A few years ago I attended a summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that brought together artists and entrepreneurs of African heritage from different parts of the world. I can safely say that I was one of very few delegates from the UK. We were invited to contribute to a cultural policy document that could form part of the African Union’s Agenda 2063. It was a pleasure to meet fellow artists from diverse backgrounds and also to step inside the old Organisation of African Unity’s building and sit in the conference room where many legendary African leaders would have expressed views and formulated policies, way back in the day.
Next to that building stands the brand new African Union premises, erected with Chinese support, which has been in the news recently for controversial reasons, to do with possible bugging of the walls and other forms of espionage (but that’s a cue for another story).
One of the memories that lingers with me the most was my involvement in a recording which included contributions from many of the musicians and singers that attended the event. I never got to hear the outcome of that process. One can only hope and pray for small mercies…
Before the recording was done, there were several singers who felt the need to assert themselves as being highly skilled and talented – possibly beyond the rest of us. I hadn’t been around that sort of energy for quite a while and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the situation.
When the moment came for me to sing my contribution, I used my skills as a singer, composer and instrumentalist all at once in the session and the impact I made on those present was remarkable (even if I say so myself!). The lesson I learnt from the encounter was to do with the self esteem of many UK based African musicians. The fact that the UK record business never gave us the time of day has very little to do with the actual range and breadth of our talents. We need to get out there, tell our stories and sing our songs to the world. You never know who could be listening and where they might be.