For the past few weeks, we have looked at another side of Africa which isn’t normally shown by newspapers, television, and media. In the last post of this series, I would like to celebrate the heroes of African art and literature. These are the fields which build and advance the culture of a region, and build on a collective identity. For this reason, these individuals, who are often neglected need to be celebrated the most.
Literature: Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe is a Nigerian novelist, poet and professor who has gained popularity through his writing of African novels and poems that cleverly, and correctly depict the state of the continent. His book, Things Fall Apart, is one of the most widely recognised book in African literature and was the book that brought his name into the international limelight. His novels focus on his traditional heritage, Christian influence on the continent, colonial influence on the continent and the clash of all of these influences.
Music: Youssou N’Dour
Youssou N’Dour is a Senegalese musician who hit the international stage with his hit 7 Seconds featuring Neneh Cherry. He developed a style of popular music, called Mbalax, which is a blend of various traditional sounds from the region. He has collaborated with various musicians such as Paul Simon, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, Wyclef Jeacn and Dido. He has also tapped into acting, featuring in films such as Amazing Grace and Retour à Gorée.
Dance: Boyzie Cekwana
Boyzie Cekwana is a South African choreographer and dancer. Originally trained in ballet, he has
developed a South African identity within the classical dance form. He started his career in Meadowlands, South Africa as a dancer with Carly Dibakoane. At twenty-three he became the principal choreographer with the South African Playhouse Dance Company. His works have now been included in international repositories, such as the Scottish Dance Theatre and the Washington Ballet. His company, the Boyzie Cekwana Company has performed around Europe and gained popularity at an international level.
Zola Maseko is a Swazi film director who has done extensive and impressive work in the film industry in South Africa. He has worked on many projects that have documented and highlighted social issues to wider audiences. In 1994, he released a film titled The Foreigner highlighting xenophobic issues in the country. In 1996, he was a victim of xenophobic violence after the perpetrators thought he was a foreign national. He has released work, including short films and documentaries of Sarah Baartman, and his most famous work to date – Drum, the story of Henry Nxumalo, a South African journalist fighting apartheid.
There are many other accomplished Africans involved in literature, poetry, art, film and music who have given identity to the cultural landscape of the continent. To build pride in our heritage, and cultural identity, Africans need to take time to explore their works and appreciate their contribution. Too many times, Africans focus only on economic development, but cultural development and identity normally undergird this economic development as it gives people an identity and an expression, giving them the confidence and self esteem to develop other sectors of society.
As a closing word for the series, it’s up to Africans to develop Africa. Development doesn’t happen through just pointing out the wrongs, but also by celebrating the successes, as this provides motivation to pursue further successes. What we need is a critical citizenry: critical of bad governance and critical of bad media reports. In the words of Shakira: It’s time for Africa!