“I very strongly believe if you go back to your roots, if you mine that inner territory, you can bring out something that is indelibly you and authentic like your thumbprint. It’s going to have your style because there is no one like you.” – Joyce Tenneson
The call for Africans everywhere to return to our roots – our culture and our identity – is an age-long call. This call was one of the motivations behind the fights for independence that characterized our history in the 1950s and 1960s. We are sufficient by ourselves. We (who we are, what we represent and what we have) are not inferior to any other group. We must own ourselves and our culture.
It is sad to say that this call is one of the lost battles on the African continent. The effect of colonization and the pushing down of foreign cultures down our throats have left an insatiable thirst and hunger for everything foreign especially lifestyle. One of the major parts of society that this hunger has eaten into most is our entertainment industry.
In a recent rap battle between Ghana’s Sarkodie and M.anifest, one of the issues of contention was clothing. M.anifest started the discussion by claiming Sarkodie patronized foreign clothing and could not even look the part. “Tell the fashion police they can make an arrest. These boys copying the west looking a mess”, he sang in his track titled godMC. In Sarkodie’s rebuttal, he said, “Obi bɛ diss-e me a na ɛnyɛ rapper ɔde GTP ntoma pam kaba”. (To wit, if a person will diss me, it should not be one who uses GTP [the foremost indigenous Ghanaian wax print brand] to sew an African made skirt, making reference to a cloth M.anifest wore to a show sometime back). This rebuttal sparked up a discussion about how African celebrities represent Africa in their fashion choices. Obviously, between Sarkodie and M.anifest, the latter is a better African brand representative than the former. But let us take the discussion beyond these two, shall we?
It is an open truth that some African celebrities do not place any value on their African heritage when it comes to the patronage of Afrocentric products. They would rather adorn themselves with some of the trusted international brands. In fact, a big portion of the entertainment sphere in Africa i.e. the film industry would rather promote brands that are anything but African.
Notwithstanding this unfortunate situation, a few celebrities are waving the African flag high and promoting brands made in Africa. A few of those include; M.anifest, Kojo Antwi, Wanlov Kuborlor, King Ayisoba, Wiyaala, Sherifa Gunu and Amanzeba from Ghana, Femi Kuti and Lagbaja of Nigeria and Uhuru and Mafikizolo of South Africa. These celebrities respect our roots and keep them if not in any way at all, at least in their dressing. They understand that a tree stands strong not by its fruits or branches, but by the depth of its roots. They teach us that without our roots, we are just pieces of wood. And they make it clear to us that it is worth it to love our roots than it is to love the flowers everyone sees.
While we seem to focus on celebrities and how they can push the African image, the change we hope to see, the improvement in the African image we desire cannot be done only by celebrities. We are must join in the “fight” and be like Mohammed Ali who said, “I gave back their white name, and I chose a beautiful African one”. We all must be able to say, I gave back their western identity and chose a beautiful African one”.