I’m very excited to finally announce the release of PANDORA – an experimental 360-degree virtual reality short film made in Accra, Ghana. The film is an experimental attempt to create a uniquely African VR experience while re-imagining the myth of Pandora, ultimately to provoke critical thought about the unforeseen consequences of technological progress.  The film was directed by myself and produced with Kabiru Seidu, a colleague with whom I also teamed up to organize a VR exhibition at the 2015 CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival, where this film was first presented.

The PANDORA project was sponsored by Accra [dot] Alt, organizers of CHALE WOTE and crusaders of the underground art scene in Accra. The part of “Pandora” was played by Doris Mamley Djangmah. Angelantonio Grossi was instrumental in providing technical assistance during post-production. The film features the soundtrack Second Class Citizen by Dexter Britain.

For the full 360-degree experience of PANDORA, use the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, or the YouTube mobile app:

 

Working with virtual reality has been one of my lifelong dreams which is finally metamorphosing into reality. I’ve been designing VR headsets since I was a kid, but I only started building real (as in working) models in November last year when I first discovered the joys of Google Cardboard. This year Kabiru and I joined forces to organize the PANDORA VR exhibition at the 2015 Chale Wote Street Arts festival, and to create NubianVR, an Accra-based VR content production company dedicated to creating immersive, interactive multimedia experiences for a diverse range of applications. The PANDORA project was our first attempt at producing a 360-degree video, but we’re building our capacity to produce high-quality VR content in the near future.

This short film was screened on custom-built headsets featuring several additions to the Google Cardboard design, including a flexible plastic case, 2” lenses (90+ FOV), independently adjustable IPD, passive ventilation, integrated audio and USB power/data interfaces. The footage was recorded with a dual Kodak SP360 camera rig in one weekend and stitched together during the editing stage. Everyone who took part in the exhibition (kids and adults) got a chance to try out the 3-minute VR experience for free, most of them for the very first time.

I’ll be revealing more about NubianVR in the weeks and months ahead as we continue to establish ourselves and define our focus. I’ll also talk about some exciting projects and events lined up on the calendar. From my viewpoint, 2016 looks set to become the turning point for virtual reality as an entirely new medium of expression, one which has the potential to completely transform the way in which we create and share experiences. VR is already laying its foundations in Africa, and you can be sure it’s here to stay. I’m thrilled to be playing a part in all this, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

This weekend I hit the streets of Accra to immerse myself in the explosion of creativity that is the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival. The festival has been held every year since 2011 and is essentially an arts workshop that turns an entire street in Jamestown, Accra into an open-ended canvas for artists of all types to leave their mark on the city. And for a couple of days each year, that winding stretch of urban terrain truly feels as if it’s been reclaimed by “the people.”

This time I took the opportunity to do a bit of photojournalism and tried to capture some of the most interesting scenes I encountered. The quality and diversity of the art seems to keep getting better each year, and the vibe is always spontaneous and chilled out. It’s definitely one of the best ways to spend a Saturday afternoon in Accra. The Chale Wote Street Art Festival is organized by Accra [dot] Alt. You can find a lot more photos on their site, or simply by googling ‘Chale Wote.’

All of these photos were taken on a Nokia Lumia 520, which isn’t spectacular but still manages a decent job.

My recent visit to London was far too short, but I was able lucky enough to catch a special screening at the British Library of the Pumzi movie, a breakthrough African sci-fi film — with strong echoes of Logan’s Run — that I particularly enjoyed. It was a rare to opportunity for dialogue with the director herself, Wanuri Kahiu as well as superwoman Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock, celebrated Nigerian-born astronomer. Also represented in the audience were the ubiquitous FOKN Bois, an avante-garde Ghanaian hip-hop duo, perhaps best described as ‘strict sub-Saharan psychomental.’ And of course, afropolitan guru and DJ, Kobby Graham, DUST Magazine editor and ‘funky professor’ at  Ashesi University, wasn’t too far from the scene. In case you missed it, here’s the trailer for the Pumzi movie:

Sc-Fi film about futuristic Africa, 35 years after World War III –The Water War. Nature is extinct. The outside is dead. Asha lives and works as a museum curator in one of the indoor communities set up by the Maitu Council. When she receives a box in the mail containing soil, she plants an old seed in it and the seed starts to germinate instantly. Asha appeals to the Council to grant her permission to investigate the possibility of life on the outside but the Council denies her exit visa. Asha breaks out of the inside community to go into the dead and derelict outside to plant the growing seedling and possibly find life on the outside.

Writing a novel is like watching a tree grow in real-time. It can be a genuinely wholesome and fulfilling experience, but it’s mostly a slow and agonizingly painful process, especially after you’ve come to love the little world you’ve created and can’t wait to share it with the big one. This month marks exactly two years since I got an itch to write a sci-fi novel, and even though I’m still months away from the finish line, at the current stage of development, I’ve never been so close. The next few months should mark the final stage of this arduous journey. In the meantime, I happen to be a firm believer in shameless self-promotion, so in this blog post I’ll be dropping a few hints of what you can expect from the upcoming novel.

Which shall henceforth be known as Accra.

Unless my publisher comes up with some bright ideas. But I’ve recently started to consider taking the path less traveled–that of self-publishing. Since my father’s untimely passing just over two months ago, I’ve begun to have the sneaking suspicion that life may in fact be too short to sit around waiting for some benevolent cartel to lend me a printing press, when technology empowers me now more than ever to circumvent that quaint bit of bureaucracy. I know there’s a much higher commercial risk involved in self-publishing, but it seems more in tune with my personal values to continually adopt emerging technologies and evolve beyond outdated models. Either way, I’ll be giving the idea a lot of thought in the coming months.

And now, for a brief description of the novel.

Accra is a speculative fiction novel set in the year 2057 AD, at a time when neuroscience has reverse-engineered the brain to uncover the inner workings of the human mind. Two-thirds of the world’s population have been implanted with biocores–organic microcomputers that interface between the brain and cyberspace, linking billions of people worldwide to the wireless Grid.  The novel is a threefold narrative that weaves together the stories of a desert soldier, a data thief, and a cyber-crime investigator who are thrust into the heart of a dark conspiracy in one turbulent night on the fast-paced, hi-tech streets of Accra.

And a similarly brief synopsis.

A teenage girl leaves her home in a coastal village to find work in the city of Accra, but after months of failing to find employment she is led into the dangerous world of cyber-crime, where her life quickly begins to spiral out of control. A retired cyber-crime investigator is called in by the Accra Police Force to deal with a cyber-terrorist threat, but the series of inexplicable occurrences that follow lead him to the blood-stained trail of a sinister plot in the corridors of power. These two stories are inextricably linked with a third; the gradually unfolding memories of a mercenary soldier, narrating a life of struggle and oppression in the heart of the Green Sahara; a story which culminates in a star-cross’d quest for freedom and justice, where all roads lead to the city of Accra.

A traditional cyberpunk dish prepared with African spices and served by the fireside.

Accra is equal parts mystery, thriller, and adventure, corresponding roughly to each protagonist’s storyline. The Sahara Desert will be prominently featured in the novel, incorporating some minor techno-ecological adjustments, as you might  imagine. Naturally, the Accra metropolis will be the setting for the most part of the novel. My love for Africa and it’s unique heritage will be conspicuously evident on a page or two, but my vision of a future Africa is by no means boiled down to guns and roses. Accra is an earnest attempt to paint a plausible and comprehensive near-future scenario for the continent as a whole, and that means working out the nitty-gritty implications of diverse existing trends into the future and documenting the results; be they good, bad, or ugly.

About the writing process and final product.

Most of the time I have spent on this novel has gone into developing the story world, as well as the plot and narrative structure, which form the centerpiece of the story. It should be complex and labyrinthine enough to make your head spin, but simple enough to make you go ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at the end. It should ultimately leave you with more questions than answers, or conversely, with more answers than questions. Expect lots of action, drama, hard science, black magic, dark romance, and transhumanist philosophical quandaries, but above all, expect the unexpected.

Whatever that means.

I hope I haven’t given away too much, or conversely, that I haven’t been too cryptic. There’s a lot more that I haven’t said or even hinted at, but like any writer who’s worth his ink, I’d do well to save the best for last. Finally, I have a serious question for anyone reading this: Would you advise me to search for a traditional, prestigious paperback publisher, or be a cowboy and self-publish online? I’m not trying to skew the results, but the latter would mean the novel being available by the end of this year.

Yours Truly,

AfroCyberPunk