Washington DC is full of idealistic former Peace Corps volunteers, Fulbright grantees, and other assorted aid workers and international travelers (often white people) who delight in living vicariously by traveling to various African destinations. They occasionally sample the local cuisine, but can even more reliably be found ensconced in the local dress or viewing the local animals. Typically, their stated aim is to live like a local or to at least better understand them by getting to know their culture. Consequently, having now attended several concerts of major African superstars in the DMV, I find it exceedingly odd that I see none of those people at these shows.
In the past 14 months or so, I have seen pan-African Nigerian superstar entertainers like 2Face, Ice Prince, Jesse Jagz, J. Martins, Wizkid, Banky W, P-Square, and Timaya perform at various DC venues – Howard Theatre, Howard University, Love, and Lux Lounge. The number of non-black (and presumably) non-Africans attending these shows is incredibly limited. It’s entirely possible of the four or so shows of major African performers that I’ve been to, I’ve seen less than ten non-blacks in total. The same thing is also true when I go to clubs that play African music, but that doesn’t get me worked up quite as much.
Most non-Africans with a deep interest in the continent are likely not even familiar with these names. For many Americans to enjoy African music, it must have that traditional feel that more distinctly fulfills the typical stereotype of Africa, perhaps some banging drums that make one feel like they are in a densely populated jungle – not a raunchy, pop love ballad. The next time Fulbright peer reviewers are at work, I hope they will keep this in mind when they read of the countless ways in which the applicant plans to integrate into the local community.
I’ve gone to shows with more ‘underground/hipstery’ African performers at venues like Rock n Roll Hotel on H Street and Tropicalia on U Street. Those crowds have been predominantly white. Lack of familiarity with these performers aside, I suspect the venue also has a great impact on the crowd that turns out. If D’banj toured DC and performed at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium (like Angelique Kidjo and other African musicians that fit the Western stereotypes), I’m confident he’d get a much more diverse crowd than if he went to Howard.
As a white man who enjoys African women, I find the lack of diversity at these shows of Nigerian performers to be great from a personal perspective. However, as someone who has been profoundly influenced by cultural exchange and its transformative power, I find the seas of black faces at these events to be quite troubling:
- It indicates that white people interested in Africa are not interested in its most popular musicians. I should not need to elaborate why this is unhealthy.
- It indicates that the Africans attending these shows most likely do not have many non-black friends.
- It indicates that humanity in general is quite ill at ease in getting out of its comfort zone.
In two things that really matter to people in life – church and entertainment, racial segregation is quite pronounced. This is something that only recently I’ve come to fully appreciate and understand.
Your thoughts readers?