How Art and Culture Enhances Brand Africa
Over the past weekend, I was fortunate to go to the Southbank Centre, London and attend a number of events as part of Africa Utopia. The Festival was back for a third year celebrating arts and culture from Africa.
Art and Culture
This year’s festival featured some of the greatest artists from the African diaspora across music, dance, literature, fashion and the visual arts. Highlights include:
Photo credit: afropean.com
Photo credit: BBC
- Senegal’s mighty Orchestra Baobab returned their first London show in three years;
- A one-off gig from one of West Africa’s greatest singers Kassé Mady Diabaté;
- The launch concert of Chineke! – UK’s first Black and Minority Ethnic classical symphony orchestra, including Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Ballade for Orchestra, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Elegy in memory of Stephen Lawrence by black British composer Philip Herbert;
- UK premiere of Star Boy Productions, an thought-provoking performance about the migrant’s story of survival by acclaimed Belgium-based director Ahil Ratnamohan;
- The first UK solo exhibition of work by South African visual artist Dineo Seshee Bopape;
- Southbank Centre debuts from a younger generation of emerging African musicians including Cameroonian Blick Bassy, currently making waves with his new album Akö, and Kenyan songstress Maia von Lekow;
- A showcase of the influence of Africa on a new generation of UK artists and DJs presented by Wormfood, including psychedelic Gnawa fusion from Electric Jalaba and a club night featuring African Head Charge and Afriquoi – who launch their new album;
- A day celebrating African-inspired fashion, including the return of the People’s Catwalk;
- A full programme of talks and debates, Afrikan yoga, free events, workshops (including art, fashion, dance and singing) a buzzing marketplace and street-food on site that showcased the many faces of contemporary Africa.
Living legend of afrobeat Tony Allen was the musical finale to Africa Utopia, three days of exhibitions, discussions and music looking at the dynamism of African creativity at the Southbank.
Photo credit: BBC
So, how can the richness of Africa’s art and culture enhance brand Africa?
Our entire ecosystem is driven by brands and Africa is no different. Everything we do is determined by brands. When we think about brands, we often think about products – from the essential (e.g. food and clothes) to the luxury (e.g. cars). Then of course, we have business brands such as, Apple, Google, Coca-Cola, etc. However, nations, places, people and culture are brands too.
Nations are also brands and can be referred to as place brands – as illustrated by the countries adopting tourism slogans as a means of selling their destinations. Think of “Incredible !ndia” and “Malaysia – Truly Asia”. A nation’s brand generally refers to the set of perceptions, associations and common images that people have with that nation. The competitiveness of such brands are embedded in the economic, political and socio-cultural undertakings of the place
Nation branding is essentially the management of a nation’s image on the international stage and the process by which this image can be created, monitored, evaluated and proactively managed in order to improve or enhance the country’s reputation among a global audience.
A brand also signifies meaning to an individual for whom the brand has relevance. If “meaning” is at the heart of all branding, then what a place means to a stakeholder is at the heart of place branding. Thus if a relevant stakeholder can answer the question “What does Africa mean to you?” then we can legitimately talk about “Brand Africa”.
Additionally, if business collectives or conglomerates can be branded and if nations can be branded, then the branding of a collective of nations is also feasible. Therefore Brand Africa is both a continental and collective brand.
Whilst a brand is the promise that’s created, it is people’s willingness to buy into a central vision, the values and qualities for the collective benefit and collaborate and create synergies, that produces a brandable collective.
Africa Utopia clearly illustrates how art and culture enhances brand Africa. Jude Kelly, Artistic Director, Southbank Centre, summed this up well when she said, “Africa’s influence on the UK – and worldwide – is immense. Throughout Africa Utopia we explore what Africa can teach the West, by displaying fresh perspectives on contemporary Africa and shining a light on its rich tapestry of culture, politics, society, gender, business, and activism.” Art, culture and creative expression can be used to affect and change perception thereby facilitating social change. So let us all support the arts and our African culture and heritage.
Photo credit: BBC
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