Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine


Singing For Our Dinner

Much of our lives in Africa revolve around singing and dancing. We express our sorrow and grief through singing and dancing, and when it comes to joy, celebration of our few triumphs, the medium of expression is again singing and dancing.

Africa has rhythm, and we feel very superior about the fact that no other race comes anywhere near us in the field of rhythm. There is a whole group of African intellectuals whose speciality is decrying the theft of Africa's musical heritage by Europe. The entire pop music industry with its almost limitless riches, owes its existence to Africa.

But then there are some who think that the singing and dancing is quite overdone in Africa, rather than being a medium of expression for our moods, it has become life itself. This phenomenon was most accurately dramatised in President Nyerere's celebrated lament that while the rest of the world was going to the moon, Africa was singing and dancing.

In a way it was most appropriate, even if ironic, that it is the medium of song and dance that is being used to rescue the starving in Africa. The Live Aid extravaganza which kept virtually the whole world glued to television sets for the greater part of the past weekend has been applauded by all and rightly so. The music might not have been understood or appreciated by all, but there can be no denying that this was an event that deserves applause.

The British Prime Minister about summed it all up describing it as "humanity in action".

But then a number of questions necessarily have been raised by the Live Aid phenomenon which will have to be addressed by Africa and Africans inside and outside the continent. On the musical front, why were there so few black artists and groups? Why were there no African or Reggae bands included in the show? Africa might not have anything to contribute in the high-technology that was employed to beam the show world wide, but surely in the song and dance department, Africa can hold its own.

Then there is the larger question of what the long-term effects of this charity-dependency existence means to Africa.

Many chic African commentators have made snide remarks about, and condemned the effrontery of a singer in a group called the Boom Town Rats, daring to tell African governments how to run their own affairs.

The reality is that for as long as African countries continue to provide the harrowing scenes that shock the whole world, our governments will have to listen to drummers from any punk group. There cannot be much argument with £50 million meant for the feeding of the starving especially when the governments that are supposed to be responsible will not or cannot cope.

When African governments appear to put the survival of the few in power over the survival of all the people, then the chances are that Africans will continue to stagger from crisis to crisis to charity.

Some twenty-five years ago, the voice of Africa was supposed to be the voice to listen to, nobody pretends any more that the continent has been reduced to its knees.

The Austrian contribution to the Live Aid programme made a brave attempt to put into perspective the cause of the tragedy: "Ethiopia, you were once a princess, now you are a beggar... Big Brother sends arms... instead of food..

It is worth considering that every time a military regime takes over an African country (and the numbers rise daily) the defence budget always rises. The acquisition of tanks and fighters and weaponry of all kinds assumes an importance to the rulers bordering on mania.

It is obscene that the military regimes in Africa continue to spend so much on arms and ammunition while the majority of their people starve. The big powers that sell the arms to these regimes must bear some of the responsibility and each emaciated and dying child will have to be equated to each box of ammunition that they supply.

As it happens, just at this time there is a gathering of the heads of state of the member states of the Organisa- tion of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa. There will be the routine denunciations of imperialism and neo-colonialism, the leaders will studiously avoid travelling to the areas of Ethiopia from which the horrific scenes are shot for television, their idea of leadership does not include such unpleasantness.

But then how can the OAU ever tackle anything worthwhile when the organisation itself contains so many inequalities?

On what basis, for example, does Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, straight from a hard-fought election victory. interact with Muhammed Buhari of Nigeria and others like him? There are those leaders in Africa whose every word is law and who do not have to consult their people and are not answerable to any Parliament or elected assembly. Then there are those, however few, who have to consult their people. Obviously the two groups are operating on completely different bases and it is futile to hope that an organisation harbouring such diametrically unequal groups can produce anything worthwhile.

In the face of such paralysis Africa seems destined to remain for its survival on what can be raised from the efforts of the Boom Town Rats, Fine Young Cannibals. UB40, Scorpions, Tygers of Pan Tham, Animal Night Life. Killing is my Business, Yellow Hair, Shout at the Devil and others like them - at least they raise some money to fear Africa's starving millions, which is more than African governments seem able or willing to do.

The least we can do is join in the song and dance routine and thank them for small mercies.

talking drums 1985-07-22 the cia in ghana behind the scranage-sousoudis affair