africa is a country
From Luanda: Dj Djeff has Nacobeta, Agre G & Game Walla doing their thing in the new video for “Mwangolé”. There’s a standard success script for all those kuduro videos out there. Not that we mind:
Glen Lewis’s Shona tune “Ndiyo ndiyo” will keep South African clubs warm this winter:
Kenyan P-Unit released this track, “Mobimba”, last month, featuring Sweden-based Alicios. Originally from Congo (that’s Alicios), you don’t have to look far where they took their inspiration from this time:
Not entirely sure what’s going on in this jumpy clip for MoBlack’s (also known as Domenico Falcone) “MeKa”. Is there a remix out yet?
M.anifest is working hard this year. Here on a new collaboration with EL:
Talib Kweli went to South Africa and came back with a music video for “High Life”:
A first single for Guinean Masta G (Conakry) off his album “Introspection”. Produced by Ahms Beatz; the final mixing was done by Redrum. (More music by Masta G here.)
Kae Sun’s got a new album coming out soon as well (‘Afriyie’, dropping later this month). “When the pot” is a first excerpt:
And your moment of Zen: this video for Ghostpoet (born Obaro Ejimiwe, who has Tony Allen playing on drums on his latest record). Recommended:
The documentary below, “Tamani”, is an hour long film by Nicolas Guibert and Sébastien Gouverneur, recorded in Burkina Faso back in 2008. Structured as if you are spending a day in Ouagadougou, untroubled by time-consuming public transport commutes, the different scenes zap you from one neighborhood and slice of city life to another, encountering people on your way, most of them intensely immersed in their daily manual labour – wood and metal workers, motorcycle repairing, maize sifting, selling of camels, sewing of cloths… It isn’t until 20 minutes into the film that the observed silence gets broken by words from Burkinabe rapper Art Melody.
There’s no need to understand French (or any other language for that matter) to get a taste of what Ouaga sounds like here. The most interesting part about this film is, I found, that it seems to carry many of the seeds of ideas and sounds Guibert has since 2008 been trying to nourish, especially over the last years: producing quality music and video in close collaboration with independent and struggling artists in Ouagadougou, culminating most recently in the release of “Wogdog Blues” (reviewed here). Watch it here:
Bonus: “Soul Please”, a new track released the other day by Art Melody (Ouagadougou), Anny Kassy (Conakry) and Redrum (Bordeaux):
You may have noticed a new logo lurking around Africa is a Country headquarters. When Sean put out the call for a design upgrade last year, I immediately thought of Diego Guttierez, an amazing graphic designer I’ve had the luck to work closely with in recent months. I met Diego a couple years ago when he was hanging with the Mex and the City folks. At the end of last year he signed on as the Art Director for Dutty Artz, the artist collective I belong to in Brooklyn, and has done an amazing job upgrading our visual identity. Now he’s agreed to help do the same for Africa is a Country. Check out the rest of his work here: http://talacha.net
Relevant for our purposes, Blitz the Ambassador is throwing a block party in Brooklyn this Saturday. Les Nubians are singing, Rimarkable and myself are DJing, and Restless City is screening. MoCADA is the host and co-sponsor.
What better way to sum up our unique New York spin on Afropolitanism?!
Apparently (and fittingly) Blitz is taking the party around the world. I’m especially interested to what goes down in Sao Paolo as I will be making a move in the vicinity in the near future. In the meantime, see you on Saturday!
“Africa Rising” stories have become old news in English-speaking media, so much so that Africa is a Country called them a meme not long ago. But only a few have run in French news outlets, and one such op-ed[fr] recently made it to the pages of the well-respected daily newspaper Le Monde. The piece has a specific flavor for a couple of reasons: a condescending and prescriptive tone, also known as the Françafrique touch, as its title trumpeting that “Africa is on the right tracks” (L’Afrique est bien partie) makes clear; an emphasis on the rise of the “African middle class”, portrayed as the cornerstone of the “African economic revolution”, whose origins are to be found in “diversifying and emancipating economies”, enabling “endogenous growth” that is free of the “dependency on raw materials exports” because it is “driven by consumption”. Such a nice Cinderella story! Who would guess that a little over a decade ago Africa was mostly described as “the hopeless continent”?
Cape of Good Hope
This rosy picture can be traced back to the strategic briefs and equity research notes published from 2010 onwards by Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey, Goldman Sachs (pdf) or Deloitte (pdf), advertising “the new African consumer”, finally in a position to spend some cash in brand new supermarkets. In a time when growth rates of industrialized countries stutter and when the Chinese and Indian engines of the global economy are somewhat slowing down, financial analysts and investment consultants can’t get enough of the one thing that they have dismissed for so long: Africa.
“That’s where the flavor is,” said Thabo Ncalo recently, manager of the Africa Fund for Johannesburg-based Stanlib, “the frontier markets,” like Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria or Rwanda. Close your eyes and let your imagination do the rest: hundreds of millions of purses loosening their strings…
Of course it’s difficult to sell such a vision if “Africa” remains associated with deadly conflicts, food crises and looming poverty. Thus baiting scaredy-cat investors and lobbying the media with the “African middle class” is downright genius: there’s enough actual change taking place all over the continent to make the notion look respectable, and it remains vague enough to accommodate any expectation and get traction across the board. This is where development organizations, in their quest for better aid efficiency and alternatives to aid, join forces with investors. But despite the evidence piling up of how misleading it can be, change in African countries continues to be examined through its reflection in Western mirrors rather than for itself – and “the rise and rise of the African middle class,” as Deloitte called it, is no exception.
In April 2011 The Africa Bank of Development (AFBD) released a market brief on “The Middle of the Pyramid: Dynamics of the African Middle Class” (pdf). Since then the estimated number of middle class Africans has been arbitrarily set at 350 million, sometimes delivered as the more dramatic soundbite “one in three Africans”. The AFBD goes on to explain that, given their higher revenues from salaried jobs or small business ownership, and the ensuing economic security, “Africa’s emerging consumers are likely to assume the traditional role of the US and European middle classes as global consumers”.
The chief economist and vice president of the AFBD at the time, Mthuli Ncube, gave it straight to CNN: “it’s a call to say ‘look, please invest in Africa’”. Sure enough, if the new is made to look like the old, it gains the reassuring quality of being just the same. In that respect, the “African middle class” is a means to an end, a programmatic concept: rationalize to normalize, normalize to legitimize.
To call such a construct fragile is an understatement. The AFBD defines “middle class” as those spending between $2 and $20 per day. By its own admission though, about 60% of those only spend between $2 and $4 per day and remain in what the bank calls a “floating class,” a vulnerable position “barely out of the poor category” with “the constant possibility of dropping back in the event of any exogenous shocks”. It seems indeed that trying to recognize the American “service class” or the European petite bourgeoisie in today’s African societies only goes so far.
This prompted Thandika Mkandawire, professor of African development at the London School of Economics, to label the AFBD’s version of a middle class a “stretch concept“. Also sobering is the geographical dispersion of AFBD’s middle class: most of the African upper middle class (spending $10-$20 per day) lives in North Africa, which does not bode well with all the talk of frontier markets stimulated by a new white collar generation south of the Sahara.
The interesting thing about the sub-classes is their evolution and what that says about socio-economic dynamics. A growing number of Africans are indeed lifting themselves out of economic poverty but, contrary to the African economic revolution narrative, this is not happening overnight and is still largely ongoing. 61% of Africans still live below the $2 poverty line according to the AFBD. Equally important is the fact that very few seem to transition from the “floating class” to actual middle class territory. In fact the share of the three top brackets has remained almost identical over the last four decades.
This is crucial to discussing African middle classes: the gap between the floating class and the lower middle class is much wider than it looks on paper. In December 2011, the Agence Française de Développement released the results of several country-level studies on middle class(es) in Africa [fr] (pdf). “I place myself in the middle,” said a respondent in Kenya, “but there is a big gap between us and the rich… We can consider ourselves as members of the middle class, we are strugglers, because we have to manage to get what we want.”
Sure, six of the ten fastest growing economies are African, but seven of the ten most unequal countries in terms of income distribution are also African. Among them, the still-number-one economy of the continent: South Africa, where the unemployment rate is close to 25%. Poster boy Nigeria is not that different: hailed for its top growth and diversifying economy – the latter in no small part due to billionaire Aliko Dangote’s growing empire – it is also fast becoming the country where the super-rich fly out their lunch while the rest of the Nigerians are stuck in slow-motion traffic.
In Angola, where dazzling economic growth is making investors weak at the knees after three decades of an on-and-off civil war, the China International Trust and Investment Company built an entire city 30 km outside of Luanda specifically aimed at the middle class. 750 eight-storey apartment blocks intended to house 500,000 people, and yet, as Louise Redvers reported last year, only a few thousands live there: the development is too expensive for the vast majority of Angolans, but not nearly enough for the minority who can actually afford it.
As Jumoke Balogun from CompareAfrica bluntly put it, the view from the ground is that Africa is rising and Africans are not.
Middle of the road
The World Bank has put together its own concept of “global middle class,” academics have offered alternative income brackets to better represent the middle class of developing countries and insightful comparisons have been made with the Chinese notion of”little prosperity” (xiaokang). Andy Sumner, economist made famous by his New Bottom Billion charge against Paul Collier, has also put forward the interesting concept of “catalyst class”. Yet few seem in a hurry of answering what “African middle class” means beyond fine-tuning its mathematical formula.
That middle class has become this development-approved equivalent of middle-income group dismissed the socio-political discussion of class almost entirely. By which I do not mean the faith inherited from Tocqueville that a burgeoning middle class will necessarily put African societies on to the path of democracy – according to the 80′s mantra, was that not the job of the “elites”?; in the 90′s, that of the “civil society”? – but instead the ever-evolving process of its own formation. But fixated on wealth, the discussion on middle classes in Africa misses out on the other two pillars of social stratification: social status and political power.
As soon as those two are factored in, discussing the “African middle class” as a homogenous entity seems absurd, and so it should. Thinking that what separates the senior civil servant from the street hawker or the country head of an MNC from the shop owner is a matter of daily expenditure amounts to looking at their reality through the wrong end of the telescope: the bigger picture is that they live in different worlds. And similar daily expenditure of middle class Ghanaians and middle class South Africans do not guarantee that they long for the same things either.
For here lies the rub: the material culture that the notion of “middle class” posits as shared consciousness is articulated to a strong sense of individualism, which is borderline contradictory with the idea of class. All the more reasons for the analysis to consider the representations which members have of themselves as a group and the historical context in which such groups are being shaped.
The infamous South African “Black Diamonds” are a testament to this prerequisite. Emerging from the ANC’s affirmative action policy of Black Economic Empowerment in post-apartheid South Africa, they initially, if briefly, represented success and hope for Black people formerly oppressed as an underclass. Yet the name, acquired through their involvement in gold and diamond mining, has since then become a symbol of personal greed in the eye of most South Africans and a derogatory term after it became associated with the new ruling class.
Out with the old, in with the new
Freed from its prescriptive shackles, the middle class framework could however prove beneficial to cut through some of the more polarized categories of analysis: formal and informal sectors, legal and illegal activities or public and private sectors. Many of the “neither-poor-nor-rich” Africans work multiple jobs across those categories. Local NGO staffers in Dakar have sheep on the terrace of their houses to fatten and sell. Shop owners in Conakry and Ouagadougou own small plots of land outside the city that they farm in their spare time. Primary school teachers in Nairobi give as much private lessons outside school as they teach inside their classroom.
They have cellphones and email addresses but many can’t afford health insurance. They own a car but sometimes need to save for weeks before getting it fixed. They speak multiple languages but fear they won’t be able to pay for their children’s education. They want a better life but don’t know that it will come to pass. Whatever bracket they fall into, those represent the bulk of African middle classes and their worry is not a trip to the mall on Sundays, their gaze is fixed on the horizon: the next year and beyond.
Another assumption obscures our vision of African middle classes. Because the notion of class is so intertwined in Western national trajectories, little efforts are made to discuss today’s African middle classes past the nation-state framework, as if all middle class Cameroonians lived in Cameroon for example. But they are coming of age in a context of greater international connectedness, and evidence shows that the people most susceptible to be international migrants are neither the poorest – economic and human capital are a prerequisite – nor the richest – who have already “made it” – but those in between.
Contrary to popular opinion, the number one destination of African international migrants are the 53 other African countries beside their own, not the Western world. Can it be said that African middle classes are born, to some extent, through migration journeys?
Think of the Burkinabe plantation workers in Côte d’Ivoire, whose capital on return is as much the money they saved as the fancy music they bring back, and whose prestige of “having done the Côte” (avoir fait la Côte) establishes them in a stratum of their own, the diaspos. Or of the Congolese studying in Dakar and Saint Louis universities, where they rely on small jobs and family support to make ends meet; later learning the rope of their trade in Morocco and earning their first paychecks; and finally returning to Brazzaville to get the rare well-paid jobs that their migratory credentials insure and enjoy the recognition and envy of their fellow Congolese.
Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is of course the symbol of such middle class success story through step migration: from the agricultural town of Jalaqasi to Mogadishu, to Bhopal, India for education, back to Somalia where he worked for NGOs and UN organizations, ultimately co-founding the Peace and Development Party in 2011 before being elected President in September 2012.
That’s not to mention the tens of thousands of teachers, nurses and entrepreneurs hidden among the millions of refugees across the continent: are they still middle class Africans? Will they ever be again? What do they consider themselves in the mean time? Then there are those living outside the continent, involving themselves in their homeland’s economic and political affairs, either individually or as diasporas: should the economic position, social status and political engagement of their members be assessed in the eye of their host country, their home country or both? And what about non-African immigrants: the senior French citizens retiring in Morocco and Tunisia [fr], the Portuguese fleeing unemployment in Angola and Mozambique or the Chinese setting up shop in Lesotho, are those new kinds of middle classes in Africa too?
Many more questions like these remain to be asked and so many of those deserve better answers than “the African middle class” wrapped in a bow and delivered to our doorstep courtesy of norm entrepreneurs and Money Incorporated. At the bottom of the pyramid are those on whom narratives are imposed and who have limited means to resist; at the top are those who have decided on their narrative and are writing their memoirs already; and in between is where the action is, where narratives overlap, clash or fuse because Africans are playing the field unencumbered by the nay-sayers or the yay-sayers. There is much to be learned about that life; and who better to tell these stories of in-betweenness than members of the middle classes themselves, African journalists, artists, bloggers and academics?
* Jacques Enaudeau is a geographer and freelance cartographer. He has worked in Burkina Faso and Senegal and is currently researching conflict and migration in Casamance, Senegal as part of his PhD. He is also part of the team of translators at Global Voices Français. You can follow Jacques on Twitter as @jacksometer.
Why France doesn’t want to let Aminata Traoré in and Germany allowed her only inside Berlin’s city limits
Malian writer, activist, former member of government Aminata Traoré is unwelcome in France, and, thanks to the ‘open borders’ of the Schengen Area, she is persona non grata in pretty much all of Europe. Another dialogue is possible? Not if you irk les autorités. Traoré was invited to speak at a conference last week, in Berlin. From there she was to go on to France, to participate in public forums in Paris and Lille. She had had a four-year Schengen visa, which allows for ‘free movement’ around the continent …except, of course, when it doesn’t. Much to her surprise, the German Consulate rejected Traoré’s application. Finally, at the last minute, she was given a three-day safe-conduct for Berlin and only Berlin. Since France wouldn’t allow her to transit through, she had to go through Istanbul and Dakar, which extended her return flight to 26 some hours.
Who is Aminata Traoré, and what makes her so ‘special’? On one hand, in the general fog at the season’s end of the universal Foreign Service, one almost never discovers the reasons for rejection. You’re in or you’re out. Deal with it.
On the other hand, Aminata Traoré is a fairly prominent public figure and activist intellectual. In the late 1990s, she was Mali’s Minister of Culture and Tourism. She’s a writer, perhaps best known for Le Viol de l’imaginaire and L’Afrique humiliée. Both works powerfully address the global, some would say the imperial, aspirations, policies and practices of multinational corporations as well as of former and present colonial national powers. Traoré was one of the lead organizers of the Bamako Social Forum in 2002. At each instance, her work focuses on structures of power, both imposed and resistant, at all levels, including consciousness, and the possibilities of real democracy.
Given we’re talking about Mali, not surprisingly France figures prominently. Traoré is a leader of African, and of African women’s, anti- and counter-globalization movements. At the same time, in writings and political engagements and popular education and theater, Traoré has spent the last decades challenging the common sense of expulsion, specifically of French expulsion of Malians back to Mali. Repeatedly, Traoré has challenged the common sense of development that relies on experts and the annihilation of indigenous knowledge, and she has called out development agencies for their acts and programs of violence, always, of course, ‘in the name of love.’ In particular, Traoré criticized multinational ‘developers’ for the viciousness of their policies and practices when it comes to Malian women, and African women more generally.
Most recently, Traoré has been a prominent critic of the French military intervention in northern Mali. Again, she was particularly pointed in her critique of the impact of French military intervention on Malian women’s rights as well as well being.
Why has Traoré been denied a visa? I don’t know. But I do know that, outside of the Francophone press, neither do you, if you rely on the English-language media. Where is The New York Times, who once, sixteen years ago, relied on Traoré’s views on democracy to help ‘explain’ Mali? Where’s the BBC, who, eleven years ago, featured her work, organizing the 2002 poor people’s summit, where she criticized, and organized against, the G8, NEPAD, and so much more? Where are they all today, when Traoré is denied freedom of movement across the ‘borderless’ expanses of Europe? Silent. Let’s hope another world is possible … soon.
Even though Nigeria didn’t get much love at this year’s FESPACO film festival, some Parisian organizers believe that the francophone world has been ready for Naija cinema. Nollywood, the world’s second largest film industry, produces over 2000 films annually, and now, seven of its best will be screened at France’s first ever NollywoodWeek Paris (and we’re wholeheartedly endorsing this). From May 30 to June 2, 2013, the L’Arlequin Theatre in Saint-Germain-des-Prés will host the festival, which is to include a VIP cocktail with the filmmakers, panel discussions and a crafts marketplace. Here’s the festival trailer:
Nollywood already has some popularity in France. A new channel, Nollywood TV, has launched. A walk through Barbès and Château Rouge in Paris reveals shops chock full of films from around West Africa. Nollywood still doesn’t have much access to mainstream France however, something the organizers of the film festival are hoping to change. NollywoodWeek is preparing to be an annual event, in order to “foster distribution opportunities in this untapped market.” Instead of popcorn, expect to be served beignets and Nigerian meat pies.
The festival’s film line-up features stars like Genevieve Nnaji in “Ijé” and Hakeem Kae-Kazim in “Last flight to Abuja.” Two of the films that are scheduled for screening we’ve reviewed here previously: Man on Ground (here) and Maami (here). Here are the five other films that made the cut:
Phone Swap by Kunle Afolayan (Director will be present)
Akin and Mary accidentally bump into each other and mistakenly swap their identical phones, leading to a destination mix up. Akin is now at Mary’s destination and visa versa which is where they discover that their phones were swapped. Still determined to make each of their travel’s a success, each must carry out the other’s mission which soon proves to not be an easy task! The result? Hilarious situations and unexpected outcomes.
Inalé by Jeta Amata and Keke Bongos
Inalé is the beautiful daughter of the great King Oche, of the Idoma people in Idomaland, Nigeria. Her beloved Odeh must win the wrestling tournament to win her hand in marriage. A stranger appears, that challenges not only the tradition of the village but the strength of Odeh and Inalé’s true love.
Ijé (The Journey) by Chineze Anyaene
When Anya, the eldest of the two, vows to chase her dreams of glamour in the Hollywood Hills, her younger sister, Chioma, warns her of the dark side of the American Dream. Now, years later, and in a world away from the life she knew, Anya is charged with the murder of three men, one of them her powerful husband. Chioma travels from Nigeria to Los Angeles and, with the help of a young, unproven attorney, discovers that the dark secret her sister wants to keep hidden might be the only thing that can win her freedom.
Tango With Me by Mahmood Ali-Balogun
Lola and Uzo are the perfect couple, their newly married life in front of them. All is well until the happiest day of their lives became the worst.
Last Flight to Abuja by Obi Emelonya
Based on true events. A set of everyday Nigerian travelers board the last Flamingo Airways flight scheduled to fly from Lagos to Abuja on a fateful Friday night in 2006. The plane cruises at 30,000 feet on schedule but like a bolt out of the blue, through a mixture of human error and technical failure, the plane rapidly spirals towards a disastrous end. As the pilots try to get a handle on the situation, a series of flashbacks unravel the twists, turns and leaps of fate that put each passenger on the fateful flight. Young lovers, an elderly couple, a corporate party, a sportsman on the threshold of greatness; all contemplating the final moments of their lives. All… except one.
Today marks the 19th anniversary of Freedom Day in South Africa. It is an occasion to reflect on the recent and distant past. This is significant because in recent weeks the past has re-emerged as a category of political and public debate. Here, the past refers to the recent 20th century past, the past of Apartheid. That said, the past never really wanes out of public discourse as the question of understanding the present socio-political conditions in South Africa are always hooked onto some historical reference. And it is Nelson Mandela, the symbol and referent of one transition from that past, that has come to be the focus of these recent debates about the qualitative substance of that past. In this brief post, however, I would like to reflect on the ways in which Mandela’s image as a referent of that past has been appropriated, signified and transformed into material form as commemoration, in an attempt to understand what it says about post-apartheid South Africans’ relations to a particular past and the significance of those practises for material commemorations post-apartheid.
Over the last weekend of March, Nelson Mandela was admitted to hospital for the second time since the start of 2013. Naturally, his admission attracted intense media attention, with focus being drawn to the status of the aging statesman’s health. In the wake of the public speculation that again enveloped Mandela and his family, and the questions asked about the morality of the enterprise, the acclaimed South African cartoonist Zapiro weighed in with a cartoon that called for South Africans to start accepting Mandela’s frail, ordinary mortality and let him go. Instead of letting go, however, South Africans sought to affirm their connection with and support for Mandela in seemingly ordinary yet culturally extraordinary ways, by, for example, laying stones of support outside his Houghton home while he was hospitalized. It was reported that members of the public embellished these lithic markers with messages such as “Get well we love you” and “I wish you many more b-days to come”. These Madiba Rocks therefore affirmed Mandela’s continued resonance in the public psyche as a national patriarch and reaffirmed the public’s ethereally real bond with him. More significantly, however, in affirming their affinity for Mandela through the laying of stones at his front door, South Africans were generating a spontaneous memorial, a humble form of commemoration with powerful cultural and historical significance.
Variably referred to as spontaneous shrines, roadside shrines or simply grassroots memorials, memorials like these are generated across the world when material markers and messages of support quickly accumulate at sites related to death and tragedy. As far as it relates to celebrities, it can be traced to the outpouring of public grief after the violent death of Princess Diana, and the enormous floral tribute that bloomed at the gates of Kensington Palace. Another iconic spontaneous memorial sprang up at St Pauls Trinity Church in downtown New York immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks. Survivors, loved ones and friends transformed the church boundary fence into a rich, refulgent tapestry of grief and solidarity, embellishing it with a material culture of fabrics, photographs, flags and hand-written notes for the departed. Collected, curated and preserved inside the church space, the assemblage endures not as ephemera but as an amalgam of broken-hearted interpretations of a national tragedy.
Materially, spontaneous memorials manifest in particular ways, and their material forms speak to the very substance of their cultural and historical significance. Alluring, yes, but also annoying, as in the case of residents of Port Shepstone in Kwazulu-Natal province’s complaints about Bury Stander’s spontaneous memorial, or the awful conundrum faced by residents of Newtown, Connecticut, wondering about how to deal with the material piled up after the spontaneous commemoration of the Sandy Hook massacre. This agony about the basic reality of emergent public commemorations affirms the significance of their very materiality as a key to understanding them as heritage place-makers.
To return to the growing pile of stones outside Nelson Mandela’s home, we can see links to the practise of leaving stones at the graveside of the deceased in Judaism. Closer to home, however, we can situate this spontaneous memorial to the indigenous African custom of the cairn, mounds of stones left by passers-by out of respect to the ancestors laid to rest at a particular place. It resonates with the stones that have been erected at South Africa’s official post-apartheid commemorative space, at Isivivane at Freedom Park in Pretoria. A symbolic burial ground, commemorating all those who died in the struggles for freedom and humanity, Isivivane was sacralised through the authentic indigenous religious knowledge provided by local experts. Sanusi Credo Mutwa, “visionary, historian, seer, prophet, sculptor, painter and unique individual with an uncanny ability to clearly understand the universe, the world and humanity” confirmed the significance of stone in African indigenous knowledge, as lithic registers of time immemorial, as vessels that networked ancient African knowledge.
Nelson Mandela’s connection to the site was more than theoretical. Tourists developed a close association between the figure and the site, often probing tour guides about whether it was being prepared as his final resting place. In that case, it appeared that a range of commemorative practises whether material or merely speculative where already taking place while Mandela was alive or, more specifically on the cusp of passing away. This suggested that there was a transformation in public perception in relation to his place in the South African past as heritage and his frailty as a mere mortal.
Beyond references to statue cults and grandiose representations of figures of esteem, through which the Mandela narrative has also been interpreted, it has also been circulated, recirculated, digitized, electrified, commodified, monetized, globalized and ultimately immortalized. Sjhoe … this excess of cultural and capitalist labour invested in cycling his image through public culture suggests that arguably, South Africans have been dwelling in what Ciraj Rassool has called the biographical complex, a play on Tony Bennet’s notion of the exhibitionary complex, a post-apartheid temporal dimension framed by his biography. Nevertheless, returning to the growing rockery outside Mandela’s home, commemorations such as these raise questions about his future place in the post-apartheid commemorative space and how we attend to the past that he so evocatively represents. What are appropriate means to commemorate him and his legacy, and who decides on what that is supposed to mean? More significantly, we can relate his failing health and the call to appreciate his mortality to the frailty of the romantic post-1994 narrative that he so powerfully represents. Perhaps in laying stones outside his home, South Africans are indeed learning to let go.
* South African Duane Jethro, is a PhD student in social and cultural anthropology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
South African kwaito group Mafikizolo underscored their comeback this week with the release of the video for “Khona” off their new album, Reunited. The video which also features vocals from Uhuru and Mapiano, takes the group back to the village with brightly colored Ndebele wall paintings, Basotho blankets and flamboyant dancing. Since its debut in December, Khona has already become a global club hit and this video will further prove that Nhlanhla Nciza and Theo Kgosinkwe still got it:
Nostalgia for returning to the traditional village life in South Africa must be widespread amidst neoliberal disenchantment because DJ Ganyani and FB also return to their Tsonga roots in the video for “Xigubu”.
Nigerians Show Dem Camp, with Poe and Boj, give us a laid back song for the summer in “Feel Alright”. Ha!!!!!
More proof that high-energy kuduro music is designed for all ages comes from Angola where Gege Kuya Bwe and company live the kuduro life in the video “Batata”. With trademark Angolan style, this dance-heavy video likely doesn’t feature anyone over the age of 7.
Sinkane drops another stellar video from his impressive Mars album with the song “Warm Spell”. In this retro-feeling video, an entrancing guitar riff is overlaid with even more entrancing visuals of lithe, graceful women and flowers. Legendary painter Georgia O’Keefe would certainly approve.
In their video for “That Lazy Song” rising stars Black Motion demonstrate what makes South African house music so unique. Its well crafted beat is infused perfectly with smooth jazz rhythms and hypnotic vocals. Perfect for the impeccably dressed to get down.
Meanwhile in The Gambia… hip hop crew S.T. Da Gambian Dream use their Mandinka flows as a vehicle to express the frustrations of youth in the country and while they’re at it, talk a little shit.
There’s a new video for French rapper Fababy (real name: Fabrice Ayékoué):
Jazz band Stone Ground Souls, which features members from Zimbabwe, South Africa and the United States, performed this past week in Lesotho. In this live video for the song “Roots Grown Deep”, the group’s resident sand-painter Tawanda Mhandu creates an ever-evolving masterpiece amidst the wailing of brass. They call their style “Musical-Visual Synthesis”.
And staying in the jazz vein, Alissa Sanders croons “Dindi” in a video shot by the Nigerian-British artist Zina Saro-Wiwa. The daughter of the Ogoni activist/writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed by Nigeria’s Abacha regime, Zina has been paving her own artistic path for awhile now. She recently completed a fascinating three-part video installation called Eaten by the Heart that was commissioned by the Menil Collection for their exhibition The Progress of Love.
The Supreme Price is ambitious both in its scope and its intentions: “Following the annulment of her father’s — Moshood Abiola — victory in Nigeria’s 1993 Presidential Election and her mother’s – Alhaja Kudirat Abiola — assassination by agents of the military dictatorship, Hafsat Abiola faces the challenge of transforming a corrupt culture of governance into a democracy capable of serving Nigeria’s most marginalized population: women,” plugging her organization along the way. Produced and directed by Joanna Lipper, the film comes with some high-profile backers (MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation/Just Films, ITVS, etc). The extended trailer below was commissioned by Gucci to launch their “global Chime for Change Campaign”. We’ll have to watch it.
A second film to watch out for is Tu seras mon allié (“You will be my ally”) by Cameroonian director Rosine Mfetgo Mbakam (remember her portrait of Congolese artist Freddy Tsimba from a while back). The short tells the story of a woman from Gabon, played by Bwanga Pilipili, who gets stopped at the airport upon her entry to Belgium, and on what happens next. The cast further includes Gael Maleux and Isabelle Anciaux:
The Secret Capital is the second joint production by Mukhtar Shehata and Samuli Schielke — after their “The Other Side“ (2010). Set in Egypt, the question it asks is a complicated one: Was there a revolution? “Two years after the beginning of the January 25 Revolution,” they write, “many Egyptians ask themselves this question. The answer is not to be found on Tahrir Square, but in the villages of countryside, the secret capital of Egypt.” The filmmakers follow the struggles, hopes and frustrations among people from Shehata’s home village who between February 2011 and December 2012 tried to bring the revolution to their village in northern Egypt:
Angolan director Pocas Pascoal’s first feature film Por Aqui Tudo Bem (“All is well”) won the European Union Award at FESPACO earlier this year. Synopsis: “In the late summer of 1980, Alda and her sister Maria, at the age of 16 and 17, arrive in Lisbon to escape the civil war in Angola. Left to themselves, they must learn to survive in a foreign city.”
And The Capacity of Capcity is director Sara Chitambo’s story* on the rise, demise, and “imminent revival” of Pretoria’s hip hop scene. The documentary features interviews with a broad range of key stakeholders, from producers such as Nyambz and Thirteen, to emcees such as Maliq and Damola, and fringe observers such as Hype magazine editor Simone Harris and DJ Kenzhero.
* File this one under “shameless self-promotion” since Ts’eliso helped out with the editing. The film will premiere on 27th April at the Back to the City Festival (Newton, South Africa). For future screening dates, keep an eye on the film’s Tumblr.