Denver’s Afrik Lounge Radio brings talk, music to a world of African expats

Afrik Lounge

Executive producer and station founder Temi Osifodunrin speaks with guests in the Denver studio of Afrik Lounge. The radio station has a weekly show produced by a local group of African expats. The program features news, sports, music and politics. (AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post)

From an Internet radio studio in the heart of Denver, young people with roots in Africa are reaching out to the world.

A recent Sunday program was typical of Afrik Lounge Radio’s hour-long, weekly shows. Host Sulaiman Folarin, a sports broadcaster in Nigeria before coming to the United States in 2001 to study journalism, is installed at an array of computer screens at the Five Points Media Center.

Folarin uses an international calling card to reach a guest in Nigeria, a musician who describes his writing technique:

“If something doesn’t rhyme in English, then I rhyme in Yoruba.”

The musician, Akintoye Balogun, also known as Ajebutter22— a name inspired by Nigerian slang for the son of a family wealthy enough to feed him butter — is talking hip-hop.

But he’s also summing up the spirit of Afrik Lounge, a Denver-based Internet radio show that reaches a worldwide audience of Africans and members of the “African disapora” — expats around the globe.

Africa’s borders and colonial history mean that its people grow up at home with myriad ethnicities and languages, with multicultural mindsets. Afrik Lounge founder and producer Temi Osifodunrin, born in Denver some 30 years ago to Nigerians who were studying in the United States, favors guests who embrace new perspectives as new opportunities.

Take Temer Gaim, an 18-year-old Bishop Machebeuf student sitting across a linoleum-topped table from Folarin. She’s raising money to help street children in her homeland, Ethiopia.

Her parents at first left her behind in Ethiopia while they worked to establish lives in America. She was 6 when she joined them, and was initially reluctant to call them Mom and Dad, terms she reserved for the aunt and uncle who had been her guardians. Now, she says, she has two mothers and two fathers, and that her large family has encouraged her philanthropic interest.

Gaim describes sitting in traffic in Ethiopia’s capital on a visit two years ago. She was irritated by the jam, but something moved her to notice the barefoot street children. She was struck by the irony of their work: polishing shoes.

Once back in Denver, she founded a nonprofit she calls Saving Heels to Heal, and, in between studying for the SATs and applying for college, is collecting money and used shoes to donate to street children in Ethiopia.

“Someone had to do something,” she tells Afrik Lounge’s audience. “So, why not me?”

“We need more young Africans thinking like that,” Folarin said.

On another show, an interview with a Nigerian-American who founded an anti-poverty organization touches off a conversation about why Africa is underdeveloped and the need to fight corruption “back home.” A chat about Americans lobbying their lawmakers about gun control segues into lamenting the stifling of democracy in too many African countries.

“A lot of Africans in the diaspora, we all wonder, ‘How can we make it better?’ since our leaders aren’t taking responsibility a lot of the time,” Afrik Lounge founder and producer Osifodunrin said. “Yes, it’s an entertainment show. But we try to touch on things that matter. Hopefully, we can change Africa for the better.”

Guest Temer Gaim, 18, speaks about her nonprofit organization that aims to acquire shoes for street children in Ethiopia. (AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

He believes solutions can be found if Africans around the world connect to share ideas and inspiration. Afrik Lounge is one way to do it.

Osifodunrin has encountered hurdles, including criticism from Africans who did not have the chance to study or work abroad, saying that expats just want to come back and exploit opportunity now that they see signs of progress on the continent.

Practical concerns crop up, too, such as when Afrik Lounge finds its hosts have no language in common with someone they’d like to interview. And there’s often a time-zone barrier — once, a potential guest in West Africa, which is eight hours ahead of Denver time, told Osifodunrin: “I’m a mother of six. I’m not going to stay up until 11 to talk to you.”

He’s solved that problem by pre-recording some segments.

Femi Kuti

The driving rhythms of Femi Kuti’s message follow that of his famous father, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who created the synthesis of pop and jazz fueling Afrobeat. (Sunday Alamba, The Associated Press)

Earnest conversations about politics and development are leavened by satire from an in-house comedian and trash talk about sports. Also in house is a DJ, who adds plenty of the infectious music that showcases the give and take between African sounds and American pop.

“We play music from countries where we don’t even know what they’re saying,” said host Folarin, who has been with Afrik Lounge since its debut in March 2012.

“At the end of the day, we play music, and we all come together,” said the tall, easy-mannered Osifodunrin.

Dialed in on radio idea

Osifodunrin studied marketing at Metro State, following in the footsteps of his mother, a broadcast journalist in Nigeria. His father, a pilot, studied at CU. He had not considered a career in radio before a friend asked him to be a guest on another show produced at the Five Points Media Center.

He left thinking, “Hey, we can do this.” Within days, he’d pitched the idea to station officials. Within weeks, he was on the Web.

Afrik Lounge’s Facebook page carries advertising, and the program is interspersed with commercials. But so far the talent is volunteer, and earnings cover only the expenses of studio time and equipment. Osifodunrin hopes that will change as more sites pick up his program.

Looking ahead, Osifodunrin wants to establish Afrik Lounge as a viable business. He’s made a start, expanding the number of sites that carry the show.

In April, the Dutch public broadcaster Radio Netherlands Worldwide for the first time included a blog by one of Afrik Lounge’s hosts, Toye Idowu of Nigeria, on its Web page devoted to African views. The column included a link to Afrik Lounge’s own site, which will help Osifodunrin further expand his audience and attractiveness to advertisers.

“I want to make so much noise that, after a while, people will say, ‘You’re everywhere. We want to advertise.’ ”

Afrik Lounge is also in touch with its audience via social media, and its programs are carried live on the Web by Denver’s TradioV and syndicated on several international Internet radio stations, among them TruSpot and Shakara.

Osifodunrin estimates Afrik Lounge reaches more than 15,000 listeners — and viewers, as the Internet audience can see what’s happening in the studio — every week.

Increasingly, they listen and watch on their phones. Especially in Africa. The industry organization Groupe Speciale Mobile Association predicts mobile Internet traffic in Africa, a continent of some 1 billion people, will increase 25 times over the next four years. Already, for nearly 58 percent of all Web traffic in Nigeria is by mobile.

Kenyan writer and journalist Tom Maliti, who is not involved with Afrik Lounge, sees young people in his hometown of Nairobi, increasingly a Silicon Valley-like hub of communications innovation in Africa, using low-end phones with computing power that allows them to consume media as they would on a laptop.

“What makes me optimistic is that many more young people are engaged in political debates, sharing their opinions on Twitter or Facebook,” Maliti said in an e-mail.

Still, the digital divide is no myth. Meager bandwith and inconsistent connections can make communications difficult. Hence the international calling cards Afrik Lounge radio uses to reach some guests.

Back in the studio, Osifodunrin is in the engineering booth, rolling one hand over the other in the universal “wrap it up” sign. Folarin asks the Balogun — Ajebutter22 — to share his Facebook and Twitter addresses.

“I’m following you on Twitter right away,” Folarin says. “It’s instant. This is America, man. We don’t want to waste time.”

Listen in

Afrik Lounge can be heard and viewed on: category/afril-lounge

This is

An archive of past shows lives at the Afrik Lounge Radio blog,

Standout guests

Afrik Lounge has interviewed some notable guests during its first year, among them:

Peggielene Bartels, who for years had been an aide at the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington, D.C., when she learned her uncle had died in Ghana and she was to take his place as a traditional leader of an impoverished village.

Angelot Ndongmo, a Canadian of Cameroonian descent who tries through children’s books to instill self-confidence in black children growing up as minorities in the West.

D Femi KutiandSeun Anikulapo Kuti, popular afrobeat and jazz musicians and sons of Nigerian star Fela Kuti.

Afrik Lounge

Host Sulaiman Folarin speaks with guests live in studio. Afrik Lounge is a weekly radio show started by local group of Africans. The program features news, sports, music and politics. (THE DENVER POST | AAron Ontiveroz)

Source: Denver Post

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