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  • This popular Brazilian street food is a delicious link to its African heritage

    Near the vibrant city of Salvador, Ivana Muzenza makes tasty golden brown fritters from a recipe that dates back to the 19th century. The meal serves as a culinary connection to the West African roots of a unique community of Brazilian women. Iris Pacheco, bird story agency Lively conversation blends with the rhythmic sizzle of hot oil in Itapuã, a neighbourhood near the coastal city of Salvador in Bahia State, northern Brazil. The golden brown fritters Ivana Muzenza makes at her stall, known locally as Acarajé, represent more than a tasty snack. Muzenza is a “Baiana”, a Portuguese word that describes an exclusive community of Bahian women who sell street food while dressed in traditional attire; typically a white flowing lace dress, beaded necklaces, and jewellery, with colourful headscarves. Muzenza’s great-great-grandmother arrived in the region towards the end of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. She became a "Ganhadeira de Acarajé", a group of mostly enslaved African women who would walk the streets selling the delicacy. They would save up any extra money they made on top of their owners’ profit, to buy their own or a family member's freedom. Between the 16th and the 19th centuries, over five million Africans - mostly from West and Central Africa - were transported to Brazil. Salvador was the main port of entry, and most of them were forced to work in the Bahia region. Salvador is now home to about 2.9 million people, according to UNESCO. Some diaspora experts classify it as the city with the largest population of people of African descent outside Africa. Its dynamic and vibrant culture is a major draw for an estimated 2.3 million visitors annually. Bahia’s historical links to Africa are evident in Bahia's customs, music (like capoeira and samba), religion, and cuisine. The earliest records indicate that Acarajé first appeared in the region in the 1900s. "My great-great-grandmother was a slave, but after the ‘Free Womb Law’ was passed in 1871, the children of slaves were free, or ‘freedom babies’. She died over a century ago. My great-grandmother also lived past 100 years. I was 22 when she passed, so I had enough time with her. She taught me how to make Acarajé.” Cultural historians say the dish originated from the Yoruba people of West Africa. It’s called Akara in southwest Nigeria today and is also eaten in Togo, Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Sierra Leone, and Mali. While a paste made from ground black-eyed beans is the common ingredient in each region, the seasoning and garnishes are unique. In Brazil, Acarajé is also used in sacred rituals by practitioners of the Jejé or vodum branch of the Candomblé religion, which is described as a blend of West African traditions, particularly Yoruba, Bantu, and Gbe, with influences from Roman Catholicism and indigenous Brazilian beliefs. Muzenza closely follows the recipe passed down from the family’s first Ganhadeira de Acarajé for five generations. She mixes salt and chopped onions into her bean dough, deftly moulds it into balls and then drops them into a pan of piping hot palm oil. Once the fritters are fried and cooled, she splits each to add fillings like prawns, vegetables, and hot pepper sauce. The difference now is that Muzenza doesn’t walk the streets - she cooks and serves at Tabuleiro Cinco Acarajé, her own stall. "Our women got permission from the Orixas - our traditional Afro-Brazilian gods - to sell Acarajé on their trays to gain their freedom. Today, we live in the city, and everyone has the freedom to sell Acarajé and support their families. It's the main street food, a food that signifies our resistance, that’s the difference from how it's being made and sold in Africa." Paulo de Jesus is an Adjunct Professor at the Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia (UFRB) and specialises in Brazilian history. "Many slaves were forced into trade when their owners noticed that they had entrepreneurial skills. We can attribute the vibrancy of our street markets today to those women. They also contributed to Salvador's development. Back then there were no vehicles or mechanisation, so the men were manual labourers, and the women supplied meals at their work sites all over the city. It's why Brazil's street food industry is so rich today, it's the result of the women’s ‘entrepreneurial DNA,'" de Jesus noted. Baianas like Muzenza charge US$15-25 per serving of Acarajé, depending on the toppings selected. They earn approximately BRL$1412 per month, which is about US$270. They usually make more during the summer, when tourist numbers rise. Baianas de Acarajé leaders complain that inflation, urban planning restrictions, competition from fast-food chains, and a lack of cultural appropriation laws are threatening their livelihood. Muzenza recalled how her mother and grandmother initially discouraged her from joining the family business. "Why can't this be treated as a formal profession? It's a lot of hard work. But today, you can just buy ready-made dough. There's heritage and a sacred element to consider. Unfortunately, people don't understand that Acarajé is an ancestral food and business that should be preserved. It's difficult to have a dialogue with those who view it as any other food, which prevents us from entering the commercial market and getting a fair price for our product." Another challenge is the scarcity of verified data and statistics about the specific economic contribution of Baianas de Acarajé. The National Confederation of Brazilian Trade 2022 Survey estimates that street vendors generate approximately US$10.2 billion annually. According to the International Labour Organization's (ILO) 2020 Report, over 38% of Brazilian workers were estimated to be in informal employment in 2018. de Jesus advocates for policymakers to support Baianas given their social and economic significance. He added that the gaps Muzenza and others experience in academic, financial, and legislative inclusion are the result of historical marginalisation. "The entrepreneurial DNA is eroded because a dangerous perception persists that it doesn’t need to be developed. There should be investment in this community and their cultural heritage. A Baiana de Acarajé is not alone; she holds a wider community together. She carries ancestral knowledge," de Jesus added. The Baianas de Acarajé have made several gains in their fight for official recognition. In 2002, a municipal law was passed designating Acarajé as part of Salvador's cultural heritage. In 2004, The National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN) added the techniques for preparing Acarajé in Bahia to its curation of Brazil’s history. November 25th is set aside as National Acarajé Day. However, Muzenza argues that more needs to be done. "It's still not enough for us to get real value from our culture. Acarajé is being served in restaurants in Salvador that attempt to create a ‘gourmet’ version for tourists, detached from its true origins. While the government recognises the legitimacy of our traditions, it doesn't provide the level of support we need to compete with those establishments," she said. Some Baianas say the daily ritual of getting dressed and cooking renews their strength and sense of purpose. Muzenza is fiercely protective of a legacy that endured the horrors of forced migration and numerous attempts to suppress its significance. Her Acarajé isn't just meant to be a delicious meal. Muzenza often watches intently as customers devour a fresh batch because their enjoyment and appreciation pay homage to the long line of proud, resilient Baianas who paved her way. bird story agency Useful links: https://www.tasteatlas.com/acaraje https://citiesofmusic.net/city/salvador/

  • Investing in art is often considered an activity only for the wealthy. Karabo Morule would disagree.

    After leaving a financial services executive role, Karabo Morule immersed herself in art investment and created a platform that helps collectors track the value of African art. Her advice is to take a good look at the handicrafts or decorations lying around the house. Some might be worth more than you thought. Taurai Maduna, bird story agency For any enthusiast overwhelmed by the intricacies of collecting contemporary African art, Karabo Morule is a godsend. At the Investec Cape Town Art Fair in mid-February, while walking a group of patrons - all wearing eye-catching headphones - through the exhibits, Morule highlighted some of her favourite artists and what she thinks about when considering art. “Buying art should be seen as a long-term progression but more importantly, one has to buy what they love and as you buy you will start to get a feel of what you like,” the entrepreneur and art collector explained afterwards. For a Sunday morning, the turnout for the 11th edition of the fair was particularly busy, with art enthusiasts lined up outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre well ahead of opening time. Inside, the centre's huge spaces offered up over 300 artists, from around 100 African and international galleries. From Yinka Shonibare’s Beekeeper (Boy) II mannequin, William Kentridge’s hand-painted sculptures, to acclaimed Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu’s colourful prints, there was something for everyone. A qualified actuary and former investment banker, Morule saw an opportunity in the art world, which prompted her to create Capital Art. The subscription platform enables art collectors to document and track the value of their artworks over time. “I qualified as an actuary by profession after studying at university, and then I worked in investment banking for five years, first in equity derivatives and then working in insurance securitized products. I also have qualifications in management,” Morule explained. The entrepreneur, also known for her venture philanthropy company, Amara Investments, is passionate about educating people about buying art as an investment. Art, she believes, should not just be something you hang on a wall and forget about. “What I think we've been missing is the fact that there's an art ecosystem, a global art ecosystem, and it's about how we can make sure that we're active participants in that and also being able to participate in the monetization of that and the appreciation of art in that context.” Morule pointed out that collecting art is nothing new for many black Africans. Rather, it is something many people all over the continent have been doing for generations. But not everyone has recognised the investment potential in the art hanging on their walls, on a shelf, or in the garden. “Your parents probably have art, and sometimes it's stuff that you might not think is art. They might be something that's ceramic in your house. You might not see it as art. You just think it's a piece of decoration. In some parts of the world, that is an important investment,” Investing in art doesn't need to be only for the rich, Morule believes. “There's several things that one could do. The first is actually just visit art institutions and visit the galleries, attend an art fair. You don't have to go with the intention of buying anything.” She added that when visiting art fairs, one should focus on the emerging artist sections, where prices are lower. Purchasing prints is another way to get into art without spending lots of money. “These are artworks which are multiple form. Typically works of paper but it could be a sculpture that's multiple as well, or photography works. And because they are in multiple versions of the same thing, generally their price point is lower than if it's a unique artwork.” Morule added that some big collectors such as JP Morgan, the New York investment bank have about 70% of their art collection in prints. The 11th Cape Town Art Fair was an opportunity for galleries across the continent to bring their artists' works to a wider audience. Makano Bwato’s Dear M – Hope You Heal From The Things You Don’t Talk About piece was one of the attractions. Bwato, who is Congolese but lives in Kampala, Uganda, was represented by Amasaka Gallery, founded by artist Collin Sekajugo. Amasaka is considered one of the few alternative spaces offering a diversified representation of Ugandan and regional art, in that country. “A lot of people did not really identify Uganda as a creative hub. So one of the main reasons as to why I came up with this idea was to not only, you know, nurture talent, but also create opportunities across the borders. So that is a poem, that notion that I picked the interest in art representation for my fellow artists, especially those that look up to me in Uganda,” Sekajugo said. Sekajugo, who also displayed photographic works by Ethel Aanyu, said the response he had received at the fair was impressive and was well worth the investment. “I thought that this is the biggest art fair and probably the biggest platform for showcasing African art on the continent. And I thought that my gallery would use it as an opportunity to present itself and also introduce itself to a wider audience that Cape Town has to offer on the global art market.” The Cape Town Art Fair is widely regarded as one of the premier art event destinations on the continent. “The visitors are a combination of the public that come to experience the art fair, art enthusiasts and art lovers. And then we have art professionals, art collectors who travel from all over the world to visit,” said Sophie Lalonde, the fair's Associate Director. She added that 50% of the galleries were South African and the rest were from across Africa, Europe and America. “We are showing art from Africa, in Africa, which is quite unique. There's not a lot of art fairs here. And, really importantly, this is an international art fair. We are not only showing the best of African art in Africa, but we are also bringing international artists to South Africa and allowing people to view artists that they wouldn't have the opportunity to see otherwise,” Lalonde added. Morule is already planning her next art trip, which she hopes will be to the Dakar Biennale in Senegal. “I was very fortunate to go to the 2022 Dakar Biennale. (I) had a really wonderful time and I think Biennales are a great way to also challenge oneself in terms of the breadth of art, because generally that's where people like experimenting and you know, trying to think of different ways in which they could express art. Dakar is one of my favourite cities in the world.” Art travel experience is now something Morule is experimenting with and she has partnered with a tour company to develop the idea. “We actually have been starting to host trips with a small group of collectors for them to be able to travel to different places around this passion point of art. And so, last year, we had one to Art Lagos 2023 to experience the art fair, but experience Lagos as well. Some people might not ordinarily travel to Lagos, might feel apprehensive to travel there and so it was great to have that experience.” Morule is also passionate about developments in the art space, such as the Artist’s Resale Right which she hopes can assist artists to continue to earn royalties from their work, as in the music industry. “This is assisting visual artists to participate in the performance of the art in the secondary market. So if an artwork goes to auction or is sold by a gallery or another art dealer in the art ecosystem, even though it's a secondary sale, a portion of those proceeds would then be added to the purchase price and be paid to the artist or their estate." On being asked which African artists would-be art investors should be looking at, Morule mentioned multidisciplinary artist Dada Khanyisa from South Africa and also Abdoulaye Diarrassouba - known as Aboudia - from Ivory Coast, whose work has been compared to Jean-Michel Basquiat. bird story agency

  • The Moroccan referee who has overcome cultural barriers and gender stereotypes to make history at AFCON 2023

    While there has been an increase in the number of female referees at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), only Moroccan Bouchra Karboubi has so far taken to the pitch as a centre referee. Joel Omotto, bird story agency Bouchra Karboubi is blazing a trail through the beautiful game. While there has been a laudable increase in the number of female referees at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) following the appointment of six women, only one has been given the mandate to officiate as a centre referee, with the rest working as either assistant referees or Video Assistant Referees (VAR). That honour was bestowed on Morocco's Karboubi, who became the second woman, and first Arab woman, to officiate a men’s AFCON match. She followed in the footsteps of Rwanda’s Salima Mkansaga, who made history at the 2021 tournament. Karboubi is not new to this stage, however, having made her AFCON debut in Cameroon two years ago when she worked as a VAR. However, being the centre of attention was a whole different experience when Karboubi led an all-female crew, a first at the tournament, that included assistant referees Diana Chikotesha of Zambia and Cameroon’s Carine Atezambong to officiate the AFCON 2023 match between Nigeria and Guinea-Bissau, on January 25. “Refereeing this match was an honour for me,” said Karboubi. “During the last AFCON, I was the first woman to do VAR, I was in the final and on this AFCON, I am a centre referee. I was proud to represent African women and to represent refereeing in Africa.” She added: “When I found out, the emotion was enormous. I was happy, I'm not saying there was no stress, but the stress stops as soon as we kick off. So, it was a pride for me to represent African women in general.” As a woman refereeing a men’s game, Karboubi knew she had to have a flawless performance just to prove that women can do it at this level. “The Guinea-Bissau – Nigeria match was a serious challenge for me,” she admitted. “We had to show that we are here, the first women’s referee trio. So, we had no room for error because we did our best to live up to the trust that CAF placed in us.” “We were very happy, especially with the three women, for being able to show that we can be there and that we can have the same competitiveness as the men. It wasn't easy but we were able to show that we can be there and that we can do it,” said the match official, whose career is filled with firsts. Karboubi became the first Arab referee to officiate at the Women’s World Cup last year when she took charge of the match between defending champions the United States of America and Vietnam. In 2022, the police inspector became the first female referee to officiate the final match of Morocco’s Throne Cup, having set a personal milestone two years earlier, when she became the first female referee to oversee a match in Morocco's top-tier professional football league, the Botola Pro 1. Karboubi would have been at the other end of refereeing decisions had things turned out the way she initially hoped. Growing up, she wanted to be a footballer but had to abandon that dream as there was no organised women's football in her country at the time. The 36-year-old would find solace in officiating, but it was not easy when she started out. Her conservative community initially could not fathom her interest in sports. Her brothers tore up her refereeing flags to discourage her from the sport because it was ‘shameful for a girl to wear shorts and stand on the same pitch with men’ and it was not until her father watched her officiate a men’s game in 2007 that he started to support the career she chose. “I will tell young girls who have a passion, who have a goal, to work, to never give up because each path has its own challenges, and we must not give up. We must continue and with the grace of God, we can get where we want to go,” said Karboubi. When she is not applying the rules on the football pitch, the mother of one is enforcing them back home, where she works as a police inspector. She is based in Meknes, a city in northern Morocco. "Being a policewoman for me, means applying justice," she said in a separate interview with the BBC. "As a referee, it's me who applies the law and it's a win-win because it's a job and it's my passion and they are linked to each other." "Refereeing helped me a lot as an athlete to be a good police officer, and being a police officer helped me have a strong personality on the field as a referee,” Karboubi explained how the two roles complement each other. She is also adamant that she has a place in the home. "It's true that at work, I’m a police officer and on the field, I'm a referee. But at home, I am a woman, I am the woman of the house and the mother of a daughter," she said. bird story agency

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