INSPIRATION: Africa Nouveau & MDQ

It’s no news by now that Nairobi is sizzling with creativity, and one of the most inspiring and ambitious initiatives that is shaping the city’s creative culture is Africa Nouveau. This platform is a great example of how African creatives are defining the African narrative using their talents to give Western super-imposed (oppressive) and other cliché narratives a big beautiful vibrant slap in the face. Initiatives like this are writing and rewriting history, and are therefore extremely important steps to a more informed global community. We have been wanting to ask the Creative Director of Africa Nouveau, the artist and creative entrepreneur Muthoni Drummer Queen, more about this project and now that Africa Nouveau is launching a magazine a perfect opportunity came up. This conversation is part one of two with MDQ. As you know there is a lot to explore in her genius brain so we will actually follow this up with another interview more focused on her journey. In the meantime, enjoy this inspring behind the scenes look at what makes Africa Nouveau sizzle!

Muthoni. Body paint by Michael Soi.

What is Africa Nouveau about?
MDQ: First, its an ideological concept, that the creative people in Africa are writing the narrative on what it means to be African here and in the diaspora. Then, its a platform, a music and arts festival showcasing and connecting African creators, curators and fans. It is a portal into African cool!  Africa Nouveau is purposely designed by creators of Nu African culture with the deliberate focus on alternative and progressive sights and sounds from Africa; with a view to expand the understanding of Africa.

The  purpose and vision is to congregate the creators of New Africa/re-imagined Africa; connect them with one another; Find, expose & connect curators of the culture; present a heightened experience of African fantasy to the fans.

How did it all start?
MDQ: As an idea in my home to create a multi-arts platform where creators are enriched, curators are exposed and fans are wowed.

Models: Charles (left) and Greg (Right) Photographer: Peter Mutuma Designer: Randy Pohler Stylist: Brian Msafiri

How does it work in practice?
MDQ: We brainstorm on a theme for the year, we make a concept note, we align internally how it will manifest in visual & digital art, music, fashion and film. Then we pick artists/select artists to co-create with (installations/performances/virtual reality games) as we also look for the money to make it happen (corporate/grants).

The festival takes place annually. 3 days and 3 nights. For now, in Nairobi. The next one is Feb 1-3 2019.

What is the secret to a successful festival?
MDQ: The intangible “vibe” + really well produced experiences (entrance/toilets/food service/artist service) + impactful artist selection + true intention.

Photographer: Alex Ropes

What happens at Africa Nouveau HQ and in the team in between festivals?
MDQ: We are always in between festivals, and I am always in between studio projects/gig circuits. Either we are planning, or we are executing. Then annually we disengage from it all totally for a few weeks a year.

If you would do a collaborative project with any other festival in the world, which one?
MDQ: Brilliant Minds in Stockholm. Its not a festival as much as it is a conference, but that’s who I would work with.

You are the creative director of Africa Nouveau. What is part of this role and responsibility? And what about it inspires you?
MDQ: Imagining the theme and ways to manifest it. Finding collaborators. Guiding the vision. Finding money. Expanding our horizon. Imagining. Co-managing execution.

I am inspired by the idea that through conscious imagination, we can re-create Africa. When I’m in my Africa Nouveau mode, I think of us as the ancestors, the ones who are setting the tone for what is and what will be.

I am inspired by the idea that through conscious imagination, we can re-create Africa. When I’m in my Africa Nouveau mode, I think of us as the ancestors, the ones who are setting the tone for what is and what will be.

When you say that African creatives are interested in creating works free from prejudice and expectation, whose prejudices and expectations do you refer to?
MDQ: The society (African and the world at large). The creative sector is still largely viewed as hobbyist on one hand, and on the other, a means to pass on messages (think roadshows with theatre groups passing on a message about malaria drugs). We think that while this may be a use of creativity, it is not the purpose of it.

Models: Anyiko Owoko and Adigo Photographer: Meklit Mersha Designer: Randy Pohler Stylist: Lucy Robi

The festival also aims to ”expand the understanding of Africa”, is this with Western knowledge gaps in mind or also about what Africa knows about its own creatives?
MDQ: We are always first about Africa – Africa for Africans by Africans.

The art work is really impactful and beautiful, who is behind it?
MDQ: Musa Omusi, Bazil Ngode and Jebet Naava.

The latest addition to the Africa Nouveau platform is a magazine. Tell us more about this? How did the idea come about and how did you select the people involved?
MDQ: While clothes are necessity, fashion is expression. We wanted to journey with the makers of fashion, understand their perspective, appreciate their process and document the outcome of their creativity. Further, we wanted to foster collaboration between photographers, designers, stylists, set designers and visual artists from Kenya, United Kingdom, and Ethiopia in the festival environment. The purpose was therefore to share skills, create something new (magazine) and document the makers of fashion.  Together with the East Africa Arts program run by the British Council, we approached all the creatives in the project, paired them into working teams and through a series of skype calls & and day long workshop, created the vision together.

How is the magazine distributed?
MDQ: Currently online. The magazine was launched online on May 15th. I would like to thank the creative team behind it who made it a success.
Meklit Mersha (ET)
Alex Ropes (UK)
Peter Mutuma (KE)
Bazil Ojin Ngonde (KE)
Brian Msafiri (KE)
Lucy Robi (KE)
Bryan Emry (KE)
Randy Pohler (KE)
Georgina Johnson (UK)
Sabrina Henry (UK)

Nairobi is sizzling with creativity. Is this a phase or boom right now or has it always been like this?
MDQ: It’s been like this for a while. It’s just more visible now because more people are creating and documenting actively (social media has been a great tool).

Model: Jeniffer Miguya Photographer: Georgina Johnson Stylist: Lucy Robi Designer: Randy Pohler

What is it that feeds and fuels the creative drive in Nairobi?
MDQ: Good question. Maybe the hunger to make a meaningful, remarkable life mixed in with the socio-economic dysfunction here.

What is the dream scenario for the next steps in the development of Africa Nouveau?
MDQ: Better funding so we can do more/create more/connect more/innovate more.

If someone reading this would like to be art of Africa Nouveau as a creative, what should they do?
MDQ: Follow the page @africanouveaufest (IG) and tag us. We love to meet our family!

You combine an impactful career as an artist with a role as an advocate and creative entrepreneur and Africa Nouveau is one of many manifestations of this. What drives and inspires you to work like this?
MDQ: That is very generous of you. I follow my intuition. My intuition says that this is the way for me to live my whole and best life, so I follow.

MDQ and her dancers Photographer: Shem Obara Stylist: Lucy Robi

How do you find the time for everything
MDQ: I have a great team that works on festivals. I have great producers who work on the music. I have a great support system. Honestly, i am just one tiny part of a machine of willing co-creators who work with me day & night to produce the best we can.

Do you think creative excellence comes with a responsibility to do something more with that platform or attention?
MDQ: Absolutely. Like I said, we are the ancestors. It’s on us to lay the foundation as deep, and to spread it so wide that successive generations go further than we can imagine now.

Muthoni x Jebet Naava.

For more information about Africa Nouveau:

For more MDQ:


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