When some of the most well-known faces from the African diaspora arrived for a recent vacation in Accra, Ghana, it looked like just another gathering of famous people. Actors including Idris Elba rubbed shoulders with supermodel Naomi Campbell, TV sports presenter Mike Hill, and author Luvvie Ajayi. Behind this meet-up of box office stars, fashion royalty and top creatives is a focused and ambitious strategy to make Ghana a major tourist destination. The country recently unveiled a 15-year-long tourism plan that seeks to increase the annual number of tourists to Ghana from one million to eight million per year by 2027. Ghana’s travel industry is projected to raise $8.3 billion a year by 2027, plus associated benefits, according to the plan.
VIP guests attended events chaired by Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, the architect of the plan to boost tourism and diversify the country’s economy through reaching out to its diaspora, while guests took part in conferences, festivities and trips across the country to discover its unique and sobering heritage.
The primary purpose of the festival was to forge closer ties between Ghana, the African continent and those of African descent living elsewhere.It’s 400 years since the first African slaves were taken from countries like Ghana to mainland America, marking the start of the trans-Atlantic slave trade route. This timing is based on the first recorded landing of a ship carrying Africans in Virginia in August 1619. An estimated 75% of slave dungeons on the west coast of Africa were in Ghana — millions of people were taken and transported on ships that departed from Ghanaian ports.
President Akufo-Addo’s Year of Return announcement pointed to Ghana’s tragic legacy as a reason for diaspora descendants to return and learn about this chapter of history. The celebrities who attended the Full Circle Festival were taken on guided tours of the slave dungeons.
“Every person of color needs to get on this pilgrimage,” said actor and co-organizer Boris Kodjoe who is of Ghanaian descent. “They need to experience this journey and get in touch with their emotional heritage, walk through the dungeons and see the ‘door of no return,'” he told CNN. Marketing rockstar Bozoma Saint John — who has a series of marketing coups like Beyonce’s halftime Super Bowl show under her belt — worked with Kodjoe, inviting 100 of the most influential members of the African diaspora to party with them at the festival over Christmas and New Year.
Saint John, who works for global media conglomerate Endeavor and previously had high profile roles with Uber and Apple Music, says the project is close to her heart.”As long as you have melanin and you are seeking a return to Africa, it is a must,” she told CNN.
“I really felt that I wanted to show people the country I know and love. I take it as a personal mission and will use my professional weight to help the mission.” Saint John says that returning members of the diaspora can expect joy on their trip to Ghana as well as moments of solemnity. Skyscrapers and restaurants feature prominently in her promotional material.
Year of return
The celebrity-attended Full Circle Festival was the opening act of a broader Year of Return, announced by President Akufo-Addo in September 2018.Speaking about the year ahead at Washington’s National Press Club Akufo-Addo said Ghana would open its “arms even wider to welcome home our brothers and sisters in what will become a birthright journey home for the global African family.”The Year of Return includes a music festival, an investment conference targeting diaspora Ghanaians, and the Right to Return initiative, encouraging African-Americans to seek citizenship in Ghana.This year-long initiative builds on a long tradition of looking outwards. Ghana, the first sub-Saharan African country to win independence from colonial rule, has a history of pursuing ties with Africans overseas. It dates back to the country’s first President Kwame Nkrumah, whose vision of pan-Africanism included alliances with diaspora communities. Nkrumah enjoyed warm relations with African-American icons such as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, who both traveled to Ghana to meet him. Writer Maya Angelou spent time in the country after its independence and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois is buried in Accra. Ghana has also sought to incentivize diaspora returnees through legislation such as the Right of Abode law of 2000 that allows people of African descent to apply for the right to stay in the country indefinitely. It was followed by the Joseph Project in 2007 that encouraged Africans in the diaspora to return, officials have compared it to Israel’s Law of Return that allows Jews to become citizens.
These initiatives have had some success. An estimated 3,000 African-Americans had permanently settled in Ghana by 2014. By the time Saint John is finished with marketing Ghana to the world, she is hopeful it will have knock-on impact across the region and wants to reshape people’s perceptions. “We are going to use Ghana as a gateway to the rest of the continent,” she said. “There are beaches in Kenya as well as snow-capped mountains. We need to tell the story of all the amazing opportunities Africa has to offer.”
Under no circumstances will Lizzo play “Flight of the Bumblebee” tonight. Don’t get her wrong. She’s a classically trained flautist, in addition to a singer and rapper, and could twerk circles while playing it (that’s a trademark). But as far as songs go, “ ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ is for basic bitches,” declares Lizzo, and tonight she needs a show-off song.
It’s two hours before a live taping of 2 Dope Queens’
HBO special, and hosts Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson have asked
her to perform her signature move, but the stakes — HBO, the
3,000-person-deep audience at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre — call for the
kind of song that will make eyes widen, jaws drop. Normally, the
trill-filled missile in Lizzo’s arsenal is 19th-century French composer
Jean-Baptiste Arban’s “Carnival of Venice,” a song that requires the
lung capacity of a runner trained at high altitude and the ability to
double-, sometimes triple-, tongue. Except a producer just
apologetically entered the dressing room to tell her she’s so so sorry,
but she can’t play that particular song. Something about legal.
What to play? she wonders aloud in a mild panic to the eight or so people milling about. The producer helpfully starts suggesting other legally cleared songs. “How about ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’?”
People are often surprised that Lizzo can actually play the flute.
At 30, she’s been playing for 20 years, since she was a preteen in her
Houston junior high school’s marching band and people would tell her
“that shit is corny!” She went to the University of Houston on a music
scholarship. She practices four hours a day when her schedule permits.
The flute even has its own Instagram account, @sashabefluting (it follows no one). She’s played on most of her albums, starting with 2015’s Big GRRRL Small World, and does so again on her forthcoming major-label release, Cuz I Love You, which drops this spring.
junior-high punks might have called her corny, but like most hobbies
people mock you for in adolescence, it’s now one of her greatest assets.
The flute is earning her Shade Room–blessed viral fame, especially
after one particularly notable moment from a performance at the
University of Iowa’s homecoming. As she tells it, that video was born
out of a direct challenge to her ability to play the flute — or to
perform at all. During sound check, a professor threatened to report her
to campus police unless she showed permits. “The privilege that you
have to have to walk up to young women, brown women, black women, and
yell, ‘Do you have a permit to be here?’ While we’re clearly onstage
with microphones singing and dancing,” says Lizzo, shaking off phantom
pangs of annoyance. She was so fired up that night, she told the
audience the story, then ripped into a flute reworking of “Big Shot,”
from Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther soundtrack, while she and
her two dancers, dubbed the Big GRRRLS, hit the shoot with more
ferocious joy than BlocBoy JB ever had, even though he invented the
dance. She ended by lobbing her trademark “Bitch!”
was from the bottom of my heart,” Lizzo tells me. “That was for anybody
who tries to stop my shine and tries to challenge my existence. Don’t
challenge my motherfucking right to be here, bitch.” She posted
a video with the caption “have u ever seen a bitch play flute then hit
the shoot?” And since nobody had, it got half a million views. People
started making Lizzo flute YouTube mash-up videos. She released a single
version of it called “Bye Bitch.”
Lizzo plays the flute, it’s a gentle “Fuck you, yes I can,” to everyone
who is surprised to see her take the stage in a spandex bodysuit and
play a song by an old Frenchman. She knows she’s doing something with
the instrument that nobody’s ever done (please see: recent Instagram
videos from her album-listening party in an L.A. strip club — a
singular moment in flute-performance history). Her career has been full
of those kinds of expectation-defying swerves, ones that shock, delight,
and challenge preconceptions. And not just ours, but her own. “I’ve
said it before, but me just existing is revolutionary,” she says again.
People think they know what to expect from a pop star, but then they
She pulls out her beloved Sasha Flute (so named for Beyoncé’s third album, Sasha Fierce) and begins to run scales. “I could play some fake jazz shit, but that’s boring.” She improvises some exaggerated riffs in the key of Anchorman. Finally she decides to play “Bye Bitch,” in tribute to her viral moment. She tests a few bars, making sure she can play and clap cheeks at the same time. She can.
In January, Lizzo
released “Juice,” an energetic funk affirmation that should have Bruno
Mars watching his throne. When she sings, “If I’m shinin’, everybody
gonna shine,” in the song’s bridge, it’s both an earworm and a mission
statement. By her own declaration, Lizzo has been at the forefront of
the positive movement. Which positive movement? All of them. She’s sex
positive, body positive (hers and yours), vocally practices self-love
and self-care. “I am a pioneer in creating modern self-love,
body-positive music,” she explains, which could ring cheesy — or, worse,
totally disingenuous. But it isn’t just the modern twists she puts on
old self-help sentiment (e.g., “I just took a DNA test; turns out I’m
100 percent that bitch”) that keep it from teetering over the line. It’s
the fact that Lizzo has been teaching herself to be 100 percent that
bitch since she was Melissa Jefferson, a self-described dorky,
family moved to Houston from Detroit when she was 9. Her parents worked
long hours building a succession of businesses, and her two older
siblings were often doing their own thing, so music was an early
babysitter. In sixth grade, “the flute chose her,” when her school’s
band director asked Lizzo if she wanted to learn the instrument. At 14,
she formed her first rap group, the Cornrow Clique, with two of her
classmates and got her nickname, Lizzo. (She was originally Lissa, but
Jay-Z’s “Izzo” was a popular song at the time.) She could rap — which
should have made her popular — but she was in marching band, so she
wasn’t. Also she smiled too much and laughed too loud. Sometimes she
wore hippie clothes, like flowing shirts and bell-bottom jeans. She
listened to Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie because her older sister
did. She wore Uggs, the tipping point. Her classmates said she was “too
white.” “But like, Lil Wayne also wore Uggs,” she points out.
started college in 2005, but by her junior year, she felt trapped by
all of the boxes she was trying to fit herself into. Was she an AKA,
making the rounds at all the historically black sorority and fraternity
parties? Was she the rapper performing at late-night shows? Was she
pursuing the flute professionally and committing to 7 a.m. master
classes? She couldn’t make all those identities fit together, so she
dropped out. Her parents had moved to Denver, and without the dorms, she
often slept in her car, a T-boned 1990s Subaru. But the universe always
offers another weird portal — and a floor to sleep on. In 2008, she
joined her first real band, playing the flute in the prog-rock-inflected
Ellypseas. “I dead-ass asked them if they wanted to get on MTV.” They
did not. She didn’t realize it then — or maybe she was afraid to admit
it — but those were her ambitions. The band never made it to TRL, but it was good enough to book shows at South by Southwest.
slept at the band’s rehearsal space, sometimes on the drummer’s floor.
“I would drive around to my friends’ houses, and if they were having
dinner, I’d be like, ‘Hey, come hang out! You got some food? Let’s kick
it!’ And just eat the chicken and rice. Actually, I was a vegetarian. So
I would eat the chicken-juice-soaked rice.” She shrugs. “I was like,
‘I’m too broke to have morals.’ ”
2010, the band retired, and her father passed away. She communicates
with him now, through a psychic medium she frequently visits in L.A.,
but at the time, it sank her into a depression. She finally answered her
mother’s pleas and joined her in Denver. Ten months later, restless,
she moved to Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis, at the behest of a friend
who thought she’d like the music scene there. She did. Aaron Mader,
a.k.a. Lazerbeak, a local producer and member of rap collective
Doomtree, describes the Minneapolis scene as a collaborative utopia. One
night Lizzo could open for a punk band; the next, she could collaborate
with an electronic band. She lent backup vocals for a rock-soul group
and performed at the legendary First Ave, the venue made famous by
Prince. To prepare, she watched Purple Rain, took a rowboat into the middle of Lake Minnetonka, and purified herself, just like Prince did in the movie.
all the diversity of genres, though, the scene was still dominated by
white dudes. Younger acts — especially women and women of color — found
it difficult to break through, but it also meant that people noticed
Lizzo a lot faster. “When someone is a force and has an energy about her
that is pretty magnetic, it didn’t take her long for people to pay
attention,” says Mader.
formed two bands. First, the Chalice, which made melodic pop with a
little bit of rap like the Spice Girls. Later, she and the Chalice’s
Sophia Eris started GRRRL PRTY and went full N.W.A, explains Lizzo. “We
were crazy,” recalls Eris. “It was like a riot onstage. Women just like
drinking, cussing, and rapping and singing.” GRRRL PRTY became a local
darling. Even Prince took notice, asking them to record a song,
“Boytrouble,” and inviting them to play a show at Paisley Park. They
couldn’t curse or drink onstage, but they did get to play in front of a
projection of Finding Nemo.
On the side, Lizzo was also working on solo material. She felt a lot of anger and sometimes a crisis of confidence. She needed an outlet. “There’s one line on my first album where I say, ‘I got a lot on my chest, so here’s my breast reduction.’ ” She’s referring to a line from “Hot Dish,” off Lizzobangers, which she worked on with Lazerbeak. They met when she tweeted, “I wish I could afford a Lazerbeak beat,” and he responded, “Just give me a case Mike’s Hard Lemonade.” After Lizzobangers, she entered what she calls her artsy-fartsy phase, which, like any good indie musicians in 2015, included bangs, a visit to Bon Iver’s Wisconsin studio, April Base, and a Pitchfork mention. The album that resulted, Big GRRRL Small World, persuaded Atlantic to sign her, and she moved to L.A., taking as much of her Minneapolis crew as she could. Next thing she knew, she was opening for acts like Sleater-Kinney, Florence + the Machine, and Haim.
With the Patriots win
over the Rams on Sunday in Super Bowl LIII, Tom Brady has now accrued
more rings than any other player in NFL history.
He has also tied Michael Jordan’s mark of six championships.
can rest assured that barber shops around the country are about to
ignite with an all-important sports debate: Which GOAT is greater?
will say that’s an impossible question to answer—you can’t compare two
athletes who play totally different games! Nonetheless, you know the
conversation is going to happen so we’re here to reduce some subjective
Though there’s no way to create a perfectly valid and
reliable comparison between Brady and Jordan, we’ve shed light on the
debate by breaking down each player’s key numbers. Afterward, we share
our (admittedly imperfect) verdict on whose résumé is superior.
In one corner: TB12, the Cali QB who’s become Boston royalty. In the other: His Airness, the iconic No. 23 with the hoop earring. Let’s get ready to rumble.
Jordan: 6 (in 6 appearances) Brady: 6 (in 9 appearances)
mark is holy ground; that record is the main reason some folks won’t
even listen to arguments about LeBron James (who’s gone 3-for-9 in the
NBA Finals) being basketball’s best of all time. And there’s no
short-selling its impressiveness—seriously, who goes six for six in
The question is, should Brady be penalized
for getting close but falling short three times? Jordan made the finals
in 6-of-15 seasons (.400). Brady has made the Super Bowl in 9-of-19.
(.464). It’s ridiculous to penalize a player more so for losing in the
championship than, say, the divisional round of the playoffs.
should also be noted that Brady now possesses the most Super Bowl
victories (six) in NFL history, whereas Jordan is tied for 10th
(first-place Bill Russell is way ahead with 11).
A man and woman walked out of a subway
car at the 51st Street station in Manhattan and darted into the next one
on the same train. A plainclothes police officer noticed.
was rush hour on a Tuesday evening in September on the busy No. 6 line.
The officer watched as the woman dipped her hand into a commuter’s
purse while her partner stood in front of her, shielding her from view,
according to the officer’s affidavit. The woman lifted out a wallet, and
the officer and his partners closed in.
threw the wallet to the ground, and the commuter quickly identified it
as hers. The woman, Jenny Gomez Velandia, 27, and her accomplice, John
Diaz-Albarracin, 31, were arrested, according to a criminal complaint.
What seemed like a routine pickpocketing had been thwarted.
But the suspects were not routine. Unlike most pickpockets, they had no criminal history in New York City. They were not locals. They were from Colombia and had come to New York for the purpose of stealing wallets on subways, one of several international pickpocket rings to descend on the transit system in 2018, the police said. “They come, they do what they can do, then they move,” said Chief Edward Delatorre, who leads the Police Department’s transit bureau. The woman and man arrested in September were tied to nine other thefts in the subway, the police said.
Little is known
about these international pickpocket crews outside of the narrow scope
of their crimes, the police said. They tend to avoid detection longer
than their local counterparts because they are new faces, and their lack
of criminal histories in the city is to their advantage when they are
caught. They move from city to city, trying to stay ahead of
A three-man ring from
Chile worked the No. 7 train in Queens during the United States Open
last summer, when the platforms were extremely crowded, the police said.
The three were finally caught in Manhattan. On Aug. 28, a straphanger
on an uptown No. 4 train “felt himself being jostled” by a man beside
him wearing a black bag. He realized his wallet was gone, and he told
officers at the 59th Street station, who arrested the man with the bag,
Victor Diaz Jimenez, 33, according to a criminal complaint. He was
carrying, among other things, three MetroCards and four phones.
used to this,” Mr. Jimenez later told the police, according to court
documents. “Everywhere I go, every country kicks me out.”
He described his methods. “This is how I make my living,” he told a detective. “I open the purses, put my hands in and take the wallets out. I pick people who are distracted.” He recalled lifting a wallet from “a tourist on the green line.” He took stolen credit cards to Target to buy watches he sold on the street, he said, and if the card had already been reported stolen, he threw it away.
“I’ve only been here for two weeks,” he said.
police also arrested two teenagers who worked with Mr. Jimenez, Michael
Camilo Joya Pinzto and Jhon Quintero Santos, despite Mr. Jimenez’s
claims that he did not involve them in his work.
That group, like the Colombians, was tied to other crimes: nine previous grand larcenies in Queens and Manhattan — and in Mr. Jimenez’s case, elsewhere in the country. The police discovered an open arrest warrant for Mr. Jimenez from Kansas City, Kan., where he was wanted for charges of larceny and identity theft, according to prosecutors there. Mr. Jimenez remains on Rikers Island, facing a possible extradition to Kansas, and he declined a request for an interview.
Quavo believes he can show the president a thing or two.
On Monday night, Donald Trump hosted a celebratory dinner in honor of the Clemson Tigers‘ national championship win over the Alabama Crimson Tide. Many assumed POTUS—who is known for his extravagent tastes—would pull out all the stops and treat the Tigers to a top-tier dinning experience. Instead, Trump presented them with a large buffet of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Domino’s, and Burger King fare. Yup, the president welcomed these elite athletes to the State Dinning Room and served them cheap hamburgers, fries, and pizza.
Quavo wasn’t impressed.
On Tuesday, the Migos member sent out a tweet shading the president’s dinner choice. He also invited the Clemson football team to the Quality Control headquarters so he can show them, and the president, “how champs are supposed to be treated.”
We’ll see if the Tigers accept Quavo’s invitation.
Monday night’s dinner was far from traditional, Trump claimed it
consisted of the team’s “favorite food.” The White House also suggested
that the food choice was a result of the ongoing government shutdown,
as White House staffers, like executive chef, are on furlough.