I’m BACK! In the last months I’ve been SUPER BUSY- getting settled into my new life as a graduate student at Calarts, testing out the LA terrain, and plotting my take-over. get ready.
I’ve seen a lot of things since I began graduate studies here. I’ve met alot of great people and am in awe of the boundless student talent and vision that surrounds me everyday. But I couldn’t help but address something that was plastered all over the walls of my school when I walked to class one day:
No, this is not the flyer for the Annual Halloween party. This is the flyer for the Afro Beat band at my school. Yea, you heard it right. AFRO-BEAT. The musical movement born out of Fela Kuti’s activism and outright opposition to government corruption, coercion, and injustice in Nigeria and abroad. This flyer and many others like it, depicted numerous white people in afro-wigs, with splotches of black paint on their bodies, and holding jars of salsa. Call me uptight but I’m not sure how anything in these flyers relates to Afro-Beat.
This is something that I’ve been seeing more and more lately. Art forms with inherent cultural, political meanings have become fodder; emptied of their substance and existing importance for white people to feel some sort of worth or fun while participating in them.
These flyers demonstrate an extreme void on the behalf of the students who created them. A void in understanding the art form they claim to be a part of. Afro-Beat was never about making a mockery of black people or dressing up in afro-wigs. It was, and still is, a call to arms, a 20-minute protest-song by Fela Kuti where he admonishes the neo-colonial corruption in Nigeria and the world, it’s a passionate chant of pride, and a complex fusion of congas, saxophones, Yoruba influences, jazz, and highlife. Its conception came as a result of Fela’s immersion in the teachings of Malcolm X and the Black Power Movement. So, how if these students claim to play in an “afro-beat” band, would they EVER create a flyer such as this? It’s really beyond me. I’m not against different races of people participating in cultural art forms, but why not approach them with respect. Why not research their socio-political foundations and not merely assume they exist as a pastime for contemporary interests. Seeing flyers like this shows there’s no real acknowledgment of this, but rather an offensive artistic appropriation of sorts.
Afro-Beat was never art created for arts sake. It was always art created for the sake of the people, the uncovering of injustice, and against all dominant powers. When people approach this music from a limited, “artsy” perspective, thinking they are just playing a musical genre and not continuing a legacy, posters like this get created and posted around an entire school. At some point, one has to understand that art doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is many times connected to the struggles of people all over the world, especially in the case of people of color. It is my belief that the artistic practices of students at my school will be heightened when this is understood.