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nataal media magazine african creatives
Nataal MediaPhotography Ruth Ossai

Nataal Media is the platform spotlighting the world’s African creatives

We speak to the team behind it on the launch of its new magazine and the importance of giving black talent its own space

Earlier this year, Naomi Campbell called for the creation of a Vogue Africa – a publication solely dedicated to spotlighting the wealth of African talent the continent has to offer. While that prayer hasn’t been answered by Condé Nast, one platform already filling that role is Nataal Media.

Originally founded as a digital platform back in 2015, the team behind it include editor Sy Alassane, creative director Sara Hemming, and editorial director Helen Jennings. While the trio had worked together on a number of projects before, they all come from very different creative backgrounds with Alassane working as an actor and director, Jennings as former editor of Arise, and Hemming the former art director of AnOther. “With our collective experience across film, fashion, advertising, and journalism, our respective skill sets and contacts compliment each other nicely,” the team tells us. “Nataal has become a family affair based on mutual respect.”

After successfully growing the digital platform, the obvious next step was to venture into print, with the debut issue coming out in May. As one of the few publications totally dedicated to both homegrown African talent and diaspora, the first issue broke new ground and was met with a great reception. “One consistent comment that has been how ‘real’ the stories are,” the team says. “There’s plenty of Afrofuturism in terms of outlook, but we’re not presenting unobtainable beauty or personalities, and that feels modern to us.”

In addition to publishing, Nataal also hosts events and exhibitions like New African Photography at Brooklyn’s Red Hook Labs. Ahead of the next issue, the platform has teamed up with contemporary African fair 1-54 – open from today at Somerset House. “We’ve been thrilled to be able to provide a diverse space for vital voices and reassured that such a space is much needed,” the trio explains.

Here, we speak to the team on the importance of supporting African talent and what the future holds for Nataal.

How did you first start Nataal Media? Why was that the right time to dedicate a platform to African creatives? 

Nataal Media: Nataal was a meeting of minds. We’d worked on various Africa-focussed projects together previously – most notably the Diesel Edun Studio Africa campaign – and all shared a passion for communicating the creative dynamism coming out of the continent. 

We decided to join forces and launch a digital editorial platform in late 2015. It was the right time for us as a team, but also very much high time for something like Nataal to exist given the amount of mind-blowing young talent working within this space that needed an inspirational platform for their work.

Why do you think a platform like Nataal didn’t exist before?  

Nataal Media: It’s hard to comment on what’s been and gone before. However, it was clear to us that there remained growing demand from a discerning Afropolitan audience that wasn’t being catered for and a need for a truly global and inclusive brand that could do justice to this exciting scene, which is a gap we hope Nataal fills.

What do you look for when looking for people to feature? 

Nataal Media: The starting point always focuses on positive and inclusive storytelling. We want to collaborate with the fresh generation of thinkers and doers who embrace a multi-disciplinary, cross-cultural approach to shining a glorious light on the continent and its diaspora in the very broadest sense. We want to bring creatives together to make special and uplifting work that you won’t see anywhere else. Nataal is for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the abundant energy coming from African-inspired visual arts, fashion, and music.

We find our subjects everywhere – people approach us, we search, we travel, we get introduced. It’s almost overwhelming how much there is to cover. Scenes are evolving and growing so fast that it’s a constant journey of discovery.

What made you decide to venture into print?  

Nataal Media: Sara and Helen have worked in magazines for many years and have a deep love of old-school print. There’s magic in the medium and it’s heartening to see the recent resurgence in independent magazines. We shared the intention of publishing Nataal as a magazine since the very beginning.

Having spent three years nurturing a strong community of contributors and followers, this spring felt like the right time to go into print. Not only do we believe the ethos of independent publishing, we also feel strongly that those we work with deserves a big and beautiful, physical print moment. The large format, annual model suits Nataal as a way to celebrate the artists and projects we love and admire. It is a natural extension for us, bringing all elements of the brand together.

“We find our subjects everywhere – people approach us, we search, we travel, we get introduced. Scenes are evolving and growing so fast that it’s a constant journey of discovery” – Nataal Media 

What’s inside the first issue? 

Nataal Media: We have a double cover. One features New York-based Senegalese model Mame Thiane Camera in Dakar, shot by Julia Noni and styled by Naomi Miller. The other, which was conceptualised by Cyndia Harvey, shot by Kristin-Lee Moolman, and styled by Nell Kalonji, conjures up the young punks of London. 

There are music interviews with Young Fathers in London shot by Adama Jalloh; Petite Noir in South Africa shot by Kyle Weeks; serpentwithfeet in New York shot by Tyler Mitchell; and Blinky Bill in Nairobi shot by Maganga Mwagogo. We meet Lagos’ most accomplished fashion designer, Maki Oh, and talk to Afrofuturistic Abidjan label, Super Yaya. There’s also a short story by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, poetry by Caleb Femi, a long read by Allyn Gaestel about the flow of ‘fake fashion’ between Nigeria and China, a Q&A with Yinka Shonibare MBE and a piece on the creative crews of Cape Town and Joburg by Alix-Rose Cowie and Kent Andreasen.

Other highlights include Viviane Sassen capturing street style in Congo; Nico Krinjo’s collaboration with Edun, Lorenzo Vitturi’s latest photo book, Money Must Be Made; a fashion performance piece curated by Sabrina Henry; a beauty story by Jermaine Francis, and Liz Johnson Artur and Cynthia Lawrence-John’s portraits of the Bread N Butter collective. Finally, at the back, is a gallery section dedicated to this year’s Labs show.

What have you learnt now, that you wish you knew when you first started out? 

Nataal Media: Just do it your own way, to the best of your abilities, and don’t worry about all the rest.

What advice would you give to young African creatives looking to make it?

Nataal Media: It’s the same advice we’d give to any creative starting out. It’s important to develop your own point of view and stay true to it. Nurture your craft, find mentors and build your network. Don’t copy others. Stay true to yourself.  Embrace integrity. Remember that there’s life beyond the ‘gram. And of course, don’t be shy to get in touch with Nataal!