New generations of African musicians collide head-on with the prejudices and stereotypes associated with the vast continent.
In the middle of the dark night, with no more light than that of camera, a young black man speaks into the lens: “I’m going to tell you something you may or may not know: you can never forget your history, even if it’s your misery…” Then he starts to sing. Thus begins Fonko, the documentary series narrated by Swedish singer of African descent, Neneh Cherry. The young man, like the vast majority of young Africans, is starting to become aware of the importance of his culture, of his history… even if it is, as he puts it, “a misery”. Because the West still insists on owning history; on having the right to decide what is or isn’t part of history. Fortunately things are changing: the “non-western” world is starting to defy the rules of the game and has decided to (re)write its own narrative. Everything points to a move towards a more diverse future where we’ll see a decentralization from the Eurocentric focus of a universal history, because in reality there is no such thing: we should be speaking of history(ies).
Fonko emerges in this context of transformation. Fonko is a documentary that had to emerge to demonstrate that, in this globalised world we inhabit, points of creativity have dispersed: they don’t come from only some parts of the planet; they are the concern of the whole human race. Should the documentary go by another name, or have different protagonists or even if it were set in another continent, the documentary’s message would remain the same; it would continue to defend the same group of people: those who were once colonised and stripped of their voice and who now rise from the lethargy through their own creativity thanks to the Internet and new technologies.
Fokn Bois, one of the most popular and ground breaking bands from Ghana, describe their unique sound as “gospel porn”.
Fonko doesn’t refer to the “South”, the “Periphery” or the “Third world” (or whatever you want o call it). It speaks of Africa and it does so from a place of pride. The film focuses on one of its most notable riches: the music. It claims that today’s musical revolution is happening in the African continent. As I see it, it would be better to speak of a musical evolution (music has always been present in Africa) that is picking up steam – a lot of steam – especially in Africa’s big cities; cities that are growing at an exponential rate, with their chaos and their humanity. Spaces in which the contemporary and the traditional combine with the multiple lifestyles and give life to new rhythms: Ozonto, Kuduro, Shangaan electro…
Musician and producer Mandla Mofokeng (a.k.a.Spikiri) is one of the heavyweights of Kwaito, a musical style originating in Johannesburg.
The city is a cocktail of the local and the global from which new forms of urban expression emerge. The ever present blend of identities impregnates the music making it richer and more interesting than ever. Artists from Dakar (Senegal), Lagos (Nigeria), Accra (Ghana), Jo-burg (South Africa), Luanda (Angola) or Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) who claim that 21st century African music has nothing to do with the idea of traditional music; that it’s contemporary, exciting and vibrant. Their creations crash head-on with the prejudices and stereotypes associated with this vast continent. Because in Africa, a continent punished like no other by years of slavery, colonisation and poverty, the need arises to teach the world who they are and these artists have plucked up the courage to do so: they sing in their native tongues and, in their own words, share their vision of the world. They no longer want to be anyone else (not Americans; not English, nor French), they want to be their own role models… and they’re doing it! They’re aware that they are the change that they want to see. –TANIA ADAM
*Tania Adam is the founder and editor of Radio Africa Magazine.