Monthly Archives: October 2014

My African City-The Ghanaian Friend

I have been looking forward to my Ghanaian Friend returning from her trip to her homeland.  We have been discussing a guest blog for months and her trip home seemed like the perfect opportunity to put this to the test.  And she did not disappoint!  I hope you enjoy her blog.  It is a rich and vibrant offering, highlighting some of the issues from my previous blog posts; mainly identity as a African born in the diaspora and the impact when one returns home.  I’d like to thank Ghanaian Friend and say that she will definitely be invited to come back!

I was actually introduced to the YouTube show ‘An African City’ by the ‘Diasporan Newbie’ herself some months back.  I knew instantly after my first viewing of the 15 minute first episode, that I would have a field day discussing this with her as soon as we next met.  Cue the excitable chinwag that followed: “But is this REALLY Africa?”, “Are these ‘bougie’ girls meant to represent today’s African woman?”, “Seriously? An episode that centers on retrieving a vibrator from customs?”  And of course: “Oooh the fashion is outta this world!  Carrie Bradshaw – eat your heart out!!”

Yet for all my conflicted and indecisive opinion on Nicole Amarteifio’s

YouTube hit, when I finally touched down in Accra, Ghana a few weeks ago, this is strangely what I had in the back of mind.  In my defense, I hadn’t been back to Ghana since 1995 when I performed the Krobo tradition of dipo in respect of my mother’s tribe.  Hence my vision of the county now as a 29 year old woman had been moderately shaped by friends and colleagues who were born there but now lived in the UK, and travelled back frequently, or family members who had disturbingly polarized views on the former ‘Gold Coast’ – ranging from charming Utopia where one might find the sweetest pineapple and mangoes to enjoy all day, to a deep societal inertia that continued to be glossed over by the Wests’ obsession with labeling Ghana’s relatively stable economic and political governance as West Africa’s ‘beacon of hope’.

I wouldn’t exactly say that I was on a mission to penetrate these opinions or theories.  I was, lest not I forget there to unwind, further discover my roots and heritage, and enjoy myself!  Incidentally, I had the time of my life, seeing parts of the country I had never experienced before and adopting ‘YO-LO’ (‘you only live once’ for those who haven’t watch enough episodes of  KUWTK!) as the official holiday mantra – an indication it’s going to be a crazy one!

But I’m not writing to give a blow-by-blow account of my phenomenal experiences (which by the way included riding horseback across the sandy white beaches of Labadi, climbing 40 metres high to cross less than sturdy planks in the rainforest (YO-LO!!), and surviving two marriage proposals in 2 weeks!).  I’m writing because I want to salute the Ghana I met for teaching me an important lesson about identity.  There were a million and one observations that I made about Ghana (or more accurately the snapshot that I saw), but Ill keep to identity for now (and maybe chip in on another blog about other stimulating and provocative topics).

Identity is was and is extremely real for me in Ghana, particularly as I was conscious that I might be received as a foreigner or that they would call me ‘obroni’ meaning white person.  Surprisingly, that never happened.  Perhaps it was my insistence on speaking ‘Twi’ as much as possible and being quite clear that I was a Ghanaian who just happened to be born and raised in the UK.  Instead I was accepted and ushered in a way that I have never felt in my 29 years in good ole’ Great Britain.  Instead what I heard was;

“Sister/Maame, you must come back soon, this is your home”.

I couldn’t help but compare, but what I noted was, from the Ghanaians that I met (some “bougies” that could have stepped right out of an episode of ‘An African City’, some extremely wealthy, and others leading a very humble lifestyle indeed)

Nobody merely exists in the way that I see Brits bitterly do.  Ghanaians are so proud of their cultures, they love their country (many still acknowledging deep social, economic, and political blockages) and as one Ghanaian friend said: “we don’t envy the white man!”

I couldn’t help but feel that I and my fellow inspired Ghanaians, with our strong (and in my case renewed) sense of identity could be part of the solution to shaking up the inertia I mentioned.  So what started out with an interest in ‘An African City’ and its ability to ‘keep it real’ ended with a truly amazing experience of my own African City.  On both fronts, I have no doubt there is plenty more to come.

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Lauryn Hill, a Night Bus and a Feminist Struggle

Last Thursday, I went to see Lauryn Hill at the Manchester Apollo with my Nerdy Friend. By the way, we have discovered so many other similarities between us, I’m starting to think we are the same person living in a different time space/time continuum. We both cite Salavdor, Bahia as our favourite places on Earth, we found out that we were both in the hair dressers, on the same day, at the same time, having red kinky twists put in(!) and last week I sent her an email while on a journey to Preston and she sent me this picture!

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Spooky.

Anyway,  we went to see Ms Lauryn Hill. The last time I saw her was at a Brixton Academy, in the 90s as Fugee mania was just about to peak. It was a great concert.  Obviously since then, life has happened to Ms Hill. And it’s not necessarily been kind.

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Many column inches has been written about her incarceration for non payment of taxes, her relationship with Stephen Marley and her (alleged) subsequent drug use and mental breakdown. Not to mention her racist comments a few years back.

I’m not here to talk about that.

The concert was a shocker but also amazing. She was over an hour late coming on stage. I thought at one point that there was going to be an announcement that Ms Hill would not be performing at all.  We were prepared for this because the reviews for this tour so far have been awful, quite frankly. By the time she did actually arrive on stage, the goodwill and atmosphere that her warm up DJ had managed to create had all but disappeared (he’d been playing for 45 mins, hyping the crowd for Ms Hill to come on but each time she seemed to miss her cue). The boos had started when she eventually walked on stage.

Her voice was amazing. She looked amazing. But she had chosen to perform drastically rearranged versions of her most loved songs and the crowd was NOT happy. To be fair, as an artist she is totally entitled to do what she wants with her material BUT, given she has a tiny back catoulouge, given she was over an hour late on stage (with no apology), given that the reviews have been bad, you would think that she would’ve worked harder to get the audience on side. She might have made more effort to understand her audience and give them just a little but more of what they wanted after waiting so long for her.

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She turned things around after singing Black Rage, though. Haunting lyrics. The second half was pretty much phenomenal and it seemed that she was all but forgiven for her tardiness, her lack of empathy with her audience and a very ill judged ‘Q&A’ where she asked the audience why they were booing her.

In many ways, me and Nerdy Friend felt let down by Lauryn last night, even though we danced our arses off to Doo Woop (That Thing).

But I’m not even here to talk about THAT!

On the night bus home, we had an interesting conversation about Lauryn and Beyoncé. I have a bug bear about Beyoncé. I admit it. Mostly, this is because it would seem the media seem to believe that she invented feminism and we should now be following her lead. A byline in the Huffington  Post recently made me seethe with anger, as they took Chimimanda’s definition, which Bey sampled, and basically said ‘ Bey has given us a definition of feminism, now go forth and practice it”!

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WHAT?! Please let us not forget that she only sampled this. It is borrowed from Chimamanda!

Anyway, my friend said if Bey’s spike heels and leotards have got 13 year old girls talking about feminism then that can’t be a bad thing. And I do agree with this. To an extent. The balance between a woman owning her sexuality and doing what she pleases with it, which might be using it as a feminist platform VS the fact that more often that not our voices are not heard unless it’s wrapped up in a hyper sexual package….I’m not comfortable with a lot of how Beyoncé chooses to present herself as seriously talented woman. But I will fight to the death for her right…..

So we started talking about this some more and in my head I saw Ms Hill and Bey side by side. And as disappointed as I felt by how Lauryn had behaved, I would still see her any day of the week over Beyoncé, who I consider to be so talented, so professional and in many ways a role model. She works hard for what she has. And she will also give the fans what they want and then some.

lauryn_hill_1383073909239       BeyonceKnowles

However. In these 2 women I see a stark representation of feminism and black womanhood.

Beyoncé is a mega star. She has worked hard, played the game, married another mega star and become a celebrity juganaut. All the while, there’s been a lot of flesh, a lot of swishy weaves and crowd pleasing. She is the acceptable face of African American womanhood, living the ‘American Dream’.  Her moniker ‘Queen Bey’ says it all.

Lauryn refused to play the game. Dark skinned, dreadlocked Lauryn, full of attitude and consciousness. Lauryn, who looked amazing with barely an inch of flesh on show. Lauryn, who consciously fought against playing the game, having her image manipulated in order to be more ‘ consumer-friendly’.  A woman who fought the law and the law won.

Her fight to be herself in all her Black womanhood, with all her flaws, without the industry (society) manipulating that; she lost that fight. They out her in jail. Essentially, they showed her that if you ain’t gonna play the game, we’re gonna squash you.  This is not to say that Lauryn is a complete innocent.  She carries her share of responsibility.

There is a tension between assimilation and disruption.  The message is if you assimilate, you can be a winner, you can be one of us, you can be a Queen if you want. But on the terms we set.
But if you try to disrupt those terms, we will shut you down. We will make it hard for you to even be heard. We don’t want your kind of black womanhood here.

Despite still feeling disappointed with Lauryn’s apparent disregard for her fans, I see her her defiance and fight to represent her authentic self as a political act.  As a feminist act.  And I admire her for that.  Beyonce ‘s doing her part; don’t get me wrong.  She has the right to self identify however she pleases.  And Nerdy Friend is right; there are girls growing up out there who will feel empowered by Bey’s brand of feminism.  I’m not the feminism police, neither do I want to be.

For me, these two women represent an interesting narrative about Black womanhood, feminism and the struggle to be our authentic selves.

A couple of interesting reads for you.  Different perspectives but both are interesting commentary on Ms Hill, her fans and what creative licence means.  Enjoy!

http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2014/10/hurts-bad-cost-lauryn-hill-fan/https://medium.com/cuepoint/in-defense-of-ms-hill-6fa84ba81d63