A few years ago, I started to wonder about Africa’s new noticeable presence in the world. I mean from African prints to Afro beats, the continent seemed to be taking the world by storm, with it’s renewed sense of identity in its people, talent and agency. Having realised this, I began to trace Africa’s current reawakening back to its roots and I found that the idea of a renewed Africa is not unprecedented. Actually, the idea of an African renewal or Renaissance (as it is known within political circles) was first expressed by Senegalese Historian and scholar—Cheikh Anta Diop in his book “Towards the African Renaissance: Essays in culture and development, 1946-1960. And in the 1990s, the concept was further popularised by former South African president—Thabo Mbeki, in his famous “I am an African…” speech. And this marked the birth of the modern day idea of an African Renaissance.
The idea of an African Renaissance
The idea of an African Renaissance details that “African people and nations shall overcome the current challenges confronting the continent and achieve cultural, scientific and economic revival”. The architects of the African Renaissance concept argue that this will happen in three phases, with the last phase or “third movement” being the actual realisation of an African Renaissance. The first wave has already occurred and dates back to the 1950s until the 1980s. It identifies liberation struggles and the granting of independence to most African countries by colonial powers as an important hallmark of this era. The second wave was signalled by the end of the cold war and fall of communism in 1989, which opened the way for more vibrant calls for democracy across Africa and particularly in South Africa. The hall mark of this era was the fall of the apartheid government and eventual liberation of the South African people in 1994. Although these waves were considered crucial to the concept of a renewed Africa, they were only considered stepping-stones for a much greater African agenda, as the idea of an African Renaissance, is far more comprehensive and extensive than any envisioned political liberation or democracy agenda. An African Renaissance is therefore to “empower African peoples to deliver themselves from the legacy of colonialism and neo-colonialism and situate themselves on the global stage as equal and respected contributors to, as well as beneficiaries of all the achievements of human civilisation”.
Further to this, for an African Renaissance to take place, a number of factors have to present, but the most prominent of these are: “the emergence of new unionised “proletariat class” that is not only concerned about traditional issues such as working conditions and wages but also cares about ownership and enterprise management” and second, the “emergence of a large urban professional and entrepreneurial middle class that is property owning and is an active participant in the development of small and medium enterprises”. It is believed that the African Renaissance will occur whether we like it or not, despite possible objections or “subjective intentions by government”. The African Renaissance ball is in motion and it will not stop until it has reached its destination.
African prints and beats
The idea of an African Renaissance has indeed arrived. This couldn’t be much clearer as seen through the rise of Africa in the fashion and music industry. From African prints to Afro beats, Africa is seemingly taking the world by storm. If this is not the idea of the envisioned African Renaissance dream, then I don’t know what is.
In recent times, African prints are making head waves, from the eclectic fashion streets of Johannesburg to the high streets of New York, African prints are everywhere. Renowned international fashion Houses and designers like Burberry and Vivian Westwood have produced collections influenced by the sights and sounds of Africa. Even America’s first lady Michelle Obama has been photographed wearing African inspired creations by Nigerian designer Duro Oluwa. These famous African inspired designs range from Ghanaian Kente head wraps to South African Zulu inspired jewellery. African fashion brands make use of regional, continental and international platforms such as fashion weeks held in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and London to showcase local talent. “It is safe to say that Africans have arrived…Their talent and creativity is undisputed”.
African music is also making head waves around the world. From South African House to West African Afro beats, the international music scene is being heavily influenced by African music more so now than ever before. The international music waves are often filled with the tunes of African artists like D’banj, Ice Prince, Davidoo and 2face of Nigeria, Mi Casa of South Africa and Sarkodie of Ghana, to mention a few. While artists like Youssou N’dour, Ali “Farka” Toure, Angelique Kidjo and Fela Kuti were music icons of the 1980s and 1990s, there is a new genre of African artists promising to take Africa to another level. In 2012, Nigerian superstar D’banj’, made music headlines when his hit song Oliver Twist, reached number 2 on the UK R&B charts. He also signed a music collaboration deal with Kanye West after the success of his music video “Mr Endowed” featuring international hip hop and rap sensation “Snoop dog”. Also, in 2012, Ghana’s Azonto music and dance moves went viral on social media sites like youtube and facebook, setting a new dance trend worldwide. According to a popular UK Dj—Abrantee, the funky sounds of afro beats emanating from Nigeria and Ghana are providing an inflow of vibrancy in to the UK urban and US hip hop scene. He argues that “the floodgates have been opened. Music is always evolving…So everyone is looking for the next hype-and people are finally noticing. I’m getting 3000 people coming out to dance to Afrobeats”.
Why an African Renaissance, rather than the will to survive?
The nature of African success as felt through design and music is definitely palpable. It is easy to credit the nature of this success to the hard work, resilience and will to survive of its African creators. Be this as it may, African success in the fashion and music industry has not come out of an arbitrary pattern. Instead, it has journeyed a carefully “integrated programme of action” as predicted by Renaissance scholars. In so doing, the success of Africa in the fashion and music industry has fulfilled two important factors deemed necessary for an African Renaissance. Firstly, these ideas and creations largely originate from the conceptual prowess of the so called “low to middle-working class bracket”, who are entrepreneurial in spirit and have taken ownership of their creations. An investigation into the personal history of many African designers and artists, will shed light on humble beginnings, sometimes marred by personal struggles and abject poverty. Yet still, they chose to harness their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. Secondly, these African entrepreneurs have adopted a largely professional outlook to the nature of their businesses, (many hire management agencies to oversee the affairs of their business), with the aim of growing it into a small or medium enterprise (and with any luck, even a global enterprise).These two factors have ensured that African creations realise the goals of their creators (designers and artists) in the short-term but in the long-term achieve the broader dream of an African Renaissance.
A few last words
As I write the concluding part to this piece, I acknowledge that there is ample evidence to prove that Africa is indeed on the rise. The continent has taken the world by storm in print and beat, through the popularity and acceptance of African infused creations, in an industry previously dominated by a western-centric outlook. My hope for now is that Africa continues to rise and achieves in its entirety the dream of an African Renaissance.
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