A few days before the New York rapper Cardi B arrived with much fanfare in Lagos, Nigerian-American rapper Jidenna had shared a video of himself crossing the street in the major urban thoroughfare Admiralty Way in the Lekki neighborhood of Lagos, referring to it as a “concrete jungle.”
Perhaps unfamiliar with the expression, some young Nigerians online took strong exception to him referring to any part of their city as a “jungle”. The various reactions were swift and went viral, quickly devolving into arguments between people who had no issues with his use of the expression and those who did.
The reaction to Jidenna’s tweet is typical of the collective eyeroll many young Africans online give to misrepresentations in the media on everything from gratuitous imagery of poor people to inaccurate international media coverage on their countries’ politics. Although Jidenna’s comments were not at all at par with the inanity of Atlanta rap group Migos’ “third world” comments on a radio show after their 2017 performance in Lagos, it also perhaps shows what made Cardi B and her recent trip to Lagos and Accra so refreshing.
Not for her staying in the air-conditioned comfort of her hotel until her performance, the Bronx, New York rapper took some time to see the city. She did a meet-and-greet with young media personalities. She had a wild, unscheduled night of debauchery at a high-profile strip club and even hung out with the strippers afterward.
She drove around the city and cracked jokes with locals she met. She even donated to a local orphanage and took photos with the orphanage staff, while sparing us all photos of poor black children. Even when she got sick on her trip to Ghana and missed a seemingly-unscheduled meet-and-greet with local celebrities, she was apologetic and rearranged her schedule to meet with them before her show.
What made Cardi B’s visit so interesting was not that she visited at all. Lagos and Accra have received a fair bit of international entertainers over the past few years. Artists including Skepta, Toni Braxton, Chris Brown, and Ciara have all traveled to Lagos over the last few years.
Ghana’s Year of Return is expected to attract 500,000 visitors, up from 380,000 in 2018. Music and the arts are a big draw to both cities, with AfroNation and Afrochella festivals in Accra, and the various literary, art and fashion festivals like Ake, ArtX and Lagos Fashion Week.
The real novelty of her visit was her treating these places as she would have done anywhere else: besides just performing, she took time to relax and have fun, and then put it all on Instagram stories. She made the places she visited look like fun places to be. The positive reaction to her visit from many young Nigerians online —she’s been given the nickname Chioma B for how willingly she embraced Nigeria — shows just what it means to have been seen so clearly.
The more young Africans become more visible in the cultural space, the more human Africans — and by extension — where they live — will be in the western cultural imagination. A large part of the reason why representations of Africa will get more nuanced is that there are now more people of African descent in the diaspora and out of it telling more and more multifaceted stories.
The children of the wave of African immigrants in the 1980s and 90s to the United States are beginning to show up in mainstream American entertainment with stars including Issa Rae (born to a Senegalese father and American mother) and Yvonne Orji (born to Nigerian parents) on HBO’s Insecure now in its fourth season and yes, artists like Jidenna.
This past decade has also seen a strong yearning for new images of Africa backed by actual investment. Young Africans with ties to the diaspora are using social media to document and share their experiences and connect, as well as share their own stories through their own publications.
Popular music from across the continent is entering a golden age, making waves globally and helping to foster linkages across the Global South that hitherto would have been impossible unmediated by western engagement. This means that, in time, people will find each other in a more unfiltered manner. And that’s a great thing.