It has been two decades since Nelson Mandela hosted the first of a series of concerts to raise HIV awareness. The 46664– his prison number – shows featured global stars including Beyoncé, Bono and Queen and were the inspiration for his grandson, Kweku Mandela to produce Move Afrika, a five-year project to establish an annual music tour on the continent. The goal to “promote health and equity, defend our planet, and create jobs and economic opportunity”.
“If you look at some of the largest touring artists in the world, often times their world tours are missing the African continent all together, or in certain cases they come and do one-off shows,” Mandela said. “We feel there is a great need for us to bring a robust touring circuit to the continent.”
The initiative’s debut gig took place on Wednesday in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, headlined by Grammy award winning artist Kendrick Lamar. Held at the 10,000-seat BK Arena, the biggest indoor venue in east Africa, Mandela hopes it will be the first of a series of major concerts.
“We are putting a marker in the sand around live touring events and showcasing the creative economy on the African continent – you’re talking about the world’s youngest population, over 700 million people with the median age of 19,” said Mandela, chief vision officer for , Global Citizen, the advocacy organisation behind the project.
Some of the biggest of east Africa’s artists were on stage, including Rwandan Bruce Melodie, whose song When She’s Around, was remixed by Jamaican star Shaggy, has been a big hit. Tanzanian singer-songwriter Zuchu was also among the performers.
The stage set was designed by local creatives from the Rwandan NGO Nyamirambo Women’s Center who made contemporary interpretations of traditional Kitenge fabrics and Agaseke peace baskets.
Africa has had many musicians become internationally reknowned – from Miriam Makeba to Fela Kuti and Hugh Masekela. “But now we have a new generation,” said Mandela, “and it’s so essential that they have a live tour event playing as part of that.”
“If you look not even five years back, often African music would be classified as ‘world music’. The fact that it’s been able to create two or three distinct African genres, which are now part of popular culture, goes to show the talent that lies here, and it’s just going to grow.”
MTV added a best Afrobeats category to its video music awards and next year the Grammys will have an award for the best African performance.
Mandela said South Africa and Nigeria have been leading the way for contemporary music, but young artists from Ghana and from Morocco, Kenya, Benin and Mali “are breaking the norms of what we think when we think about African music”.
Melodie said Wednesday’s event in Kigali felt special. “It’s a great opportunity for me as a local artist being here,” he said. He was particularly chuffed about the success of When She’s Around. “Shaggy had listened to the original version by chance and then he liked it, so we did something like a remix. It’s a good song and people like it here in Africa,” he said. “Afrobeats is taking over right now.”
The music scene in Rwanda is growing, Melodie added, “because we have so many artists here, but we also have a government which understand music”.
Sherrie Silver, an award-winning choreographer, worked with 40 performers aged between four and 29 for the Kigali gig. “The entertainment industry is such a large economic engine and Africa must be a fully participating member,” she said. “We cannot just showcase our talent, we must benefit and reward from it as well. This is about real impact, and having young creatives honing their talents, while also lifting themselves and their families out of poverty.”
Approximately 30% of the concert’s tickets were sold, and the rest were earned through actions such as tree planting and volunteering.
“For too long, western media giants have based the world’s biggest entertainment properties on African culture, but have not invested in its local entertainment and creative economy,” said Hugh Evans, co-founder of Global Citizen. “Over the next few years, Move Afrika will pave the way for a world-class entertainment industry that will drive local investment and economic opportunity, and open up a path for more artists to tour Africa.”
Mandelasaid young people across the continent want the world to see them as partners, “people who you can invest in, that you can engage in, and look to empower”.
He said a lot had changed since his grandfather’s 2003 to 2008 concerts. “We are moving past the idea of just philanthropy. What young Africans are really asking for is genuine authentic partnership and real investment, so for me that’s probably the biggest change I’ve seen.”
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