Wattstax, Public Dancing in the Stands, Los Angeles Coliseum © 1972 Stax Records

10- Africa's first gift to the world

Towards a Black Consciousness

The first lesson from Africa is the richness of its immense number of cultures, all very different from each other, manifestations that celebrate life with pleasure, intensity and joy. Between different ethnics, dialects, clothing, habits, beliefs, food, mourning, cults, games, they all differ. The great Miriam Makeba used to point us this aspect while introducing her songs to the audiences. This is one of the most fascinating aspects of Black Africa: diversity projected through happiness. Black Africans tend to celebrate their differences.

In many ways this is opposite to modern industrialized Western traditions where, in a more or lesser degree, the majority are consciously (or unconsciously) proud to be similar, to have, own or do what others do. Funnily enough, in the West we think we are different but generally speaking, thanks to an irreverent imposed media and evident mediocracy, we are not. Specially in the last 100 years, after industrialization and media conquered our homes and minds, people tend to be alike, following advertising, similar or identical rutines, adopting homogeneous habits, eating the same food and at the same time. We are not judging, just describing.

Isaac Hayes and public discover a new dimension of rhythm, sounds and images at Wattstax, Los Angeles Coliseum © 1972 Stax Records

Black people in America, far from Africa, have assimilated -they had to- a large number imported identities. Music, the most private and secret, was the exception. In the early fifties, R&B (Rythm and Blues) which has a more simple rhythm pattern that Jazz, originated the amazing Soul, even Rocabilly and Rock & Roll.

According to the Rolling Stones and The Beatles, the "Beat" is Africa. Indeed, world music was re-shaped by Blacks via the United States, taking advantage of its post-war dominant position as the leading country. The US marked the world's cultural path for 80 years, including, since 2000, the Digital Era; however, thanks to its naure, the Internet is challenging that leadership: there is no physical reference or centre. Each mobile phone can start a revolution... but ephemeral ones, it is all within a virtual world.

It is hard to acknowledge how was West African music in pre-historical times, but we have clues thanks to anthropological studies related to ethnic groups whose habits did not change substantially; we have indicatons that musical instruments, routines and activities of pre-historical Africans in far regions were as as diverse as when Europeans went to the continent. While contrasting those manifestations, it seems the celebration of the cycle of life through dance, percussion, singing, storytelling, was always present in Africa and it is a cultural constant, represented in the smile of the majority of Black people.

Heather Small, M People, performing in a TV show, UK, circa 1998.

Considering there are millions of Afro-descendants in the diaspora (particularly in the Americas, the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Greece), and by observing the good predisposition and sense of humor we generally have even against difficult circumstances, we truly think this is a valuable gift that relates our race with Nature and life and therefore with the other; it gives life a beautiful meaning, something not so easy to find in industrialized Europe or the US, often hard to see in other cultures: a sense of exhilaration and spontaneous joyfulness that gives sense to life. The salt of the world.

Read the Second Africa's gift to the world, here.  


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