One of the things I totally enjoy doing in foreign countries is attending different concerts. I am in Paris, for a few more days still and seeing as Paris is almost as big population-wise, as Zimbabwe, I am spoiled for choice when it comes to concerts. The variety of live music events here is exciting, and life-giving. From free, world-class Radio shows like the one I attended last week at FranceBleu, with French accordion-player/singer Claudio Capeo; almost free museum exhibition concerts to Bigger festival double concerts in bigger, beautiful concert halls. So for as long as I am not yet tired of it, concerts I shall watch.
Last night I watched two concerts at an international festival called Festival au fil des void. The first band to play comprised white (all French I think) musicians doubling on instruments and changing over mid-song, cutting across music styles (even though someone wouldn’t be wrong for calling their music African) creating an impressive landscape of a ‘not-so-common’ yet not so new together-blend of … almost everything.
I loved this band. They played intellectual music, presented in an easily consumable fashion. Cherry on top of the icing was that the band featured a very American-sounding, French-speaking, mixed-looking rapper and a very Malian-sounding, Malian-looking, French-speaking woman too. Both were absolute fun and added more flavour to the band.
I sat in my seat (as it was that type of concert) and tapped my feet to every song, getting chicken skin every now and then, especially the first time the vocalists opened their mouths. Much as it was a concert-style venue, soon enough half the house was dancing in the aisles. I did not get up to dance. I was equally entertained by watching the audience react to every rhythm the band played to and the changing styles the drummer played around with. I saw a seriously dance conscious French audience. I saw a happy audience.
As I watched, I couldn’t help but remember the sentiments of one minister from my country. He said- wearing his intelligent face, as always- world music was a white men’s creation, therefore very ‘unAfrican’. He argued that yes, much as it is our traditional music, we never costumed it the way the white man has now packaged it. That is why the African musician in today’s times will not strike gold as the yesteryear African giants such as Salif Keita did, he added.
I did agreed with him when he explained further and said Africa needed to create most of its own ‘market’, however, I wasn’t sure if I agreed with the rest of what he had said. I still am not in total agreement with him.
A few days ago I ended up spending a little too long in a toilet in my friend’s house in Perigueux after I bumped into a current AKAA (Also Known As Africa) magazine which featured an article by our very own Valerie Kabov. Her two-page long article was titled ‘Whose South is it Anyway’. It discussed some very fundamental truths that, yes, Africa needs to confront and openly discuss daily.
My lecturer too, many years ago in music school in Harare, used to enjoy watching us tear each other apart in argument over what ‘African music’ was, singularly or in comparison to ‘Music of Africa’. We, in our still untamed, simple minds would rush to give uneducated replies such as , ‘African music is music whose roots are in Africa …, played by the African …., played with African instruments ….
‘So a white man can perform African music?’
‘Yes’, some of us replied while others replied, ‘No’.
‘If a white man who isn’t African can play African music on instruments that are not African to an audience that is not African in a place that is not in Africa, without singing in an African language, without using traditional music forms- what is African music,’ he’d probe us more.
Anyway, years later, sometimes instead of getting up to dance in a concert, I sit down and try to reply my lecturer’s questions, addressing Valerie Kabov’s concerns and analyzing ‘the market’. Often I end up a bit depressed.
I didn’t only remain sited because it was fun to watch the dancing audience. I remained seated also because as I looked at the band of these young, handsome Europeans playing African music, featuring an African singer I related it to my own home situation. Home, where many of us were dying to also tour ‘Europe’ and the rest of the world, with our bands; the bands we started this journey with, the bands we played with in empty Harare venues, and walked back home with; the bands we went to school with, whose weddings we danced at; the bands who struggle to make ends meet just as I do makes us move in the same rhythm; the band whose every note is a the same lament or laughter of joy as mine. But many of us cannot; many never will unless somethings in Zimbabwe start changing soon, or- less ideal but still much appreciated- unless, the North comes in with exchange programmes and such Aid. Not because our country was created poor …, of course not, but that leads us to a whole other matter. Let’s save it for another day.
Anyway, whose South is it? It shall always be the south of the one holding the paper in their hands. As long as we do not come to the table holding some good paper in our hands (not Zimbabwean bond notes), our definition of south will only matter to us, or- even worse- not to us.
We certainly need to design, build and strongly establish our own markets, so that we control our creativity and terms of exchange/trade. How, becomes the new question.