Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive


“Some Europeans who love Africa love it for exoticism”

Malian singer, Rokia Traore comments on the response to her decision to move from traditional Malian music to a more contemporary mix of African and European music.

“Some Europeans who love Africa love it for exoticism,” “Anything modern doesn’t interest them. I don’t know why they don’t realise that the traditional and the modern can exist alongside each other. I think they have an image of Africa which they don’t want to change. It’s horrible. It’s the same all over Europe, but France is the worst because here there’s that pretension of knowing Africa.

If they tried to think about it objectively they would be ashamed of themselves. They have decided how African music is supposed to be. So, when a European musician goes to Africa to make a record because he wants a different sound, then it’s amazing, it’s genius. But when an African does something with a European inspiration, it’s not normal.

Rokia Traore

Rokia plays in London at the Koko in Camden Town on Tuesday

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  1. Nii

    I understand where Rokia is coming from, but frankly the less attention paid to others' perceptions of what is or what isn't the better. I doubt many non Africans waste thier times thinking or worrying about what Africans think of them. Rokia, concentrate on your music, traditional (whatever that means) or otherwise and let the commentators knock themselves out with what they think of Africa.

  2. Sokari

    Nii@ I agree but it is not a case of “worrying” – the important thing is to speak out which is what she is doing. Or is she supposed to be silent? I never understand statements like yours which imply people should just be quiet about what is happening around them.

  3. Nii

    🙂 Sokari, Of course she has the right to speak out and she is perhaps right in voicing that concern. Even more so if that concern revolves around the abuse of human rights. This to me is a perception issue, which we can try to change but should not expend too much energy on.

    I put up a post recently on African street fashion. In hindsight i wish i had delved a bit more into what Rokia alluded to. The fashion industry outside Africa almost always features african fashion and African prints like aso oke, kente, mud cloth etc as “tribal” or exotic. There is very little aknowledgement of fashion coming out of the continent that does not fit neatly into this “tribal” narrative.

    This is 2010, we can do our bit by sharing some of these trends which perhaps others' do not consider as African, as bloggers etc. We can lead the camel (or is it a horse? 🙂 ) to the water but we cannot force it to drink. At that point, i feel we need to stop worrying about others' perceptions and concentrate on scaling the heights of excellence in our various fields.

    Oga, i feel the youth in Capetown or the Gentlemen of Bacongo should continue to wear thier brand of street fashion with pride, without worrying about wheather the catwalks in Paris, Milan, London or Tokyo are interested in featuring thier styles or not.

  4. Sokari

    Nii@ Yes, we should not be wasting too much energy on what other people think – just be aware and let them deal with their own prejudices and stereotypes! And you are right about fashion which can also be applied to art – this thing they call “African Art” 🙂

  5. While I understand her plight, you can't entirely fault Westerners for being interested in our “exotic” culture, our otherness. In fact it is what also attracts many young Afros to Western music genres. When I was in my country, Hiphop appealed to me for its otherness, it was exotic and allowed me to escape the harsh realities around me. Consider also the fact that a punk rocker from Africa would have to go up against a lot more competition to get recognized in the West than a traditional Kora player. That said there have been Felas, Alpha Blondys, Dibangos who have taken their African cultures to the world by using a Western musical vocabulary. So it just means that as an African rapper if I'm not as compelling as a US recording artist then I can't expect people to pay me attention.
    We have to be so good that they are compelled to recognize our talent. Then again I'm not excusing the myopic vision of musical tastemakers in the West but even with their own they seldom take risks.
    With technology, let's level the playing field and create our own content. Their attention will follow. I know I just repeated the previous point but I hope I've added some value to the conversation.

  6. Sokari

    There is nothing exotic about “African culture” – people deem it that way and I could just as well view English culture as exotic. Its offensive. For sure enjoy and celebrate other people's culture but dont define and racialise it. Let people play music and we enjoy.

  7. Agreed, to an African, there's nothing exotic about their own culture but inasmuch as exotic means foreign, then to a non African it may be so. Agreed, to an African English culture maybe be exotic. We just don't think of it that way due to a warped power relationship. The same maybe said of Asian music. Exotic isn't intrinsically a bad thing but when it becomes limiting of people's perspective then it's an issue. At any rate we all agree that the music or the art should speak for itself.
    BTW, how does calling something exotic racialise it? Can a person listen without trying to define what they are hearing?
    I think I'm agreeing with you on the whole but a little more digging is always enlightening 🙂

  8. Sokari

    Serge @ thats my point – people who exoticise cannot listen without trying to define what they are listening to and assign their beliefs on that music – their desire to “eat the other” to “become the other” –

  9. We must crawl before we can walk, how can a person desire to become the other without first coming at it from their own perspective. Theoretically it sounds good but practically I don't know if people actually do it. As open minded as I am, I often depart from my own presuppositions before a compelling narrative forces me to confront said presuppositions. Again, this has nothing to do with the idea of judging art on its own merit but the process of getting it right is not always obvious. Don't we all exoticise at first?

  10. Sokari

    Personally no, I dont exoticise and I am talking of a consistent way of viewing art, people, culture etc not individual judgments which we all make at some time and even then if we are at least aware that is what we are doing we can check ourselves which is what you are doing. There are people who do not do that.

  11. sesli

    thank you admin.

  12. retjoun

    I agree with Sokari about there being absolutely nothing exotic about African culture. Exotic is a nicer word for backward, not modern. Rokia is right, especially where she points the finger at France and the French.

    The same thing is true in terms of racism in France. They say “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,” therefore they can't be racist. Except they are, despite the slogan.