Suggestions For The Sustenance of African Artistic Heritage
An Open Paper by Oliver O. Mbamara, Esq.,
In "The Compensation of The African Artist," we considered the conflict between an improvement in the compensation and welfare of the African artist versus the effect of that on the sustenance of African artistic heritage and culture. At the end, the following questions were asked; why are African artists and entertainers (including sports men/women) not being properly compensated for the expression of their artistic talents? Why do they have to retire into lack and oblivion after what would appear to be a successful career?

There is no doubt that Hollywood determines the standard of entertainment worldwide. It will be impossible to dismiss the impact of Hollywood in discussing the entertainment industry of any country or region in the world. It is even most impossible in the African case scenario since most Africans emulate the west in many things, and for entertainment, Hollywood is it. Not even the world popular James Bond flicks have made the kind of impact that Hollywood has made in Africa. Certainly not the Indian Movie Industry (Bollywood), and of course not the Chinese martial arts movie industry. Boosting the influence of Hollywood in Africa is the fact that Western Music (particularly hip-pop and Rhythm and Blues) has become the in thing. It is now more difficult for African musicians to retain their fans. In some circumstances, African artists have decided to go West-like in their performance just to catch up the trend. Obviously, the impact of the West and Hollywood must be recognized, but this paper insists that Africans can work around or take advantage of the Hollywood/West factor. We need not follow the West hook, line, and sinker.

Africa is not America and cannot be fairly compared to America. Yet, Africans and their Governments could contribute towards ensuring that the African Artist really survives as artist. The African people and governments could help the African artist to be loyal to the promotion of African artistic heritage while at the same time being compensated for the expression of his talent. That way, the African artist would find reason to be proud of his culture and thereby eliminate or at least reduce the adulteration or substitution of African culture and artistic heritage for mere commercial entitlements. Advocating for adequate remuneration for the artist should not be seen as an attempt to commercialize the art of entertainment and the African artistic heritage. The African artist could make enough to financially stand among the happily rewarded entertainers of the world.

Africans must learn to be proud of their artistic culture and heritage. They must learn to appreciate the significance of their cultural subsistence. Many of the early black communities in America resorted to self-recognition and self-belief as a survival factor when the yoke of slavery was heaviest on black Americans. It kept them alive and going. Centuries after slavery started in America and many score years after slavery ended, one could still find remnants of this self-belief in several Black American Artists and civil rights activists. This expression could be found in serious avenues like the speeches of the great Martin Luther King, Adam Clayton Powell, Paul Robson, and more. This expression could be found in the sports and entertainment world through champions like Mohammed Ali, James Brown of the famous "I am Black and Proud."Ironically, non-Africans revere African performances today, even in Hollywood and other Western societies. Why then should Africans themselves think less of African artistic heritage? This could be blamed on the unfortunate public opinion and perspective enhanced by imperialist education that foreign goods and items are far better than local African products. This is a psychological carryover of Western imperialism and colonialism. Incidentally, such inferiority attitude has not only been applied to our taste of goods and services but now also influences the choice of the average African when it comes to preferences for arts and entertainment. Many Africans proudly display photo paintings of other non-African artists like Monet but they would be reluctant to hang a traditional mat, mask, or sculptor on their wall. Ironically, African Artifacts  Masks, sculptors, etc decorate the shelves of many Museums in the West. Elsewhere, I have repeatedly argued that regardless of the seeming advancement of the developed worlds of the West, African tradition and way of life is still significantly essential and perhaps superior. The governments and people of Africa must encourage and set up awareness campaigns to educate our younger generations of the importance and lessons replete in our traditional African culture and heritage.

The positive role of the media in educating or reeducating the society can never be overemphasized where there is an effort to re-orientate the society. The media would usually be tempted to bow to the desire of making money or the pressures of censor by state authority especially in a political system where the leadership is highhanded (dictatorial) and without respect for the freedom of the press or the interest of the people at heart. News reporting is a powerful channel that influences how most people think and react. It is therefore essential that the news media is feeding the community with such news that promotes the values of African culture. The policy of disseminating less foreign programs and more local traditional program is a practice yet to be originated by many news media houses in Africa. We have to continue reminding the media of this responsibility.

African governments must set up a curriculum in schools to reaffirm the truth about African history and culture. After school programs that encourage kids and reward them for their involvement in African cultural affairs should be set up. English and Mathematics are essential subjects that the student must learn in order to be able to increase his versatility in the twentieth century world. However, the African child must be made to realize that his vernacular language and African History is equally essential in helping him realize who he is. There is no justification in making English compulsory for an African child while he will be allowed to go on if he fails to score a pass mark in his vernacular subject or African history. That only encourages the child to be less serious with vernacular and African history while being very serious with English or Foreign literature.
The African child who idolizes the Western Starts he sees on video or Television must be told the truth about the realities of the entertainment world. He must be made to be aware of the challenges of living for the world rather than for himself as the pressures of stardom may dictate. He must be made to know in time that stardom has its costly side effects? He must be made to realize that there is pride in looking traditional in public and even in world arenas. Some years ago, in the era of Jerry Rawlings, the Ghanaian team to the Olympics wore the Ghanaian famous traditional dress  "kente" (I think it is called). That may have been given little or no official accolade but it certainly is one sure way to boost the value of our culture. Many children would not forget the impression of their fellow countrymen and women proudly dressed in African traditional outfit in a far country among many Westerners and thousands of others from all over the world. Such Children will be comfortable in projecting their culture while expressing their talents to the world.

In place of the current games that Africans hold today  the African Games, Africans should organize a pure African Cultural competition. The African Union could easily achieve this by setting up a committee that could draw up modalities and organize a meet for Africans where competitors would display their cultural artistic talents. There is quite a lot of cultural display that would last the entire Olympics duration and still remain memorable and exciting. There are major interesting activities like wrestling, (that is the true African combat game, not boxing), dancing (through which spouses are chosen), hunting (in a real jungle not throwing of discuss or shot-puts on decorated fields), swimming (in real stream not pools), fishing (for real fish that could slip through one's grip, not idle dolls), etc. etc.

It is difficult to appreciate why Africans would wait for their artists to be appreciated at the Grammies, the Oscars, the Globe, etc. It would take a true African to be able to access a true African performance. That is not possible at the Grammies or the Oscars. The consequence is that true African artists do not get appreciated for their pure African artistic work. How many Africans have ever won any award for their true representation of African arts and entertainment? Does that mean that Africans lack artists who deserve such recognition? No! The Oscars and the Grammies are not tailored for those wonderful artists who continue to represent true African artistic heritage. Check the records, some African artists like Seal and Sade Adu among others have won the Grammy. This piece gives its respect for those artists of African origin because they have to overcome a lot and really be good to win those awards. However, it must be pointed out that these artists won such awards by virtue of works that are more reminiscent of Western culture than African culture (no disrespect to them). There are many African Artists who continue to take African culture and artistic heritage to the top internationally, yet they are hardly recognized because they continue to remain African in the substance they express through their talents.

Last year, Grammy nominee, Femi Kuti (son of the great Fela Anikulapo-Kuti), stated in an interview that he lost the Grammy because he stuck to his principles and refused to go along with requirements that were not agreeable to him. No doubt, many other African artists have gone through the same. Some have not even been lucky enough to be nominated alone. So, should we let our African artists be compelled to sell their principles or abandon their culture just to win an award in far away America? African artists deserve better recognition and true assessment of their cultural heritage by fellow Africans who can appreciate the cultural flavor in such performances. Such an award must carry such a value that makes it worth the effort of the artist. Except Africans set up their own artists awards event to reward those artists who excel in African artistic cultural performances, African artists will continue to seek to impress the West. The implication of that is the gradual loss and extinction of African cultural and artistic heritage. If the African artist is made to know that by expressing his cultural artistic heritage, he would gain a reward equal or even more revered and worthy than what the Grammy or Oscars would offer, then such artist would have the motivation to dwell and develop the African artist in him/her.

There has been mention of sub-regional and national film awards institutions here and there in Africa such as the Ghana Malaysia Film Awards, The South African Awards, The Nigerian Awards, etc. All these bodies could bring more prestige to themselves and the Artists if they would pay more attention in building a stronger African Awards. Even in the United States and England there are smaller Awards for the Artists, but the Oscars, The Grammy, or the Golden Globe Awards are outstanding and given more coverage and respect than other awards. South Africa is also a force to reckon with in African artistic heritage and movies, and so is Ghana. Uniting these efforts to provide a solid African force is essential. "United we stand," so goes a popular saying. A United Awards for African Artists will encourage the Artists to go beyond performing in their country of origin only. This will not only boost the circle and influence of the Artists, but also, their audience would grow and so will the support and prestige they would garner.

The film industry in Nigeria has grown so tremendously within the last two decades with such classics like "Living In Bondage" and other early home movies setting the pace. Today, the Industry is even exporting itself strongly to other parts of Africa. Recently, a group of Nigeria Actors and filmmakers including Fred Amata, Olu Jacobs, Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jolade Ekeinde, visited Sierra Leone and were hosted by the President, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the people of the country. It was the country's way of showing appreciation for the role the Nigerian Movie Industry has played in helping the Sierra-Leoneans heal from the scars of the civil war they went through in the past several years. Although the ECOMOG role in ending the civil war is partly the cause of some newfound Sierra Leonean affection for Nigerians, recent reports have it that Sierra Leoneans admire and respect the stars from Nollywood. Recently, a team of some Nigerian entertainers including some actors, Producers, and Directors made a trip to Sierra Leone. The happy throng of fans in Sierra Leone pleasantly mobbed the Nigerians and accorded them a Presidential hospitality. Such is an example of how some Africans appreciate their own.It is perhaps proper to mention here that African Artists will not receive such warm reception from the American public in The United States, at least not for now. Why then the craze for Hollywood? Nollywood is surviving by itself and Nigerian filmmakers are extending their activities to Sierra Leone and other African countries in order to help build the film industry in any of these countries. This can be done with many other African Countries. This writer recently learnt from a direct and authoritative source that Kenyans are now beginning to invest in bringing part of the Nigeria Movie industry into Kenya. This paper will urge the power brokers in Nollywood to continue building its foundation in Africa. Reports have it that the Nigerian film industry is the second highest revenue earner in Nigeria today. With a revenue figure of 9billion Naira (courtesy of CNN statistics), one would expect that these Artists are adequately compensated, but is that really the case? The Actors Guild has a significant role to play here.

With the advent of the Internet and world communication gadgets, things are beginning to change. Many reasons come to mind. Developments like Nollywood (Nigeria's movie industry) seem to be playing a extra potential major role. There are other individuals and organizations. In the Diaspora several Online magazines, journals, community Newspapers are making  great effort to (1) promote African culture in lands foreign to Africa, (2) counter some of the negative information being spread by Western media about Africa, and (3) bring awareness to Africans abroad so that while in their sojourn to earn a living abroad, Africans would not completely lose touch with is going on back home in Africa. Permit a moment to mention some of this African media outlets:
Online Channels: 
and many more others too numerous to be completely listed.
Journals, Newspapers, Magazines, include:
1.      The African NewsReel
2.      The African Abroad
3.      The African Bulletin (Media Blackberry)
4.      The West African News
5.      The US African Eye
6.      The African
7.      The Amandla News,
and many more others.

Now, African Artists are breaking into Hollywood, and even getting nominated for the Oscars. The African Film Festival in New York will honor some African Artists like Tunde Kelani amongst others. It is a noble idea to honor Africans but we will humbly urge the organizers to consider hosting the award in Africa.  Probably, there could be financial and logistics reasons why most of these awards are hosted outside Africa, but we could change the trend. The Chinua Achebes, the Wole Soyinkas,  the Leopold Sedar Senghors, the Ngugi O Wationgos, the Tunde Kelanis, The Miriam Makebas, and so on, need not travel to London, Paris, or New York, to be recognized for works that help the growth and sustenance of Africa. The award should not be any less valuable if handed by an African traditional ruler, nor should it make any less grand affair. It is helpful and encouraging to note that Africans Abroad have begun to recognize their essential roles in the sustenance of African artistic heritage. This is very well appreciated and should be encouraged. It is great to carry on the effort from abroad or in Diaspora but we must always think home at the slightest opportunity. If Africans would travel to the United States, London, or Paris for awards on European and American performances, it would not be out of place to expect Movie Buffs of the West to come to, and spend in Africa during an African Awards occasion.

We may write as many essays and deliver as many papers like this one, but all that will be of no effect if none of the espoused theories is put into practical effect. One sure way to go beyond theory is for the heads of African government to appoint ministers and commissioners from established and experienced Artists who have the love of the arts and the interest of the culture at heart. Of course, most African cabinets are mostly made up of individuals close to the leader either personally or politically. Recently, we are beginning to see changes as some African leaders now appoint Executives from the general public and not just political affiliates. Such trend must be encouraged as it augurs well for the appointing of Executives who are more fitting for the cabinet seat. Some of these retired Artists are very good managers and administrators who are still sharp enough to articulate and implement the best policies for the sustenance of African Artists and the promotion of African artistic heritage. We could gain a lot from their experience as veterans of the industry. It is not just about educational accomplishments. It is more about practical knowledge and authority garnered through years of on-the-filed first hand experience, but most of all, it is about the love for African artistic and cultural heritage.

©2004 Oliver Mbamara, Esq.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Oliver O. Mbamara is a filmmaker, director, and actor with such films to his credit as "THIS AMERICA,” “SLAVE WARRIOR," "SPADE: THE LAST ASSIGNMENT," which he wrote and directed. He is also a judge with the New York State office of Administrative hearings. For more about Oliver O. Mbamara please visit

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