Defining Africa

http://www.okayafrica.com/news/africa-nouveau-festival-nairobi-kenya-photos/#slide19
Blinky Bill, photo by Darlyne Komukama

I spent last weekend at the Africa Nouveau festival in Nairobi. It was a last minute decision, to jump on the 14-hour bus ride from Kampala, but I couldn’t resist the line up.. A general rule; when you get the chance to see the artists who get you excited when you read about them on the internet, take it (alaji, eh-eh), go. Go; the continent is vast, plane tickets are expensive, FOMO is real.

#NewAfricas, #AfricaistheFuture, #AfricavsEverybody, #AfricaRising, #AfricaisNow, #AfricaNouveau. The words cross t-shirts as slogans, and beats as lyrics. For every tagline though, that we use to “rebrand” the Dark Continent, there is a thousand word think-piece which asks what these words mean to the average African in 2015, who has a smartphone but no regular supply of electricity.

Africa is a country. Africa is a concept in a Taylor Swift video. It exists outside of time. When is Africa? To most of the world we are black cultures indistinguishable and ahistorical. White people can string their lineage back to the Vikings. African people’s history begins with the white explorers who “discovered” it, before that is a black hole.  We are constantly being exhorted, often stridently, in Marcus Garvey speeches sampled in Damien Marley songs, or in whatsapp forwards of talks by PLO Lumumba; stop thinking of yourselves as perpetual victims subjects blown on the wind of a racist hegemony that has stripped us of much of our history.

“If you cannot do it, if you are not prepared to do it, then you will die. You race of cowards, you race of imbeciles, you race of good-for-nothings. If you cannot do what other men have done, what other races have done, what other nations have done, then you yourself have died.”

But how boring it is to be lectured at for 100 years, whether by insiders or by ignorant outsiders with self-serving agendas. The image of Africa belongs to everyone but young Africans; There is power in naming, in defining a “New Africa”. To control the definition is to control the narrative. My Africa is. My Africa is not. A billion reasons to believe in Africa (and a billion bottles of Coca Cola to be sold).

This is why events like Africa Nouveau are so vital to the continent, the result of hard work and aspirations of people like Muthoni DQ and her Blankets and Wine team; artists and entrepreneurs who want to make a living and a contribution. Artistic aspirations are not limited to those with the resources to fund them, we will make our art and music out of mud and strings. Crowd- or donor-funded or simply funded by the sweat on bus seats and Kampala streets, we will make something where there was nothing.

Artists like those on, and who produced the line-up last weekend help us stay on beat. Acts like Just a Band, Fantasma, Boddhi Satva, DJ Satelite, Jojo Abot, keep us motivated, inspired, focused, and aware. The infectious energy of Blinky Bill, Daniel “NairobiDhobi” Muli, and Spoek Mathambo onstage; the historic and personal stories that inspire Jojo Abot’s EP Fyfya Woto; those who mine kuduro beats and SA House beats to create something new, they keep us on beat. Those who get us on stage and tell us how West African Ewe culture is like East African culture, keep us on beat. Those in the audience who won’t let the guitarist off stage without 5 encores even though he is performing Zulu Maskandi music which they have zero experience with, keep us on beat. Our similarities and our differences bind us and keep us on beat. Multi-genre independent artists like Blitz the Ambassador, who create new modes of surviving economically, while pursuing creative impulse and a desire for social justice in a global economy that tries very hard to place at the very bottom of the ladder.

Africans anxious to change the narrative, to rebrand, not for what others think of us but because of what we think of ourselves.

Artists creating community around values and skills that will save us; ecology, ubuntu, inclusion, freedom and hustle

Africa is right on time.

Reclaiming Lady

My current auditory obsession is this remake of Fela Kuti’s 1974 song Lady, by tUnE-yArDs, featuring ?uestlove, Angelique Kidjo and Akua Naru. It is the first single from the second Red Hot compilation, (RED) Hot + Fela, which will raise funds for HIV/AIDS research.

My love for this version is so strong it is almost sexual. Angelique Kidjo is a goddess as always, her lead vocals are full of grunts and gymnastics that call to mind Fela’s energetic stage presence. ?uestlove, the biggest proponent of Fela in mainstream Western music is as ever, the cool backbone of the track. tUnE-yArDs quirky harmonies are just left-of-centre enough to stand on top of the amazing things the brass section, represented by Rubblebucket, are doing. This version manages to inject even more energy into the song, which if you know anything about Fela Kuti and his long musical reign at The Shrine, is quite an achievement. The climax of the vocal harmonies and brass at the end, will make your arm hair stand up and take notice.

Fela’s music was always political, and Merrill Garbus’ (of tUnE-yArDs) choice to populate this song with female vocalists is a political one. The original song was a criticism of what Fela saw of African women’s embrace of Western values.

If you call am woman
African woman no go ‘gree
She go say, she go say, “I be Lady o”

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“Intellectual African Scum”

Everyone has been talking about this post, so aptly entitled “You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum”

I love to see African issues talked about and dissected, but it was a disappointment for me to see so many agreeing with the sentiments expressed, and reblogging and retweeting their agreement without discussion, like victims of the nodding disease currently killing kids in Northern Uganda.

And so here, without blemish or edit, is a rebuttal by Ernest Bazanye who is awesome all over the internet. Hopefully it will add something to the current discussion:

Here in bufunze and bullet points is what bugged me about the Lazy Intellectual post.

First the things on the surface of it. Casual assumptions made that seem to bolster his main argument, even though they themselves are disputable.

Like:

Crumbs:

The white man talks about coming in to Africa and taking all the wealth and leaving crumbs.

A rich person coming to your market is a good thing. Yes, when he leaves he will still be rich and you will still be poor, but he leaves his money behind. Would it be better if we kept our minerals and never made any money off them?

Wamma white man come to my country and look at my giraffes and pay me. If somebody thinks you are exploiting me, well, it works both ways.

It was when Africans entered the world of free markets as traders, when we let customers come in to buy and sell, the continent began to register records in economic growth. Foreign investment has been better for Africa than all the protectionism and nationalism and gung-ho Africa pride white elephant industries of the eighties.

Muzungu, muzungu

He mentions a “nincompoop from the New York streets” of whom he says, he “bring him to Lusaka and (Africans will) all be crowding around him chanting muzungu, muzungu and yet he’s a riffraff.” He wants to be told why this is so.

Africans may chant muzungu muzungu for many reasons, among them these two:

One is that children find it entertaining to see a white person. If it was a donkey in shoes they would chant “Punda yenye viatu! punda yenye viatu!” That guy should be offended instead of taking it as a sign of supposed superiority.

The second reason is because when a smart person sees money, he goes to get some. If I have a bucket and I see a rich man with a car, I go and tell him he is very handsome and he has a smart car and he should let me wash it for him at a cost.

Homeless junkie:

If a homeless white drug addict thinks he’s superior to me he can screw himself superiorily. He’s homeless and on drugs. And I’m on a plane.

Barflies:

“Do you know where I found your intellectuals?” he asks. “They were in bars quaffing.”

From the movies I have watched and books I have read, that is kind of what intellectuals do even in the US and Britain. They is always a group of self-obsessed blowhards who congregate around alcohol loving the sounds of their own voices. But it would be a mistake of me to assume that these form the entirety of western intellectual culture. And a mistake to think that the pompous drunks in African bars are the sum of Africa’s intellectual culture.

AIDS cure:

And why should Africa come up with her own AIDS cure? Since when was THAT the way it worked? Did Spain come up with its own cure for Smallpox? Did Japan find its own cure for polio? When someone finds a cure, it’s a cure for everyone. And are you assuming that there are no Africans contributing to the global pool of knowledge that is eventually going to yield a cure?

White Man’s Plane

Also, African passengers are not dependent on white people’s planes. Airline companies are dependent on the money paid for ticket fares. So the plane is the one dependent on the African passenger.

But the main problem with this argument isn’t the examples used to present it, it is the argument itself. The fundamental premise of the thing. He says “In this demesne, as they call it, there are hardly any discoveries, inventions, and innovations.” And then goes to argue that it is because African Intellectuals are lazy.

This is bull. Africans discover and invent and innovate all the time. Farmers create new ways of beating the change of seasons, cooks create new meals, mechanics fabricate makeshift fixes for trucks and matatus, businesspeople make new patterns of distribution, thieves and pickpockets innovate new scams, kisekka market inventors make Japanese imports obsolete at a stroke, … musicians manufacture new styles… It’s just not something as massive and world-shaking as the television or the computer, but then again, when was the last time you heard of a world-shaking technological invention coming out of Romania, or Syria, or Trinidad, or Paraguay, or Andorra?

The major technological leaps of our current global civilization have not been sprouting out of every every single place except Africa. They have actually come from a relatively small part of the global community. Just specific parts of Western Europe. Mostly Britain and America.

The truth is that innovation happens naturally wherever you have societies. And it happens in the same way. Necessity breeds invention. And then invention builds on itself. And so when the computer is invented it will breed computer-based inventions in the societies that have computers and the snowball will grow. The reason you the bulk of internet-based innovation is not taking place in Africa is the same reason it is not taking place in the Emirates. Because the hub is in the US.

And the assumption that there is no internet innovation in Africa is as false as the assumption that there is none in Dubai.

What we forget here is that no matter what the slogans say, Africa is not unique in history. Africans are no different from anyone else. This means that everything that happens in Africa is happening or has happened somewhere else.

This is Kampala

“At the heart of the country is Kampala. An urban planner’s nightmare, its fabled seven-hilled pulse spawns a sprawl of arterial slums pumping with people carving out a living. Its pot-holed roads are home to its three million inhabitants: a thrumming hive of informal trade where street vendors flog sunglasses, single cigarettes and Fong Kong clothing, and telecoms shanties scattered along the sidewalks sell sim cards under single neon light bulbs. There are no street lights. It’s left to the swarm of boda-boda motorcycles and matatu mini-bus taxis to light your way.”

Possibly one of the best descriptions of Kampala that I have ever read in this Red Bulletin preview; the bad, the ugly and the beautiful; the frenetic, the kinetic and the chaotic.

The article is on the amazing Breakdance Project Uganda. If you find yourself anywhere near a screening of the documentary Bouncing Cats, drop everything and go and see it, send me a thank you email later. It is fantastic. Featuring Crazy-Legs, K’naan and Mos Def, narrated by Common

Do we need to be called Afropolitan via @Afropopmag

As Anne says: “Our parents [and, in some cases, grandparents] were the pioneers of the global African, most having left their homes to pursue higher education. We are beneficiaries of their struggle to ensure our access to education and opportunity and, as such, I  feel as though we have the obligation to be bolder, more creative, more innovative in how we express ourselves and in how we represent the continent.  I will always consider myself an Afropolitan. It’s not a geographic construct, but a state of mind.”

Dying to be men

From Johannesburg-based Zimbabwean artist and activist Kudzanai Chiurai

Minister of Defence

Chiurai’s portraits imagine an African cabinet that is at once provocative, modern, and hilarious even as it traffics in painful stereotypes, while speaking volumes about the current state of African political structures.

Minister of Finance

I LOVE IT

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