(photo credit: Nigeria Films)
So now that Solange has done her bit for what some might call poverty porn, I have to add

my two cents.

In the interests of research, I had to endure some three minutes of Rick Ross’s Hold Me Back (Nigeria) video, filmed in Sura market in Obalende, an impoverished part of Lagos, and intended to draw parallel to the original version of the song.

Now, I have a very low tolerance for what I call the NBH affliction – that tendency to repetitively, easily and with much ebullience say the words “nigga” “bitch” and “ho”. Rick Ross’ level of NBH is so potent that three minutes into his six minute video I had to just breathe and stop. For real.

On balance, it appears Rick Ross’ new video is very much a creation of how he sees the world in general. The New Orleans version is by no means about any kind of glamour either. It’s about the ‘real’ New Orleans or how he sees Nola, to borrow the affectionate term for a place I’ve never been to.

When someone looks at a place, he is bringing his heart and his experience to it, for whatever reasons. Rick Ross did the same thing. His experience with the Africa we don’t want the world to see if we’re screaming ‘poverty porn!’ and whatever else, is something he actually experienced first hand, which says more for him than those who tend to be on the opposing side of things. Not to say that his experience even equals the kind of poverty porn peddled by the likes of George Clooney et al, but that he actually knows what it looks like from his own life and experiences in his own country. It’s not to excuse his own peddling of some of the images I saw, which were heart-wrenching. (Tossing money to kids??)

Not sure about this move by Bwana Ross, but at least he’s not coming from a vacuum.

Solange Knowles recently dropped her own made-in-Africa video for the lovely song Losing You. Which only made some ask why she magpied two different experiences from Africa. If the Rick Ross video feels too raw, the Solange video feels too soft. Except for the imported glamour or imported aspirational glamour of Les Sapeurs, that really is how townships in South Africa, in Cape Town in particular, can look. But the video feels softer, and without the glaring, staring edges that I’ve experienced when in Gugulethu.

Perhaps I’ve over-thought this, and not come to the realization that yes, even townships have soft edges. More fool me. And when we talk about poverty porn? Puh-lease. I might ruffle a few feathers when I declare that even South Africans participate in it right on their own doorstep. There are those whites who go to Mzoli’s in Gugs (affectionate name for Gugulethu) and will plead with a cameramen recording a stint for German TV that they “don’t usually” go there. So if you’re slumming it, what does that make what you’re doing? All those ‘township tours’ on offer in Soweto and in Cape Town’s townships. What are we, as foreigners, or people from Gauteng and other parts of the country, doing there jolling if we aren’t actually from and of the townships? We’re slumming it and being hipster cool about our knowledge of the hip, ‘business’ parts of the townships. And our friends who live there? We’ve never been to their homes, trust. And if we have, we were scared. Admit it. When my classmates in law school would talk about Soshanguve, Mabopane and Mamelodi my eyes glazed over. They might as well have been talking about different countries. And that is precisely what townships were meant to be. A person living in Higgovale is in a different country of circumstance from one living in Gugs, Philippi or Khayelitsha. They’re all Cape Town, but many different Cape Towns. And that is the problem with us Africans screaming blue murder when other people come take a look-see and make their art here, whatever the merits or lack thereof.

I think both these videos, at least to me, raise some questions about not just aesthetics, but also our interactions with our brothers and sisters not just across the ocean, but right here at home. When folk in the Diaspora choose to shoot videos in two of the powerhouses of

Africa but lift elements of this Africa that we the privileged are not too keen on, what are we saying? Some articles have asked similar questions about the Rick Ross video, and I’m appreciative of them. Some commented on a possible lack of originality in the Solange Knowles one, while others just talked about the aesthetics of her Cape Town love affair. Either way, the soft focus and certain features of Solange’s video made me think ‘Cape Town but not really Cape Town’. The kids,

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the barber and the seated gogos (grannies) made me think oh there it is, the place I know. Her entourage were all hipster kids, and that’s fine too. The poverty in question? Well, it’s pretty much in evidence by location, but not a constant slamming in your face which Rick Ross does with his effort.

Obviously, I have no love for him, but oodles of love for her. I guess this makes me bourgie and girly in my sensibilities, or simply closed off to the realities of a country I’ve never been to. I still have Nollywood only in my head.

And yes, King Tha, I totally agree with you – when do we say when Africa is cool, why should those who aren’t born here tell us through their art? And what is it we’re buying, if we are?


 

3 Comments

 

  1. October 5, 2012  4:45 pm by J

    Like I said the article was confusing perhaps that's why I didn't quite understand what you were trying to put across. It seemed all over the place and I struggled to get through it all. Nevertheless I stand by what I said. Agree to disagree.

  2. October 5, 2012  1:00 pm by Luso Mnthali

    The definition of lambast is 1. to beat or whip severely 2. to reprimand or berate harshly; censure; excoriate. Neither of which I did in the case of the Solange video. I said I liked it, but I wondered why she used two very different kinds of subject matter in one video with which to present her view of 'Africa'. I live in Cape Town, and if you didn't actually read the post properly, I did say that South African townships like the one in the video tend to look just like that. Maybe it's a comprehension thing...

    Not sure why you think I 'must' do something as I'm entitled to write what I like, just as you're entitled to think this is a confused analysis and you've slotted it into the "poor and nonsensical" category. You're welcome to write your own, although judging from the above response I might have to slot it into the same category you deemed this to be. ;)

  3. October 5, 2012  10:47 am by J

    This analysis is somehwhat confused,and at times,poor and nonsensical. RR's video reminds of the BBC documentary about the slums in Nigeria which caused controversy and upset amongst British-Nigerian's who were angered that this side of their nation was broadcast so biasly to the rest of the nation/world.

    I can understand where her sentiment's lie and for me this videos seems like a continuation of that documentary. For me, what I glean from this article, is the fatigue and fustration of perpetually depicting the poor/famine/HIV/BBC News/Give-£2-A-Month side of Africa and I totally get that fustration. But then the author lambasts Solange's video which shows a different side to Africa. This what I don't get.

    Solange's video shows a side of Africa many Africans (never mind the rest of the world- and I don't just mean white people, but Indians, Jamaicans, Cubans, Mexicans and anyone else who has access to the internet) have not seen or don't get to see often.

    As a British-Congolese Afropolitan ;) I never had a romantic view of Les Sappuers- both Congolese based and European based Sappuers. It boggled my mind as to why people so poor would spend their last dollar on clothes rather than finding a means to get out of that poverty. But of course as times goes on and the internet evolved I slowly began to undertstand my culture and appreciate that this is their way of life and a way of expression. If anything both RR and Solange's videos are needed. One shows the reality of the situation and the other shows the reality of the situation: what I mean by that is that they both show a side to Africa as much as the other.

    Yes perhaps them selling them back to us is a little cooler than us selling it to ourselves (although we can argue that attitude is slowly starting to change) But that has always been the case- when a black/white/mixed or whatever celebrity sells something it always cooler- that's just the way it is. If you want to say its wrong in the context of Africa you must say its wrong in all context- so every celebrity endorsement that has existed since the beginning of celebrity endorsements should be looked at in this cynical way...

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