Photo: Kobi Williamz

A Smiling Macron Wants To Make France Africa's Best Friend, But at What Cost?

The charismatic French President came through to Fela Kuti's temple, played some drums, gave a speech, and potentially lit a fire.

The characteristic smell of weed was missing from the the New Afrikan Shrine, Tuesday. On regular evenings in the home of Afrobeat, built in honor of Nigerian cultural icon Fela Kuti, young men stroll up and down the street, seeking to convert tourists and visitors into buyers for their products. But today was different.

Emmanuel Macron, the President of the French Republic was on his way.

The young President of France, the poster boy for business friendly centrism, swept into Nigeria on June 3, 2018, where he sealed an agreement between Nigeria and France to carry out projects in Lagos, Kano and Ogun states at the cost of $475 million. First stop was in Abuja, the Federal Capital of the country, where the standard photo-ops and press releases were done and disseminated. But for young creatives in Lagos, State, the hub of the music, fashion, and movie industries, the agenda was different.

The cultural extravaganza at the New Afrika Shrine saw President Macron joined by 200 VIP guests and 250 journalists, who packed the hallowed music venue, home of Femi Kuti and his world-famous band. On the night, the legendary musician, and son of Fela, performed a show-stopping set, bringing Macron up for the finale, in what is the first time in the Shrine's history that a serving President has graced the stage.

The evening's full line-up included stars of music and screen, never before seen on stage together, including Afro-pop queen Yemi Alade, Cameroonian singer Charlotte Dipanda, talking drum performer Ara (Thunder), prominent Nollywood director Kunle Afolayan, world-famous artists Angelique Kidjo, Asa, and Youssou N'Dour, Nollywood stars Joke Silva, Rita Dominic, and Ramsey Nouah, and Kareem Waris Olamilekan, an 11 year-old genius child artist who stole the show by producing a hyperrealist drawing of President Macron in under 2 hours.

Legendary writer, Wole Soyinka was there for the show Photo: Kobi Williamz

The French President is no stranger to the country and the Shrine. In 2002, he held an internship position at the French Embassy, where, he says, he became familiar with the country, its importance in the region, and the sheer potential of the country's creatives.

"My main memories about Africa is the strength. Proud people, proud of their culture, proud of their arts, proud of their music," Macron told the crowd. "And that's why I have a very different view of Africa, than a lot of foreign people in Europe, because I was educated here."

During his return visit to the New Afrika Shrine, the French leader recollected happy times he spent there when he was working in Nigeria as a student in 2002. President Macron recognized the Shrine as a cultural and political symbol for Africa. "Let me just remind you that this place is obviously a cultural place, a music place, but it's a space about politics as well," said the French president. "[Fela Kuti] was not just a musician, he was a politician as well... He was a politician because he wanted to change society. So if I have just one message for young people here at the Shrine tonight: yes, politics are important. Yes, be involved."

16 years later, he is president of a world power, with a long history of colonisation in Africa. And while much of the young generation that he is a part of never experienced this colonialism directly, the negative effects of that chapter remain evident in numerous aspects of African lives. As more young people become aware of Africa's history, these unequal relationships stand out as a sore point in millennial conversations on international relations—especially on social media. Nigeria wasn't a French colony, but her neighbours were, and the sentiments of that era run deep. Macron recognizes this.

We have a very complicated history with Africa, especially when you speak from France…we have to recognize the bad, and the negative pages of that history. You have to recognize all the bad deeds, and face them." Macron admitted in an interview with popular broadcaster, Keturah King.

Femi Kuti meeting Macron Photo: Kobi Williamz

"But you have to move forward," he continues. "And if you are always consumed by them, and that vision, you will never move forward. Which means, how to build the future for Africa."

Macron claims to be seeking a bright future that embraces creative work, under the a new initiative named the "2020 Season of African Cultures in France." During this week long celebration, France aims to showcase the best creatives from Africa, across art, music, fashion, movies and more. Approximately 3.3–5.5 million (5–8 percent of the French population), are blacks of African descent, and President Macron intends to help build a positive narrative with this event.

He announced this after playing African drums, receiving African art, watching Yemi Alade perform and shaking a lot of African creative hands. And while on paper there's everything to love about a big event celebrating African creative life in France, there's a lot of work to be done, by France mostly, and by Africans before skepticism around French intentions in Africa can be retired.

Photo: Shawn Theodore via Schure Media Group/Roc Nation

Interview: Buju Banton Is a Lyrical Purveyor of African Truth

A candid conversation with the Jamaican icon about his new album, Upside Down 2020, his influence on afrobeats, and the new generation of dancehall.

Devout fans of reggae music have been longing for new musical offerings from Mark Anthony Myrie, widely-known as the iconic reggae superstar Buju Banton. A shining son of Jamaican soil, with humble beginnings as one of 15 siblings in the close-knit community of Salt Lane, Kingston, the 46-year-old musician is now a legend in his own right.

Buju Banton has 12 albums under his belt, one Grammy Award win for Best Reggae Album, numerous classic hits and a 30-year domination of the industry. His larger-than-life persona, however, is more than just the string of accolades that follow in the shadows of his career. It is his dutiful, authentic style of Caribbean storytelling that has captured the minds and hearts of those who have joined him on this long career ride.

The current socio-economic climate of uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrusted onto the world, coupled with the intensified fight against racism throughout the diaspora, have taken centre stage within the last few months. Indubitably, this makes Buju—and by extension, his new album—a timely and familiar voice of reason in a revolution that has called for creative evolution.

With his highly-anticipated album, Upside Down 2020, the stage is set for Gargamel. The title of this latest discography feels nothing short of serendipitous, and with tracks such as "Memories" featuring John Legend and the follow-up dancehall single "Blessed," it's clear that this latest body of work is a rare gem that speaks truth to vision and celebrates our polylithic African heritage in its rich fullness and complexities.

Having had an exclusive listen to some other tracks on the album back in April, our candid one-on-one conversation with Buju Banton journeys through his inspiration, collaboration and direction for Upside Down 2020, African cultural linkages and the next generational wave of dancehall and reggae.

This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.

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