URBAN CENTRAL ROUND TABLE: IS BLACK ART THE NEW OBSESSION?
The year is 2019, African music is half way between being gentrified and appreciated, the music powerhouses have decided to pitch their tents in the “bright continent” to monetize the situation, and this has invariably resulted in unsavory trends such as the lazy classification of every song of African origin as “Afro beats”.
Afrocentric notions are currently sprinkled across movies and TV shows with unprecedented ease. Identification with African themes and culture is no longer just a defiant move to rally for emancipation of the blacks but a possible PR stunt regardless of who is involved.
More unsavory examples of the white savior complex abound but Caucasians are not the only people who appear to be utilizing this new filter, we are far removed from Marcus Garvey and The Black Star and are fully into what can be described as a “money must be made” situation.
Are there persons who utilize Afrocentric notions in art without considering it as a prop? While the answer is an unwavering yes, it appears to be seen who those people are exactly, for as Shakespeare said “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”.
The questions that emanate from the discussions about Black Art are numerous so here at Urban Central we have decided to address some of them with our latest round table.
1. Veteran Rapper and Hip-Hop Enthusiast; Paybac [Tweets @TalkToPayBac]
2. Writer, Cultural Commentator, Host U&I Podcast, and Urban Central Scribe; Mifa Adejumo [Tweets @mifaunuagbo_]
3. Writer and Urban Central Scribe; Aise Dominic [Tweets @Durhminick]
BACKGROUND AND OPENING THOUGHTS
Paybac: People all over the world have acted “black” since the 80's when Hip-Hop gained recognition. It’s nothing new, however nowadays it’s seems they would rather go right to the source in Africa.
From music, think Drake’s One Dance, French Montana’s Unforgettable and that one Afro pop song made by that white girl who says she’s all about the bass.
Art, think Black Panther (that is art too gaddamit) and the Afro voodoo masks used in videos today. You get the point.
Africa has been absolved into pop culture and so it follows logically that it be expressed in every available medium. However, because of the culture of racism it feels more than a pop culture moment, it feels like validation for years of being looked at as a backwards people.
Mifa: Black people are gifted. It is all that can be said. Flowing through our veins is immeasurable talent that has been passed down from our forefathers. Africa is the origin of civilization. In fact, I believe God created Adam and breathed into him the breath of life and just as the fellow, animatedly sat up from the clay where he had been carved out, he examined his form in slow motion — one arm after the other — and Boom! Slow motion break dancing was birthed, just like you see Usher performing in his “U got it bad” music video.
Again, I repeat “black people are gifted” because we have seemingly perfected the art of being able to make anything and everything, which is otherwise mundane, appear as though there is more to it than meets the eyes. Imagine being able to make a loose pant falling down your ass fashionable and then call it “sagging” so much so that it became a fashion trend. Hair extensions were created mostly for black women– to make up for the stubbornness of their natural and nappy hairs — so they can appear somewhat elegant like their Caucasian counterparts. But black women have rocked hair extensions so well, making it so fashionable, even their Caucasian friends are joining in on the fun.
These two imaginative assumptions (riddled somewhat in facts) are just archetypal examples of how black people have changed the game for every other race in the world right now from art to fashion to music to movies and even to politics (yeah, we school others in the art of corruption as well). So, it is no surprise to me, at least, that there is a growing obsessive mentality with anything that’s black or shares semblance with an African origin.
Aise: Although we have had movements like Afrocentrism, aimed at demystifying Africa, taken together, all these movements have done little to unravel the awesome mystery that Africa is manifestly absorbed in. The tradition and culture of the continent is uniquely beautiful and has gradually caught the attention of the West in recent years.
Quite frankly, the world did not just begin to accept the uniqueness that is in Africa and its traditional heritage, however, events in recent years have thrown up a new angle of the world’s obsession with Africa, and once again black is the new ‘cool’.
In all fairness what the white CEO’s or generally the Western world has done is to take advantage of the inactivity of their counterparts in Africa, who for years have had such original content but failed to utilize it properly to provide quality content to be consumed by the world at large.
IS THIS A LEGITIMATE POP CULTURE SHIFT OR JUST ANOTHER EPHEMERAL TREND?
Aise: It has been a while since Africa got a turn at the spotlight. So while this is long overdue and acceptable, it should be questioned because we know that once a trend catches on and starts moving, the larger crowds tend to hop on consciously and unconsciously, with the “owners” receiving the benefit of mere “inclusion” of belonging to the ever growing demographic that believes a certain trend or movement is all the rage.
All this may be viewed as exploiting the love and interest of black oriented franchise to make more profit or it could be seen as a genuine interest to promote the beautiful heritage. What is clear however is that, most people seem to be obsessed with this new trend and just like every other trend, it is bound to expire.
Mifa: Hey, it is “Black” and like they say, when you go “black, you can never go back”. So, it is understandable that ever since the rest of the world got a taste of black, albeit in the form of a rape-y Bill Cosby decades ago, they just were hooked. And since then, it has continually been an almost compulsive need for everyone else to want to hone in on some part of our mythical “black magic”. Well, news flash: we have none.
All we have, for the most part, is a guilt-knotted noose hanging overhead the necks of our oppressors, and we have perfected the art of dangling this noose menacingly at the rest of the world, cajoling them into believing that it is their only claim to redemption for the eons of slavery they had put us through, all because they were foolish enough to convince themselves to believe that we were a barbarous race, who would run wild and ruin the same civilization we birthed if we were not tamed.
Well, I guess the jokes on them because now because we are running wild and we are also having a joyful time watching the rest of the world imitate us. As it turns out the coolest kind of art to make is “black”; the coolest type of music to sing or listen to, is black. The coolest fashion trend to follow, also black; even the coolest female body-type to aspire towards is one that mirrors the average black woman.
Paybac:I think what’s happening now is a big pop culture moment that feels bigger because it’s the first time in recent memory we are getting “validated” by the world. Thing is we never needed anybody’s validation because in a cave or on a mountain, in a pent house or under a bridge art is still art. Art doesn’t depend on the viewers, well not really, at least not in the creation. Art is a way of expression and an artist job is done once he fulfills his desire to create-Of course after honing his skills and not settling till excellence yada yada. Also, yes I know the viewer is important but the viewer is subjective while the art is stable so leave me alone.
A ROLE IN PROMOTING BLACK CULTURE
Aise: I believe the surge of Afrocentrism in television plays a major role in promoting the black culture among viewers and audiences alike. Noticeably a lot of TV stations and entertainment companies have accommodated black shows and feature films, coupled with the increase in personnel of black directors, movie producers and actors all coalescing to brighten the approach and effectiveness of these expressions. The downside however is that at the end, the bulk of the money and fortune gained from flirting with the African culture is fattening the wallets of some white individuals comfortably situated in the upper echelon of the entertainment stratosphere.
Paybac: This is where it gets tricky. You see “African” art has kind of always been intertwined with the world’s larger culture. From the influence on European art-you know? how after white people stole all those artifacts and all of a sudden European artists started creating similar works-to the Nok art being exported to Europe, body markings, hair weaving, Jazz music, Rock, the list goes on.
I believe in the vast soup of time-yes I said soup will you stop interrupting me- everything kind of gets mixed up and down and up till everything is connected to everything else. Ankara originated in Europe, a white man invented basketball, all the white Africans not in South Africa.
ON THE EXPERIMENT THAT WAS BLACK PANTHER
Mifa: Black Panther was nominated for 7 Academy awards and the whole world erupted in applause. Or maybe I should be more precise and say the whole world, besides most black folks applauded the nomination. It was history in the making as no superhero flick had ever been nominated for a Best Picture award at the Oscars before and yet, the first to do it had to be a “black” super heroes movie that if we are truly being sincere to ourselves, movie lovers and critics alike, is one of MCU’s weakest films-I know about the 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Yes, it grossed over a billion dollars but Black Panther as a movie was riddled with bad accents, over-flogged wokeness and for a superheroes film, so many really bad action sequences.
Aise: Black Panther, the highest grossing movie of 2018 and the hype that came before it was over the top, there is absolutely no way we can dissect recent black culture and entertainment without Black Panther as a part of the conversation, I believe it helped in stirring interest on other predominantly black TV shows or movies, and this has made everyone interested in the African heritage and what it has to offer, while this is good per se, the original African owners are left in the dark to observe their culture trend in the western world without taking part in it purely. For Black Panther, the original songs for the movie were produced by an African-American artist with less than a handful of indigenous African guest artists appearing as part of the 16 guest appearances.
Paybac: instead of obsessing over whether the world is now obsessed with us I think we should instead take advantage of it like Mr Eazi has and get as much off the Scandinavian dudes as we can (shout out to you know who) and do it quickly too because I think the Latin American culture is about to one up us.
Sidebar: seeing as black Americans are become the majority in America I expect we’ll see positive black representation for at least as long as we’ve seen positive white male representation.
Mifa: Indeed, instead of this topic being a debate of sorts, it ought to be a celebration of how we as a people, have moved from being the oppressed to becoming a more globally evolved race of oppressors. The rest of the world, as it stands, has an obsessive need to copy our ways and artistry and thus, do our bidding and we didn’t even have to show them how a mirror works or something like that.
Aise: The end product of every franchise is profit and with cultural accuracy a distant second, but what happens to the origin of this franchise being created? Black Art is beautiful, but the way it’s been used now as a trend especially in Hollywood, may cause it to go out swiftly via same way it came-for example we have the era of Martial Arts themed Action Movies that dominated Box Office in the past. When there is nothing left to fascinate the audience what happens? We will surely be left to rue the missed opportunities from an era that could ultimately end up as history and a page in one of Hollywood’s books.
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