Western Media and the Influence of Pop Culture in Africa

Photo credit: jiunn kang too

by Gp-O’bikoto, August 17, 2017

Art and culture has been used as a tool to reflect ideas, knowledge, message, struggles, and to inspire change for centuries years around the world. People have been learning through works of literature both oral and written–from Shaaban Roberts and Malenga Wapya, to Chinua Achebe and Onyeuwenyo in Nigeria. The music played by Bi kidude, Mbaraka Mwinshehe, Xplastaz and Mr.II in Tanzania reflected the knowledge and struggles of a given society. Unfortunately, this powerful role has been terminated by the individual interests and selfishness fostered by media houses throughout the continent.

In Tanzania, for instance, the media is owned by private individuals, companies, politicians and non-government organizations, which play a great role in shaping and controlling the people’s culture. Foreign media content is freely obtained by our local media. We borrow news, information, and programs from the West and air them to local communities. The same stories of poverty, hunger, and starvation perceived by the West is swallowed and passed along to Tanzanians. Individualism and the self-interest of politicians and business owners allow a free flow of western cultures for the sake of money.

Arts as a creative form of human expression, skills, and imagination to portray one’s realities and the society is expected to rely on the morals, ethics, and values accepted by a belonging community or nation. This deep understanding is less attached to many individuals and media outlets in the country. Our people’s identity of culture and nationality is hardly visualized in this environment.

It gets hard to identify a certain culture of indigenous people due to the interference and domination of foreign cultures. The interaction of different cultures from abroad has led to the dismantling of indigenous cultural practices, especially in the urban areas of Africa. The intrusion of western culture through media influence has turned most societies to slaves of unknown culture. The so called pop culture, which is highly focused on the youth, has been a fostering engine to changes in lifestyles, fashion, behavior, ethical values, and beliefs in the African world.

The spiritual rituals, ceremonies, traditional songs and dance are now replaced with Halloween parties and nightclubs. The bonfire chants and storytellings have been replaced by western radio and television programs. In the evening, Tanzanian children turn on their TV screens and watch the Philippino or European love films. The perceptions of African society’s beauty, behavior, and how we view the world are all shaped by western media influence.

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“A portrayed lifestyle of celebrities like Lady Gaga, Tyga, Lil Wayne, and Drake is of no use to a Tanzanian child.”

African media emulates and swallows what the western media portrays to them. They barely choose what to air or publish in public. They have become people who wait to be spoon fed with stories not only from Europe and Asia, but also from our own continent. We can’t tell and write our own stories the way we see them, and, as a result, our young men and women fuse slowly into the ways and acts of alien cultures.

One could raise claims that the changes and adaptations are due to cultural dynamics and global interactions. He or she can be correct on one side, but the change in culture must only be valued if it is of positive impact, respectful and acceptable to one’s community or society in which it interacts. Failure to be so means that it will only be a distraction.

Many of the Tanzanian and other African countries have experienced the interference of western culture from the early 16th centuries. In Africa, some societies were forced to abandon their culture by force during the colonial era. Others were denied rights and even exterminated when trying to defend their territories, for example the Isike and Mkwawa, in Tanganyika to Mwenemutapa in southern Africa. The Asante in Ghana and Ndebeles in Zimbabwe and so on.

The flood of slavery and colonialism gave no chance to traditional practices; neither the museums nor architectures were spared. In other parts of Africa, the assimilation policy was applied as people of a common culture were totally diffused into another culture.

The domination of one culture over another began its new trend in the late 90’s after independence was followed by the open market and western media operations which brought about a continuation of exploitation and imposing of western culture and values to the indigenous cultures throughout the continent. We re-named it neo-colonialism.

Our young children have now become pop culture practitioners. They are automatically praising and living the ways of Europeans, which has totally destroyed their lifestyles, behaviors, and respect for their own communities. They are no longer behaving and acting in the ways that are morally accepted by their society. They have changed the way they think, act, dress, and believe in all aspects. The elders have been overcome by the media power in such a manner that it plays a crucial role in shaping and building the young.

A portrayed lifestyle of celebrities like Lady Gaga, Tyga, Lil Wayne, and Drake is of no use to a Tanzanian child. The influence of such celebrities by media whose songs are embracing and praising weed, drugs, alcohol, and money will only lead to cultural deterioration in an African environment. An African child who is expected to learn the skills of farming, live stocking or fishing will get nothing from crap music and the western celebrity lifestyle.

While the media acts as a pumping machine towards the spread of western culture worldwide, African archivists, writers, artists, and cultural historians are raising questions on the present state of their indigenous cultures and its future. Thankfully, they are now driving us all to think, re-write, and be a part of our own stories to prevent them from disappearing.

Gp-O’bikoto is an indigenous hip-hop artist and community activist from Arusha, Tanzania. He is the founder of the community organization Mstaafrika Arts, Music, and Culture, which is based in Arusha.





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