Steve Babaeko is the CEO & Chief Creative Officer, X3M Ideas and a Visiting Fellow at the Henley Business School, University of Reading.
Africa, the birthplace of humanity, has always been a source of fascination for the Western world. Whether it’s as a subject of scientific and cultural curiosity, the continent with diverse wildlife, landscapes, ethnicity and culture has over centuries found itself welcoming a legion of explorers, anthropologists and naturalists seeking to explore its array of natural gifts, albeit at a vicious cost.
A brutal exploitation of its people and resources in the form of the transatlantic slave trade and forced labor in mines and plantations meant the continent endured years of dilution of its identity—historical, religious and, especially, cultural. Notably, African artifacts and art collected during this time were displayed in European museums and galleries, often without proper context or acknowledgement of their cultural significance. Similar experiences are recorded in popular culture, where Africa and Africans tolerated gross stereotypical misrepresentation in Western media.
Shifts In Popular Culture
History, however, shows Africa has been no pushover in influencing remarkable shifts in popular culture. Jazz music, which first appeared in the late 19th and early 20th century, for instance, has its firm roots in African music, as it borrows heavily from African folk music and culture. The distortion of history (or lack of authentication) has meant many of these influences have largely gone unnoticed and uncelebrated, unfortunately.
It is therefore interesting that Africa is yet again finding itself at the center stage of an emerging cycle of global influence. The Economist notes that there is increasing worldwide recognition and interest in African pop culture, encompassing music, film, fashion, arts and cuisine.
Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry, has become the world’s second-largest film industry in terms of output, surpassing Hollywood and trailing only Bollywood. Its films enjoy widespread popularity across Africa and beyond, reaching places like the United States, the United Kingdom and China. The African film and audiovisual sector is projected to create 20 million jobs and generate annual revenues of $20 billion, according to UNESCO’s report.
Likewise, African music has achieved remarkable global success, with genres such as Afrobeat, Afrobeats, amapiano, African pop and high-life gaining immense popularity. Renowned artists such as Burna Boy, DJ Maphorisa, Tems, Wizkid and others have won international awards, garnered millions of streams and views, and collaborated with global stars like Beyoncé and Drake. African musicians now wield unprecedented influence on the global stage, with increased demand for their collaborations and a notable presence at prestigious events like the Grammy Awards and international music festivals.
Furthermore, African-inspired fashion has also gained traction worldwide, with prints and designs from the continent finding popularity in fashion weeks held in major cities like Paris, New York and London.
The Role Of Marketing And Advertising
Interestingly, marketing communication and advertising have also assumed significant positions in amplifying African pop culture globally. Through various promotional campaigns, African artists and cultural products have gained visibility and recognition worldwide. Marketing and advertising strategies have helped showcase African pop culture as a unique, vibrant and diverse array of artistic expressions, ultimately challenging stereotypes and presenting a positive image of Africa to the world.
Our understanding of this new bridge between the advertising landscape and Africa’s pop culture elevation has seen us use various Afrobeats songs in my company’s campaigns in recent years. And to great effect and results. For example, one such pivotal strategy was our licensing of a hit record for a telecommunications TVC in Nigeria.
How Marketers And Advertisers Can Embrace African Pop Culture
For business leaders who want to embrace African pop culture, make sure to approach it with respect and a willingness to learn. It is crucial to understand the cultural significance of the art forms and products you want to promote and avoid appropriating them for commercial gain. Here are some good first steps to take:
1. Research and engage with African pop culture.
Take the time to learn about the cultural significance and history of African pop culture. Attend events, festivals and exhibitions that showcase African music, film, fashion and arts. Engage with African creators and artists to understand their creative process and vision.
2. Collaborate with African creators, and amplify African voices.
Partner with African creators and artists to develop campaigns that authentically showcase their work. And use your platform to amplify the voices of African creators and artists through your social media channels, website and other marketing materials.
This will not only help to promote African pop culture but also create opportunities for African creators to gain visibility and recognition.
3. Avoid stereotyping, and work with sensitivity.
Be mindful of the stereotypes that have historically plagued African representation in popular culture. Avoid using cliche or offensive imagery and language that perpetuates negative stereotypes.
It is also important to note that there are challenges that come with embracing African pop culture. These include navigating cultural differences, language barriers and the potential for cultural appropriation. To overcome these challenges, it is important to approach the work with sensitivity and respect, engage with African creators and communities, and be open to feedback and critique.
Marketing and communication play a crucial role in promoting African pop culture and ensuring that it reaches a wider audience. Effective marketing strategies can help to showcase the unique and authentic aspects of African culture while bridging the gap between different cultures and promoting understanding and appreciation.
By leveraging marketing and communication, truly African stories and values can be shared with the world, while also ensuring that the culture remains true to its roots. Ultimately, marketing and communication are essential tools for promoting African pop culture and ensuring that it continues to thrive in the global arena.