Breaking Down the Black Myth

The Harlem Renaissance emerged in the 1920s and became synonymous with “The New Negro Movement” and the new African -American middle class. Harlem was most recognized for its jazz culture and popular nightclubs such as the Apollo Theater, the Savoy, and the Cotton Club. Musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald embodied the evolving talent of the Jazz movement. The Harlem Renaissance paved the way and influenced generations of artists and political activists who strove to fight racism and socio-economic inequality.  Today the cultural landscape of the neighborhood has transformed significantly, with the increasing influx of African immigrants. The definition of Black culture is shifting, as more African immigrants make Harlem their home.  Are African Americans and recent African immigrants making social and cultural connections?  Or are the differences too wide to connect?

Check out this short film we’ve made on the topic:

*Special thanks to all the Harlem residents and New School students who participated! And a big thank you to our professor, Sean Jacobs.

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Winnie: Yep, another biopic

Here we go. Another biopic surrounding Nelson Mandela, but this time, Hollywood is tackling the story of his ex-counterpart, Winnie Mandela. While the real Winnie Mandela has expressed her dissatisfaction with the film for not portraying her story accurately, I’m mostly aghast at the choice of actors who play the Mandelas. While we can all get into a debate over Jennifer Hudson’s Oscar worthiness in Dreamgirls, I will say that such a powerful story needs to be played by a powerful actress and I’m not sure that Ms. Hudson is up for the challenge. Furthermore, it is laughable that Terrence Howard would be the first pick for Nelson Mandela. This is all compounded by the fact that his acting is subpar, and his attempt at a South African accent is cringe worthy.

Appearances aside, I find it alarming that filmmaker, Darrell Roodt, would take a story as moving and poignant as Winnie Mandela’s and treat it with such nonchalance. As a native South African man-and even as a simple human being who knows the complexities of undertaking the telling of this story- I hoped that he would have been meticulous bordering on maniacal with respect to getting this done right. While my rant may be premature, the trailer does little to rest my fears that this story will be served with a semblance of justice.

What are your thoughts?

mandela wedding

mandela wedding

winnie movie wedding

winnie movie

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Sister Fa

Sister Fa

Fatou Diatta, better known as Sister Fa is the one of the few female pioneers of Senegalese hip-hop. Breaking into the typically male-dominated industry of African rap, she has become the spokesperson for women, the poor and the oppressed in her native Dakar. Her rhymes often focus on human rights and social justice issues. Using both Wolof and French to write her poetry, the successful rapper has inspired many to embrace the insights of female artists in Africa. Check out Milyamba, a song that describes the difficulties of being a Senegalese woman living in the country side.


For more info about this Hip-hop Queen, watch “My Name is Sister Fa”:

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Freedom or Prosperity?

Media coverage in Rwanda has faced many challenges since the tragedy of the 1994 genocide.  Rwandan President Paul Kagame allows very little, if no freedom of the press. Such media outlets as The Economist, The BBC and other publications have expressed their plight to freely express their views of the country and its government. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has worked to expose this censorship.

In the August 2010 elections, Kagame won another 7-year term as President. However, journalists were unable to document this as the government systematically shut down all media outlets and drove correspondents out of the country by use of intimidation and scare tactics. 

Paul Kagame, illustration by: Kerry Waghorn


“Any critical news coverage had been squashed”, according to the CPJ.  What did eventually make it to the papers was the coverage of Kagame’s contenders, many of who were somehow tied to him politically and posed no real competition, as they did not truly challenge his agenda. Clearly, the Rwandan government has something to hide.

According to the CPJ, 17 journalists have been killed in Rwanda since 1992.  This past April, Rwandan independent publication Umuseso faced 6 months of suspension and the paper’s editors faced criminal charges. Charles Kobonero, one of the editors for Umuseso, was formally charged with “public insult” back in 2006 after writing a series of articles criticizing Kagame’s government. Though charges of “divisionism” were eventually dropped, Kobonero still faced a harsh sentence for bringing attention to the network of political influence within the Rwandan government.

Photo source: Committee to Protect Journalists

According to the CPJ, editors cannot publish if they have a criminal record under Rwandan law. As conditions grew to be more perilous, the editors were ultimately forced to publish from exile and created a new publication called Newsline. Attempts by the government were made to block the paper from getting into the hands of the Rwandan people. Despite the difficulties, copies managed to be downloaded from emails and circulated.

It would seem that despite Rwanda’s great progress, Kagame’s government continues to roadblock transparency. One could argue that this kind of governing is necessary to gain complete control over a rather chaotic and violent period of time in Rwandan history. But to what extent should the government continue to rule with such an iron fist?  Rwanda continues down a path of prosperity and has made great strides toward a future free from violence, crime and racism. Does this mean that freedom of press and freedom of expression must be sacrificed?

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Celebrity Africa

photo from Anansi Chronicles.

What does your favorite celeb do their spare time? Save Africa, of course.

Check out this blog on African business and culture trends.

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Dambisa Moyo: A Critical Commentary

Dambisa Moyo is an international economist and author of the best seller: Dead Aid. According to Moyo, aid has been disadvantageous for Africa. Though she feels that humanitarian or emergency aid may be helpful, these forms of aid do not prove to be useful as long-term solutions. Her book investigates the fostering of corruption via monetary assistance and the stifling of economic growth. Moyo has said aid does not encourage “an entrepreneurial spirit” in Africa and that it should eventually be phased out.

Many have criticized Moyo’s book, calling it “over-optimistic” and “reckless” and claim it underestimates the economic limitations of the continent. Moyo has been personally criticized as someone who cares more about her own political success than that of the very subject she addresses in her book.

You can find out more about Moyo on facebook, youtube, and

Check out this Munk debate between Moyo and Paul Collier:

Click here for a critical audio commentary on Dambisa Moyo.

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Semba’s Shining Star

Yuri Da Cunha is a household name in Angola, and is on his way to becoming an international star. He has taken the older Angolan genre of semba music and modernized its appeal to urban youth. His lingering vocals combined with his fluid dance style have captured fans from Angola to Portugal. The combination of dance styles from the Congo, Brazil and the United states can only be described in one word: Fresh. He sings in Portuguese and mixes Angolan languages into his songs, making his music more accessible to fans. Yuri calls himself a “People Artist”, and credits his music’s inspiration to the daily lives of people in Angola. Growing up amongst poverty in Luanda, Yuri vows to remain close to the place of his upbringing. By pledging to live in his hometown, he hopes to bring attention to the needs of his community.

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Chris Blattman

On November 12th The New School Study Group on Economics and Security featured Chris Blattman, an Assistant Professor of Political Science & Economics at Yale. Blattman uses field work and statistics to study poverty, political participation, the causes and consequences of violence, and policy in developing countries. He concentrates on development and security in Africa, while focusing on Liberia and Uganda.

Chris Blattman

On Friday, Blattman discussed the consequences of child soldiering. Child soldiers are forcibly recruited through abduction and vary from ages 12-20. They are often targeted and trained as soldiers since it is likely that they will remain loyal to the cause . In Uganda, these militias are surprisingly encompassed with spirituality.  “When you’re not fighting, you’re praying.” Missions are often promoted as being religious in nature, which disguises the true motives behind the violence. Children are easily manipulated and forced to commit atrocious crimes and are often shamed into continuing these violent acts.

Surprisingly, Blattman found that child soldiers are empowered to vote, and they often become political activists in their community.  Blattman discussed this when he described “PTG” (Post Traumatic Growth). Despite the difficulties these children have endured, this experience ironically sparks an energy that makes them want to succeed in their communities.

To find out more, check out Chris Blattman’s blog at

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Mulatu Astatke

Known to many as the father of Ethio-jazz, Mulatu Astatke has been making people move with the fusion of jazz, Latin and traditional Ethiopian music. His albums consist mainly of instrumental music showcasing the sounds of the vibraphone and conga drums as well as keyboards and organs. Parisian record label Buda Musique released a series called Ethiopiques, which exposed Astatke to the Western music scene and gained his work international notoriety.  Astatke has also collaborated with many hip-hop artists including Nas, Damien Marley, Cut Chemist, Quantic, Madlib, and Knaan.

Check out this 2008 performance in London:

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Conflicting Stories: A Look at the Conflict Diamond Debate

“Africans need this industry”-Russell Simmons, Founder of Def Jam Records and current CEO of Simmons Jewelry Co.

Adam Hochschild’s brief piece on the diamond industry, entitled, “The Blood Diamond Myth” would have the reader believe that they are going to indulge in an exploratory piece of journalism that navigates its way through a controversial topic, debunking fallacies and proffering new explanations. Instead Hochschild presents a flaccid argument surrounding the war ravaged Congo, saying that efforts to rebuke the diamond industry would only leave meagerly paid miners without jobs. He furthers his argument by likening a boycott against the diamond industry to past humanitarian efforts, suggesting that it is merely the topic du’jour of this decade.

Some would agree with Hochschild that the solution may not rest solely with eradicating the industry as a whole. Many people rely on the diamond trade as a source of income. In the proper hands with the proper governance, the conflict that we see today could be tempered so that we see growth in revenue instead of growth in violence. Music mogul, Russell Simmons, is one public figure who echoes similar sentiments as Adam. In 2006 he and then wife, Kimora Lee Simmons, announced that their jewelry company, Simmons Jewelry Co., would launch the “Green Initiative“, a capsule collection of malachite and diamond bracelets with 25% of proceeds being donated to selected African charities.

Simmons staunchly defended his use of diamonds in his jewelry line, saying simply that, “Africans need this industry.” (CBS News, 2006) While it is unclear how and or why an entire continent needs an industry that only a select few countries actually participate in, it is to be assumed that Mr. Simmons feels that his use of diamond jewelry and charitable donations is enough to ignore the surge in rebel violence, with many Congolese men being killed, women being raped, and children being turned into child-rebel soldiers.

Recently the NY Times ran an op-ed piece on conflict minerals from the DRC that shed light on the mining industry and its link to violence. While many people I know personally have vowed to abstain from buying diamonds, the article noted that almost all of us contribute to the war that rages on. Many cell phones, computers, and gaming devices use the minerals tantalum and tin, which are peddled to supply chains by Congolese warlords. As I sit here typing this article on my Macbook Pro (with my iPhone next to it) I may be just as culpable as someone buying blood stones.

The solution, as to be expected, is convoluted. What Adam Hochschild suggests is a reorganization of the government so that the poor have access to the country’s wealth. This is a sort of “well duh, of course!” panacea for a country knee-deep in bloody violence and outrage. Doing away with the diamond industry is not a cure-all either. Wars won’t end just because we all start wearing cubic zirconium. But to deny the correlation is dangerous. To sit idly by and hope that the DRC government suddenly does right by its people, is disastrous.  Demand more.

To learn more about what you can do, check out Enough Project.

To learn more about conflict minerals, check out the video below:

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