The TRUE AFRICA 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today.

Catia Mota da Cruz is the co-founder and artistic director of BlackAttitude magazine. She’s a professional dancer who has performed in the critically acclaimed Broadway musical FELA!  in New York. FELA! tells the life of Fela Kuti, the Afrobeat musician and human rights activist. Catia tells us how she connected with her African roots and what she took from taking part in FELA!

How would you define your identity as an African woman?

I have multiple African identities which inform everything I do and take on. Even though most people know me as a dancer (playing one of the ‘queens’ in the musical FELA! on Broadway) I’m also a publisher, art director and stylist. A lot of that comes from the fact that I have many different cultures in my identity. I was born in Portugal and grew up in France but at home we speak Cape Verdean because both my parents are from there.

I am re-educating myself by rediscovering the continent in a way that is completely different from the Africa I was told about.

When I was a child, we didn’t go to Africa that often. So, my early African identities came from my mother and grandmother who brought their African culture to Europe with them. I’m now making up for lost time and travel to Africa as often as possible. Africa feeds me and inspires me. Whether it’s the images we publish in our magazine, BlackAttitude or the dance moves I choose.

I find that I am re-educating myself by rediscovering the continent in a way that is completely different from the Africa I was told about in Portugal and France. The FELA! experience was a true revelation for me and a turning point in my life. It was the first time I knew why I was doing what I was doing. I was on that stage and I felt that I belonged there, representing Africa, away from the clichés around Africa. FELA! transformed me.

In a classroom in Togo.

South Africa made a big impression on you. Why are you so drawn to the country?

I went twice in 2015 to Johannesburg and Cape Town. Joburg is the place that I fell in love with. I love the flow and the beat of that city. I love the fact that it’s always in motion. So many young people in Joburg are finding new ways to express themselves creatively through music, fashion and art. I found the same energy I had felt in New York particularly in the new collectives expressing themselves through street style and big events where everyone comes with a special sense of style that you can only spot there.

Playing with children in Soweto.

The Social Market Pretoria is a collective I am particularly drawn to. They call themselves ‘a social market for the people of Pretoria involved in growing the capital city’ but it’s a lot more than that. Their sense of identity is so strong; their energy is contagious; and their events feel so new. And they’re so young and fresh. I had never seen anything like it before.

Who is your African of the year?

Tony Allen. I am really into Afrobeat. Within the genre, he is unique and unrivalled as a drummer and composer. He is a genius.

Musican Tony Allen with Catia.

We have had lots of conversations with him and we discovered that he has been through many musical periods and styles and generations, even working as musical director of Fela Kuti’s band Africa 70. He has always managed to stay humble despite all this. He also helps the young generation by passing on his skills through mentoring aspiring musicians.

Follow Catia on Twitter at @catiamotadacruz 

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