in New Zealand. He’s just come off stage with Dancing Earth – a contemporary indigenous dance company directed by Rulan Tangen [right of photo] who holds the belief that “to dance is to live, to live is to dance.” Rulan’s work is known for honoring key aspects of Native American culture. Concepts like matriarchal leadership, dance as ritual for transformation and healing as well as the process of decolonizing the body.
In this interview with SERUM we talk to Guerrero about connecting with Rulan and how his passion for movement and dance began with Hip Hop and break dancing. He also explains that in 1980’s America, hip hop provided a sense of identity for indigenous youth who were going through a loss of their own cultural identity. At the time their elders were making fundamental moves at the United Nations to even be regarded as human beings with human rights at all. I talk to Guerrero about his journey as a classically trained violinist, being the son of a political muralist and activist and growingup first nations in Phoenix.
“My father comes from the Coconino and Yaqui tribes of the South-West. He raised us with a lot of consciousness about the real history of the United States and what went down when it came to colonisation so we had awareness about our identity and who we are – we were taught not to be ashamed of being who we are and to embrace our culture and our roots. So I was always fascinated about Native American art, music and history. I’ve always loved studying as a kid and learning about it and I think that’s what also intrigued me about working with this company – because it’s contemporary and nothing like this really existed – this is one of the first Native American dance companies..We’re telling the story about who we are as Native Americans but expressing it through dance.”
Dancing Earth’s performance piece – among many other cultural groups from around the world, I noticed evoked a sense of deep pain, Quetzal elaborates: “The Native American community, we’re still healing from the devastation that comes with colonization – talk about genocide. Tens of millions of Native Americans were murdered, killed and wiped out by colonization so there is a huge scar, a big wound that has been slowly healing in the Native American identity and part of that healing is coming to terms with today. Letting go of the past and seeing that as a blessing in disguise – in the sense that we’re still here, we’re still present and we need to be aware of that and open to accepting today – the future and making something of it. “A lot of colonised cultures are really affected by the new culture and social oppression that comes along with that so they suffer from a lot of debilitating social diseases like alcoholism, drug use, abuse – they suffer from a lot of these things cause they feel they’ve lost a lot of who they are and accessibility to identifying your culture isn’t there anymore so I think that’s why things like Hip Hop culture come into play.”
“For some it was more a means of escape and an identity. Hip Hop claimed a spot in people’s hearts because they could claim it as theirs’ in a time when how they felt, looked, thought and lived as indigenous people put their self-worth in question.”
Growing up, he remembers dressing way more gothic than the other kids; with leather studded jackets and mohawke hairstyles as opposed to the classic Puma suedes with a cheese cutter bboy look. “We were all brown, but we were all diverse.”
Remembered in many bboy circles for his alternative dress style Quetzal says winning second place in a battle judged by bboy legends like Ivan the Terrible and Style Elements Crew; receiving approval from people like this he says ‘validated’ their place in the bboy scene, making it all good to remain ‘alternative’ in terms of dance style and dress.
SERUM: Do you feel as someone that’s had that experience growing up indigeanous, with hip hop as an outlet, that there will be positive changefor indigenous youth in the future? QUETZAL: Oh yeah, definitely with the new generation of kids who aren’t tied to all that pain and trauma and who are able to access information so much more now and have more avenues to find themselves you know – it’s not so black and white as it used to be, it’s a lot more grey and you have a lot more ability to search and to find out who you are and what you’re into and really discover all the different aspects of life. When you were on the reservation 20 years ago you had nothing but at least now with the internet you can watch and see and learn by example – see things that can inspire you and take you out of that dark place you know. He says “There are so many parallels with the Māoris here and with Native Americans in the United States first and foremost the respect of the earth and natural resources of the earth – and to know we are not owners of this land, we are shepherds of this land and we’re guardians of this land. I think every indigenous culture understands that because you have to have that mentality if you wanna be able to live for 1000 years. If you want to be able to survive you have to have respect for the earth because if not you’re essentially shooting yourself in the foot and I think this capitalist consumer culture that has been affecting all of the developing nations right now is very disruptive in the sense that it’s destroying everything that is good and wholesome in this world and that’s going to be able to last for lifetimes, that’s the biggest thing I noticed”.
“It’s also the sense of family and welcoming. We’ve been staying at two different maraes since we’ve been here and to see that sense of family, tribe and love and heart for one another it’s really prevalent,” he says drawing parallels between Māori and First Nation ways of living.
In 2007 the Human Rights Council adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it is a document which emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations. It establishes an important standard for eliminating human rights violations against indigenous peoples worldwide and for combating discrimination and marginalization. Although not legally binding, it’s a document that took over 30 years to develop and have validated by the United Nations. Interestingly, the Declaration was adopted by an overwhelming majority of the General Assembly, with 143 countries voting in support, 4 voting against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) and 11 abstaining (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa, Ukraine). Although New Zealand initially opposed this declaration, 11 years later at the UN General Assembly in September 2018 Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged the vital contribution indigenous values offer the globe and humanity, as did Mr. Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, Cree Chief, Canada who spoke at the 2017 UN Press Conference.
In her 2018 speech Prime Minister Ardern points out as Mr. Littlechild did, the crucial urgency in addressing climate change and embracing indigeanous values like kaitiakitanga – a Māori concept of guardianship. “For those of us who live in the South Pacific, rising sea levels presents the single biggest threat to security in our region the impacts of climate change are not academic or even arguable – they are watching the sea levels rise, the extreme weather events increase and the impact on their water supply and food crops.”
She said in New Zealand, “We will not issue any further offshore oil and gas exploration permits and have rolled out an initiative to plant a billion trees over the next 10 years”. She acknowledged these plans among others are ambitious – but the threat climate change poses demands it. “We have a duty of care – for us that has meant action to address degradation like setting standards to make our rivers swimmable.. The race to grow our economies and increased wealth makes us all the poorer if it comes at the cost of our environment. In New Zealand we’re determined to prove it doesn’t have to be this way.” In 2017 Mr. Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, Cree Chief, Canada spoke at the UN Press Conference – commemorating a decade since the Declaration was adopted by the UN: “An elder asked the delegation of around 181 States ‘Which one of you is going to argue for my brother the fish? Who among you is going to argue for my brother the bird that flies or the four-leggeds that die so we can live? Who among you is going to argue for clean air and clean water?’ “That day marks the start of consciousness at the UN about environmental protection – the very thing that we’re faced with today with climate change discussions – that started with indigenous elders raising the issue.”
New Zealand has also been at the forefront of progression for indigenous rights historically. Chief Littlechild continued “If you remember in 1923 and 1925 when two indigenous leaders tried to get a voice at the United Nations – Chief Deskaheh in 1923 and then Ratana – a spiritual leader from the Māori – they couldn’t get into the League Of Nations as it was then known. From that time 1923 – 1977 there was no voice for indigenous people – no voice to be heard internationally. “For me now it’s been 40 years since I’ve been on this journey. I also remember the day when we were actually – for the first time – we were recognized as human beings it was eight years of debate on whether or not indigenous peoples are human beings.”
He also points out the important contribution indigeanous peoples have offered the world; to operate holistically, acknowledging the importance of spirituality: “A couple of very significant contributions indigenous peoples made during this history of debate at the UN – the longest debated declaration in UN history. Twenty seven years it took – so I remember for example being asked [by his elders] to go to the chairperson to ask if we could open the meeting with a prayer and to be told Mr. Littlechild ‘You know we don’t pray at the United Nations’ and I said well it’s not really a prayer it’s an invocation – we offer thanksgiving to creator for blessing us with a beautiful day like today”. Eventually she said yes. “To make a long story short the outcome of that was the the recognition of spiritual right’s. That there’s such a thing not only of economic, social and cultural rights or civil and political rights but also spiritual rights, it was our elders that offered that to humankind.” Watch 1 hour press conference:
What does it take to become a tour DJ for superstar R&B singer, Lloyd? Yeah you have to know your shit as a DJ, but you also have to have the right chemistry with the artist to make it successful. DJ Kelo, who owns and runs Team Titan DJ’s based in Atlanta says it’s always been his intention to tour and travel with his music. The 27-year-old says being a tour DJ is an extremely competitive hustle and there’s a 100 men in line vying for your spot if you slip — just like anything related to success there is an element of sacrifice and maturity that comes with the grind.
Coming from New York originally, then Atlanta before Wellington Kelo says he always understood he couldn’t specialise in just Hip Hop music if he wanted to travel as a DJ:
“I’m just on my workaholic mode,” Kelo says, “I’m doing my job, I love doing what I’m doing and I’m enjoying myself at the same time”.