by The People’s Minister of Information JR
Politics is the art of survival and learning how to cope against a world that has consistently told our people that we are worthless unless we are working and building capital for white people and white power.
Chris Zamani, founder of the Hapo Zamani Za Kale clothing line, is a t-shirt designer who is on the pioneering front of trying to politicize the consciousness in the Black community through changing the kinds of people and messages on the t-shirts we are wearing. He started a line of t-shirts which immortalizes and commemorates revolutionary heroes and sheroes from the African continent, people like Nkrumah, Lumumba, Machel, Nehanda, Asantewaa, Mugabe and more.
I sat down with him for this Q & A so that our readers can get a better understanding of the new fashion options available to the conscious community. Check Chris Zamani in his own words.
JR: How did you come up with the concept to put African revolutionary leaders on t-shirts?
CZ: The concept started about six or seven years ago when I was looking for shirts to purchase that I wanted to wear, but there were not many options for high quality political T-shirts that showcased African political figures. After I designed and printed those first few T-shirts for myself, I discovered that people were interested in the designs and the political messages, so I started offering them informally to friends and comrades.
Over the years people encouraged me to take these designs to the next level, to increase the quality and to bring these concepts to a larger audience, and so the formation of this new clothing line, Hapo Zamani Za Kale (meaning “Once upon a time” in Swahili), is the result.
JR: Why are you into politicizing fashion rather than trying to influence people through other forms of media? What are you trying to accomplish?
CZ: I think that fashion is an easy way for folks to demonstrate their solidarity and a great way for people to communicate political messages without needing to say a single word. With stylish designs on the front and political education on the back, our shirts are a great conversation starter, and it’s a means for lots of people to visually celebrate their political values.
I think that fashion is one amongst many different forms of media that are necessary to build critical consciousness in our community, with the ultimate goal of increasing awareness of the people and concepts that have contributed to furthering the cause of Pan Africanism.
JR: How did you pick what leaders to put on a shirt? What are your criteria?
CZ: Our line features African nationalists, rebels against imperialism and Pan Africanists that we believe have made significant contributions to the advancement of Pan Africanism in the last 150 years. We aim to highlight the diversity that is inherent in the Pan African movement by showcasing leaders that represented different approaches to the question of the liberation of people of African descent.
JR: How many shirt designs do you have? Who are the people on the shirts? And what’s on the back?
CZ: We have six fantastic shirt designs! The designs showcase Pan African and African Nationalist leaders, including Amilcar Cabral, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, Samora Machel, Yaa Asantewaa, Mbuya Nehanda, Joice Mujuru, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Robert Mugabe. Our T-shirt “Battle Cry for Cuba and Zimbabwe” features Fidel Castro and is a rallying cry to remove the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe and end the Blockade against Cuba. Flip the shirts over and on the back you will find political and historical education highlighting the significance of the people printed on the front.
JR: Why did you choose African leaders from the continent only and did not include ones from the diaspora?
CZ: In my experience it is not as easy to find a T-shirt in the United States that celebrates an African leader as it is to find a shirt that celebrates an African-American or Afro Caribbean figure. I proudly represent Assata, Fred Hampton Sr., Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Tupac and many others with the shirts that I purchase.
As I learned more about Pan Africanism and African Liberation histories, naturally I wanted to represent warriors like Kwame Nkrumah, Joice Mujuru and Amilcar Cabral, but these shirts were not easy to find, and because I started by creating shirts that I could not find, our first six shirt designs feature leaders from the continent.
That being said, this is only the beginning, there are more shirts to come that will showcase leaders from both the African continent and the larger African Diaspora. I have so many ideas running around in my head about people that I would love to put on the next series of shirts; these include Kwame Touré, WEB Dubois, Walter Rodney, Frantz Fanon, Winnie Mandela, Pete and Charlotte O’Neal, Steve Biko, Thomas Sankara and so many more.
JR: How have young people responded to your shirts?
CZ: I am encouraged by the overwhelmingly supportive response from young people who have seen our T-shirt line. I’ve received so much positive feedback about the design and quality of the shirts and many questions from young people who want to know more about the individuals that are featured on the shirts.
This is precisely the reason for the existence of Hapo Zamani Za Kale, to bring political education about Pan Africanism to a new generation in a medium that they are familiar with, while also providing an opportunity for the veterans of the struggle to re-energize their pride and afford them the tools to continue to spread the message to our youth.
JR: What is the importance of you having a business that pushes your politics?
CZ: The importance of having a business that promotes Pan African politics is that first and foremost it is a self-sustaining enterprise. I believe that we should always look towards increasing our level of self-sufficiency. Entrepreneurship is one means by which we can take more responsibility for our own economic empowerment rather than waiting for someone else to sign a check.
It is also important to have a business that promotes Pan Africanism, as it is an opportunity to practice our skills at project management, because ultimately our liberation is a matter of planning, preparation, discipline, execution, evaluation and re-planning. As a community, we have had some success building capacity in religious groups, grassroots organizations, political parties, volunteer service groups and media outlets, yet we have had challenges in areas of ownership, revenue creation, job creation, finance and savings.
Combining the political aims with the entrepreneurial means affords an extraordinary opportunity for us to fill critical knowledge gaps by focusing our efforts on improving our weaknesses. As Pan Africanists, our goal is to work towards the realization of a united continental African government, thus any opportunity that we have to develop and improve our entrepreneurial, political, organizational and logistical skills is a step in the right direction.
JR: How can people buy your shirts and keep up with you?
CZ: You can check out our gear and buy shirts at www.PanAfricanTees.com. Also like our Facebook page, panafricantees.com. Our YouTube channel is HZZKonline. You can follow us on Instagram @panafricantees and Twitter @panafricantees, email us at email@example.com or give us a call at 1-800-925-7145. Thanks!
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and the newly released “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.