In the age of hypersensitive social media wokeness, we are quick to shout “cultural appropriation” every time an international fashion house reimagines African aesthetics and bill it as “a modern high-fashion interpretation of ABC”.
Artists from various fields have since the beginning of time been inspired by someone else’s work. “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” renowned painter Pablo Picasso once said.
At the other end of the table, someone is screaming stop making narrow-minded views about Africa and trivialising sacred parts of our culture.
This is a multiplex debate that needs a roundtable discussion with industry pundits and perhaps moderated by social activist Lebo Mashile.
Landing me to my next pit stop. In rocking African traditional clothing there is a blurry line between fashion and costume.
Fashion is about freedom of self expression, thought-provoking drama and nodding your uniqueness. Society doesn’t always have to agree with it, because sometimes bold fashion statements can shock the eye.
Costume, on the other hand is monotonous, lacks imagination and is boring.
Two South African rappers proudly showed off their South African stripes last weekend at the BET Awards in Hollywood and created polarising views on fashion.
One kept it all the way African (Sjava), while the other tried a more modern approach (Cassper Nyovest).
Whether you cringed or ululated with joy as a barefooted Sjava accepted his gong in his Zulu regalia, we can all agree the moment was an unapologetic blast of African pride. Without opening his mouth, he had told a story with his look.
You cannot accuse Sjava of being gimmicky in order to hog headlines. He simply kept it real, the world just happened to have its eyes on him.
Fashion commentator Felipe Mazibuko reiterates why this was a historic fashion moment. “We get different inspirations from different places depending on where our mind is.
“If you feel like tapping into your own culture and making that your career path, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. As long as it’s done in a proper way,” he adds.
“[Sjava] has always dressed in that kind of regalia and we are used to him representing his aesthetic that way. When I saw him he looked like himself and didn’t get lost in regalia. Kudos to him.”
But if there is anyone who had us lost in translation, it was Nyovest in his monochrome leopard print layers. If fashion is about making a bold statement, then what statement was he uttering? I’m a cartoonish version of Eddie Murphy’s character in 1988 urban cult film Coming to America.
He completely lost many and fashion designer Paledi Segapo paints a picture of why it’s so. “With Cassper I feel like it’s an attempt that almost worked, but it was kind of missing an element that made it outstanding.
“As a creative I looked at it and I saw where the concept was going, but I think it failed to reach there,” he said.
“It kind of translated into a hurried costume made at the eleventh hour. I suppose they were trying to reference Africa.”
TV personality Nandi Madida is a perfect example of how when given a fashion theme such as Wakanda Forever, you can interpret it without looking like you just stepped off the set of Black Panther.
At the awards, Madida donned a midriff-baring ensemble from her label Colour inspired by African beadwork. Ahead of her appearance, we had an insightful chat on keeping it simple.
“It’s always great to see people’s take on a theme like Wakanda, but hopefully they don’t take it literal. So I’m hoping to see more than tribal prints,” Madida said.
Inside the special mission to save Nigerian music; and why the rest of Africa should care, By Chinedu Chidi
When famed German composer and pianist, Beethoven described music as a “higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy” and as “the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents”, he may well have laid out a profound exposition of the depth and reaches of the art, one that is unrestricted by time or distance, by creed or colour, by status or zone. He envisioned a limitless art form. Today, we speak not only of its internal freedoms, but of its transcendent liberating force coursing through entertainment, education, politics, the economy, technology, and social change. Music has become a life form meandering like the bellows of an accordion into the many circles that define life as we know it.
The conception of the MTN MUSON Music Scholars Program in 2006, a partnership between MTN Foundation and the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) School of Music, was a clear reflection of a keen appreciation of this power of music. It was a visionary idea that laid a foundation that would redefine the story, not only of aspiring and practicing musicians, but of the music industry itself. Looking back, it appears a bold demonstration of faith in the promise of Nigerian music while still at comparatively modest levels, and a commensurate investment in the vehicle that would drive its actualization. Today, over 300 graduates later, the Nigerian music industry has grown in leaps and bounds. With over $2 billion in revenue annually, over 30 million monthly listeners worldwide, over 500 music producers, over 1000 record labels, over 50 radio stations amplifying its rhythms and sounds, and multiple digital music distribution platforms, Nigerian music has become the stuff of dreams, if only commercially.
The partnership involves a 2-year Diploma in Music at the MUSON Diploma School. All the students admitted to the Diploma course receive MTNF Scholarships comprising annual scholarships worth N250,000 to cover tuition, books and transportation over a 2-year period. The graduating students are awarded an internationally recognized Diploma in Music. The scholarship is an open opportunity one. It allows applications from all musically talented youth through an open and fair process.
MTN Foundation’s investment in this educational scholarship is not an isolated endeavour; it is an integral part of the foundation’s broad commitment to promoting youth development through empowering the nation’s young people with the “skills, tools, access, knowledge, and opportunities to become economically active citizens”. The foundation combines this intervention with its “National Priority” portfolio which “focuses on Initiatives that support community infrastructure development and health-related initiatives that support women and children”. Together, the initiatives align with the objectives of the Government’s National Development plan and te UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since its founding in 2004, the MTN Foundation has invested over N23.7 Billion in the 36 states of the federation and FCT, has over 1,017 project sites across Nigeria, with 50 unique projects spanning 3,319 communities. Overall, it has reached over 31 million people.
All this has been made possible by MTN Nigeria Communication PLC, its parent body, which has committed up to 1% of its Profit after Tax (PAT) to the foundation. Far-reaching strategic partnerships with key stakeholders have also been a major driver of the social investments.
MTN Foundation’s choice of MUSON School of Music was thus no coincidence. MUSON has been at the heart of developing and preserving the purest form of music in Nigeria, and helping to export same to the rest of Africa and the world. Created in 1989 by a group of friends, namely Mr. Louis Mbanefo (SAN), Mr. Akintola Williams (late), Chief Ayo Rosiji (late), Mrs. Francesca Emanuel (late) and Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi (late), the school was designed to promote, as Mr. Mbanefo, who is Chairman of the school, aptly captures, “the performance, understanding and enjoyment of serious music”. The dream, he notes, has continued to be realized, producing internationally reputed graduates and changing the dynamics of music in Nigeria and Africa. “The school has produced over 400 Diploma graduates, many of whom have continued their musical education in Europe, South Africa and America and attained international recognition. Most of our alumni have made and are making very impressive contributions to the musical life in Nigeria and indeed, the world. They have raised considerably the standard of singing and musical performance in churches, in schools and at social events. Indeed, many churches and musical societies throughout Nigeria are borrowing from the templates established by MUSON”, he proudly reveals.
As the proud owner of Nigeria’s “only professional Symphony Orchestra” and a choir of international renown, the school boasts a rich platform for empowering young Nigerian artistes and instrumentalists, especially in the dying art of classical and orchestral music performance.
Accredited by the Federal Government to award Diplomas in Music since 2002, the MUSON Diploma School grants all MTNF MUSON graduates diplomas which are equal to those awarded by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in the United Kingdom.
Perhaps the most critical area of importance that MTN Foundation’s music intervention serves is the preservation of the fine arts of the classical, orchestral and live performance genres, with their accompanying socially valuable messaging. The rapid rise of studio-recorded music, with its massive commercial success, has sadly provided an alternative to total music, one that substantively accommodates a wide array of ‘real’ instruments, trained voice, and electrifying theatre. It is perhaps the appeal of total music that inspired Victor Hugo to bellow, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”.
This challenge is one that is not only unique to Nigeria or Africa, but a universal one. In Sasha Frere-Jones’ piece, “Do Recordings Kill Music?”, she cited a profound quote from Richard Kostelanetz’s interview with John Cage, thus: “I’ve always said that a record is not faithful to the nature of music.” David Grubbs, a professor at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, she reports, “takes up a specific belief of Cage’s: that recordings can injure the ability of an audience member to experience a performance in real time. In theoretical terms, the recording reifies a specific moment, potentially interfering with a composition’s ability to live and change and breathe by fixing a single iteration as the ‘authoritative’ version”. Perhaps, nothing captures the triumphantly seductive and absorbing force of the authentic live performance than Robert Ashley’s description of Alvin Lucier’s 1969 piece, “Vespers” as referenced by Grubbs. Ashley wrote of “Vespers”: “No number of microphones and loudspeakers can reproduce the relationship between the sounds and the space in which the sounds create the musical experience.” This reminds one of Mozart’s delicate refrain that “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”
This dying art form was once the force that rocked the bowels of mother Africa, from the Sahara to the Mediterranean. From Fela and Makeba to N’Dour, Salif Keita, Amr Diab, Sangare, Mapfumo, Kidjo, Mtukudzi and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the glory days of message-laden total music may, but for the flickers embodied by the likes of the eternal Kidjo and the heirs to the Fela dynasty, be well and truly over.
But the rebirth glistening in the hallways of MUSON Diploma School offers hope. The school is home to the award-winning MUSON Diploma Choir directed by Sir Emeka Nwokedi, and the MUSON School Orchestra & Concert Bands. It has been able to produce outstanding Jazz ensembles such as the all-female GIRLZ RULE Band, the 5YZ MEN and The Theosolites.
At MUSON, MTN Scholars take advanced training in music with majors in voice or any of the instrument forms of: Piano, Organ, Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone, Percussion, and Classical Guitar. “Students are also required to take 2 terms of an instrument minor other than their major instrumental family. All voice students must pass grade 2 piano, instrumentalists must pass vocal techniques and all students must belong to the choir. Orchestra is required for all string majors. All wind and percussion majors must belong to band. Others who may not be majors are welcome to audition for the orchestra band”, the school says. They also take part in high-level musical productions which provide the perfect opportunity to exhibit their talents and skills. At the end of their programme, the music scholars have the opportunity to showcase the result of their advanced training through performances at the annual Donors Appreciation Concert. This speaks to the neat integration of sound and rhythm, of theatre and messaging; the total music.
If the MUSON Diploma School is to continue to plot the course for Nigeria’s music salvation and become the sure hope of total music’s triumph for all of Africa, then it must display resilience, which its parent body— The Musical Society of Nigeria— chose as its Festival of Arts theme during the celebration of its 40th anniversary earlier this year. It must be resilient in the face of the onslaught of crass commercialism. It must be defiantly resilient if it must realize its goal of producing “well-rounded, thoroughly educated musicians…comparable to those found in a Conservatoire”.
And in its resilience, it must remember that lodged in the soul of this art, in its purest form, are the currents of humanity.
Reviewing the world economic model, By Lekan Sote
The newly elected President of Argentina, Javier Milei, promises to smash orthodox economic models in Argentina. He vowed to cancel a slew of government ministries, departments and agencies, including the Central Bank of Argentina.
Kenyan President William Ruto, who wonders why Africans must use the dollar for intra-African trade, says, “From Djibouti, selling to Kenya, or traders from Kenya selling to Djibouti, we have to look for US dollars. How is US dollars part of the trade between Djibouti and Kenya?”
He adds, “That is why Kenya champions the Pan African Payment and Settlement System that is done by our own institution — the Afreximbank… Why is it necessary for us to buy things from Djibouti and pay in dollars?”
Proof that the world is taking note and acting on this argument is in the fact that China, the world’s second-biggest economy, initiated a Yuan-Naira payment arrangement for trade with Nigeria.
This international payment option will bypass the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications system, operated by G-10 Nations to power global money and security transfers.
Russia, warring with Ukraine, its former client state, now insists on receiving its currency, the ruble, for the gas it sells to (especially) the Western European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation military alliance.
The blurb of Thomas Pakenham’s “The Scramble for Africa,” a historical account of how the West took over the fortunes of Africa, observes that, “Europe was experiencing a period of economic stagnation (in the closing years of the 19th Century) and (thought that) Black Africa might be… an El Dorado, a new market and tropical treasure.”
Pakenham stated that the missionary, explorer and medical doctor, David Livingstone, had suggested ‘the 3 Cs,’ of commerce, Christianity and civilisation, which he cynically interpreted as “a triple alliance of Mammon, God and social progress,” as a remedy for the blight of slavery and slave trade in Africa.
Livingstone’s conclusion that “trade, not the gun, would liberate Africa,” is just a pacifist route for Western nations to rule the economy of Africa.
GlaxoSmithKline Beecham is vacating Nigeria which no longer serves its commercial purpose.
Dr Patrick Lumumba, lawyer, social activist and former Director of Kenya School of Law and the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, probably a motivational speaker to African politicians, has urged Africans to define their terms of economic and political engagement with the world.
Maybe Milei, who vows to dollarise Argentina’s economy, is cynically pointing out that the metropolitan economies have become so dominant that peripheral economies may have no need for their own currencies. By the way, the Argentine peso bears the American dollar sign.
Dollarisation will mean either the substitution or simultaneous use of the dollar with the currency of Argentina, the largest debtor of the International Monetary Fund, with a killing 143 per cent inflation rate.
It looks like the people of Argentina, their Western economic policy advisers and the rest of the world will see even more iconoclastic policies from the oxymoron in the radical, yet far-right, Milei.
Anyone who knows the workings of capitalist economics and can read economic trends knows that beyond becoming “flat,” the world and its increasingly interdependent economy will sooner or later be ruled by a single leviathan that operates from wherever the international monopoly capital chooses between New York, Beijing, London, Berlin or Tokyo, or even Pretoria.
Japanese business consultant, Kenichi Ohmae, has shown how cross-border businesses almost no longer have national addresses but take up an amorphous identity as it becomes more difficult to classify the legal residency of their ubiquitous international monopoly capital owners.
Ohmae says: “National borders are now irrelevant to most companies and consumers, regardless of whether they are in Japan, North America, or Europe. Current frictions and clashes at the national level may seem serious, but they are insignificant at the microeconomic level where customers buy and companies sell.”
The first place to look into for the tendency that the world’s economies may eventually merge into one is the consumerist outlook of the “glocal” citizens, the ultimate cosmopolitans, who dress, look, speak and exhibit the Western materialistic attitude wherever they are resident in the world.
Ohmae adds: “Americans are eager to buy (Japanese) Sony Walkmans and wear (Italian) Benetton sweaters. Like other cosmopolitan consumers in advanced industrial countries, they acknowledge the value of good products and buy them, regardless of their country of origin.”
If you took this “one-world” idea to the ridiculous, even bizarre, extent, you would have observed that striptease dancing, cross-dressing, even the LGBTQ syndrome and the biologically ridiculous idea of a transgender are trending throughout the metropolitan and peripheral nations!
Another evidence of the “one-world” trend is the global brands and the multinational corporations that manufacture, market, distribute and advertise them. Nearly everyone in the world today knows and craves one global brand or the other.
Again Ohmae points to an irony that hits the West: “The (now materialistic) Japanese (consumers) are not aware of contributing to imports when they drink the products made by Coca-Cola, nor do they feel any duty to drink a Japanese brand instead….
“They pay no attention to the fact… that Coca-Cola is an American company, or that Kleenex tissues are made in Japan by a joint venture that is 50 per cent American-owned. Schick has the largest share of the Japanese market for razor blades, but Japanese men don’t feel they have jilted the leading domestic (razor blade) brand!”
These global brands include European football teams and fast-moving consumer goods, like dresses, accessories, shoes, personal hygiene products, wines, beers, and quick-service restaurants, like Kentucky Fried Chicken, Domino’s Pizza and Nando’s.
But how all these work, almost like one big orchestra, to impose one culture and one economic model on the whole world, is the more intriguing part: Finance, technology and marketing communications are the nodal nexus in this intricate loop.
Yet the workings of the mechanism of Western capitalism have an inherent problem. By continuously adding layers of costs on a product, as it travels throughout the labyrinth of the market, a product acquires added costs that are almost irreversible.
It may be difficult to replace this cost-loading template that has permeated even into the communist systems (run by Communist China under Chairman Mao), and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (spearheaded by Lenin)!
Today, China and Russia are leading capitalist economies, even if communism and socialism are tucked in somewhere in the formal posturing of their Marxist political literature and economic theories.
The hypocritical USSR, under Stalin, appointed Dr Amanda Hammer, whose father emigrated from Russia to America, to establish Occidental Oil company, to handle Soviet Union trade in petroleum, gold and mink, with capitalist economies of the West.
The Minister of Finance, Wale Edun, who is also the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, needs to assemble economic theorists, corporate players, and entrepreneurs to review Nigeria’s current economic template and design a new one.
Just as Western democracy is not quite working out for Africa, as former President Olusegun Obasanjo and former Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, have observed, the spiralling cost-loading template of the West is also not working for Africa.
Nigeria must evolve an economic template that works for it, and halt the hand-me-down template that holds its economy down for the West to exploit.
X (formerly Twitter):@lekansote1
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