One of the current more popular TV programs among African youth is the Idol East Africa. As is characteristic of several things African, Idol East Africa presents a detailed imitation of the American Idol competition. Swinging between fake American and British accents, while desperately, but unsuccessfully striving to mask their African accents, one judge sits on the fence much like American Randy Jackson, another desperately tries to present himself as the mean Simon Cowell, while the third pretends to sympathize with the contestants just as Paula Abdul would.
As each contestant files in to perform, he is subjected to the judgmental glare of the eminent jurists. Depending on how Americanized the contestant’s general appearance is, s/he is either met with an appreciative eye dim by the male folks, a delightful squeal of ‘you look so cute’ by the female judge, or a condescending reception by the trio.
The case of the Dar es Salaam auditioning where majority of the contestants were more fluent in Swahili than English, is worth mentioning. Several of the contestants babbled along in incomprehensible grammar, mixing up their ‘l’ and ‘r’; as in ‘ploud’ instead ‘proud’ or ‘cereblate’ instead of ‘celebrate’. At such mispronunciation, the judges often burst out in laughter, ending with “apologies” to the contestant that even though s/he might have a terrific voice, s/he lacked global appeal, thus earning a disqualification. It should have been made clear from the onset that a perfect knowledge of the English language was the major criterion for entering the contest.
Another noticeable trend in the East African Idol is that the more skimpily dressed and ‘Westernized’ a lady looks, the better her chances of getting selected by the benchmen, even with a little more than a croak in the form of singing. The posh looking contestants were noticeably allotted more time than others. With ladies baring cleavages, navels and midriffs, and the men often appearing like street urchins; all comically try to gesticulate and modulate like American artistes. The few who dared to be original by performing African songs and dances or by trying a unique blend of African, Asian or European beats were almost booed by the judges and asked to go get their acts together.
Not surprisingly, the East African Idol competition represents the political, economic and social situation in Africa today; a predominance of the culture of self-deprecation and a servile worship of Europe and America. The unfortunate Euro-American hero-worship of certain crack addicts, men and women of shallow intellectual prowess lacking in moral values, whose only stake to fame and fortune is in their often cosmetically procured features, is gradually becoming the rave among African youth. Conversely, indigenous Africa places much emphasis on intellectual achievement, entrepreneurship and team work. Character building is highly regarded in African philosophy, and talent without character is usually never acknowledged. Chinua Achebe displays this clearly in the Things Fall Apart with the illustration of the great flutist Unoka, Okonkwo’s father.
While there is nothing inherently wrong in borrowing a foreign platform to showcase African talents to the world, caution must be exercised in ensuring that what is presented to the world is not a façade, an inferiority complex laden show that strives to mask the true African values, personality and culture. A show submerged in a Euro-American model that has mostly failed its youth, leaving them often depressed and even suicidal.
The urgency is for the present generation of Africans to push back the ravages of Western domination on the African mind. Globalization has de-mystified Europe and America and Africans are slowly, but steadily beginning to transcend the Hollywood veneer presented as American reality. From the cyber centers in Africa, youth are now privy to the routine marginalization and discrimination of Blacks in the West, they are able to catch a glimpse of the hardships encountered by several Westerners who are up to their neck in debt and suffer from severe loneliness and depression.
What Africa needs is a re-discovery of its real and authentic self through proper education –formal and informal. Indigenous African values, beliefs and knowledge systems must be used as the foundation to develop a modern system that can hold forth as a unique global brand.
First published in June 2008 by NewsAfrica London