Category Archives: Africa

“Africa” a celebrity must have

I’ve been plugged out of the matrix for a few weeks now so haven’t blogged for a while. However, I am fascinated by the current debate around the re-release of Do They Know It’s Christmas?, this time the cause is the Ebola ‘crisis’ by BandAid 30. I remember the original release, I was 9 in 1984. It still evokes strong emotions from me. However, watching the usual collection of political programmes this morning, I was curious to see the debate raging in the public arena about this kind of celeb charity. I have revisited the lyrics of the original song as well as the updated version. And they are shocking. Shocking in the way they feed into the perception of Africa; a land of fly-ridden, potbellied, starving children. An arid land ‘where no rivers flow’. Without differentiation between its 54 states and diverse cultures. And of course, the West’s need to ‘save’ Africa.
So I have been left pondering Geldof’s words; you don’t have to like us; you don’t have to like the song. Just buy it. Help raise awareness and money.
And the original effort raised 8.4 million pounds. That’s not to be sniffed at. But it worries me that 30 years on, with revised lyrics, there is still this tendency to portray Africa as this land of despair, death and disease.
I can feel a blog coming on but in the meantime, I really liked this and thought I’d share it as I’m gathering my thoughts on the topic. I’d really like to know what you think. Will you be buying the track?
Does the end justify the means?

Media Diversified

by Samira Sawlani

In recent weeks Israel – Palestine has probably taken up more column inches worldwide than it has in years. In fact the ‘conflict’ has enjoyed a showbiz makeover, gaining a place in every Hollywood rag and becoming a topic of conversation on daytime talk shows.

It’s entry and new found status is not however because the gossip pages have become conflict conscious or felt the humanitarian need  to report on the everyday life of Palestinians under occupation. It’s because Palestine has caused much trauma in the life of one celebrity starlet.

Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson, like any ‘star’ worth their weight in gold added to her repertoire of bombshell, beauty queen and leading lady, the must have title of Oxfam Ambassador.

Global ambassador Global ambassador

Since 2007 Ms Johansson has been seen talking to refugees in Kenya’s Dadaab Refugee Camp, spent time at an Oxfam funded girls school…

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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.

Together We Stand

Today I was moved by this image that I came across on Ms Afropolitan’s Facebook page.

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It is stunningly beautiful.  Arresting. I was so taken with this piece that I decided to check the artist out.  His name is Kehinde Wiley, a New York-Based visual artist.

His World Stage series depicts ‘urban, black and brown men’.  Here is the brief description on his Facebook page describing his work;

Kehinde Wiley creates highly realistic paintings of people of the African diaspora which reference the Western European portrait tradition.

As I looked through his work, seeing images of Black men faces from Haiti, Lagos, Dakar, Jamaica, Israel and France, I connected with his description of his work and more importantly, his subjects.  The Africanness of his subjects, no matter where they are, is what made my heart rejoice.  At this point in my journey, this is still very important to me.  Not only is it vital for me to identify with my African heritage, there is something about how that is acknowledged by others.  Kehinde’s work ( I love this name; it is the name of a character in Ghana Must Go) seems to break down the barriers between people of African descent. Through the lens of his work, we are all African, wherever we are in the diaspora.

Now, not everyone identifies in this way.  And that’s OK.  This thing of identity is multi-faceted.  And Caribbean culture is the one that is most familiar to me as this is the culture I was born into and grew up in.  Still, I find that the more time I spend with friends with African parentage, the more similarities I feel in how move through the world, our experiences of being Black British and Black Other, how we were parented, our values.  So many similarities yet still so many differences.

One of the things I want to explore in this blog is the perception of difference.  Growing up, I was always aware of was the unspoken understanding that ‘us Caribbeans’ were different from ‘those Africans’. Those Caribbean do not know who they are.  They have no true heritage. I don’t really know what us Caribbean had to say about our African brothers an sisters.  As a child,  it manifested in things like laughing at unpronounceable African names at school; grown ups turning their noses up at the smell of African food; how they dressed.  Why the laughter?  Why were these things chosen to highlight out differences?

This journey is about not about difference but about sameness.

I have not broached this topic with my friends as yet but know that is a conversation that I will have soon.  It will be a difficult one.  Because in there somewhere I do wonder whether it is true; many of us Caribbean’s do not know who we are.  That privilege was taken away from us many generations back.  This blog is proof of that in many ways.  I am envious of my friends who are firmly rooted to their heritage, with knowledge of their home, their people, their language, their ancestors.  Is there truly a snobbery about this?

In any case, those conversations will definitely be the stuff of future blogs!  Ghanaian Friend is in Ghana right now and I have asked her to guest on Musings From a Diasporan Newbie.  I think she will have something to say on this subject so watch this space!

On Sunday, I’m off to Africa Utopia at the Southbank Centre.  Some of the themes for Sunday are around Africa and the Caribbean as well as the wider diaspora.  I’m really excited and I’m sure inspiration for blogging will be everywhere.

In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Are you of Caribbean descent and disagree with me?  Are you of African parentage and want to weigh in with your perspective? Or maybe you are neither but would like to share your thoughts.  I’m happy to explore different perspectives so feel free to comment!

Final words; check out Kehinde’s work.  It really is incredible.

 

 

 

 

 

A View from the World Cup- African, Caribbean or other??

I’m watching the France v Nigeria game with my son.  I’m supporting Nigeria just I’ve supported Ivory Coast and Ghana in each of their matches.  At 1-0 to France 86.52 minutes into the game I am losing hope of a win.  By the end of the evening, we’ll know whether any African country goes through to the next round.

For many of us 1st and 2nd generation of Caribbean parentage, this is the norm.  Speaking to my friends of African parentage, they of course support their home team.  But they also support other Africa teams when they play (thank God there was no Nigeria V Ghana.  God knows how we would’ve coped!!).

My Twitter, Facebook and What’s App account use has been more frantic during the African games than anything else (including about Thierry Henry…!).  I have loved being part of that camaraderie.  Don’t get me wrong, I was screaming along with the entire country when England played. I was hurting the day after THE match that saw the England pretty much guarantee crashing out of the tournament.

But it fascinates me how so many of us hold on to our identities as Africans, even through something like a sporting event.  Even in childhood, I remember being aware of issues around culture and identity  tied up with the world’s biggest football tournament.

My Guyanese mother always supporting the South American teams when I was a kid.  She was born in Guyana and in the absence of a Guyanese national team in World Cup, she opted for the South American teams.  I feel the need to point out that Guyana is on the South American mainland. It shares borders with Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname.  It is part of the Caribbean but NOT part of the West Indies (although Guyana plays in the West Indian cricket team!  As you can see from this map, it is sometimes considered as part of the West Indies but generally, the term refers to the Caribbean Islands). It is also not Ghana.

Growing up I always identified with my Guyanese heritage over my Jamaican one.  Our family traditions were very Guyanese; we ate pepper pot on Christmas morning; roti, dhal and dhal puri were and still are some of my favourite foods and my nan taught us songs in Hindi, which she had learnt through mixing with the significant Hindu community in Guyana (and Trinidad; a hop, skip and a jump away).  I felt ‘Guyanese’ more strongly than ‘Caribbean’.  Supporting a South American team felt right because South America is where my mum was from, right?  That was just normal for us.  And when West Germany beat England in 1990?  That’s right, we were supporting West Germany!!

A lot has changed since then, including how I view Guyana, the Caribbean and our shared cultural heritage.  Guyana is of course much closer to the Caribbean in culture, psychology and history than its South American neighbours, in many ways.  However, some of my journey into identity took me to Central and South America for extensive periods of time.  Parts of coastal Mexico & Costa Rica have been influenced by African and Caribbean history which can be seen in the people who live there are well as the food, music and religions present. And don’t get me started on Salvador in Brazil!  If you haven’t been there, put it on your list!  The pride the people have in their African ancestry, their identification with African religions and Gods was truly beautiful and even familiar, in a weird way.

So where I find myself now is in a weird place of supporting African teams as an African; supporting South American teams as a Guyanese and supporting England, as I’m British! That’s pretty much all the teams in the tournament.

I’m ok with that though; I can be all three things as I AM all three things.  It often feels like a fluid identify; all of these things yet none of them.  And I guess this is the nature of identify for many people.  We all occupy different spaces at different times, in one way or another.

 

 

 

 

 

Minna Salami: An Interview with the Creator of Ms. Afropolitan

Another woman and blog I have found inspiring. This is a great interview, I love how clear and authoritative Minna is in her view of African feminism. For me, this is an important part of my own journey into identity. My Africanness and womanhood and two things intertwined. This also resonated with me:
“And yes, being a feminist is subconscious, in fact being a feminist and being a woman are synonymous to me; I would not know how to be a woman who is not a feminist. ”
Enjoy.