Ethiopian popular singer Teddy Afro released his fourth and most recent studio album Tikur Sew (Black Man) in 2012. The title track was a tribute to the late nineteenth-century Emperor Menilik II and the victory of a united Ethiopian front against an aggressive Italian invasion at the world-famous Battle of Adwa in 1896. This was an event of global historical significance, which continues to feature prominently in the historical memory of many Ethiopians and Africans throughout the world. However, my sanguine interpretation of the song as an effort to remind Ethiopia of the importance of unity was not how it was received in Ethiopia. In many ways, the controversy over Tikur Sew has more to do with contemporary ethnic politics—and the role that ethnicity plays in present-day Ethiopian society—than it does with the actual content of Teddy Afro’s song or the historical event it commemorates.
In one of his most popular songs, Baloji borrows from the classic 1960 hit “Independence Cha Cha,” written to commemorate Congo’s independence. Unlike the celebratory original, however, Baloji’s version is edgy and critical of his nation’s progress.
Mauritanian rapper, Hamzo Bryn, released a music video, “It started from Nouakchott” via his facebook page in September of 2013. The conversations that were sparked by the music video about correct Islamic practice, cultural norms, race, generational differences, and national identity were already happening in Mauritania but reached a new level of importance after the appearance of this video. As one Mauritanian blogger wrote forebodingly, this video signaled a moment when Mauritanian youth could decide what kind of future nation they want but, also, a time when the coming tensions would not be between Islam and the West but between Muslims themselves debating this future and this nation.