Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Myth Busted: Africans Listen To Bad Music

Before I got here, I imagined that a trip to Africa will be an incredible journey to a whole universe of new music. I mean, it's Africa, they know great music, right? Wrong!

I'm on a crowded, hot, scary bus and over the PA they are playing the most awful, sugary, cheesy, American commercial boy-band music. The man beside me, a weathered soldier who has been in the army for 14 years, has his eyes closed and is rocking his head to it. Everywhere I go, expecting to hear cool African music, I hear the worst western commercial drivel, the stuff that you and I can't stand.

And they love it. They love country (Africa's "So You Think You Can Dance" is called "Lets Dance" and regularly features black people in sequined cowboy hats and western boots line dancing..... I s**t you not). They love sappy ballads, like that terrible "Power of Love" song from the 80's, it's everywhere. Nightclubs often Play Kenny G!!!! If it wasn't for the occassional Marley, Marvin, and Prince that they do play, my ears would fall off.

The whole bus was funking to 'Uptown Girl'. WTF? They do love Lil Wayne, but I was starting to get tired of him when I left home.

Even worse, many Ugandans seem ignorant of African music. No one I've met knows who Yossou N'dour or Amadou & Miriam even are. They know who Miriam Mkeeba is, but like Queen Latefah, no one listens to her music.

The African taste in movies is just as bad. Everyone's favorite movies are either 'Rush Hour', 'Sky High', or 'Big Momma'. No one knows Chris Rock or Pacino, but Jackie Chan is god. They know Depp only as Cap'n Jack, one guy I met thinks he actually is a pirate.

I watched some 'Nollywood' films, popular English language features from Nigeria. They were at the level of production of a Rogers Cable show and put me to sleep like two Ativan.

It all became clear when I gave 'I'm Not There', the surreal Dylan biopic to my travelling companions. They had never heard of Dylan, didn't like the music, and barely made it 1/2 way through the film. They hated it.

Forget saving orphans or food aid, someone needs to micro-loan these people some decent media.



  1. Brian Eno was quoted as saying 'American music needs more Africa in it...' or something to that effect. Maybe he would take it back if he knew what Africans really listen to.

  2. I was listening to The Unforgettable Fire the other night and was thinking of the summer when you had Josh and I over, and after perhaps too much wine, I was rocking out passionately on your balcony, mouthing every single word to the title track.

    It's a shame you're not experiencing a fraction of that musical joy. Perhaps it's just a Ugandan thing though. I'm sure that somewhere like Senegal, for example, has to be slightly different. I'm hoping...

  3. Perhaps the sugary pop and cheesy country sounds different to the ears of people whose reality is so hardcore and never cheesy or sugary at all? I dunno...we're soft and pampered and always searching for something that feels 'real' - perhaps when there's too much 'real' the interpretation of music is different? I agree, though, that would be hard to take, especially for someone with such a fantastic record collection...