The ALC We Do Not See
Art, Literature & CultureArt, literature and culture (ALC) are flourishing in Africa and have been for a while (several thousand years, give or take a few millennia), but with rare exceptions western mainstream media manages to keep it a secret.
It's probably not a conscious conspiracy. It's more likely an unconscious one, a combination of indifference, cluelessness, misplaced or confused priorities. But then ALC are not what the media is looking for in Africa.
Africa is the media's go-to continent for tragedy, violence, despair, disease. ALC in Africa may just not compute for many at the mass media factories' editorial assignment desks. One hopes that's not true, but given the output related to Africa by most major media in the west, it sure seems that way.
Take Kampala, Uganda's excellent 3-day Writivism literary festival. It got exactly zero coverage in the New York Times this year or last. The Times of London didn't mention it either. (It was cited in passing, in a NYT Artsbeat blog entry about Okwiri Oduor, the Kenyan winner of 2014's Caine Prize for African Writing, who directed the inaugural Writivism Literary Festival in 2013.)
There are many, many other examples of this pervasive, pernicious media denial when it comes to Africa; and the NYT and Times of London are not the only or the worst offenders. Be that as it may, you'll be relieved to hear I'm done bitching about this topic for the moment. Instead of cursing the darkness, as my dear departed mom used to implore me, I'll proceed to shed some light on a handful of web sites that focus on art and literature and culture in Africa; most of them are based here in Kampala.
The following list barely scratches the surface of what's available online. There are actually several supertankers-full of such sites, but I don't want to rob you of the joy of discovering some for yourself. Also, for the most part I've let the sites describe themselves because I'm a lazy sot for one, and because, two --- you can type or you can drink crisp, clean, cold Chenin Blanc of the uncannily appropriate African Passion label, but you cannot do both.
(The sites here are weighted toward Uganda because I live here, but there are, of course, great arts, literature and culture sites based throughout Africa and elsewhere that reflect the dazzling hall of mirrors, kaleidoscopic cultural history and ongoing output of the world's second largest continent.)
- Kampala-based Writivism is not merely the producer of the annual, multi-day wordapalooza that attracts writers from all over Africa, but "Since 2012, Writivism has identified, mentored, published and promoted emerging African writers resident on the continent. This has been done through creative writing workshops, online mentoring, newspaper publication of flash fiction, publication of an annual anthology, a schools' programme, and an annual short story prize for short fiction." More information at
- Everyday Africa, "a collection of images shot on mobile phones across the continent, is an attempt to re-direct focus toward a more accurate understanding of what the majority of Africans experience on a day-to-day basis: normal life.... featuring numerous contributing photographers, the project is a response to the common media portrayal of the African continent as a place consumed by war, poverty, and disease. As journalists who are native to Africa or have lived and worked on the continent for years at a time, we find the extreme not nearly as prevalent as the familiar, the everyday."
- "Of course we don't literally believe Africa is a Country. The title of the blog is ironic and is a reaction to old and tired images of Africa. We deliberately challenge and destabilize received wisdom about the African continent and its people in Western media --- that definition includes "old (nationally oriented) media," new social media as well as "global news media." Media here means more than journalism; it is also art, music, film, books, graphic design, etcetera. We don't spend all our time criticizing though. We also celebrate and feature work that we think complicate the old, ahistoric and objectional images. We want to introduce our readers to work by Africans and non-Africans about the continent and its diaspora that have worked against the old and tired images of Africa."
- Start: A Journal of Arts and Culture "is a Kampala-based online journal covering visual arts, performing arts, literature, music and other creative possibilities on the African continent.... The website publishes thematic editions filled with special analysis, art critiques, artist interviews and other stories about the arts and culture scene in Kampala and beyond.... Start offers a forum and a meeting place where different types of contributors present their views on the current art scene from an Afro-centric perspective. Subscribers receive an e-mail with highlights whenever a new edition hits the virtual streets of the net."
- Awesome Tapes From Africa. The name is hyperbole free. This site has long been one of the best --- if not the best --- sources of obscure, hard, perhaps impossible, to find, African music dating back 40 years or more. Hours and days of free and fantastic listening await you. In a masterpiece of understatement the site's inspired operator states, "This is music you won't easily find anywhere else...." Despite its humble appearance, its beyond stellar content puts it in the all time top five of all Web sites EVER.
- "Afropop Worldwide is a Peabody award-winning radio program and online magazine dedicated to music from Africa and the African diaspora.... the radio show is currently distributed by PRI Public Radio International to over 90 stations in the U.S., as well as stations in Europe and Africa. In 1988, Afropop was launched by NPR as a weekly series...[taking] listeners to dynamic music capitals such as Dakar, Senegal; Johannesburg, South Africa; Cairo, Egypt; Havana, Cuba; Salvador de Bahia, Brazil; New York and Paris.... Our vision is to increase the profile of African and African diaspora music worldwide, and to see that benefits from this increased profile go back to artists, music industry professionals, and the countries that produce the music."
- Africa Unchained & Timbuktu Chronicles. "Emeka Okafor is an entrepreneur and venture catalyst who lives in New York City....His interests include sustainable technologies in the developing world and paradigm breaking technologies in general. His blog, Timbuktu Chronicles, seeks to spur dialogue in areas of entrepreneurship, technology and the scientific method as it impacts Africa.... His other blog, Emergent Africa, is inspired by George Ayittey's book Africa Unchained. Both are worth your time.
- This is Africa "This is Africa is a forum for Africans, by Africans, to reclaim our identity, our heritage and our continent's rightful political, economic and cultural position in the globalized world and in the global consciousness....This Is Africa is a label of the This Is Africa Foundation, a Pan-African initiative that supports and develops radio broadcasting across the continent by setting up FM radio stations in marginalized areas of urban Africa for the purpose of giving the 'voiceless' the means to make their voices heard. Our flagship station is Ghetto Radio Nairobi, and the next station is in the pipeline."
- "Another Africa as in its namesake, proclaims that another dimension to Africa exists. This continent, the second largest in the world is most often spoken of in terms of all the woes and troubles faced by its peoples, inhabitants and descendants. It is hard to imagine what could be inspiring or inspired if all that we heard was negative.
"At Another Africa, we are optimists not that we are necessarily a bunch of blithe, slightly sappy whistlers in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage and kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.
"In our case, it is to showcase the creative tour de force of its peoples and supporters, however removed. It is about restoring a respect for the wealth of knowledge stored in its varied cultures and peoples of different colours, races, ethnicities and tribes. It is not about division but rather inclusion. It is about genuine inspiration, shared knowledge and experiences, dialogue, it is about specificity. No longer is it good enough to speak of Africa in monolithic terms, especially in a globalised world. This change begins first and foremost amongst Africans to recognise that there unique histories and cultures are not in competition.
"If we see only the worst in humanity and the story of Africa, it will destroy our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places --- and there are so many --- where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world and the future of Africa in a different direction."
- FEMRITE is " a community of women writers from Uganda, nurturing each other to write novels, short stories, poetry, children's books, true life stories and much more. FEMRITE --- Uganda Women Writers Association is an indigenous Non-Governmental Organisation that promotes women writing in Uganda....The organisation aims at creating and enabling atmosphere for women to write, tell and publish their stories. FEMRITE has since inception spread wings and grown in membership, publishing, training and promoting writers, some of whom have received national and international recognition."
- History In Progress Uganda collects and publishes photographs from (private) collections and archives in and about Uganda. By doing this HIPUganda opens up possibilities to relate to, react on, and think about Uganda's history in photographs. We invite you to comment on what you see. The history of photography in Uganda started during the second half of the 19th century and was initially mainly practiced by explorers, missionaries and, later, the colonial administration. Early 20th century locally run photo-studios started to appear, mostly operated by members of the Asian community in Uganda. "HIPUganda tries to locate collections relevant to the representation of Uganda's past. These collections include colonial archives and personal collections, images made in a professional context that could range from photojournalism to anthropology, the content of shoeboxes and albums, photographs made by Ugandan and non Ugandan professionals and amateurs."
- Top 10 Misconceptions About Africa And here, as a wee bonus, is a list --- cause who doesn't love a list?