New narratives from Africa - shaped by news and investigative reporting, and contemporary art-film

We are always looking for ways to challenge the major narratives of our lives - either through new media and arts techniques, or by the world landing on our doorstep with a new take. Here we’re found both, coming from an African perspective.

Firstly, the New Narratives organisation - a news and investigative agency based in Liberia but with a continent-wide ambition, to have “Africans reporting Africa”. They support and develop journalists who pitch successfully to place stories in African, and Western media. Their great investigative and campaigning achievement was to convince the Liberian government to outlaw female genital mutiliation - but they have a very strong track record of stories beyond that country. The video above showcases a few of their journalists - and their Twitter account is active and informative.

Here’s an extract from their “how we do it” page:

Alfred Sirleaf writes the day’s major headlines on a blackboard for Liberians who cannot afford newspapers.

Alfred Sirleaf writes the day’s major headlines on a blackboard for Liberians who cannot afford newspapers.

The only thing worse than no information is misinform

ation. Africa’s media has been dominated by a “pay for play” business model. Journalists are not paid by employers but instead take “gifts” (essentially bribes) from those they write about. Media is a megaphone for interested parties to spread misinformation that serves their interests, leading to corrupt institutions and the misallocation of resources. New Narratives believes that no media capacity building project can be successful without changing the business model.

New Narratives targets “standard setters” in each media market. In partnership with us, strong, independent media houses are rewarded with larger audiences and more advertising revenue. Their reporters win awards, higher pay and societal acclaim. These create incentives for honest, independent reporting. Rival media is forced to lift their standards to compete.

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Examples of Afrofuturism have been featured quite a bit in A/UK - see here. It’s part of our general interest in wrestling the spirit of “shaping the future” away from techmoguls and governments, and towards the (global) citizenry.

This is a mysterious and powerful example, from visual artist Kordae Henry, featured on the Nowness site, and titled Earth Mother, Sky Father: 2030. The video is below, and below that an extract from the feature:

The Congo: 2030. Welcome to this new and mind-bending sci-fi future where the Central African nation is no longer shipping its unrefined rare earth minerals out to sea, but is keeping its wealth for itself—buried deep within the ground. Filmmaker and VFX artist Kordae Henry's powerful Afro-Futurist dance piece conceives of a historical moment when, as the Jamaican-British-American director explains, "the processes and infrastructure of mining have been revalued and ritualized as an important aspect of local culture. This is Africa's future through dance—a ceremony for the God of Rare Earth."

Featuring acclaimed street dancer Storyboard P playing Woot (a future 'Excavation Programmer'), the inspiration for this techno-ritual film stemmed originally from a New York Times article. "The piece exposed the truth behind the mineral trade and its industry in Africa, explaining how minerals were being exploited from the Congo, refined overseas, and developed into the batteries in our electronic devices" explains the Los Angeles-based director. "That day I was searching through my photographs of my time in Nairobi, where I first was aware how cellphones became one of the largest ways to distribute money through the country. I began to see a future not just for the country, but for the continent."

For Henry, this is about wresting back control, and ownership, of a vitally precious resource—and of the utopian future that such an action would represent. "I remember traveling in Kenya and standing in Nairobi on a vibrant street market near an intersection that looked like an African Times Square. I could feel the energy of this place which resonated with me. Everyone had a story." What if he could tap into these latent energies, transforming "legacies from the past in order to change the future"?

"The scars of today are left on the earth, and so the film chooses to imagine an Afrofuturist ritual that heals that land. The likes of Sun Ra, Kerry James Marshall, Nick Cave, Rammellzee, and Octavia Butler" influenced Henry's sound and aesthetic. While filmmakers such as Khalil Joseph and Arthur Jafa resonated with him, "I subconsciously and consciously chose to look outside the industry of cinema for imagery—imagery that resonated with a new understanding of a black, culturally aesthetic future."

More here. Another approach to generating “new narratives” about Africa.