Opening Statement by Boima Tucker (Africa Is a Country)

Boima Tucker

Here is the opening statement by Boima Tucker (managing editor, Africa Is a Country), the moderator of the conference session
Diasporas Preserving Communities : Transforming Societies through Music and Culture.

"We are in the context of a conference that serves as a marketplace and platform for discovery for world and folk music. And I think it’s important to define the vantage point before this conversation. The way I see it, at least, WOMEX is a community of professionals who look to present local music cultures from around the world for mainly Global North audiences. Keeping this context in mind is important for everyone to really try to convert this from a conversation to a call to action.

So, since I’ve taken up the challenge to try and lump these two works together, and give some context of how they are related in the world, I will start by suggesting that these two films explore what you could describe as digital folk cultures, and are representative of something that might be happening in the backyards and communal gatherings of many of your own hometowns. These folk cultures serve the same function that the multitude of creative communities that have arisen in the Atlantic world over the last 500 years of post-Colombian exchange have served. From Congo Square to the South Bronx and beyond, such spaces have allowed participants in even the most dire of social circumstances, to claim their humanity, even if for a brief fleeting moment, in a society that is built on the supposed truth that non-Europeans, and their cultures are subhuman and inferior. While the tools, technologies, languages, or meanings may all change, the general question of what it means to live fully as a human, and who has the privilege and the right to do so, remains.

As countless examples from the past show, non-European culture only becomes validated once it is useful, whether for market or state purposes, as a result the claims to humanity become neutralised, and in the worst cases, become tools of dehumanisation. In World Music, or better said, in world music systems, the debates around cultural appropriation, authenticity, imperialism, representation, racism and other forms of discrimination through othering, tend to focus on a binary between the global center vs margin, the North vs the South, the East vs the West, or the Metropole vs the post-colony. The musical communities highlighted in these films (and many others like them) challenge those binaries and bring the claims of humanity closer to home for many of us. And isn’t it true, that at least on the Internet, much of the rest of the world is starting to look more like the United States.

The old world of our current context is one in which belonging is defined by one’s membership in a nation. And thus for the marginalised, contestations to humanity happened within that political unit (often as defined by the European imperial powers). The new world that is struggling to be born is one in which those borders melt away, and the claims to humanity heard, justice and reparation are realised. Our time is one in which information, accumulated wealth, and those humans with more access to both, are able to circumvent the old world borders, while for the rest, the barriers to claim ones fair share of the fruits of the globalised society become higher and higher.

These films force us to grapple with questions of access: to the city, to employment that is fulfilling both economically and spiritually, to education, to mobility, to stay put, to be entertained, to be in public, to life. They force the more privileged observer to question the reality of even our most intimate surroundings.

In the context of a global pandemic that has exposed the structural inequalities that are endemic to the society, having a disproportionate effect on both the health and economics of minority communities in the United States in particular, there has been renewed call to assert that Black Lives do in fact matter. But if you listen to the streets across the Atlantic world from Cartagena to London, Baltimore to Luanda, Kingston to Lisbon, you definitely already understood that. The question of what we are going to do about it, however, remains."

article posted by:Sana Rizvi, Piranha Arts