Arts and Culture

Afro Wave: How the arts can empower African and Afro diaspora nations in global discourse

Cultural leaders can leverage art and culture to help global diplomacy.

Cultural leaders can leverage art and culture to help global diplomacy. Image: Unsplash.

Ginelle Greene-Dewasmes
Community Specialist, Global Shapers Community, World Economic Forum Geneva
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  • As Black History Month comes to a close, it creates a timely opportunity to explore how the African and Afro diaspora can leverage the vast achievements of their art and culture towards global diplomacy.
  • The Afro Wave, exemplified by the global success of cultural movements like Afrobeats, can empower nations through cultural diplomacy and by fostering cross-cultural understanding and active participation in global conversations.
  • Cultural figures showcase the transformative power of art – implementing strategies like cultural diplomacy initiatives, artistic expression, and collaboration with governments to further amplify African and Afro voices.

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of global leaders concluded last month in Davos, Switzerland. The timely transition from this global dialogue into Black History Month celebrations each year offers a chance to explore how the significant impact of Black individuals and communities can further empower African and Afro diaspora peoples on global discourse concerning the key issues of our time.

Effective advocacy and diplomacy are key to leveling the playing field in global cooperation. Through sharing cultural heritage, such as arts, literature and events, nations can foster mutual understanding and strengthen diplomatic ties that could be further leveraged for national interest. Cultural leaders and global artists also have a crucial role to play through arts and culture. They can provide visions of the world that can cut through the limitations of short-term or linear thinking and help towards solving collective global issues.

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The Korean Wave, or Hallyu, for example, has contributed to South Korea's soft power and increased its global influence via K-pop music, K-drama and other cultural exports that have captivated global audiences, leading to improved international cooperation. The widespread appeal of K-pop has led to cultural exchanges, joint ventures and collaborations between South Korea and other countries.

The rising Afro Wave

The growing potential of an Afro Wave inspired by the arts and cultural leaders of African and Afro diaspora similarly exists. For instance, the long-standing love for reggae music and the global ascent of Afrobeats, a genre rooted in African rhythms and culture, presents a unique avenue for developing countries to engage in cultural diplomacy. Since 2017, listenership has grown by 550%, with streams coming from all over the globe, cumulatively reaching 13 billion streams on the streaming platform Spotify.

Additionally, in 2023, Afrobeats spurred the introduction of an African music category at the Grammy Awards. As Afrobeats gains international acclaim, it joins other Afro genres such as hip hop, rap, R&B, reggae and calypso as a catalyst for fostering cross-cultural understanding and appreciation. Through music festivals, collaborations, and media exposure, developing countries can showcase their artistic prowess, challenging stereotypes and preconceptions. This cultural exchange not only promotes unity but also empowers nations to participate more actively in global conversations, enhancing their diplomatic influence and forging connections that extend beyond geopolitical boundaries on key themes, issues and business opportunities.

Breaking barriers through cultural leaders

Cultural leaders across arts and culture also have a critical strategic role to play as bridge-builders between culture and diplomacy. This can be done by conveying powerful messages that resonate globally, influencing public opinion and fostering a deeper understanding of complex topics. Arts and culture can also be used to encourage collective action or collaborations, and projects that can facilitate dialogue on a global scale.

For example, Calypso Rose, born Linda McCartha Monica Sandy-Lewis, regarded as the mother of Calypso, stands as a cultural icon and catalyst for change within the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. Hailing from Trinidad and Tobago, she is a trailblazing calypso artist whose influence extends far beyond the realms of music.

Appointed as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for former child soldiers, Calypso Rose's career spans decades, marked by her ability to infuse her music with social and political commentary. Her lyrics often address issues of gender equality, social justice, and Caribbean identity, resonating with the struggles and triumphs of the diaspora. Her music also addresses other resonating global topics such as domestic violence, sexism and racism. In a genre historically dominated by men, Calypso Rose broke barriers, paving the way for future generations of female artists.

Beyond her musical influence, her art challenges stereotypes, fostering pride and understanding of Caribbean culture. With global recognition, she serves as a bridge, connecting the diaspora to the world and inspiring activism. Calypso Rose stands as a cultural icon, using her craft to instigate positive change and unity among those sharing her heritage.

Other Afro cultural leaders are driving similar work through their art. For example, the 2024 World Economic Forum Crystal Awardees such as world-renowned architect and 2022 Pritzker Prize recipient Diébédo Francis Kéré, native of Burkina Faso, and Nile Rodgers, American Grammy Award winning guitarist, composer, and humanitarian.

Architect Diébédo Francis Kéré’s projects across Burkino Faso, Kenya and Benin are rooted in the concept of low-energy materials and building elements that have a minimal to negligible impact on the energy consumption of these buildings. He aims to continue to globally promote climate activism through collaboration and inclusivity. American artist Nile Rodgers who co-founded the We Are Family Foundation, promotes cultural diversity while empowering young people who are positively changing the world. Through his music, Nile is trying to make the world a more peaceful, equal, and inclusive place.

How to leverage the momentum

Like the Korean Wave, by implementing strategies, African and Afro diaspora nations can build upon the momentum of the Afro Wave and the works of cultural leaders by intentionally leveraging art and culture towards their global diplomacy efforts. Such strategies could include:

1. Cultural diplomacy initiatives

  • Cultural events, exhibitions, and festivals that showcase the diversity of Afro cultures.
  • Collaborating with other Afro nations, international organizations, embassies, and cultural institutions to promote cross-cultural understanding and dialogue.

2. Artistic expression

  • Support and promote Afro artists, providing them with platforms to exhibit their work internationally.
  • Encourage the creation of art that explores themes of identity, migration, and shared human experiences to foster global connections.

3. Education and awareness

  • Establish partnerships with academic institutions, museums, and cultural centres.

4. Cultural exchange programmes

  • Facilitate cultural exchange programmes between Afro communities and other regions including collaborative projects.

5. Digital platforms

  • Leverage social media to reach global audiences and to help break stereotypes.

6. Tourism and heritage preservation

  • Promote cultural tourism and document Afro heritage, ensuring that it is accessible to future generations.

7. Collaboration with governments and NGOs

  • Collaborate with governments and non-governmental organizations to integrate cultural diplomacy into foreign policy strategies.
  • Seek funding and support for cultural projects that promote positive international relations.

8. Storytelling and narrative building

  • Encourage the creation and dissemination of narratives that challenge stereotypes and present a nuanced understanding of the diverse Afro peoples and communities.
  • Use storytelling as a powerful tool to communicate shared values, aspirations, and challenges.

Building a better future

Cultural diplomacy can be a powerful tool that African and Afro diaspora nations can wield to ensure that their unique perspectives and needs are recognized and integrated into global solutions and, in doing so, contribute to shaping a better future for all.

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