The Diversity of African Culture and Creativity
In recent years, the diversity of African culture and creativity has received more attention world over. Many young (and even old) emerging African go-getters are carving their names on the books of history through their works. From writing to design and fashion, to movie-making, music and dance, these varied generations are exhibiting the diversity of African culture and creativity by reshaping narratives and developing a deeper understanding of our creative industries. Today, we look at some of these individuals and the industries in which they champion their causes.
Over the years, African literature has elicited massive interest both locally and abroad. Starting off from the pre-independence literature to the contemporary, the writers have managed to tell stories of a continent that is ethnically and culturally diverse, yet still holds almost similar challenges and successes. Most of the renowned and/or widely read authors have written on several issues ranging from social and cultural issues, women’s rights and feminism, to post-war and colonial identity, as well as conflict and conflict resolution issues. The list of African writers is long, and here we look at three of those writers who have managed to exhibit African diversity through their literary works.
In her debut Behold The Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue illustrates the immigrant experience in America’s compassionate astuteness. Just like Jende Jonga, the main protagonist in her book, Imbolo Mbue is an immigrant to the United States sponsored by her relatives back in Cameroon to study in United States. In the book, Jende Jonga, a man from Cameroon migrates to the United States and hopes to settle his family permanently there. In the first chapter of the book, a Lehman Brothers executive in New York hires Jende to be his chauffeur. The relationship between Jende and his boss, along with his family, allows the novel to follow the paths of two different families at the opposite ends of America’s economic ladder when the great recession hits. The book has sold millions of copies and has won Mbue various awards, including the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Fiction Award, a $15,000 award. In an interview with an American media outlet, Mbue said that her life is an example of what America offers to immigrants. “We come here just in awe of this country and wanting to be a part of it,” she said.
The list of new generation African writers are taking the literary world by storm and would not be complete without the inclusion of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Born in 1977 in Nigeria, her works are primarily character-driven, interweaving the background of Nigeria and its social and political events into the narrative. Her debut Purple Hibiscus is set in postcolonial Nigeria, a time when the country was affected by political instability and economic snags. It is set in a turbulent time in Nigeria’s political history, from the idea that there is a vacuum in power and a dictator rises to power. The theme of the book also highlights religious beliefs through the interaction of the characters. Kambili’s father (Kambili is the central character) rejects her Grandfather because of his cultural beliefs. This is also present in Kambili’s thoughts as she is always worried so as to not commit a sin and scared to anger her father. One of her latest pieces is 2013’s Americanah, an insightful portrayal of Nigerian immigrant life and race relations in America and the western world. Adichies’s works have been met with overwhelming praise and have been nominated for, and won, numerous awards, including the Orange Prize and Booker Prize.
Known as one of the best and most successful writers in the French language, Alain Mabanckou has broken borders with his literary works with his biting wit, sharp satire, and shrewd commentary into African affairs, as well as issues regarding African immigrants in France. Some of his books include Black Moses, Broken Glass and Black Bazaar, among others. One of his best known pieces of fiction is the Broken Glass, a comic novel centered around a former Congolese teacher and his interactions with the locals in the bar he frequents. The other one is Black Bazar, which details the experiences of various African immigrants in an Afro-Cuban bar in Paris. His candidness has attracted controversy and criticism by some African and diaspora writers for stating that Africans bear responsibility for their own misfortune. His novels have been nominated and received various awards, the most recent one being the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for the novel Black Moses.
The fashion industry in Africa has witnessed tremendous growth in recent years. The global demand and discussion on African-inspired fashion has led to incredible sales for some African designers and brands. The boom in African fashion has caught the eyes of international celebrities including former US first lady, Michelle Obama, Rihanna, Beyoncé, among others. The growth has been spurred by various young fashion designers and entrepreneurs who are now partakers in the billion-dollar industry.
One of the most vibrant fashion industries on the continent is Nigeria’s industry. With a population of over 180 million, Nigeria’s fashion has always been diverse, reflecting its many ethnic groups, religions. and cultures.
Individuals who are exhibiting the African diversity in this industry include Folake Folarin–Coker, who is the creative director of Tiffany Amber. Thanks to her impeccable taste and gaudy colors, Folarin-Coker is considered to be the first African designer to showcase her designs at New York Mercedes Fashion Week for two consecutive years. Her work has earned her recognition and awards, which include an Enterprise Award at the Women, Inspiration & Enterprise (WIE) Symposium in 2013. She has also been listed by the Forbes Power Women in Africa list. The name Zizi Cardow is widely known in fashion circles across the globe thanks to her talented creations which reflect the style and spirit of her country, Nigeria. She founded Zizi Industrial Clothing Company in 2000, with the desire to globalize the African fabric and designs so as to give rise to a proud Nigerian globally. Her works have been featured in various local and international media outlets including CNN, SABC and Channel O. Cardow’s designs have graced numerous fashion shows in Africa and beyond, and she has also received various awards and nominations for her creations.
Besides Nigeria’s vibrant fashion industry, South Africa is also leading the way in making the continent the hotbed of style and mind-blowing fashion designs. Thula Sindi is one of the emerging South African designers. Sindi studied at the London International School of Fashion, after which he started working at Vlisco, a textile company. He later started his own clothing company, whose designs have been appreciated as elegant. Sindi has won numerous awards for his modern and sophisticated designs.
Another young emerging South African designer is Bongiwe Walaza. Walaza attributes her expertise to her mother who was a seamstress. Her dynamic style of radical patterns has gained her a huge following both locally and internationally. She has worked closely with Da Gama Textiles, who produces traditional South African textile designs. Using asymmetry and with a penchant for shape-shifting within her work, Walaza’s clothes are a little bit earthy – she also produces workwear.
The contemporary art scene on the continent is characterized by a dynamic list of outstanding individuals whose artistic inventions and abstract insightfulness has created a way for the next generation of artists. The vibrancy of the industry can be attributed to the receptive attitudes of the market towards contemporary art in the recent past. The artists have stamped their position by using their talents and pieces to interpret and portray Africa’s social and economic aspects of our day-to-day lives, political challenges, wars, conflicts and peace, culture and traditions, the diverse African beauty, as well as other issues that reflect real life on the continent.
Benin born Meschac Gaba is one of the most celebrated contemporary artists. Gaba is best known for his travelling exhibition titled the Museum of Contemporary African Art, which was inaugurated in 1997 in Amsterdam. He has investigated constructions of cultural identity along with systems of trade as they relate to exchanges between Africa and the Western world. His inaugural travelling museum addressed the ideas of value and revaluation, perceptions of African art, the politics of museum display, and roles of both artist and visitor. Over a period of five years, the artist progressively installed twelve interactive exhibition rooms set up across various European art institutions in an attempt to place African art in front of international audiences. Gaba’s works vary from paintings and ceramics to multimedia installations employing materials such as paint, plywood, plaster, stones, and decommissioned bank notes.
Zimbabwe’s Kudzanai Chiurai is one of the contemporary African artists challenging the status quo using his work. Born in 1981 in Zimbabwe, he is now exiled from his native home after fearlessly producing a fiery image of Robert Mugabe, the country’s infamous leader, with horns and swallowed by flames. He is regarded as part of the ‘’Born Free’ generation in Zimbabwe due to his free spirit and fearlessness. Chiurai was the first black recipient of a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Pretoria, and has since become an important figure in the African contemporary art scene.
He uses dramatic multimedia compositions to confront and challenge the most pressing issues in the southern African region such as xenophobia and displacement. He now lives in Johannesburg and also produces films and paintings that deal with his psychological and physical experience of living in the inner city of Johannesburg.
Africa is a hotbed of musical talent, and every month there’s a fresh wave of new artists bursting into the limelight that capture our attention with their incredible gifts. Making a list of musical geniuses on the continent is not an easy task. Here, we look at three artists from different regions of the continent. South African, Kiernan Jarryd Forbes, commonly known by his stage name of AKA, is a hip-hop recording artist and record producer who has worked on some of the most listened to and most played music on radio, TV and entertainment places. AKA ventured in a solo career in 2009 with hits like Mistakes, In My Walk, and Do It.
His debut album Alter Ego won various awards during the Metro FM Music Awards, which included “Best Newcomer,” “Best Hip Hop” as a solo act and “Best Produced Album” for his debut. After the success of that album, AKA was christened “Prince of South African Rap” by one of the national newspapers in South Africa. One of his biggest singles include a collaboration with Nigeria’s Burna Boy and South Africa’s Da L.E.S and JR. The single scooped the Best Collaboration Award at the 2015 MTV Africa Music Awards and the 2015 Afrimmas, and stayed in the number one spot on the iTunes Chart for nine consecutive weeks.
Born in 1992, David Adedeji Adeleke, better known by his stage name, Davido, is a Nigerian recording artist, performer and record producer. He is one of the most prominent and sought after African artists who rose to fame in 2011 with the release of his debut album Omo Baba Olowo. The single Dami Duro from the album was well-received throughout the continent. The single also topped most music charts, including the YFM Music Charts and GoldMyne’s Top 10 Songs of 2012, among others.
Early last year, Davido announced via his Twitter account that he had signed a record deal with Sony Music. His announcement was met with mixed reactions from fellow musicians and his fans. The record label put out a press release to confirm the deal. Davido has received over 30 awards and numerous nominations throughout his career. Some of the awards include BET Award, Kora Award, Channel O Music Video Award, among many others.
Sauti Sol is an award-winning Kenyan afro-pop band from Kenya consisting of four band members – Bien-Aime Baraza, Willis Austin Chimano, Polycarp Otieno, and Savara Mudigi. The group was formed in 2005 and gained recognition in 2006 after participating in the Spotlight on Kenyan Music Competition hosted by the Alliance Française in Nairobi. They were included in the album compilation recording and later got signed to Penya Records. They coined their name from the Swahili word Sauti, which means voice and Sol, which is Spanish for sun, and loosely translated their name is theoretically ‘Voices in the sun.’ They released their debut studio album titled Mwanzo in November 2008, to critical acclaim.
Their second album, Sol Filosofia, was released in February 2011, earning the group a number of accolades and nominations. Their third studio album titled Live and Die in Afrika was released online on the November 21, 2015, and was available to Sauti Sol fans globally for free download for 48 hours as an early Christmas present. The album was released under their imprint label, Sauti Sol Entertainment, as a self-produced work by Sauti Sol. Over 400,000 downloads were made during the free download period. Sura Yako, a hit single from the album, is one of their most well-received songs with over 2 million views on YouTube. The band has had successful tours in Africa and Europe, topped Kenyan charts, and gained international attention with shows in Europe and the US, as well as major television appearances. They have won various awards including Most Downloaded Single at the 2015 Mdundo Music Awards, Producers of the Year for Sura Yako at the 2014 Afrimmas, and the YouTube Channel Award at the 2015 OLX SOMA Awards.