Thursday, January 04, 2007

Last month The Independent published a special feature, "Art of Africa: the 50 greatest cultural figures shaping a continent." The great Senegalese musician Baaba Maal served on the panel deciding the lineup and contributed an accompanying piece on artistic endeavours on the continent. I particularly enjoyed some of the things he had to say about music:

"In Podor in Senegal, the place where I grew up, everyone is an artist because art in Africa is not a commercial enterprise but is part of life itself.

Let me explain. When I was young, I used to watch the fishermen by the banks of the Senegal river. They were working close to the desert in intense heat, and whenever they stopped working they would start to sing. In Podor, people sing naturally about their experiences, their lives and their relationships. It is not just musicians and singers who perform. Everybody has a part to play - even children are allowed to join in if they have the inspiration. It doesn't matter if your voice is not the finest; everyone is involved.

Musicians are respected, but only in the context that the music itself belongs to the community - not to the person who is playing an instrument or singing a song. Those instruments have been developed over many years, while the songs themselves are inspired by the people as a whole rather than by any individual."

This concept of communal ownership over many aspects of living is fairly common throughout the continent and it is interesting to hear it expressed here with regard to music. Maal himself is a gifted musician and great live performer. He has a well-designed and informative website with music to listen to while you're reading it. If you are in the UK at the time, he will be playing WOMAD in July.

The "Top 50" list itself is varied and interesting and drew my attention to individuals I had never heard of, particularly in the fields of architecture and fashion. For the full list and the Maal piece click here. In summary, the writers chosen are:

Oga Steve Abah, Playwright (Nigeria)
Chinua Achebe, Author (Nigeria)
Ama Ata Aidoo, Playwright (Ghana)
Ayi Kwei Armah, Author (Ghana)
Biyi Bandele, Author (Nigeria)
Lueen Conning, Playwright (South Africa)
Tsitsi Dangarembga, Author (Zimbabwe)
Athol Fugard, Playwright (South Africa)
Delia Jarrett-Macauley, Author (Sierra Leone)
Ousmane Sembene, Film-maker (Senegal)
Wole Soyinka, Dramatist, Novelist, Poet (Nigeria)
Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Author (Kenya)
Binyavanga Wainaina, Author (Kenya)

A curious selection and, as always, dominated by men. Having said that, most of them deserve to be represented here. I am surprised to find J.M. Coetzee missing. Ama Ata Aidoo is also an author, Biyi Bandele a prolific playwright, Tsitsi Dangarembga primarily a film-maker, and Ousmane Sembene an author. So the description given to Soyinka as "dramatist, novelist, poet" could really be assigned to most of them, which is precisely why they are so influential as writers and do deserve to be here.

Of course, it is easy to find fault with any list but I must say I am miffed by the exclusion of a writer I consider to be a great shining star - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I do feel that the British slant of the judges let them down here. Delia Jarrett-Macauley is a wonderful writer and well-deserved the Orwell Prize for MOSES, CITIZEN & ME, but if I am going to be a pedant, she is British of Sierra Leonean descent. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is Nigerian and lives in Nigeria. I would have to exclude Jarrett-Macauley on the grounds that she is British. I am a real fan of Jarrett-Macauley and happen to think she will continue to produce great work in the future and is certainly a writer to watch, but I think she herself would be surprised to find her name on this list. Any thoughts?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Nic,

Its one of those long lost friends you mention at the beginning of your blog here! Clues- ex bookseller of ex bookshop - with a 2and 1/2 year old you have never met! That's right it's Suzanne!
I don't have any contact details for you - so email me!!! Suzanne(underscore)Spridgeon (at) yahoo .(co).(uk)

2:11 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

Waving, Suzanne - email coming right up!

9:50 am  

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