The New Wave Africans are Here to Stay
The “African Culture” is a product of the diverse population that inhabit the African continent and Diaspora, today. The wave of African cultural influence globally has washed in and receded over the decades, but lately, it seems more akin to a relentlessly rising tide.
African art, fashion, food, film and music exports have exploded on the global stage to great acclaim. Their effects more substantial and stable partly because of the steadily raising diaspora population and the work of barrier reducing social media.
The first real sign that the tide had turned for good came in the guise of the movie Black Panther. More significant than the usual run of the mill superhero movies, this movie is about what it means to be black in both America and Africa – and, more broadly, in the world. The film was superbly executed, a vision of unmitigated African excellence with a ripple effect that was felt all over the globe.
Most importantly the movie grossed $1.23 billion in the worldwide box office proving that African narratives have the power to generate profits from all audiences.
African fashion has influenced many designers over the years, many a summer collection has been inspired by African prints and fabrics, often leading to cries of cultural appropriation.
The average African designer has traditionally struggled with infrastructure disadvantages that make it difficult to compete effectively on the international stage. The creativity coming from the continent, however, has never been in dispute. This year, for example, the prestigious LVMH prize was won by South African designer Thebe Magugu- the first time the prize has been won by an African candidate.
“His creative work appropriates the codes of menswear and womenswear, of the traditional and the experimental, playing with volumes and traditional South-African know-how” said executive VP of Louis Vuitton, Delphine Arnault, about the result.
Inclusivity is the prevailing movement when it comes to who and what we see represented in print media, on our televisions and on the runway. Diversity when it comes to body shape, sizes, skin tone and genders has paved the way for models from Africa to be the stars of some memorable global ad campaigns and to be the representatives of several international fashion brands.
In a continent as ethnically and culturally diverse as Africa, it comes as no surprise that the literature that has emerged from it would be equally diverse and multifaceted.
There has been no lack of literary greats. Chinua Achebe is considered one of the world’s most widely recognised and praised writers of the 20th century. Wole Soyinka was the first black African to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1986.
Picking up the mantle are the new guard, the likes of Aminatta Forna from Sierra Leone, Yaa Gyasi from Ghana and Alain Mabanckou of the Republic of Congo.
These new generation authors are influencing people outside of the isolated world of the literary intellectual. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie works have been nominated for and won numerous awards including the Orange Prize and the Booker prize. More significantly she is an influential public speaker and women’s rights advocate. Her books, essays and voice have reached millions of people worldwide. She is a bestselling author in China!!
Nigerian author Tomi Adeyemi is currently publishing the young adult Orisha trilogy based on west African mythology and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Children of Blood and Bone, the first book, was published to acclaim, big sales and a movie deal already in the works.
If you are in any doubts about the significance of African art on the world stage, you have only to consider the highly contentious attempted return of the famous Benin bronzes. A century after they were taken from Nigeria and distributed across Europe and North America, it has taken almost half as long to negotiate their return.
The recently discovered Ben Enwonwu 1974 masterpiece Tutu was found incredibly in a London flat after being “lost” for decades. It was expected to sell for anything between £200,000 and £300,000. It eventually sold at auction for a whopping £1,205,000 setting a whole new standard for the value of works for a modern Nigerian artist.
When it comes to music, the influence of African music globally is well documented and acknowledged. It has affected and created genres throughout the world from pop to jazz and soul.
In the 1970’s and 80’s one of the titans of African music, Fela Kuti, created afrobeats, which influenced mainstream artist such as Questlove, Brain Eno and Paul McCartney. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that afrobeat music and its artists moved away from being considered “niche” to receiving mainstream airtime.
Today, artists such as Tiwa Savage from Nigeria have billboards in Time Square NYC while others like, Burna Boy and Mr Eazi have top billing at the world-famous Coachella festival.
Collaborations with mega stars such as Beyoncé produce the curated soundtrack to the Disney summer blockbuster the Lion King movie. The album called The Lion King: The Gift has contributions from Salatiel, Shatta Wale, Wizkid, Burna Boy, Yemi Alade, Mr Eazi, Tiwa Savage and Tekno.
African culture is moving away from being the subject of appropriation to that of representation. No longer the purview of intellectuals or aficionados, the culture has now been assimilated into mainstream global culture.
No longer a trend, African culture has arrived.