09 Oct AFROMODERNISM: WHY NIGERIAN IS THE NEW COOL
Across the globe, the subculture of what is now popularly known as Afromodernism is growing at a rapid pace and with particular attention on all things Nigerian. Nigerian people are making huge strides across vibrant world industries and popular culture is adjusting its radar to include Nigerian- inspired art, fashion, music and literature. This probably comes as no surprise to some as Pan-Africanism was a thing in the 60’s and 70’s and Afrocentrism was particularly vibrant in the 90’s, a track record that suggests we’ve had this in the works for a while. Perhaps our grandparents may smirk at these developments with irreverence, wondering why the world just caught up with Nigeria’s originality; they were the ones around when a pound had the same value as one naira and also when the Queen visited and they realized she didn’t recognize the value of our colored Adire and “bottom-box” Aso-oke. We, on the other hand were immensely proud to have heard Chimamanda’s famous “We Should All Be Feminists” speech sampled on Beyonce’s “Flawless”, cheered on our fashion designers, models, artists, etc as they excelled around the world and Wizkid, our Afrobeats purveyor, can do no wrong. Nigeria is a strong identity and little wonder, the world has caught the bug.
To be Nigerian is to be many things; to be eccentric, dogged, defensive, opinionated, versatile and persevering. The Nigerian identity that many are so proud of when we see an European savoring some “jollof rice” or attempting to speak Pidgin is the same that they will not hesitate to shed for a foreign visa or hard currency. This conflict in ideology may deter others but not a Nigerian. They talk about their problems incessantly, are the first to berate themselves and are brutally honest about the Nigerian situation. Poor beginnings are almost a thing of pride but that’s only because perseverance and determination are also ingrained in the nation’s societal core. Considering that we held ourselves more in contempt and many generations ago, some Nigerians ‘shamelessly’ migrated in droves, it is no surprise that Nigerians are paving the way for Africanism to take roots. They go wherever but their core identity remains and so they begin to unravel; sharing their truths and leaving their marks on the world. They are numbered, they are tenacious and they are original.
Skepta and Wizkid’s video, ‘Bad Energy’, a visual representation of Nigerian modernism
Chimamanda Adichie in Wanger Ayu
Looking closely at the Nigerians making waves abroad, it can be observed that they tell authentic stories. Chimamanda Adichie consistently references her childhood in Nsukka and her birthplace in Enugu. Places she has known, stories that form the basis of her childhood. Her activism is supported around the world but her strongest examples consist of Nigerian stories. Tomi Adeyemi did not grow up in Nigeria but Nigerian folktales she was told stayed long enough in her memory to create Children of Blood and Bone, a story of magic and Nigerian Orishas, a #1 New York’s Bestseller. Wizkid’s hit track ‘Ojuelegba’ that propelled him to global fame was a tribute to his early days in his neighborhood, Nigerian designer Amaka Osakwe manufactures her Adire fabrics and employs native materials and motifs in her designs, she employs local artisans that understand and respect the beauty in her trade and the pride of a preserved heritage so that her brand ‘Maki Oh’ is a traditional hallmark celebrated the world over. The list goes on and on. The world sees something to relate to in the ingenuity of the craftsman, and that is why Nigerian is the new cool.
Realizing there is more to showcase is a strategic opportunity for Nigeria. In spite of current economic maladies, high crime rates, poor governance and national security risks, most visitors can only see a diamond in the rough. Naomi Campbell on her last visit proposed a Vogue Africa, having experienced the freshness of the African vibe firsthand. More Nigerians are breaking limits in sports, education, healthcare and several other industries. The way Nigerians speak, the cuisine, the culture, the looks, the dressing are all currently points of global interest. More importantly, Nigerians who are being internationally recognized are coming home to re-identify with their roots and bring their crafts home. There’s no gainsaying what that will do to encourage creativity and the can-do spirit in young people over time. Nigerians who are usually known for skepticism need this jarring, this awakening to remind them that those who succeed abroad were made in Nigeria-and we are the giants of Africa, after all.
All photos culled from Instagram.