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.

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“But it brought the noise”

The team behind Okayplayer (including eternally-cooler-than-thou ?uestlove), recently launched Okayafrica, a website exploring Africa’s contemporary music scene. I’m already a fan.

With content on African artists, from internet darlings BLK JKS and Just a Band, to those you may not have heard of like Siji and Bajah and the Dry Eye Crew, I have high hopes that Okayafrica (bringing you true notes since 247,000 BC) is here to stay. They also feature blogs and writing, like this piece wrapping up the 2010 World Cup by Siddhartha Mitter.

In “the Month of Vuvuzelas” Mitter takes on the good, the ugly and the obnoxious of Africa’s first world cup.

Beyond football, the Cup’s effect on the rest of Africa will be incidental – another of those global Africa moments with benefits that are mostly symbolic. If anything, the World Cup may leave Africa more vulnerable, not less, to the simplifying gaze of well-meaning outsiders, such as Belgian photographer Jessica Hilltout, whose images of men and boys in various African countries playing soccer with improvised balls were being shown in a Johannesburg gallery. The photographs are artful, technically strong. Yet Hilltout’s artistic statement – “Africa is a world like no other. Unstructured, disorganised, carefree, monotonous. African people have simple needs and huge hearts. They accept their lot in life with a supreme calmness” – conveys the lazy condescension that afflicts so much of the continent’s treatment by its would-be foreign advocates.

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THE AFRO-POP MOVEMENT IS GOOD BUT STILL NEEDS TO BE A BIT MORE BOLD

I went to Zambia recently, meaning about six months ago and was amazed at how African music has exploded. All kinds of African musicians are getting play all over the continent and like youngafrican pointed out

music is crossing cultural barriers and that Zambians are listening to Ugandan music and Ugandans are listening to Naija music and Nigerians are playing Zambian music as their ringtones!

I have a problem with it which is based on the fact that Afro-pop is kind of stagnant and lacks a genuine artistic identity.

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