“I don’t think of myself as a ‘global citizen’. I am just an [African] who’s comfortable in other places.”– Chimamanda
“A new generation of Africans and people of African descent with a very global outlook,” says CNN analyst Mark Tutton in an attempt to describe the emerging African identity. It has taken on many descriptions, young, urban, or savvy, to name a few –but the term that has gained the most traction is Afropolitan. What constitutes the new African? Scholars have suggested the concept of Afropolitanism, as means to understand the complex modern African identity.
The term Afropolitan often used to describe Africans who are transnational (or cosmopolitan, can be traced to Achille Mbembe’s (2001) article “Ways of Seeing: Beyond the New Nativism,” which was an introduction for a special edition of the African Studies Review. Although Mbembe does not use the term Afropolitan explicitly, he does thoroughly discuss Africa’s renaissance and cosmopolitanism in efforts to address the vastly changing attitude and culture within Africa. Cosmopolitanism suggests that all human beings are, or could or should be, members of a single community. This ideology and that of Mbeme would later become the foundation of Afropolitanist years later.
The term Afropolitan itself first appeared in a 2005 magazine article by Nigerian/Ghanaian writer Taiye Selasi. Selasi wrote about multilingual Africans with different ethnic mixes living around the globe; she described them “not citizens but Africans of the world.” Brendah Nyakudya, now the editor of Afropolitan magazine, produced in South Africa has well-traveled herself and is well versed with other nations around the world. Nyakudya was born in Zimbabwe, has lived in London, and is currently based in Johannesburg. Her lifestyle typifies the transnational background of an Afropolitan.
“I have African roots but I’ve kind of been raised by the world, and that’s helped form my identity,” she said.
Similar to many of the ‘next-gen’ identities, the term Afropolitan itself has taken many shapes and definitions, it expresses nuance and is packed with deeply rooted complexities. Chielozona Eze, the scholar of African American studies, asserts that “being African has little to do with blood or skin color; rather it has much more to do with moral topography, with how one positions oneself vis-à-vis the other people on that continent.” According to Nyakudya, an afropolitan is someone who has roots in Africa, raised by the world, but still has an interest in the continent and is making an impact, is feeding back into the continent, and trying to better it.” It is safe to say the term is trending, but the trend does not always shed the most positive light on the lifestyles of those who claim to be Afropolitans. According to Msia Clark, a scholar of hip-hop and social change in Africa, “Critiques of Afropolitanism have also been raised around its disconnect from the masses of Africans, on the continent and abroad, who are less mobile.” To anchor this argument she references Emma Dabiri, who compares Afropolitanism to feminism, whose leaders have not acknowledged their class and race privilege.
Critiques often lie in Afropolitans’ privilege based on class and mobility that allow them to travel and partake in said transnational lifestyles. These individuals often do little to acknowledge the underlying class implications that would prevent Africans of varying classes to participate in the leisures of the post-racial utopias that Afropolitans claim to enjoy. Others would argue that to truly represent Africa and its culture one must respect it enough to live there and fight internal struggles domestically. They believe advocating for Africa from afar is simply not enough.
This mixtape is created to dispel these harsh critiques of Afropolitanism, from the words of African artists based around the Globe. To them, Africa is the motherland –the tree that roots their soul and the music they create is an art form that reflects this. No matter the race, gender, or country of origin these artists’ lyrics contain messages that speak more life into the concept of Afropolitanism. Each artist was either born in Africa, or one generation removed and travels the world using their music as an outlet. Many of the songs contain multiple languages, French, English, Pidgin, and other native languages that showcase their relativity. They discuss issues central to the African continent but relevant across the diaspora. Themes like slavery, class, poverty, and politics are prevalent in almost every song, yet they meld the perspectives of these issues to represent their Afropolitan backgrounds. Most, but not all the song explicitly reference their travel but regardless their message is clear
“Hello Africa” by Blitz the Ambassador, the first song featured on the mixtape, sets the tone for the ten minutes of songs that pay their homage to the motherland. Also included in the mixtape is his song “Ghetto Plantation”, which calls attention to the postcolonial struggles that Africa still faces today. His lyrics are a wake-up call to the rest of the world that has claimed to turn their nose up at the idea of slavery, but still rob the continent of its wealth and innocent lives. He raps,
Incarceration is the new plantation
A new kind of slavery, a new foundation
And it wouldn’t even cost you much
The project is the slave ship
The corner is the auction block.-Blitz the Ambassador
Another next track featured on the mixtape is Ka’an’s, “The African Way,” This song is loaded with cross-cultural references that suggest his Afropolitan background. The verse that particularly stood out was “I got a plan to reclaim all of my ‘fam,’ I got brothers in Japan now that order my damn.” While it is not unlike African rappers to travel and even start new lives in other countries, Ka’an’s reference to reclaiming his family suggests that there is always a need to reel those around him back in and channel their roots.
Throughout the mixtape, each artist is either born in Africa, or one generation removed and travels the world using their music as an outlet. Many of the songs contain multiple languages, French, English, Pidgin, and other native languages that showcase their relativity. They discuss issues central to the African continent but relevant across the diaspora. Themes like slavery, class, poverty, and politics are prevalent in almost every song, yet they meld the perspectives of these issues to represent their Afropolitan backgrounds. Most, but not all the songs explicitly reference their travel but regardless their message is clear. It does not matter where the artist is physical –Africa will always be a part of them.
Clark, Msia Kibona. Hip-Hop in Africa: Prophets of the City and Dustyfoot Philosophers. Ohio University Press, 2018.
Tutton, Mark. “Young, Urban and Culturally Savvy, Meet the Afropolitans.” CNN, Cable News Network, 17 Feb. 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/17/world/africa/who-are-afropolitans/index.html.