• Na'imah Bernard Banton

A Time to Outreach Towards the African Diaspora

What is unique about modern intercultural exchange among Africans and African diaspora and how is it currently taking shape?

As observed through forms of media, culture and social-political initiatives, the African-diaspora are potentially witnessing an increasing intercultural exchange, reflecting core Pan-Africanist values. Perhaps, this is a bold statement considering the variety and breadth of Pan-Africanist ideology and practice, yet I question, what is unique about modern intercultural exchange among Africans and African diaspora and how is it currently taking shape?

First, let me establish my personal experience of being African-diaspora – whom one could argue is “twice removed” from the continent as an Afro-Caribbean woman born and raised in England. Personally, the black diaspora experience, further distanced by being socialised and educated in Britain is characterised by spiritual belonging and the legacy of being ‘uprooted’ as described in Stuart Hall’s Cultural Identity and Diaspora. As a result, your interaction with heritage is one of romanticism, consuming cultural and ideological content created to affirm, empower and educate oneself.

For me, this has been a large part of my experience as a British-Caribbean, in terms of the efforts made by myself and my parents to counter/or compensate as much of my cultural identity of Britishness with my ethnic heritage as Jamaican/ Grenadian. Despite the solidity and knowledge of self this provides, the fact remains diasporic identity is inherently hybrid – belonging to many worlds and cultures simultaneously, regardless of the contradictions. The firmest truth of all is that, belonging remains an identification with a place and a people of which I am descended from, not born directly of. However, these times I see access to an African experience for the diaspora is being offered with more concrete meaning.

Not that I remember accurately when I first saw reports of the 2019 African Renewal project, but I do recall the double-take and intrigue it inspired in me. I swiped through Instagram stories and caught whiff of a headline, scanning the words of importance: ‘Jamaicans’, ‘Ghana’, ‘Passports’. The jist? Within the context of the ‘Year of Return, Ghana 2019’, political leaders of Jamaica and Ghana are discussing implementing a Visa waiver agreement. Beyond commemorating 400 years since enslaved Africans first arrived in Jamestown, this initiative marks more than a gesture. The intentions behind strengthening international relations between the republic of Ghana and Jamaica are rooted in opportunities for shared development, including trade investment, tourism, and the future of energy and mining. This potentially poses an exciting prospect for global Africa in a number of ways, reflecting the aims and fundamental values of Pan-Africanism.

I believe it is refreshing to see that here, the intercultural differences between Jamaican-African diaspora and continental Ghanaian Africans doesn’t obscure the shared goal of the two nations. It pleases me to see that these two countries are honouring their intercultural differences, acknowledging that their cultural histories became splintered overtime to form distinctive cultures unique to the peoples and events of their countries, whilst sharing the ancestral origin. Furthermore, Jamaica’s Prime Minister and Ghana’s President prioritise investing in an interdependence that can benefit the growth of both countries. Where some strands of Pan-Africanism can be accused of being too staunch, too rigid in it’s imagining of a Pan-Africa, perhaps disregarding the fully realised cultural distinctions, nuances and aims of the nations Africans and African diaspora everywhere, this shift in relations seems more promising of uniting across the continent and far beyond.

I’ve not only noticed political intervention, aspiring to forge closer and long-term alliance between continental Africa and diaspora. The way in which African American musicians have – almost without choice, thanks to the power of social media accessibility – been exposed to and inspired to collaborate with the continent’s finest Afro-Swing and Afrobeat artists that creates quite bold and layered fusions in sound. Take GoldLink’s latest album release, literally entitled ‘DIASPORA’. The tracklist features Nigeria’s very own Wizkid, Jay Prince of some notoriety in British rap, as well as the unforgettable Maleek Berry on promotional single ‘Zulu Screams’. Just some few months later, Beyoncé curates a soundtrack inspired by The Lion King (2019), ‘The Gift’ with a everyone’s faves, from Mr Eazi to Burna Boy and of course complete with Tekno.

So what? It’s not a statement, it’s just some music – the music industry is so insidious, who’d be surprised to find this pattern is just a brief exploitation of the afro-swing and afrobeat scene’s popularity to sell records. First of all, let’s relax with the cynicism. Secondly, I mention these beyond satisfying musical link ups not to indulge or suggesting cross-national black musical collaboration like this is new or unique. I reflect more so on an increasing relationship between artists and sense of responsibility to share the black narrative. I think we can all agree the domination African Americans as worldwide exporters of black talent and positioning themselves as the superior and authentic voice of blackness proved prevalent throughout many generations of black diaspora elsewhere. However, it feels as if for the first time there will be a generation below us who’s cultural standard is an entertainment industry and music scene where all African-diaspora and continental Africans alike equally share a seat at the table.

From where I stand, I can admit that I am no card-carrying Pan-Africanist – simply because I am not educated to a comfortable point that I would subscribe. However, I strongly believe it has been a long-time coming to see more subtle and varied forms of African outreach towards the diaspora, an investment in the future of the continent that includes those displaced from it. Although I have personally found a whole experience of it’s own as African diaspora in the sense of spiritual belonging and cultural connection to my Afro-Caribbean heritage, for a wider reaching and longer spanning legacy of African diaspora achievement, we can all benefit from greater interdependence, collaboration and investment among each other.

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