Africa's countries are distinct entities, but their music is blending together
While people are told all the time not to think of all African countries as one entity, there's one instance where blurring the lines is accurate: popular culture, especially music.
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If preceeding times were marked with dogged territorialism, the drawing of cultural boundaries in bright-colored chalk that very often led to varying degrees of conflict, we could be so lucky as to see the signs of inching towards a new way of seeing Africa. It has been interesting to see identity with the continent become a changeable entity, a coat one can slip on when Ghana qualifies for the second round of the World Cup, or off, when one hears about something stupid someone's president did. The territorialism is still there, but more interesting is the willingness to erase the chalklines and adopt the larger, more inclusive identity of Africa. We could quibble with this and wonder if this necessarily a good thing, but I think the presence of this duality should be welcomed.Skip to next paragraph
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It is, of course, too early to say definitively what kind of change, if any, that the evolution of a larer African youth culture would bring, but the emergence of the culture itself speaks volumes. Even though the music is mostly derivative of hip-hop, it has ushered in one of the few things in which people look towards their own languages and environment for inspiration. The importance of this cannot be overstated in an Africa where, for the longest time, people have been looking abroad for inspiration, education, livelihood. As this popular culture evolves, it will worth noting the new ways in which the dynamic of this evolution changes, the role of major countries like Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa in this popular culture. If their pop culture influence increases, and thus the popularity and visibility of these countries, would it affect the countries at all politically? What would change? What would not? Why?
Having a window into what young people across the continent are into does a lot more good than simply exposing people to some singers or rappers they may not have heard of before. Even more than improving the quality of music produced on the continent, what has become obvious to me is that Western countries aren't the only ones that need a more complete image of Africa; Africans do as well. From my perch in Lagos, there is something about watching Channel O spotlight nightlife in Luanda, watching MTV to see a rap video from Gabon, or checking out the dresses at a red carpet event for an award show in Cape Town that normalizes people in a way that knowing about HIV rates, political upheavals or development indices cannot.
– Saratu Abiola is a Lagos-based blogger who blogs at Method is Madness.