Afropop Worldwide’s executive producer Sean Barlow received hard to get Secret Service vetted media credentials to cover the historic, just concluded U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington D.C. President Joe Biden hosted dozens of African heads of state such as the presidents of Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia. He watched the Morocco-France World Cup match with them. These presidents addressed the summit delegates with common themes such as the primacy of “partnerships,” “collaborations,” “trade not aid” and “mobilization of the national diasporas in the U.S, to support the growth of economies back home.” Also central to their remarks was a focus on the opportunities and challenges represented by the burgeoning under-25 youth wave in Africa, and the advancement of opportunities for women.
President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Rep. Gregory Meeks, the first African-American Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Representative to the U.N., and Reta Jo Lewis, President and Chairman of the Board of the Export Import Bank and its first African American President, all spoke passionately, sounding positive themes about the potential for Africa to grow and the importance of American corporations, NGOs, and individuals to partner with counterparts on the continent on a fair, respectful, professional and mutually beneficial basis.
Sean was less focused on these political speeches, and more on what African and American delegates and leaders had to say about the creative industries—music, music festivals, music streams, music videos, film, television, fashion, arts and crafts, design, visual arts, gaming, sports, literature and the culinary arts. That creative force manifested in everything from the building of “floating recording studios” in the port of Mindelo (Cesaria Evora’s home town), Cabo Verde, to the impressive Ethiopian designer Abai Schulze making leather purses and bags for the ZAAF Collection. The true delight for Sean in this Leaders Summit—the first one since President Barack Obama’s tenure—were the unplanned, spontaneous exchanges between his African and American peers. Sean felt that all the tremendous hospitality he experienced on the continent over the last 40 years of Afropop research and production work deserved to be heartily reciprocated now that continental colleagues were here at his hometown in the U.S.A.
Most photos by Sean Barlow.
On the first day of the summit, I was rushing out the door of the mandatory daily COVID test when I bumped into two Congolese colleagues from Kinshasa—Bill from TV station B-One and Cynthia Bashizi Nabizana from the U.N.’s Radio Okapi, which at one time aired Afropop Worldwide. Radio Okapi is considered a trusted source of news and information in Congo as distinguished from other radio stations in the Kinshasa market that are more identified with their allegiance to a political point of view. I noticed that my journalist colleagues were not dressed for a chilly Washington December but they were definitely glad to be here and hot to trot. We were headed to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture on the National Mall for the all-day “African and Diaspora Young Leaders Forum.” Waiting for our Uber, we were surrounded by Humvees, police cars, and snow plows parked in the street to block off traffic. Heavy metal grates steered people this way or that, not to mention the legions of Secret Service agents brandishing side pistols and wearing flack jacks. The agents politely declined to have their photos taken in front of their Humvees. I grew up in the D.C. area and I’ve never seen the city more thoroughly secured. Despite the inconveniences and walk-arounds, we at least all felt safe.
I had the chance for Cynthia and Bill to update me on the musical life of Kin La Belle “Kinshasa the Beautiful.” As I suspected, the big man on the scene now is Fally Ipupa, who later appeared on a creative industries panel at the summit. This year, Ipupa drew over 100,000 fans to the Stadium of the Martyrs in Kinshasa. So you see, Congo music thrives despite the global onslaught of Nigerian Afrobeats! (see Banning Eyre’s recent interview with Fally.)
Bill and Cynthia--30-somethings--and I shared similar tastes. They talked about maestro singer/guitarist/composer/bandleader and talent-incubator Franco of T.P.O.K. Jazz being the best of the classic foundational rumba artists who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s. And they loved Papa Wemba (showcased in the program Remembering Papa Wemba.) They said he was the best singer of his Zaiko Langa Langa generation of the 1970s. We also mourned the recent early passing of the one and only Queen of Mutuashi, Tshala Muana. We got into our Uber and—no surprise—our driver was an Ethiopian, keen to tell us about the 300,000 strong Ethiopian community in the D.C. area and the young, up-and-coming Ethiopian singers currently active here.
In one of the most dynamic summit sessions, the Atlantic Council in collaboration with Prosper Africa presented a morning session entitled “Investing in Africa's Creative Industries." The Atlantic Council, headquartered in Washington D.C., is an American think tank in the field of international affairs, favoring Atlanticism, founded in 1961. It manages sixteen regional centers and functional programs related to international security and global economic prosperity. More on Prosper Africa later. The Africa Center within the Atlantic Council (not to be confused with the Africa Center in New York City) is a rich source of discussion amongst their Senior Fellows and various other contributors on the critical issues and opportunities facing Africa today. The mission of the Atlantic Counsil's Africa Center is to promote dynamic geopolitical partnerships with African states and to redirect US and European policy priorities toward strengthening security and bolstering economic growth and prosperity on the continent. You can follow up on a previous important session on the the creative industries in Africa through searching the Atlantic Council/Africa Center web page. In their creative industries forum, Africa Center Senior Director Rama Yide declared, "In Africa, soft power is the new hard power." Food for thought.
At the Atlantic Council/Prosper Africa session, Samba Bathily, the Malian Founder and CEO of ADS (Africa Development Solutions Group) talked about the ingenious floating recording studios he built in the port of the seaside city of Mindelo, Cabo Verde. He also said he has built a suite of hotels in West Africa. Samba rhapsodized about meeting Michael Jackson in Tokyo and hanging out with the man at his Neverland estate. Samba Bathily is definitely a Type A personality guy, happy to boast about investing $20 million dollars and making $200 million back. Return On Investment (ROI) was a major theme at the Summit. Despite all his success, Bathily lamented how hard it was to change perceptions of Africa in the wider world. He said Africans need to change “the software of their minds.”
Samba Bathily noted that too many African artists on the continent are under the illusion that America is a cash-happy paradise, a common theme in the cautionary songs of artists who have migrated and now know better. Millions of Nigerians, Ghanaians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Congolese, Senegalese and others have come to U.S. with little money and succeeded with a strong work ethic, education focus, family values focus and a healthy share of ambition. But they struggle, just as legions of Italians, Polish, Irish, Jewish, Russian and German immigrants fleeing persecution and hard times in the 19th Century did before them.
Another stand out speaker at the creative industries session was Audu Maikori, founder of Chocolate City Group in Nigeria, creating both music and film content. Chocolate City is a Nigerian label Maikori founded in 2005 and is credited on Wikipedia as the biggest and most successful indigenous urban record label in Africa. Audu Maikori also runs Pixerlay Films.
Maikori said that the creative industries in Nigeria employ more people than any other sector except agriculture. That was certainly not the case back in 1983 when Nigerian juju maestro King Sunny Ade first toured with his 20-man African Beats, playing nightclubs and university concert halls. Now in the era of Afrobeats, megastars like Burna Boy and Wizkid sell out Madison Square Garden, 21,000 tickets at $300 or $500 a pop. Back home, these and other top artists employ producers, musicians, song writers, studio engineers, composers, photographers, videographers, music video makers, social media strategists, drivers, stage technicians, electricians, security guards, clothing designers, hair stylists, chefs, and food service workers. With all those mouths to feed, no wonder the likes of Wizkid commands top dollar, reportedly a million dollars for a recent gig in Toronto. He and Burna Boy are out to fill 80,000 seats at a London stadium in 2023, quite the New Year’s resolution!
While the most successful locally based Nigerian record labels like Chocolate City and Mavin Records are thriving, major international labels have invested significantly in the African music space by establishing offices, staffing up teams to do the basic bread and butter work of choosing artists and repertoires, setting up recording studios, and then marketing the artists' songs to conventional gate keepers like radio stations as well as direct-to-consumer via Spotify, streams, Instagram and other platforms. A case in point is Virgin Music Africa Label and Artist Services (a division of the Universal Music Group) that by now has 50 label partners from 26 African countries. One welcome focus Virgin is following is digitizing older African songs so they can have a second life in terms of broader awareness, sales, and royalties payments to the songs' creators. And Sony has created Sony Music Africa which is also very busy on the continent. Sony Music owns such legacy labels as Columbia, RCA, Epic, Arista, and Arista Nashville.
Aldu Maikori reports that the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, remains right behind Hollywood and is now ahead of India’s Bollywood. Nollywood produces over 2,500 films a year, and Nigerian filmmaking prowess also shows in today’s clever, visually vibrant, dance savvy, story-rich music videos, as slick and polished as any foreign competitor. Just go to YouTube and check out new videos from Burna Boy, Wizkid, Tems, Davido, Yemi Alade, or the 20-year-old phenom, Ayra Starr from Mavin Records. Maikori said there is only one movie screen for every 800,000 people in Nigeria; fans enjoy the music and moves of their idols at home or on their phones. But these fans are loyal; 55 percent of movie ticket sales in Africa are attributed to locally produced films. Meanwhile, the industry is increasingly moving to produce high-budget feature films that can achieve international success.
In circulation at the Atlantic Counsil session on the last morning of the summit was a colorful, slickly produced booklet called Investment and Partnership Opportunities in Africa’s Creative Industries. The booklet was produced by Prosper Africa and Crossboundary, “a mission-driven investment firm that unlocks capital for sustainable growth and strong returns in underserved markets.” For an understanding of changes and opportunities in Africa’s creative industries you can download a .pdf of the document here.
I spoke with representatives of Prosper Africa’s partner Crossboundary, Stephen Murray and Nneki Chime, two of the lead authors of the “Investment and Partnership” booklet. Murray and Chime see their principle role as coaching young entrepreneurs on how to create return on investment thinking, prepare ROI conscious financial presentations and develop networking and public relations strategies. Murray and Chime say that the key to raising money is to present investors with a strong, coherent narrative they can understand and be moved by. When it comes right down to it, you only get one shot to make your case with these busy and overbooked investors, so it had better be good. Crossboundary has some 200 employees worldwide and nine offices in Africa including in Nairobi, Lagos, Jo’berg, Tunis, Dakar, Accra and Kinshasa.
I have reported here mainly about the music and movie industries in Africa. The Prosper Africa/Crossboundary booklet also presents interesting facts about the visual arts and fashion:
- African visual artists are seeing increased requests from international galleries and greater representation across global markets.
- Several African artists have seen the value of their work skyrocket over short periods of time. For example, Ghana’s Amaoko Boafo has seen the value of his art increase 100-fold in less than two years.
- Africa’s fashion industry has witnessed growth in global recognition and demand.
- International retailers such as Nordstrom and Bloomingdales have implemented retail programs to support emerging African designers.
According to the “Investment and Partnership” booklet, to develop a sustainable and efficient ecosystem, Africa’s creative industries require four main components--human capital, financial capital, market linkages and regulatory infrastructure reform. Across the six identified sub-sectors of the creative industries—fashion, music, film and TV, arts, gaming, sports—the music industry has the most well developed components, despite financial and regulatory difficulties.
“Prosper Africa/Crossboundary” says that the creative industries in Africa face significant challenges with far-reaching consequences. Players at all levels need to develop and support training institutions, investment strategies, intellectual property protection and visa-acquisition procedures.
On the troubling subject of visas, Crossboundary’s Stephen Murray cites the visa nightmare that U.S. State Department and Homeland Security officials are increasingly inflicting on African musicians who want to travel to and perform in the U.S. Even renowned Malian singer Salif Keita faced extra scrutiny this year, and the band Tinariwen, trailblazers for Tuareg desert blues, were outright denied entry. Such incidents have budget-busting downstream effects with cancelled concerts, ticket holders clamoring to venue owners for cash refunds, and festival presenters left holding the bag. The visual arts are also affected as African artists want to travel to the U.S. to be seen by and to rub shoulders with art dealers, art gallery owners, art collectors, art critics and others. It’s a simple matter of you’ve got to be in The Room Where It Happens.
Again, citing Prosper Africa/Crossboundary, investment towards establishing affordable and reliable internet connectivity would facilitate sizable growth in music revenues and the industry at large. It’s interesting to note that in 2020 ringtones, which do not require reliable internet connectivity for consumption, made up 32 percent of the African recorded music industry revenue distribution, but just 5.8% in the global music industry. Other revenue generators in the African music business are: streaming, physical sales (double in the global music industry compared with what physical sales command in the African market), synchronization (for T.V. and film) and performance rights.
The Prosper Africa/Crossboundary report says that increased investment and partnerships are the keys to achieving global relevance. Nollywood will require continued investment in infrastructure and human capital to sustain its current growth trajectory and achieve more international recognition. Film festivals that are showcasing Nigerian and other African film-makers’ talents are earning global partners in the film industry, and international streaming platforms such as Disney Plus and Netflix are increasingly commissioning Nollywood content to cater to a growing audience of young Africans.
At the summit, Netflix held a prominent session to showcase some of its new films produced in Africa by African filmmakers, casts and crews. Ben Amasum is Netflix’s director of Africa originals and acquisitions. (Netflix is the world’s leading internet entertainment service.) Amasum says, “Africa has a rich storytelling heritage and a wealth of folktales that have been passed down for generations.” He nurtures key partnerships and drives the licensing strategy across Africa to support Netflix’s membership growth and streaming rates on the continent. His portfolio includes sourcing local programming relevant to particular regions as well as acquiring rights for shows and movies from Africa for a global audience.
Several thriving music festivals were represented at the summit. Afrocella in Ghana draws some 20,000 people between Christmas and New Year’s Eve ("a celebration of Africa’s diverse culture and the vibrant work of African creatives and entrepreneurs," an annual rai festival in Oran (the ancient cultural capital of Algeria on the sun-drenched Mediterranean coast) occurs in late June; the Ndege Ndege Festival in Uganda showcases electronic music and for a mostly young crowd; Zanzibar’s pan-African Sauti za Busara (Swahili Sounds of Wisdom) festival every February (2023 edition is Feb. 10-12) focuses on emerging talent from throughout the continent, women-led bands, and East African sounds like the Arab-influenced 35 piece string orchestras playing what's called taraab music on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Sauti za Busara founder and director Yusuf Mahmoud likes to say “The best place to experience African music is under African skies.” (Read my interview with Mahmoud on Sauti za Busara’s mission and history.)
The thing to point out is that on the standard $15,000+ safaris and the pampered Club Med style beach indulgences that the conventional African tourism industry sells to foreigners, visitors mostly encounter locals only as servers—waiters, chamber maids, safari guides, massage therapists and the like. There’s much work to be done to enlarge the concept of African cultural tourism to fully embrace the richness and peer-to-peer engagement possible in all sectors of the creative industries. And it does not have to be an either-or proposition. In our highly popular Afropop Music Travelers series to Mali, Senegal, Cape Verde, Madagascar and Cuba, we always combine deep diving into the cosmopolitan African urban experience and meeting peers in their homes for dinner concerts and in their nightclubs for late night dance marathons with a dash of ecotourism added, for instance communing with loping lemurs in Madagascar or bodysurfing in the Atlantic in Senegal and Cape Verde. The mix is the magic of course. And we believe that the strongest selling point for visiting Africa in the international tourism business should be meeting her peoples and enjoying the jewel-in-the-crown cultures that animate the continent, not just skipping the capital cities only to see lions, elephants, giraffes, water buffalo, zebras, leopards, hippos et al--magnificent and awe-inspiring as they are.
You might be surprised to see sports listed in the top tier of “creative industries” in the Prosper Africa/Crossboundary report. Football (soccer) is, after all the “beautiful game.” Along with music, film and fashion, sports can unite a national population, help overcome ethnic tensions, regional rivalries, communal violence and gender inequities. African artists and sports figures are without question the continent’s most effective ambassadors.
The Prosper Africa/Crossboundary report lauds the NBA (National Basketball Association) for its strategic investment and partnerships that have driven private capital into the African sports industry. The report says that NBA Africa is investing significantly in promoting basketball in Africa. As with music and film, this investment feeds related economic sectors such as training and professional management of teams, players’ salaries that feed families, ticket sales, broadcast and streaming rights, merchandise, sales of food and drink at live games.
At the summit, two top NBA officials presented on the growth of NBA Africa. Mark Tatum is the NBA’s deputy commissioner and chief operating officer. Citing the “great potential” for basketball in Africa, he said NBA Africa is putting considerable emphasis on both the training of young athletes and the presentation of the game itself across Africa. He said NBA Africa has an NBA Academy in Saly, Senegal and NBA Africa will be expanding the number of academies in years to come. As the recent World Cup showed, major European teams—the Netherlands, France, the U.K.—are virtual rainbow nations powered in part by talented African soccer players like French/Cameroon superstar Killian Mbappé. In a sign of things to come, there are currently over 16 African players on the opening-night rosters in the U.S. And more than 50 players on NBA teams in the U.S. were either Africans or had at least one African parent. Tatum finished by proudly pointing out that none other than Barack Obama is now a strategic partner with NBA Africa
Speaking next was Victor Williams, the CEO of NBA Africa based in Johannesburg. Williams oversees the league’s basketball and business development initiatives in Africa. He is responsible for continuing to grow the popularity of the game and of the NBA across the continent through grassroots development, media distribution and corporate partnerships. Williams spoke of expanding the basketball ecosystem in which participants get feedback from fans, the media and partners. He said that ESPN will air over 180 games this season. The first NBA Africa office opened in Johannesburg in 2010 and Williams said new NBA offices are planned for NBA Nigeria and NBA Egypt, countries whose populations total some 300 million people. Williams concluded by saying that “the NBA is committed to Africa.”
Overall, the quality of the panelists and the organization of summit sessions was impressive. It seemed for every official forum, there were several “side sessions.” For instance, the first session I attended took place on the Monday before the official Tuesday start of the summit. It was called "Advancing the African Digital Economy." And It was co-organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and by the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) (whose business conferences I have DJ'd for in the past) represented at the summit by our colleagues such as CCA CEO Florie Liser and CCA Board member Witney Schneidman who is a partner at Covington & Burling and the law firm's lead counsel on Africa. The CCA and the Chamber jointly sponsored the “Advancing Africa’s Digital Economy" panel. The panel featured highly accomplished African founders and CEO’s of U.S. based companies. Dr. Thierry Wandji is the Cameroonian founder and CEO of Cybastion, providing cybersecurity and digital solutions that protect IT infrastructure and anticipate cyber threats. Nigerian born John Olajide is the founder and CEO of Dallas-based Axxess, a leading technology innovator for home healthcare, providing solutions to help improve care for more than three-million patients worldwide.
This CCA/Chamber session highlighted the importance of the tech sector as the backbone of 21st century African economies, helping them function as smoothly and safely as possible. Just as there are millions of young African creatives aspiring to careers in the industry, there are likewise millions of young Africans aspiring to careers in tech. The most successful record labels in Africa today marry the traditional art of artist and repertoire development with the science of 21st century music business management and digital distribution. The goal is to go beyond the traditional gatekeepers of music media, including radio programs like our Afropop Worldwide, and go directly to music fans, hopefully converting them into paying buyers of their artists’ music. The number of streams served, the growth of your Spotify totals and the number of people watching your content on TikTok or YouTube—these are the metrics by which a musician is judged in today’s global music industry.
Having spoken well of the general quality of the panelists, I do regret that the panel-heavy structure of the summit that made for a lot of top-down talk by the panelists and very little input from attendees. I know that a lot of varied experience and expertise went untapped due to this format and dynamic. Despite this, a few questions were allowed in the Atlantic Council session, and I seized the day. I noted that in my 37 years of experience researching and recording for Afropop Worldwide, I had seen ebbs and flows in terms of the penetration of African music in the American consciousness, starting back in the ‘60s with the maestro Harry Belafonte introducing the South African greats Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. There was Cameroon’s singer and sax player Manu Dibango with his surprise 1972 B-side hit, “Soul Makossa,” Mory Kanté’s “Yeke Yeke” topping charts in France in the 1980s, and of course Paul Simon’s Graceland in 1986.
Our broadcast was conceived by me as Founder in partnership with host Georges Collinet and Senior Producer Banning Eyre in the wake of these developments, and fueled by the first tours of full-on African bands like King Sunny Ade and his African Beats and Fela Kuti with Africa 80. Simon’s Graceland tour helped to revive the careers of Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela and launched the international success of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Afropop Worldwide debuted on NPR in October, 1988, introducing listeners across the country to hear the charismatic Georges Collinet introduce them to rumba and soukous, makossa and bikutsi, rai and chaabi, chimurenga and mbaqanga music and lots more. Soon came the Congolese invasion of the ‘80s and ‘90s as stellar Congolese acts like the Four Stars, Kanda Bongo Man, Papa Wemba and Loketo swept fans onto the dance floor. Then there was a phenomenal parade of Malian royalty—Ali Farka Toure, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare, Habib Koite, Tinariwen and others—blowing away listeners with majestic voices and grooving rhythms. And there was Cesaria Evora, “the Barefoot Diva,” charming many with Cape Verdean morna and coladeira.
Today, we are deep into the era of Nigerian Afrobeats, a sweetly mellow mix of r&b, soul, dancehall, reggae and highlife. Wikipedia characterizes Burna Boy as mix of Afrobeats/reggae/dancehall/pop (let’s not forget the awesome talking drum quartet he brought to Madison Square Garden.) At Burna Boy’s historic, sold out MSG mega-concert, we saw mostly young diaspora fans paying top dollar to sing along with anthems celebrating love lost and found, partying, flirting and living the good life. An audience participatory spirit ruled that glorious night as most everyone in the huge hall sang along with Burna Boy's songs and some women in the crowd were even moved to throw their bras to him which he triumphantly hung from his waist.
I said to the gathered audience at the Atlantic Counsil session on the creative industries that today’s newest fans of African music could easily get the impression that Africa is only Nigeria, and that the only music from Africa is Afrobeats. What about the other 53 African countries? What about all those classic genres mentioned above, let alone newer developments like amapiano from South Africa, kuduro in Angola, or bonga flava in Tanzania or, a personal favorite, the current revival of highlife in Ghana and Nigeria? My “What’s up with all Nigeria all the time?” query earned a resounding round of applause. Afterwards, delegates from Zambia, South Africa, Rwanda, Cameroon, Ethiopia and elsewhere approached me to talk, clearly feeling that their artists were being overshadowed by the Nigerian juggernaut.
A primary counter example of this phenomenon I can think of was when 30-year-old Nigerian afrobeats superstar Burna Boy opened his Madison Square Garden concert with Grammy Award-winning, 63-year-old Senegalese star singer Youssou N’Dour in the darkened hall’s bright spotlight, delivering a knock out performance of his spine tingling “New Africa” anthem. And the mostly young folks in the hall roared their approval! So there is huge potential out there in the African music space for multi-generational cooperation between classy elders and adventurous newbies, multi-national francophones and anglophones crossing sometimes alienating language camps, West/North/Central/East/Southern/Diaspora African cross-fertilizations as well as possible deep engagement with the Afro-Atlantic Diaspora in the rich Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Haitian, Afro-Columbian, Afro-Trinidadian, Afro-Dominican Republic artistic communities and beyond many of which are grounded in Yoruba, Congo, and Mande cultural and spiritual traditions. We live in the locally grounded/globally connected early 21st Century and everyone can talk to the past, present and future at the same time. Let's bring it on!
That said, we have to give credit where credit is due. Nigerian Afrobeats artists and their music industry wizards have launched African music into the global mix much more than ever dreamed of before. Nollywood’s success as the No. 2 film industry in the world and the growing prominence of Nigerian writers and visual artists are signs of a nation truly coming into its own artistically and psychically. Those wishing to enjoy similar success should watch and learn.
When it came time for President Biden to deliver his first speech before his African counterparts and the summit delegates, he joked that he had to talk fast because Morocco—the first African or Arab team to make it into the World Cup semi-finals—was about to face France. Biden welcomed the 300 American and African companies in the audience and urged them to build connections and to close deals. Specific deals Biden spotlighted include: Cisco w/African partner with $800M project to protect cyberspace security concerns on the continent; Visa for $1B for project to improve online payment services for mobile phone users; GE and Standard Bank of South Africa for $800M to improve local health care. All told, Biden said the total deals pending for U.S.-Africa partners was $15 billion dollars. Along these lines, Biden pumped up the core concept of promoting government to government, business to business, individual to individual relationships. Biden announced some executive orders regarding Africa-focused initiatives in infrastructure, health, and cyberspace. Again and again, he spoke the “C” and “P” words—connections and collaborations and partnerships. He praised the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) for organizing the summit. President Biden pleased his comrades-in-arms when he announced that he and his wife Jill would make their first visit to Africa as President and First Lady sometime in 2023. Where in Africa? That has not been disclosed yet but one can imagine Nigeria and South African being on the "A" list with perhaps one francophone country included such as Senegal or Ivory Coast. Dakar or Abidjan would certainly welcome them whole heartedly. Some African journalist colleagues told me the back story to the Biden administration push for better relations with African countries reflects their concern that China is overtaking the Americans in China's role as the most important economic partner with its offers of building major infrastructure projects--roads, bridges, ports, airports, and so on--in exchange for exclusive 99 year leases accessing raw minerals that China must have for its hungry industrial machine. An example is the huge bauxite reserves in Guinea. Biden finished his speech with rhetoric rising to new heights when he proclaimed “When Africa succeeds, the U.S. succeeds, and the whole world succeeds.” You can watch President Biden deliver his detailed and thoughtful remarks below.
I want to conclude my report by sending my sincere gratitude to all the African and American summit delegates who put such effort and considerable skills and deep relationships into making the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit 2022 the big success it was—all the way from the top, to my president, Joe Biden, for calling to Washington fellow presidents from Africa, to his cabinet led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken for calling fellow ministers from the continent, to the business community led by the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), to my fellow non-profit social entrepreneurs, to the African press in particular who showed up in numbers, to the American media that covered the summit, to the creative industries leaders like the Chocolate City Group music and film crew out of Lagos, to Prosper Africa and Crossboundary for their ground breaking research and business implementation and training, to Netflix for sourcing fantastic stories and creatives in Africa, to NBA Africa for their expansive, continent-wide vision, to the African-born immigrants who founded world class tech companies based in the U.S.; and let’s give a special nod to the Nigerians participating on all levels—why not?--I think at least half the people I met at the summit were Nigerians! And let’s not also forget the filmmakers and fashion designers and Congolese soukous superstar Fally Ipupa for representing the beauty and power of African music and dance as a life-affirming, worldwide force.
You know, you can Zoom all day, and fire away social media posts, emails and texts into the dark of the night but there’s just nothing like sitting in the same room and shaking hands and having animated, substantive back-and-forth conversations, and enjoying each other’s company. All of us lucky enough to have participated in this 2022 U.S. Africa Leaders Summit treasured that opportunity to catch up with old colleagues and to meet new friends and colleagues and to dust off your French or English. It is great to be reminded that we are all doing important work and must carry on to the best of our abilities, strengthened in the knowledge that we are not alone, that we have wonderful, talented and just plain fun fellow travelers.
On our web site, www.afropop.org, you can catch our weekly radio program Afropop Worldwide, hosted by broadcast legend Georges Collinet from Cameroon, as well as feature stories, interviews, photo essays, music video picks, thought pieces, and if you live in New York/New Jersey/Connecticut, our essential "Upcoming New York City events" guide.
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Click here to see some of our favorite performances of 2022—Senegalese super star Wally Seck and Ghana’s up-and-coming Fra!—and enjoy a special holiday greeting from Georges Collinet and the Afropop team.
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Afropop Worldwide promotes understanding and enjoyment of contemporary music and stories from Africa and its global diaspora. Through its Peabody Award-winning public radio program hosted by Cameroonian broadcast legend Georges Collinet, Closeup podcast series and content-rich website (afropop.org), Afropop Worldwide showcases artists and their work in cultural and historic context, across the generational spectrum. In our productions, music becomes a vehicle for exploring contemporary and traditional perspectives on women’s rights, climate change, governance and other issues that define our shared future.
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