The experience of living is oftentimes expressed through expressive culture such as literature, art, music, story-telling and film. It is important to situate African expressive culture within its specific social, historical, and environmental contexts. Contemporary African expressive culture reflects the unique experiences of individuals living in different environments as well as different social, political and economic circumstances. Now that you have completed the lessons within the Constructing Africa and the Histories modules, you should have a greater understanding of the complex diversity the characterizes the African continent. the ecological terrain is diversified by a wide range of distinctive environments such as desert, forest, mountains, plains, coastal, and urban landscapes. Early trade routes, colonialism and the modern world system have played a key role in social, political and economic diversification. African expressive culture embodies this diversity by communicating the unique experiences shared by people living in a specific locale in Africa. It is therefore important that we do not approach African literature, music, art, story-telling and/or film as a monolithic, or homogeneous, body of expressive culture. In order to understand African expressive culture, we must understand the ways that it communicates the lived experiences of people living in a particular locale during a particular time.
Material expressive culture, such as art, can portray meanings and stories through the use of symbols. The Explore Africa website offers an interesting lesson on the ways that Yoruba Beaded Regalia communicates status, power and authority within the local village context. In this way, beaded regalia communicates the social order of village life. Similarly, the Andinkra cloth on Ghana played a significant role in ceremonial and ritual practices. The symbols on the Andinka portray stories and meanings that reflect Ashante culture. Visit the Oxfam Cool Planet website to learn about the significance of the Andinkra cloth in Ghanaian society. Material expressive culture can also reflect changing circumstances. The film below, Dakar: from Junk to Art, shows how local artisans transform discarded material into artistic creations. This type of expressive culture reflects new experiences emerging in Senegal such as garbage accumulation and environmental degradation.
The African Collection at the Harn Museum of Art includes a wide range of beaded regalia, textiles and art made from recycled materials in addition to a wide range of material expressions such as murals, metalwork, architecture, jewelry, and contemporary pieces originating throughout Africa. Admission is free and open to the public, and it is a good idea to take advantage of the opportunity to witness African material culture first-hand.
Digital technologies have made African music and film to widely accessible worldwide. When we address Globalization at the end of this course, we will explore the ways that African music played a key role in American music history, from religious hymnals and rock and roll to contemporary hip hop. The documentary, Fela Kunti: Music is the Weapon, details the role of African revolutionary music during the Nigerian civil war in Nigeria. Today, contemporary music artists in Africa are gaining global recognition and songs by artists such as K’naan (Somalia), Akon (Senegal) and Tinariwen (Mali) express the lived experiences of life in Africa.
The song, Wavin’ Flag by K’naan received worldwide attention and was designated the official song for the 2010 World Cup. Listen to the song and read the lyrics. Consider the ways that the words written by K’naan express the unique circumstances and histories shared by people living in Somalia.
Wavin’ Flag (album version)
When I get older, I will be stronger, They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag,
And then it goes back, and then it goes back, And then it goes back
Born to a throne, stronger than Rome, but Violent prone, poor people zone,
But it’s my home, all I have known, Where I got grown, streets we would roam.
But out of the darkness, I came the farthest, Among the hardest survival.
Learn from these streets, it can be bleak, Except no defeat, surrender retreat,
So we struggling, fighting to eat and We wondering when we’ll be free,
So we patiently wait, for that fateful day, It’s not far away, so for now we say
So many wars, settling scores, Bringing us promises, leaving us poor,
I heard them say, love is the way, Love is the answer, that’s what they say,
But look how they treat us, Make us believers, We fight their battles, then they deceive us,
Try to control us, they couldn’t hold us, Cause we just move forward like Buffalo Soldiers.
But we struggling, fighting to eat, And we wondering, when we’ll be free
So we patiently wait, for that faithful day, It’s not far away, but for now we say,
Now that you have learned about early civilization in Africa, you should be able to determine that the line ‘Born to a throne, stronger than Rome’ likely refers to the early Axomite empire that occupied the territory now known as Somalia. After moving through the colonialism lesson, you should be able to determine that the chorus ‘when I get older, I will be stronger’ likely refers to somlaia as a fledgling country that only recent achieved independence from colonial rule. After reading the Independence and Development lessons, you should be able to determine that the paragraph ‘So many wars, settling scores, bringing us promises, leaving us poor, I heard them say, ‘love is the way’ Love is the answer, thats what they say …’ (not included in the video version) likely refers to the corruption and hypocrisy of former colonial regimes as well as broken promises by international development institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. This type of analysis helps situate the musical expressive culture produced by K’naan within its specific social, historical and environmental contexts and lends greater understanding to the cultural meanings and expressions communicated by his song.
In the TedTalk below, world-renown MC Emmanuel Jal explains how his music tells the painful story of his experience as a child soldier in Sudan, and how he used music as a means to raise awareness and speak on behalf of others who cannot.
For Discussion: Select a localized expression (a piece of art, song, story, film, etc) that originated from your selected country. You can do this with a simple Google search, through the Artstor digital database which you can access for free through the Tyree Library website or through one of the African Art website listed on the Explore Africa! website. Use what you have learned in the lessons to analyze the expression with a one-page report on the ways the piece communicates the unique experiences (past and present) of people living in that area. Draw from your research in previous assignments, and be sure to consider the unique ecological, social, and political environments in your area.
For Extra Credit: Visit the Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville and explore the African Art Collection. Select a piece of art on display, take a picture of yourself with the piece of art and post it the discussion. What is unique about this piece of art? How does it express the unique experiences of someone who lives in or is from Africa? Consider the materials used, symbolism and references to African history.
For Extra Credit: Find an African film (a film created in Africa by people in Africa) and describe the plot, characters, and scenes. How is it different from and similar to films made in the United States about Africa? How is Africa and African people represented differently?
When you complete the discussion, move on to the Religion lesson.