African Cultural Influences
With requisite attention to their intricate social and hybrid networks, address, critically, the need for subtleties in the analysis of African popular culture.
African popular culture is rich in diversity and this aspect presents a challenge when it comes to dissecting it. The continent is wide and complex, presenting scholars with obstacles on ways to analyze its customs, experiences, and their impact in a deep sense. Africa holds over two thousand different languages which present varied societies, literature, arts, histories, and sciences that require deeper analysis and better representation than superficial research. The essay “How to Write About Africa” by Binyavanga Wainanina takes a sarcastic look at the manner in which most pieces written about Africa have the same style of writing, which barely understands or describes the region in its real sense. The so-called classical writings on the continent do not encompass a complete account of its communities and their practices as they focus on defining Africa from a particular point of view. Additionally, many cultures in Africa have gone through hybridization as they envelop traits from their colonial era and integrate them with modern social changes. This phenomenon opens up space for further analysis of the amalgamated cultures and their influences.
Popular culture in Africa stems from sociocultural, economic, and political environments along with ideologies and movements from around the world. The continent comprises fifty-four countries, each with its own circumstances that bring about unique social and hybrid networks (Higginson vii). Additionally, the introduction of technology and social media has given the world a chance to view African popular culture in a realistic sense. The media produces diverse layers of information as people move from traditional to more modern social interactions. It, however, does not take into consideration this transformation and instead displays specific aspects and histories from the divergent cultures and systems. The lack of detail in defining African popular culture results in the morphing of cultures into their media projections or hybrids. For example, Africa was previously shown in the media as a poor and impoverished continent that was in constant need of assistance on account of droughts, famines, and diseases. While the picture was partially true, many countries were constantly developing and living a completely different life. While some nations had a culture of diligence, others developed a habit of borrowing and no distinction was made between the two.
The continent lives within its customs, religions, music, and other influences from its surroundings. Popular culture changes with time and is dependent on current trends. Religion, for example, plays a major role for many Africans. Various religions exist such as Islam and Christianity, which are further divided into many denominations. Every country has a dominant religion recognized as its national faith, such as Islam in Nigeria and Christianity in Kenya. The religions influence behaviors, morals, and values that end up being integrated into the country’s culture. Kenya’s resistance to homosexuality, despite Western influences, has been its stand on the concept as a Christian nation. Recently, the country’s film board banned a film by Wanuri Kahiu that shared the story of two girls in love, on the grounds that it went against the indigenous cultural beliefs (Higginson viii). Although homosexuality has been a simmering issue in Kenya’s popular culture, addressing it requires a look at and acceptance of other beliefs and values that the country is not ready for. On the other hand, South Africa legalized same-sex marriage in 2006 and advocates for other African countries to stop discrimination based on sexual orientation. Such details should be included when analyzing African popular culture as the continent is mostly portrayed as highly homophobic, which is not entirely the case.
The constructs created by African youth in the social media defy simple categories. Since it is also influenced by Western countries, some of these pieces will mimic their portrayals of the Africans and their mannerisms. Other constructs will contradict the initial images to show the strides that have been made in modernization. The social media shows the way African pop culture is heavily influenced by European notions, mainly in fashion and music. Many social media profiles show the favorite artists, fashion trends, and movies of users as those from Western countries, a tendency that questions and dilutes the individuality of African culture. The manifestation of the African youth seems to be manufactured by the West. Alternatively, some of the younger generation have carved a new culture that incorporates both African and Western trends. This choice of style is in a bid to show that Africa is evolving and can catch up with the rest of the world without having to neglect its innate heritage. Fashion wear, for example, can incorporate jeans or denim with African prints to make a statement piece (Higginson ix). The African youth also use the social media as a platform for political and social activism as it creates a neutral ground to air contemporary issues. Consequently, their language has been hybridized to incorporate English and local dialects. In Kenya, for example, where the youth are infamous for their tweets, the languages used to relay their message include English, Kiswahili, and a hybrid of both known as Sheng. South Africa, on the other hand, communicates by combining both English and Zulu or Xhosa in one sentence. Thus, a finer distinction and deeper knowledge are essential when defining African popular culture as it differs in various settings.
Explore, finely, how contemporary African fashion, through fabrics, heritage, styles and media, contests generic notions of fashion and ‘Africanness’.
Previous descriptions of African attire included words such as primitive, rudimentary, and unsophisticated. As the African way of life evolves, it has sought to redefine its space in the fashion industry and present its uniqueness to the world. African designers have adopted modern techniques into their work while sticking to African styles that are a statement of their roots. Innovation fuels fashion and designers have to deliberately seek to change styles which are inspired by their heritage. Fashion presents a visual culture that transcends the set divides and creates interactions directly or indirectly. However, many of the studies into African fashion have been a one-way affair, showing the manner in which it is influenced by the West and not the way it inspires others. Research shows that Western styles have been absorbed in Africa, a typical instance being the top-hat in Ghana. However, it often fails to mention that the Maasai shuka from East Africa has been absorbed by the West and had a tremendous impact in changing popular notions about the primitive nature of African wear (Rovine 35). Fashion events on the lines of the Africa Fashion International Cape Town Fashion Week serve to show the way both indigenous and Western cultures influence each other on patterning new styles for contemporary African fashion.
The colonial histories of African countries brought connections that are still seen in Anglophone and Francophone countries. The result is new forms of culture that are diverse and not adaptations or hybrids of the colonial history. The fashion era from this age showed complexity. It was the result of pressure from taxation systems on the young men in rural areas during the colonial period. Garments, therefore, reflect both colonial and internal histories merged through time and continue to develop, to present the current mindset of the continent. A perfect example is the use of the Dutch wax cloth brought in during the seventeenth century that is in use even now. The prints were developed according to the preference of the specific country as seen in Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, and other West African countries (Rovine 37). Over time, they have been commercialized to provide more income and give the world a new view of the continent. While the world sees Africa as a country riddled with poverty and war, its citizens wish to show the real picture. Digital platforms have offered designers the chance to showcase their works and change the African narrative. An example is KISUA, an online African fashion shop run by Sam Mensah. KISUA uses its platform to dress celebrities from Western countries in African attire that is a true portrayal of the continent and not a generic statement.
Africa remains a rich source of inspiration as there is still more that needs to be explored regarding the continent’s lifestyle. The generic notion of African fashion comes from lack of sufficient information about the cultures on the continent as they are deeply embedded in its routine. Every culture makes a statement or tells a story that is handed down from one generation to the next in fabric. Pieces such as the Akwete from Nigeria, the Maasai beadwork from Kenya, and the Kente from Ghana are used to embody identities and practices while breaking down the popular image of the appearance of African wear. The Akwete weavers learn the craft from their mothers or other female figures at a young age and perfect it over time. It provides them with a source of income that allows them a chance to take their children to institutions of higher learning. From an early age, a child learns the importance of the fabric to their community and the story it tells. The passing down of this knowledge through media channels elaborates on the fact that ‘Africanness’ is more than fabric or fashion, and that it echoes the heritage within the style (Rovine 40). Perhaps the fascinating part of the African style is its deep connection to its roots and the ways in which the diverse cultures are interwoven.
The biggest step towards the reconstruction of the African image has been the inclusion of African designers in runways such as the London Fashion Week. Wvamunno, a Ugandan designer, presented her attire consisting of Ugandan bark cloth jackets paired with pleated skirts and hot pants. Amaka Osakwe, a designer from Nigeria, emphasizes the need to make her fellow Nigerians aware of the beauty in their fabrics and increase their pride in the culture. She incorporates adire shorts, agbada suits, and jersey dresses into her fashion collection (Rovine, 2016). Both designers communicate the need to remain true to their cultural roots as they surpass the set trends and curve a name for Africa in the realm of fashion. The media plays a huge role in sending out the intended message to the world about Africa’s fabrics, unique styles, and heritage and its evolution in the contemporary setting.
Higginson, Pim. “Positively Popular: African Culture in the Mainstream: Introduction.” Research in African Literatures, vol. 39, no. 4, 2008, pp. vii-x.
Rovine, Victoria L. “Style Migrations: South-South Networks of African Fashion.” Artl@ s Bulletin, vol. 5 no. 2, 2016, pp. 34-42.
Wainaina, Binyavanga. “How to Write About Africa.” Kwani Trust, 2006.
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