Sadly, when African nations appear in our daily news headlines the focus is often negative. We hear about wars, famines, poverty or AIDS. Unless we listen to world music on a regular basis, attend music festivals and enroll in classes that explore music, art and culture from Africa, we miss out on the beauty, vibrancy and excitement of the African continent. We miss out on the warm laughter, the strength and vibrancy of the African people.
Thankfully, labels such as Putumayo and the Norwegian label Kirkelig Kulturverkstad address both the negative and positive conditions experienced by Africans. Instead of forcing our will and our help on other nations, we can engage people of those nations to bring their wisdom, resourcefulness and talent to a collaborative effort that not only solves socio-economic problems, but also celebrates diversity and culture. Besides, there's always a more complex situation happening behind the scenes when a country's at war, dealing with epidemics or chronic poverty. It's never a matter of just tossing money at a problem and watching it disappear. Nor is it a matter of electing a US or European-friendly government to rule developing nations. We all know where that leads.
Okay, so back to the music. The compilation Imagine Africa brings us some hearty performers from Tanzania and Kenya who make music in their homeland that combines traditional with western pop influences. The musicians shake it up with luscious poly rhythms (this is Africa after all), soaring vocals and effervescent arrangements. You'll find hip-hop, morality lessons and hip shaking grooves. And these musicians don't avoid the problems they face, but choose to educate and bring change through music.
As stated on the liner notes, "Artists from the countries between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans have started to come together to build a new proud African self-awareness. Contemporary art, dance, theatre, music, literature and film--today's African artists are all using modern forms of expression."
I certainly don't feel like throwing my hands up in despair when I listen to Imagine Africa. I feel encouraged and inspired listening to this beautiful music. And these sounds and vibrations send a message out to the world--as if the Africans are saying, "We have survived this long, and watch us flourish now."