Grammy® Award-nominated multi-platinum rapper, singer, and songwriter Jidenna weaves elements of Africa into his life and art. On his sophomore album 85 to Africa, he connects the sprawling diaspora through a mix of hip hop and afro beats.
Jidenna also sits on the board of Birthright AFRICA, a global nonprofit committed to providing a free educational trip to the continent for every youth and young adult of African descent aged 13 to 30. But most notably, he grew up in Nigeria and takes an annual trip to the continent. So far he has visited 11 countries and is already plotting his next trip.
From the romance of Mozambique to the ‘bomb’ Moi Moi, the multi-hyphenate entertainer shared all his African favorites.
Travel Noire: What is your favorite memory from your first trip to Africa.
Jidenna: I grew up in Nigeria until I was six. But then I didn’t go back for about 12 years after that. And when I went back I went to Nigeria and my favorite experience was going to the movies. They had just opened this movie theater called Silverbird and I saw Black people in the mall, and Black people going to the movie theaters. I grew up in Boston so I hadn’t had the experience that people in Atlanta, or certain parts of LA, for example, have had in terms of seeing an all-Black movie theater or cinema. I love that people were so excited about it when they just opened.
TN: Where was the last place you traveled to in Africa?
Jidenna: I flew from South Africa to Uganda, because I was meeting up with a woman. She invited me to come back to town after the 85 to Africa tour, the Africa leg of it. So I flew up there as if it was the United States of Africa. I flew right up — quick little flight — and didn’t cost me much. We had a great time.
TN: Where have you felt happiest in Africa?
Jidenna: Honestly, every single country has its charm. What I love the most is getting a place that has a nice view where I feel like I can see the landscape. The beautiful thing is in a lot of Africa you get this mixture of really developed parts and then underdeveloped in terms of the building infrastructure, but I like the rawness of it. There’s this promise that always hovers over the cities. There are never overly manicured or pedicured palm trees the way there are in LA where I live now. I actually appreciate the naturality of a lot of African cities. And then, obviously, the rural landscapes are always beautiful as well.
TN: Where have you felt most at peace in Africa?
Jidenna: I found a lot of peace in Mozambique. I found peace because it was one of the most romantic countries that I’ve been to in Africa. Some people will say it’s because of the romance and some ethnic groups there, in combination with the romance of the Portuguese influence during colonialism. I don’t know what it is, but they got it.
TN: Tell us your favorite African city?
Jidenna: I’m like a Pan African, so I love so many cities, but Nigerians would kill me if I did not admit and confess that Lagos is my favorite city in terms of nightlife (laughs). It is so good. But my favorite city all around? I appreciate Lagos’ nightlife, but I actually love the feeling I get when I travel to Kigali. I feel like Rwanda is very futuristic in a lot of ways. The roads are amazing, which in western, central, and East Africa is a huge plus. I guess I got multiple cities that I love.
TN: What was the African country that surprised you the most?
Jidenna: South Africa. I’ve been going to South Africa for like a decade now every year. It surprised me because I felt both the rebellion and passion of Black South Africans and I felt the both visible and invisible oppression of white South Africans and the effect of apartheid for everybody in between. Black, white, Indian, Chinese, you can feel it. That’s not typical outside Southern Africa.
You don’t feel those kinds of feelings across Africa in the same way. I resonated with it because I’m both African American and Nigerian American. So I found myself actually understanding the plight, and it was more surprising than other places.
TN: What is something in Africa that you believe should be the eighth wonder of the world?
Jidenna: The pyramids in Sudan. Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt, and many people do not know that. As far as national monuments? The monument in Dakar, Senegal. The Renaissance monument is way doper than the Statue of Liberty.
TN: If you could only eat one African dish for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
Jidenna: Moi Moi. That’s a Nigerian dish and you can get it at your local Nigerian spot. It’s so good: black-eyed peas, some fish, and eggs all mashed up together. Bomb.
TN: Name an underrated African country or city.
Jidenna: Man, I didn’t want to tell y’all but Lamu and Diani in Kenya (laughs). These are like small towns. I love my little secret hideouts. I think that Dakar is an unsung hero in terms of cities. For one, it is eight hours from New York so it’s a very quick flight. Two, the beaches are really, really dope, and people are hella chill. I love Francophone Africa as well. It’s a different vibe from English-speaking Africa or Portuguese-speaking Africa.
TN: What was a view that blew you away?
Jidenna: I had the privilege of staying at a hotel called the Daze House and it was on the Observatory, which is the highest point in Johannesburg. So that view is crazy.