“’AFRICAN PEOPLE DON’T DREAM LIKE THAT,’ SOMEBODY TOLD ME LAST WEEK. ‘IT’S NOT POSSIBLE.’”
What does it mean to be African?
Africa, the world’s second largest continent consisting of 54 countries and 1.2 billion people, has been what some might call ‘misunderstood.’ A more accurate description might be ‘misrepresented’ in how it has been – until this day – cartographically depicted as smaller than it actually is, or how it is always spoken about in the singular form. Growing up in Canada, stories of Africa were riveted with disease, poverty, despair. Mother Africa needed help, she needed external forces to come to her rescue. But that is exactly what they were, they were stories.
Daron Bandeira, photographer, content creator and founder of Afrobougee, is what some people might call an ‘African.’ Born in Ghana to a Ghanaian mother and Beninese father, some people might say that he is as African as they come. And he is one of many Africans rewriting the African story.
Eight years ago, Bandeira started working for a magazine based in Ghana called Canoe, which at the time, was distributing in fourteen countries across Africa. This was a pretty big break for a guy that never went to university. The thing is, Bandeira took his work very seriously. Although he did have a home to go back to, he slept in the office for most nights during his three years working at Canoe. His boss, noticing his creativity and strong work ethic, took the young creative under his wing and taught him a lot of what Bandeira’s ideas are founded on today. “He had this idea about changing Africa, and then making Africa look different in terms of not showing the stories about sadness, people crying, people not eating but rather showing the new Africa in terms of what the people are becoming and where the people are going,” Bandeira said. “What kind of ideas, infrastructure, design is going around and being circulated. That was his idea for change.”
Bandeira left Canoe after three years. During that time, the self-taught designer picked up most of the skills that he fine tuned over the years, including graphic design, photography, production and art direction. He also rose from the ranks, starting off as a young graphic designer, then on to main designer, art director and finally country director before leaving. He took what he learnt and started his own project called Afrobougee.
Actually, let me rephrase that.
Afrobougee came to life through rejection. Starting Afrobougee was a process of being denied publishing. “I did a photoshoot for a fashion brand and I wanted to get it published but I found it quite difficult. So I was like ‘Okay, if you ain’t gonna publish us, then we’re gonna create our own, we’re gonna publish ourselves.’” The main idea behind Afrobougee essentially rooted from that. “The idea was to give opportunities to creatives across the continent to be on one platform, to be able to share their work,” Bandeira told. It was to give opportunity to those who might have otherwise been denied.
At first, it was difficult. Bandeira tried reaching out to architects, writers and photographers to take part in building the platform. Again, rejection from some, no answer from others. But he did learn early from this. “One thing that I understood early was that the more you push people, the more you can get things back to you. The more you help others, the more you get things back to you. So I started publishing someone’s work for somebody to see, they retweet that and then their following comes back to my page. So it became an interest in exchange – a triangle that was helping me put things out and then it circulates and comes back to me.”
Although the first year for Afrobougee was slow, he did see a lot of growth. He used his previously learned skills to design the website, while also using his knowledge in photography to turn his viewers on social media into readers on Afrobougee‘s online magazine. He started collaborating with artists to create content while also creating a criteria for the content, allowing quality work to attract quality artists. That is how Afrobougee became a content creation platform.
Today, there are about 450 artists across the African continent connected to Afrobougee. The online database and magazine networks and profiles artists and creators from different countries across the continent to enable collaboration from any location. These artists have also met the Afrobougee criteria – in other words: they’re good. In essence, if you’re an advertising company and you want to produce a short ad in Sudan, you can go onto Afrobougee and find a photographer to work with, a makeup artist to work with. These are the types of endeavors, however big or small, that Afrobougee aims to support.
Since then, Afrobougee has been sought out by brands of all kinds and has worked with the likes of DHL, Kenya Airways and African Fashion Week. Their following has grown immensely, and now have 11 k followers on Facebook and over 19 k on Instagram.
They also had their first introduction to the American public last year with the Afrobougee mixer – an event held in Los Angeles where they brought together and celebrated Afrobougee‘s online community. They organized the mixer with the collaboration of renowned photographer Gregory Prescott, known for the beauty he captures in diversity.
With this expanding network, they are changing the African story.
It all begins with the name ‘Afro-bougee.’
As Bandeira explained, ‘afro’ stands for the afro or African community. “Then ‘bougee’ connotes the bourgeois community coming back to Africa. It also can be identified as a movement, a change that is happening. This is not the Africa you thought it was, it has changed. There are influencers in there that are changing things. In my idea of influencers, they are creatives. I see an architect to be a creative, I see a business person to be a creative.”
“Basically the stories in the media, half of them are not from an African perspective. Most of the stories are an experience from someone that comes in, stays for a while and feels that ‘this is Africa.’ That is wrong. Photo journalism in Africa doesn’t share the good light, they share the bad light. The Afrobougee platform is changing this view and showing the new Africa. Africans handle their own stories, telling their own stories. This is our change.”
The proof is in their work. One of Afrobougee‘s most significant campaigns is called ‘Nouveau Noir’ (new black). As Bandeira described, “The whole idea was initially to profile black women that are doing sufficiently well, but I expanded that idea into looking for the new black people or the new black citizens in different countries.”
In this campaign, they featured Africans with diasporic identities, which by definition focuses on scattered populations – ‘a movement of a person or people from their original homeland.’ Bandeira elucidated, “When you go through Russia, when there’s a black person there, the person might be a Russian because their mom or dad is Russian but they also have African blood. People try to push them away because the Russians say they’re not Russian, and the Africans say they’re not African. So they don’t know where to find themselves.”
“The main idea was to profile these people – they are the nouveau noir, they are being rejected by two people so they need to be heard.”
Now that the platform has been well established, Bandeira has started branching out to the artists himself. He is now traveling around the continent to meet the creatives and show their lives. “I want to inspire people to take their bags and get them to visit Africa – they want to go to Seychelles, Mauritius, Zanzibar: places that you can go to and feel fulfilled without having to leave Africa.”
It’s amazing to think that he has done all of this work without any funding. All of the investment has come from Bandeira himself. “The biggest challenge is the everyday,” he laughed. “Funding. There’s never really a big budget or money because it’s money coming from my pocket.” The money that Daron makes from web design and photography, he then invests into afrobougee. What he is now looking towards is what can be done with Afrobougee‘s database.
“I want to use Afrobougee to make a lot of change. One of the ideas that I’m trying to champion is having learning centres for creative arts in different countries, which I hope one day to get a patent for. The main idea is to be able to build centres where people learn photography and art. And the good thing is that having a network with 450 creatives, I can call an artist to come to Ghana on a date to teach a set of students how to do art. The thing is that now we have the database, how do we use the it?”
“When we were growing up, we were told to be doctors, to be lawyers, because that is what is around us. But photographers are making millions, artists are making millions. There is hope for that. If the school system is not gonna change to teach us creative arts then we need to have something to provide us with creativity. Hopefully with the help of organizations and brands that want to invest in Africa, we can have centres that brings artists into one place. Through our database, we can get people to teach, to inspire, to come true – all of this, [to provide] access for the young.”
What does it mean to be African?
Daron Bandeira is reminding us that Africans do not have one singular story, that there is much more to Africa than the stories of poverty and famine that we see in the media. He is one of the multitude of people all over the continent trying to rewrite the story that has been written for them. With Afrobougee, he is showing the different colours, tones and sides to Africa that we so seldom see. Together, they are working towards changing the kinds of stories that have been published. That is what Afrobougee is standing for. That is what millions of people are fighting for. They are Africans and they are telling their stories.
“’African people don’t dream like that,’ somebody told me last week. ‘It’s not possible.’”
Bandeira’s reply, “Why not?”
WANT TO CONNECT OR WORK WITH DARON BANDEIRA? YOU CAN CONTACT HIM AND FOLLOW HIS WORK ON INSTAGRAM HERE.
CHECK OUT AFROBOUGEE FOR YOURSELF AT AFROBOUGEE.COM.
ALL PHOTOS CREDITED TO DARON BANDEIRA UNLESS OTHERWISE INDICATED.