The Home Channel’s (DStv 176) brand-new design-focussed lifestyle series, Africa Modern, takes us inside the world of South Africa and Africa’s rising star artists and designers – from fashion and décor, to architecture and technology. Series host, the radiant Ayanda Thabethe (local design fans will remember her from Top Billing), will be chatting to the creatives about their work, their inspirations, their vision for the future, and their journeys to success. We spoke to Ayanda about how she’s bringing something proudly South African – and proudly African – to our screens.

“It’s been very clear to see that Africa is no longer waiting for the world or the world’s approval, like we have been in the past. Our creatives aren’t shouting, ‘Look at us!’ – they are simply doing what they know, what they’ve been taught from those before them, and what they do best. And the world is coming to them, the world is coming to Africa. It’s that simple: The more we are authentic to Africa, the more the world notices. This has been a very strong thread throughout,” says Ayanda.

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See the real Africa

Who was on your “Want” list when you landed Africa Modern? 

Ayanda: We have such incredible creative talent in South Africa and on the African continent, with a vast array of styles and approaches. Amanda Black (the musician) was an artist that we really wanted to get in front of the camera, because she is flying the South African and African flag high – from her look, to her sound. She is portraying herself and her culture authentically, and that quietly demands attention. Also, interior designer Sifiso Shange and fast-rising artist Fhatuwani Mukheli are making their mark on the world stage by being authentically African in their approach.

The series title is Africa Modern (so more than South Africa). Tell us a little bit about what we’ll see of artists, designers and tech innovators embracing African identity? 

Ayanda: With this show, our aim is to unveil amazing talent. Some of our creatives have bigger names overseas, yet local South Africans or Africans have never heard of them. And on the flipside, some of our talent is well-known locally but not yet to the rest of the world. We want to highlight creative talent not only in South Africa but throughout the African continent. Due to the pandemic and lockdown, this first season shines a spotlight mainly on South African creatives, but we reach out to Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, the list goes on. Africa is a hotbed of creativity, and that’s what we want to explore. From design, art, fashion, food and innovation, there really is something for everyone.

How will Africa Modern address the pandemic and lockdown? 

Ayanda: We were right in the middle of shooting the show when lockdown and the pandemic hit, having a major impact on the entire world. This put a halt on some of the content and people we could reach to feature on the show. The production team came up with a very smart, yet simple, idea of creating a segment in the show titled “Catching Up With Creatives”, whereby creatives from all over Africa can record themselves in their own space/studio and – with guidance from our production team – answer interview questions and discussion points, essentially sending us content that we then edit and package to create a fun and interesting element to the show that otherwise would not have existed.

This gives a rather personal and “behind-the-scenes” encounter into the lives of our creatives. This content may be rough around the edges but it’s forgiving because they are recording themselves, like vlogging. We needed to adapt and so have the African creatives, taking this time to re-evaluate how we do things. We’ve needed to slow things down and look at new ways of creating to move into the future. It’s both scary and exciting.

Creative energy

Tell us about a day working on the show that had you really worked up and inspired? 

Ayanda: We had a day where we shot in Maboneng, Johannesburg, which is arguably the biggest creative hub in South Africa. There’s just such a buzz about the atmosphere, the people and their produce that gives you that feeling that you need to do more, and that unravels your own creativity. It was a day that reminded me of my own creative power and the ability to bring those ideas bubbling under to life.

Will the show highlight how social media is helping more artists to find their own audience? 

Ayanda: Yes, 100% – we are engaging heavily on social media with this show. Most, if not all, of our creatives are utilising social media to engage with their audiences and the world. Artists are solely selling their works via Instagram, Facebook and the like. And with our “Catching Up With Creatives” segment, we focus closely on the creatives’ social media platforms to get a glimpse of the world through their eyes. #AfricaModern!

Best dressed

Africa Modern is such a lovely title – tell us a bit about how we went about embracing that in your wardrobe and look for the series?

Ayanda: The brief for wardrobe was simple: Showcase the beauty of Africa in colour, print, design and overall fabulosity. As Africans, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to materials, patterns and designs because of the diverse cultures that we can draw inspiration from. Because of lockdown, however, we were limited in sourcing from all over Africa, so we made sure that we sourced locally produced designs from designers who offer a wider representation of the African continent as a whole. I often joked and referred to myself as “Mama Africa'' on set because of the boldness of the designs, not to mention that I was wearing a headscarf for quite a few of the shows, which is a side of me a lot of people haven’t seen and hope they’ll enjoy…

What’s one of your favourite design pieces that you’ve bought from a local creative?

Ayanda: South Africa is alive with talent, and I have had the pleasure over the years, because of my influence and work on various red carpets, to be dressed by different local designers such as Biji- La MaisonCinnel StoreLa Art Neviole EmporiumOrapeleng Modutle and so many more. I use my influence to showcase these designs to a larger audience and to continue to create a demand for our own. I’ve bought many designs, but one that stands out would be a hat that I bought from the Maxhosa label a couple of months ago, which remains a special buy considering his craftmanship and the magnitude of success he has achieved over the years as a result. Every time I wear a local piece… I feel proud, inspired and incredibly grateful to be the one who gets to showcase just how talented South African/African designers are. The pieces I’ve bought represent my contribution and dedication to growing the market which I so love and supporting the artists who sacrifice so much to put out incredible work.

South African and proud

Tell us a little about one creative who has shifted your own idea of what it is to be South African? 

Ayanda: Tshepo Mohlala of Tshepo Jeans (catch him in episode 1) has an amazing story of how he shifted his attention from film-making to fashion, and how the teachings of his grandmother helped him find his purpose. He is a storyteller, and whether it is through film or denim, he is telling his story and helping his community. This, for me, is what it means to be South African. We have a voice, we have a story to tell, and we always manage to bring our community along for the ride. And that’s important.

Which creative captures some of the joy and pride that you feel in your South African identity?

Ayanda: Interior & Product Designer Mlondolozi Hempe (see episode 1) is a special talent. He has a way of creating a truly beautiful “African” space that is both authentic and modern, and that is far removed from the stereotypical “curio shop” look and feel that the world has portrayed Africa to be.

During this series, what did you get heart eyes over, even though it’s well over your budget?

Ayanda: Certainly shooting at the Everard Read art gallery in Johannesburg and seeing the different paintings and sculptures had me feeling that I need to work a lot harder! I've been a fan of Nelson Makamo, and seeing his work in the gallery reaffirmed my love for his artistic sense and is still definitely on my list of items to purchase in future…

This October see…

After this tantalising glimpse at just a few of the talents that Ayanda has mentioned, we can’t wait to see what more she’ll bring us in Africa Modern this year. Just this month alone, viewers can look forward to the following onscreen:

Episode 1, 19 October (repeating until 25 October)

Africa Modern explores denim design with Tshepo the jean-maker. Ayanda explores how art and fabric can come together to create “Something Good”, and in the Catching Up With Creatives segment, she is chatting to furniture and interior designer Mlondolozi Hempe.

Episode 2, 26 October (repeating until 1 November)

Africa Modern explores African cuisine with the founder of Black Olive House. Then Lillian Gray discusses Afro-futuristic art, and in Catching Up With Creatives, Ayanda chats to ceramic artist and furniture designer Chuma Maweni.

Watch Africa Modern S1 from Wednesday, 21 October on The Home Channel (DStv 176) at 20:00

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