Over the years, Africans and the rest of the world have read and heard stories about African continent and its people. These stories more often than not portray Africa in a negative light, painting it blacker than it really is.
This portrayal of the region focusing on wars, disease, and catastrophic attacks is what Chimamanda Ngozi, a Nigerian writer, refers to as the single story of Africa.
The impact of single-storied talks, films, books, paintings and other representations of a story is appalling as it gives the consumers of such works of art an alienated view of the subjects in play.
The conventional argument about Africans is that they don’t read or value literature, but a Nigerian publisher Muhtar Bakare, according to Ngozi, disagrees saying that “people who could read, would read if you made literature affordable and available to them.”
Africa does not deny that there are depressing challenges ranging from corruption, terrorism, tribal clashes, poverty and inadequate jobs for a large number of educated youth in the continent just as in many other continents. On the contrary, what Africa needs is a balanced story that does not just represent the region as best known for the calamities. what Africa needs is a balanced story
Ngozi argues that the stereotypes held by people are mostly half-truths–incomplete and one-sided. There are beautiful stories about men and women advancing their lives and of their community notwithstanding the challenges. There are great inventions in the region that are taking Africa and the world by surprise and growing the economy of the residents. And these stories are rarely given limelight in the contemporary media.
This is where African art comes in to bridge the gap and give these stories a balance which Chinua Achebe argues lacks in African stories told by foreigners. Achebe encourages writers to “re-story” misrepresented African stories to ensure there is a “balance of stories among the world's peoples." Allowing other people to tell the African story has wiped off the continent’s dignity leaving its people to carry the heavy load of justifying what and why the region is negatively portrayed.
“The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar,” Chimamanda argued in a TED talk.
Edgar R. Batte, a Ugandan journalist concurs with Ngozi’s argument noting that Africans live in the continent and are thus, well versed with the local issues. “We live in Africa and not visitors like foreigners are. We, therefore, understand our issues better.”We live in Africa and not visitors like foreigners are. We, therefore, understand our issues better.
According to Batte, not all that is written by foreigners is biased. “Some foreigners have objectively written about Africa,” he said. “The challenge is that some foreigners handle African issues with an already-biased point of view,” the Ugandan journalist added pointing that Africans are however in a better position to write the continent’s story.
“What puts Africans in a better position is that they are natives and can raise issues in a more organic manner, and more credible way.”
Although in a slow pace, Africa is rising to tell its own stories using art like music, film, paintings, sculpture and drawings among other forms of art.
Using Film to tell the other side of the African story
In his article, ‘Africa is ripe to tell its own story using film,’ penned on November 2015, Kwendo Opanga is astounded by the fact that not a single African country is featured in the world’s top 10 film producers. According to Opanga, the major players in the industry are North and South America, Asia, Europe and Australia.
Such gaps in the film industry have contributed to the one-sided representation of the continent to the world. With increased productions and funding to the industry, the African story can be retold over and over in the world, giving people a diverse feel of the continent- both the good and the evil- a complete story.
African films help to propel the African story showing the diverse cultural practices of the African people.
In 2006, Nigeria made 872 productions –all in video format– while the United States produced 485 major films, UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) survey showed. It placed India’s Bollywood first producing 1,091 feature-length films in the same year.
According to Ngozi, the Nigerian film industry has helped change the perspective of the African story consumed by both locals and masses of people abroad. She argues the local film industry is a good example of Nigerians consuming what they produce.
These films which have circulated across Africa overtime especially in the recent past. These movies have helped the rest of Africa learn Nigeria’s cultural practices. Because of Nigeria, West Africa has become a reality in East Africa and other regions.
Film and video production are not only the “shining examples of how cultural industries, as vehicles of identity, values, and meanings, can open the door to dialogue and understanding between peoples, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura argued adding that it “also contributes to economic growth and development.”
The UNESCO survey revealed that about 56% of Nigerian films, commonly known as Nollywood, are made in local languages with English films accounting for 44% contributing to Nigeria’s success in exporting its films. The need to rethink the place of culture on the international political agenda cannot be downplayed if Africa wants to tell its story. Moreover, apart from changing perspectives, the industry can be a source of employment to many young people in the continent.
In fact, a study carried out by the Harvard Kennedy School in 2008 reported that Nigeria’s film industry’s estimated revenue was $540 million; employed over one million people and “illustrates how culture can help to diversify an economy highly dependent on oil”.
Dancing to the African Beat
When it comes to music, as a continent, Africa is well known for its different cultural songs and performances that were used in the olden days to pass a message from one generation to another as well as celebrate different stages of life in a cultural setup.
African Music is diffusing into the rest of the world with artistes like Psquare, Sarkodie, Fally Ipupa, Wizkid, Diamondz, Mafikizolo, and Sauti Sol, taking the stage to entertain the audiences across the globe.
Like a rolling stone, African music has gathered moss and it is time for artistes in this industry to use the platform well to tell the African story through music.
The power of music can never be over-emphasized. In the colonial era, for example, music was created to convey what words failed to do.
Freedom songs in South Africa played a major role in the struggle for independence. Although it was also used to propagate apartheid at the time, music also helped freedom fighters and those struggling with the harassments find peace within themselves in the difficult time. The 2002 documentary named, ‘Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony,’ encapsulates the importance of music and dance in South Africa’s history.
Artists have used Music to condemn vices done by governments and sending messages of hope to citizens. A good example is Eric Wainanina’s ‘Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo’. Wainaina, a Kenyan artiste created the song to denounce corruption, calling on Kenyans and other listeners to shun from corrupt deals.
African Muzik Magazine in an article, ‘African Music is the new medium of telling the African story’ the writer argues that: “A continental oral tradition serves as a solid base to tap into the roots of Africa and show the world what Africa has got, music and dancing is like the fabric of the African society.”African Music is the new medium of telling the African story
Indeed, musicians have used their African roots to tell the African story in a different and informative way. ‘Etighi’- an African dance of the Nigerian people was never known to the world until Iyanya sold it to the world and got people dancing to the beat while mimicking the indigenous lyrics.
Eddy Kenzo’s ‘Sitya Loss’ song went viral after its release. The video of the song is shot in a ‘normal’ African- village set up. The backdrop of the video brings a perspective of Africa that many people (especially westerners) do not know about village life in Africa. Although these people in the video are not wealthy in terms of financial standing, their happiness and love for life in the village is contagious. Children, young and old people alike join in the dance for the song that encourages people to live the ‘precious life’ to the fullest as it is short.
Sauti Sol, a Kenyan band enticed President Barrack Obama to the dancing floor when he visited Kenya in 2015. Learning the steps of the song, President Obama danced to the Lipala dance which was reworked by the Kenyan group in their song ‘Sura yako’.
With musicians in Africa receiving such limelight and airplay across the globe, they are at the dawn of world glory and should use this opportunity to change the African narrative by producing objective music.
Nobody can tell the African story better than the Africans themselves. By taking the lead to form the lens through which the world can and should view the continent, is solely in the hands of Africans.
There remain many more stories about Africa that the world needs to know and can only be told through the different forms of art.
Literary experts like Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Grace Ogot, Margaret Ogola, Nadine Gordimer, and others have been able to narrate the African story very well. However, there is room for more artists to use their talent to bring a second and a third perspective into the African story.