Africa is not a Fucking Country: How the Popularity of Contemporary African Pop Culture Undermines Eurocentrism

Just recently I read Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece ‘Things fall apart’ for the first time. The book tells a story from the perspective of an Igbo man, Okwonkwo, set at the background of a village in pre-colonial South-East Nigeria. The first half of the book is a description of pre-colonial society, expressed through the fears and desires of Okwonkwo; how much food his land will yield this year, what will come of his children and his family and whether the other men in the tribe respect him.

But then, around page 123, a White character is introduced. For me this was the pivotal moment of the book and it was from here on that I was completely under its spell (it took me a few weeks to get through the first 123 pages and merely 2 days to finish the rest of the book). After some reflection I realized why; because it showed a European white person from an African¹ black perspective, which is a rare thing in literature.

The fact that being placed in this perspective felt so intriguing, points to a larger issue at stake; the lack of narratives that are not Eurocentric. That is, the lack of stories that are not told from a White, European perspective. Renowned author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie refers to this as the danger of a single story. A single story is dangerous because it reduces a complex, diverse society or peoples to just one story, which is a highly distorted story because it leaves out a lot of information.

One of the most common examples of this is the story of Africa as a country. In the minds of many, Africa, a continent that contains 1.2 billion people in 54 countries speaking well over a thousand languages ( in Europe there are around 225 languages), is a country with breath-taking landscapes, safaris including Lions, Elephants and Giraffes and……

Black people grinding in poverty in their little clay-house villages.

In UK rapper Skepta’s words:

I had to tell my story cause they’d rather show you.
Black kids with flies on their faces on the television.

          Skepta ft. Wizkid – Ojuelegba Remix

The consequences of a single story are far-reaching: it robs the people that are ‘singlified’ of their pride and dignity; it informs academic research upon which foreign policies are based that undermine economic independence; it contributes to a brain-drain because the future is ‘elsewhere’.

In general, a single story is a reflection of the inequality of power that exists between those that are singlified and those that have the privilege of having multiple stories. In other words, countering a single story with a plurality of stories is essential to the development and emancipation of those that have suffered from years of oppression.

This is why I’m delighted to see the global rise in popularity of contemporary African pop culture, mostly in the form of Afrohouse and Afrobeats. With its sweeping polyrhythmic percussions it is distinctly African, while the music videos depicting local scenes and the use of local languages make it distinctly local. Rather than just a fad, I interpret the current rise in popularity as a reclaiming of the global cultural territory which has for so long been dominated by the West². In other words: the popularity of contemporary African pop culture undermines Eurocentrism.

A great example of this is Wizkid’s, a Nigerian pop star now collaborating on equal footing with the likes of Drake (CA) and Skepta (UK), new music video for ‘Sweet Love’. Watching the music video induces a similar experience as reaching page 123 in Things Fall Apart; it is a collection of videos of Wizkid rocking sold-out concerts ( yes, there are concert venues in Africa) in various African capitals where the massive crowd goes mayhem. Moreover, Wizkid seamlessly mixes Yoruba with English over a beat filled with dance-able, polyrhythmic percussions. It is a music video made by Africans for Africans, unapologetically showing Africa through the eyes of Africans.

As I will point out in the twin of this article, undermining Eurocentrism is only the first step towards emancipation and will not magically alleviate all problems that currently plague the African continent. However, imagine a Nigerian or a Batswana or a Zimbabwean seeing the music video for ‘Sweet Love’, how will it shape their self-perception? Now imagine a Chinese or a Spaniard or an American seeing the music video, how will it shape their perception of Africa? The exact answers I do not know, but what I do know is that they won’t think that Africa is a fucking country.

 

Footnotes:

  1.  From here on when I say ‘Africa’, I refer to the region on the African continent below the Sahara.
  2. In the 19th and beginning of the 20th century predominantly the United Kingdom and for much of the 20th and 21st century predominantly the United States.
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