As an independent print magazine enthusiast, it is often baffling what folks will make mags about. There are indie mags about literally everything, including Rugby, Plantain, Eastern European encounters, Global Warming, Activism, Conflict, Typography, Cats—it’s actually called Cat People y’all—and loads of other stuff you didn’t even know existed, but which have steadfast communities around them. However, until the Lagos-based Ìrìn Journal came along, nobody appears to have had the foresight to create an independent print magazine dedicated to African cities, travel, and culture.
See, this is a market niche that has been looking to be filled for a while. Here as elsewhere, the bland market-orientation of most private publishers (both on and off the continent) continues to be a driving factor for independent publications. For print-affine readers interested in the African city, books, alongside bastions of independent pan-African publishing such as Joburg-based Chimurenga and Nairobi-based Kwani? have been the go-to addresses, but their focus has been more on content and less on form. Even so, they have championed innovative content from (or set in) African cities for over two decades.
As far as cities go, Lagos is still the ultimate muse: no other African city has been written about more than Lagos. There is a whole entire genre of fiction called the “Lagos Novel”. As it turns out, Ìrìn’s first issue pays homage to that megacity which Chibundu Onuzo, in her novel Welcome to Lagos, claims “…is no different from anywhere, except there are more people, and more noise, and more”. Teju Cole, another author of a Lagos novel recently wrote: “I want to talk about Lagos, I don’t want to talk about Africa […]You can’t go to “Africa,” fam. Africa is almost twelve million square miles. I want to be particular about being particular about what we are talking about when we talk about Africa.” Ìrìn Journal is the answer to his (and my) prayers o!; it is set to be one of the few platforms where Africa can get particularly specific.
Ìrìn is a Yoruba word for walk and journey, and true to its name, the bi-annual magazine will land on a different African city in each issue, highlighting engaging stories by authors from that city. Ayomide “Mimi” Aborowa—Ìrìn Journal’s founder—started collecting magazines as a teenager, “I discovered community-driven independent publications with strong brand personalities, innovative and inspirational content. Magazines with such diverse content yet not diverse enough.” At some point, searching for a publication where she felt at home became thankless. “Where was the magazine for me, for people like me? It got to a point where I got frustrated with asking whether these magazines existed to wanting to create a space for it to exist. And with that, Ìrìn Journal was born.”
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Ìrìn launched its inaugural edition—The Lagos Issue—in October 2019 which contains new fiction, original photography, interviews, articles, and incredible visual essays and illustrations. They chose the path less traveled by going for print. Demi Ademuson Editor in Chief of the Lagos Issue says “There is something still so special about picking up a good coffee table magazine, feeling its texture, seeing the pictures come to life and diving into its content uninterrupted by banner ads, or other tabs. Readers will often bookmark pages for references, make notes in the margins and create a personal bond with the publication that cannot be replicated online.”
Ìrìn is definitely going for the look and feel of reputable quarterlies, and it is indeed a pleasure to see those glossy, frivolous aesthetics of Apartamento et al. translated to a smooth matt texture that feels just right and hosts refreshingly original content from various African cities. Based on the distribution network that has been announced so far, the African diaspora appears to be the main target. Needless to say, it would be great to see Ìrìn in Joburg, Nairobi, Addis, Accra, and Gaborone, etc and I hope that the publisher is working on a close-knit African distribution network. As has become a rule-of-thumb in the indie mag scene, one can only know if a publication is here to stay after the third issue, so our fingers are crossed for Ìrìn because this truly exciting journey is only just beginning. We are definitely looking forward to the next destination.
Cover image | Photo by Baingor Joiner, Prototype’, National Theater via facebook/Ìrìn – All the images | Courtesy Ìrìn Journal
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