Opinion Meki Nzewi

Globalization Made Africa a Mental Colony

In his lengthy and angry attack on Western culture, Meki Nzewi – lecturer in African Music at the University of Pretoria – argues that neo-colonialist capitalism has drained Africa's traditional music art from authenticity and spiritual integrity.

photo: University of Pretoria
Africa is Europe's and America's mental slave, says Prof. Meki Nzewi, South Africa

​​The technological hypnosis produced and promoted by obsessive capitalism has numbed humane sentiments in the world, and that is because human music, the ingenious humanizer has become disadvantaged.

Societal order informed by consensus governance, which prevailed in traditional Africa, relied on the musical arts as a multi-dimensional conscientizing and corrective agent. But then Africa got condemned and derogated for what it accomplished expertly, and new paradigms of societal management became imposed.

The contemporary reality is that depraved politicians now devastate their modern African populations with repressive weapons of mass death that have silenced the music of life and social equity.

The musical arts codify the philosophy of African life systems, reflecting the meaning and processes of communal living. In African life and worldview, the musical arts were intended to transact relationships, monitor and manage the ethos of all societal systems and institutions, inculcate humane sensibilities, and conduct spiritual disposition.

Music punctuates the rhythm of daily life

The concern here is a quick-peep into how music is rationalized and applied as a life force in traditional Africa, a conceptual agenda that guides creative personalities to fashion the musical arts as a proactive force.

The sound of music is likely to punctuate daily life in an extant truly African community. Most performances encountered, including children's musical arts types would be discharging specified roles in the public and personal domains of life in a community, without disrupting the routines of living.

Music is a serious engagement at the same time as it implicates entertainment objectives thus conforming to the law of duality that governs African worldview. The idea of music has two distinct yet inter-acting conceptual objectives.

The event-music idea is concerned with musical arts that ordered the issues of life, and specifies music types and usage. The event-music idea is the specie-autonomous conceptualization of the musical arts as abiding aesthetic enrichment, and there are types conceived solely for that purpose.

Musical arts always belong to the sacred sphere

Otherwise implicit aesthetic enrichment is implicit and prescriptive in all musical arts. Music that ennobles life is then an inclusive creative objective in every genre, category, style or type, irrespective of assigned societal roles.

Africans make a distinction between the sacred and the profane domains of life, although both domains are closely inter-dependent.

All active but intangible forces belong to the supernatural, and therefore, sacred domain. They command the spiritual disposition of humans and permeate the art of living through emanations as well as interactive manifestations.

The musical arts in Africa, even when experienced in profane sites, belongs to the sacred domain.

The integrity of the African musical arts is embedded in the societal philosophy informing its humanistic theory and functional practice. As such, the structural and formal features as well as aesthetic theater reflect and encode the African social structures and relationships.

Globalization destroys authenticity

Globalization is divesting contemporary practice of the musical arts in Africa of such spiritual, healing and humanizing roles.

What gets re-fashioned and exhibited internationally as African musical arts are anemic abstractions of the substantial virtues and values of heritage – bastardization of traditional genius that is intended reflect the flippant European-American imaginations as well as prescription of African creative integrity.

The de-culturation mission of colonialism and religious conquests, which in contemporary experiences fronts mentally as well as economically insecure and patronized African practitioners, has resulted in mal-representation of original African creative aspirations.

Healing capacities of African musical arts

Capitalist economy, technological exploitation and perjuring scholarship literature further disable genuine efforts to promote the healing and human-bonding capacities of African musical arts critically needed in a spiritually destitute world.

The original African creative theory and theater of dance as a component of the musical arts married body aesthetics with social-psychological text, and manifested as unique poetic dances that are metaphors for community life and staging of emotions (Nzewi 1999).

The contemporary choreographic imaging of African dances fashioned to suit the exotic tastes of European-American patrons exploits the mental-economic insecurity of African artists, and as well abuses African dance ethos.

Such vulgar falsifications of original African dance ethics bear testimony to the rude regard the economically privileged European-American producers have for African cultural pride. It also demonstrates the on-going crude perception of the human meaning and aesthetic language of African poetic dances.

The global popular music scene is like vultures' auction.

The driving capitalist agenda imposes the de-spirited human logic and technological fantasies of the West on abstracted African musical arts elements.

African's behave like mental slaves

The African artist, desperate for recognition, and the economic survival accruing, mortgages human pride and cultural integrity for financial crumbs doled out by the feudalistic promoters, who are protected by the disinheriting, modern weapon of contract that legitimizes capitalist fraud, extortion and expropriation.

Within the continent, mesmerized Africans behave like mental slaves of Western hegemonic techno-culture by fabricating farcical re-formulations of Africa cultural arts prestige after every European-American style in vogue.

The traditional drumming styles in Africa, however, have intellectual content and humanistic intentions.

Traditional music as mental therapy

The potent nature of drum ensemble music is structurally rationalized in traditional Africa to accord psychical therapy, also spiritual elevation that can sometimes be transcendental experiencing of sonic and social energies.

The African drumming style and content exported to, and being propagated in, Europe and America by mentally dissociated African and self-fulfilling Western music-mechanics is flippant.

Europe and America are getting it wrong

The unrelieved fanciful rattling fireworks on a drum skin may be thrilling, and conforms to the modern European-American show business virtuoso paradigm. But it is artistically, aesthetically and humanly fanciful – a misrepresentation of the African creative intentions and standards of expertise in drum music.

Quality in the African traditional musical arts rating is measured in terms of contemplative content or contextual effectiveness. Emotional content, spiritual elevation, therapeutic value, socialization role and creative stimulation mark African drum music theory and practice.

Foreigners as much as disoriented Africans have wrong perceptions of the African drum as a percussion instrument.

On the contrary, the African drum is conceived and manipulated as a melorhythm, subtly singing instrument. It generates interactive sensation as well as a psychoactive energy that gets transmuted into inter-personal sensing and support.

Advancement initiatives and experiments in the African musical arts must then derive from the innate theory, humanistic implications and structural merits of the original. A 'simple' question and answer in a melodic/melorhythmic structure could be profound in human and social values for it commands sensitive other-consciousness among co-performers.

Subtle forms of musical communication

Improvisation within the simple structural sub-units of a question and answer form in African music is in the form of minute manipulations of melodic/melorhythmic elements, the art of which compels acute contemplative disposition in personal creativity, co-creativity and empathetic appreciation.

Empathetic appreciation could stimulate aesthetic gestures of inter-personal approval of humble excellence.

African musical arts structures thus inculcating the cherishing of emotional enrichment in humble circumstances of life predicated on the principles of sharing as a primary virtue in communal living.

The abuse of African intellectual integrity

Classroom education in the musical arts abuses the African intellectual integrity, eroding sense of cultural pride and human identity.

It is, in spirit and content, an indiscriminate transplantation of American-European models, which disorient the African social, mental and economic environment.

The vague noises about inserting cultural materials in the curricula and practice are tokenistic that never get implemented or are frivolously attempted because African policy makers and grassroots practitioners have become so culturally alienated that they demonstrate little empathetic or intellectual allegiance to traditional knowledge heritage.

Updating tradition

Restoring authoritatively indigenous human and cultural merits in Africa's engagement with globalization trends then needs consciously rationalized approach to updating tradition – a philosophy and principle of evolutive continuum.

Evolutive continuum is a developmental or advancement strategy that is rooted in the indigenous creative philosophy, knowledge system and humanistic soil of the original.

There are too few tradition-forged and thereby intellectually secure African innovators of knowledge to spearhead the mission, as vast numbers of modern-educated Africans are mental puppets and agents of European-American intellectual products with which they have become irredeemably drugged.

Most media and political propaganda that purport to promote global understanding using the arts actually perpetrate the agenda that consolidates the hegemony of European-American mental ascendancy.

So, what gets promoted as Africa's modern musical arts genius is largely African mental arts skin adopting European-American intellectual body and soul – the imaging of Africa as a mental colony of Europe and America.

Meki Nzewi

© Meki Nzewi 2004

Related Topics
Print article
Send via mail
Add Comment
In submitting this comment, the reader accepts the following terms and conditions: Qantara.de reserves the right to edit or delete comments or not to publish them. This applies in particular to defamatory, racist, personal, or irrelevant comments or comments written in dialects or languages other than English. Comments submitted by readers using fantasy names or intentionally false names will not be published. Qantara.de will not provide information on the telephone. Readers' comments can be found by Google and other search engines.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.