This past weekend I was lucky enough to enjoy the electrifying sounds of some of Australia’s top artists at Groovin’ in the Moo in Maitland. Somewhere in between the classic-rocking style of The Preatures and the harder-rocking style of You Me at Six, the song ‘Africa’ by Toto thundered excitingly over the crowd of thousands.
I am not, of course, a music plebeian. I screamed, shouted and insanely cheered every lyric of that 80s hit. And, of course, so did the thousands of Australians present in the crowd. It was interesting, however, how even more than 30 years since the song’s release that opening line resonates so clearly with such a crowd.
“I hear the drums echoing tonight”. It perpetuates the imagery of tribal drums beating loudly; echoing throughout the unspecific, yet dangerously adventurous ‘Africa’. Toto’s love ballad isn’t particularly negative in connotation, but it perpetuates how representations of Africa in the media are often generalised, and rather Orientalist.
30 years ago we associate Africa with archaic tribes, both uncivilized and barbarous. More recently Africa is associated with sensationalised news reports about Ebola, music festivals promoting awareness of famine and HIV AIDS, or Hollywood films and social media campaigns depicting child soldiers, genocide and blood diamonds. And although these are realistic issues, as addressed by Njogu, our knowledge of Africa is predominately from Western interpretation and context, whereby we perceive Africa as the ‘dark continent’ (2009, p. 77). This is reaffirmed by Tsikata, as even though the 55 nation states within Africa vary differently in “customs, traditions and daily practices”, in global media flows these states are “often treated as one under the continental appellation of ‘Africa” (Tsikata, 2014, p. 34).
So how is Africa combating hundreds of years of falsified representation? One avenue has been the wildly successful Nollywood industry. Nollywood, being the film industry of Nigeria, is currently the third-largest film industry in the world. As Adesokan claims, Nollywood is evidence of how African countries are individualising themselves and rejecting previous Western interpretations of ‘otherness’ by projecting self-representation (2012, p. 81). Nollywood currently employs upwards of half a million to a million people, and their straight to video releases are favoured not only in neighbouring African countries, but worldwide (Chamley, 2012).
What is most interesting about the development of Nollywood films is that they are distinctively Nigerian, not just ‘African’, and as such have promoted an individualised culture and identity. Similar trends can be seen in African nations with developing media industries such as Ghana, which boasts 170 radio station and over 50 television stations (Tsikata, 2014, p.41); or Uganda which has a growing ultra-violent local film industry.
It appears that we have much more to look forward to from Africa other than the killer synth-solo performed by Toto’s David Paich.
Adesokan, A 2012, ‘Nollywood and the idea of the Nigerian cinema’ Journal of African Cinemas vol. 4, no.1, p. 81–98.
Chamley, S 2012, ‘New Nollywood cinema: From home-video productions back to the big screen’, Cineaste: America’s Leading Magazine on the Art and Politics of the Cinema vol. 37, no. 3, p. 21–27.
Tsikata, PY 2014, ‘The historical and contemporary representation of Africa in global media flows: Can the continent speak back for itself on its own terms?’, South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research, vol. 40, no. 1, p. 34 – 48.
Njogu, Kimani, and Middleton, John F.M., eds. Media and Identity in Africa. Edinburgh, GBR: Edinburgh University Press, 2009. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 12 May 2015.
Living In Bondage Film Poster 1992, Nollywood Week Paris, Nigeria, viewed 13 May 2015, <http://static.theculturetrip.com/images/56-194044-livingposter.jpg>.