What really is going on?
Now before we go into this quick aside, I just want to make sure we are clear on one thing. This article does not in any way intend to be a bash on a nine year old girl who is making huge news.
I had never heard much about DJ Switch until this morning when I came across this video on Facebook, which I recommend you watch as well before continuing. I have not done much research on the artist to delve deep into her story so as I stick to the point of why I am writing this.
For a little bit of background, DJ Switch Ghana is a 10 year old girl, who has achieved a certain level of success in the DJ industry. The young star who, was born to parents with no musical
history, taught herself to DJ in just 5 days, and has now performed at the Bill Gates Foundation. Here sher performed in front of World Leaders and met French President, Emmanuel Macron. She is also the youngest DJ to win a prestigious DJ Award in her home country.
Young, black African, girl, a symbol of future hope? Or the face on neo-exploitation?
Before we go into the actual issue that I wish to present, let’s just address what is wrong with the video itself. First it was produced by CNN, the network that has admitted that, “…it is more an entertainment channel than it is an objective news source.” Read the full article here. After watching the entire video, I can safely say I did not see much of her actual DJ’ing skills being featured, though her hypewoman, rapper skills, DJ drops and more got screen time.
The video then shows a bunch of shots of the young girl’s seemingly high lifestyle comprised of photo shoots, expensive fashion and of course, horses. Seems like the life even I want to live to live, to be honest. Lastly, all the speech and dialogue itself felt largely scripted and didn’t sound convincing, making the whole narrative and backstory largely unbelievable.
Negrophilia & black appropriation in mainstream media
Prior to seeing this video, I had just bumped into YouTube channel WiseCrack‘s video on the philosophy of the Movie ‘Get Out‘, by American film maker Jordan Peel . In the video I came across the term ‘Negrophilia‘, which, as described on Wikipedia originated in 1920s France. Negrophilia at the time was a term used to describe a fascination with black culture and art in post slave trade France. For a better insight on the subject, I recommend you watch the WiseCrack video here.
As the WiseCrack video suggests, the problem with Negrophilia is that it is often to the benefit of the ‘appropriator‘, and at the detriment of an often unwilling black ‘victim‘. The point then is that the one whose is the headliner, or the center of attention, is being paraded, for the most part, for the gain of the ‘appropriator‘. This aspect is reflected in the ‘Get Out‘ movie where they literally ‘bodysnatch’ black people for their ‘advantages‘, physical or other. The video also states that the ‘victim’ is also often relegated to the role of either great ‘entertainer’ or ‘savage beast’. The CNN article which contains the video, even fills both that imagery for you describing DJ Switch in these words, “Erica Armah Bra-Bulu Tandoh rose to international fame through a mixture of her feisty attitude, online music videos and total cuteness.”
This description does not make any reference to her as a person or an individual, but rather points out the qualities that make her a good “item to sell”. This is where my problem with the CNN video begins. I am not in any way accusing the channel of some sort of neo-slavery, but I simply wish to draw parallels between the concept of negrophilia, this video and other instances of such black appropriation for money.
The need, and the product...
I have made no secrets of how I think that black people have been turned into a bit of a commodity since slavery and this has not changed yet. After reading a bit on negrophilia, I have to say that I am now even more convinced. It begins with real life socio-economic problems, rolled into mainstream media, finding how to monetize it and then the carpet rolls.
In my opinion, this process openly began with the Obama election, the first black President of the United States, back in 2009. The world celebrated, the Africans too. It was a big thing. The first step towards a truly free world. But was he the messiah we all thought he was? You be the judge.
Not to say it wasn’t happening before, that. It is mostly dominant characteristic of trade in entertainment, sports and arts, but up until then, there wasn’t much attention being called to it.
Remember way, way back when they had kid Michael Jordan selling shoes for Nike. This article here says, “This use of myth, misrepresentation, the exaggeration of Jordan’s abilities to the point of mystery, is the point in which he is commodified, and the point in which fantasy mediates fascism.
To attain this level of “black awesomeness” you need to buy Jordan’s shoes, eat what he eats, etc. “As the popular saying goes: everybody wants to be like Mike.”
The point here is that when Nike was selling shoes through professional basketballer & black wonderkid, Michael Jordan, they worked on creating a certain air of mystery, a great narrative and a ‘cool guy’ image around Michael Jordan that made him an object of admiration. Nike did this by claiming some bogus physics formula about how Michael Jordan jumps to dunk knowing that a poor kid from the black community with an awesome story will sell shoes.
Now in modern times, the commodification is blatant, at times, even enraging. You may or may not be aware of the scandal that Nike went through after nominating Colin Kaepernick, an American Football quaterback and civil rights activist, as the face of their global campaign. Kaepernick caused controversy by refusing to stand during the national anthem in protest of police murdering blacks in the USA.
It is important to note that his actions were viewed more as divisive than heroic in greater American society and Nike’s nomination was met with serious resistance and backlash. This article here on theguardian.com declares the move as, “…the most divisive yet.”. It is also worth noting that Nike features South African Olympic runner Castor Semenya as the part of the their ‘Just Do It’ slogan 30th celebration. Castor has spent the greater part of her career answering questions from critics and detractors about her gender, somewhat making her a key figure in LGBTQ rights circles in South Africa.
So I’m guessing this would be where the Nike smart marketing campaign guys see Michael Jordan, Castor Semenya and Colin Kaepernick, people with real stories and struggles as an opportunity to sell shoes? I guess serves them right for losing stock value by making the Kaepernick move though. And from there the list goes on.
Now back to DJ Switch Ghana. A nine year old black girl from Africa is making huge waves in the DJ industry and the CNN vultures jump in. The news channel that doesn’t care about objectivity is reporting about this young prodigy? Who taught herself to DJ in 5 days? Who is also under 12, and is a girl? And black? And in Africa?
I wonder what’s in it for them? Maybe just the millions of views and revenue generated by parading this perfect sample of black artistry and excellence as a piece. I mean she fits the bill of everything that can be milked in Africa right now. The fight for gender equality sells her to women everywhere because she is a girl. She taught herself how to DJ in record time and she is so young gives her the unique backstory. And the fact that she is black and African sells her, well, to every liberal and neo-liberal, facebook/social media warrior and whoever else is left and suits the bill of quasi-woke person.
This commodifying would not be a big issue if not for two things. First, she may not be getting more out of this than the people who are actually selling her. This then means that by the definition of negrophilia, she is admired by so many for the benefit of her ‘masters’. Making her just another entertainer.
Second is an aspect I am addressing in a series of articles titled Has Kanye West Finally Really Lost It? This series will use the life and times of Mr. Kanye West to discuss how really real our world is. In that series, I discuss a philosophical idea based on prime time professional wrestling called of Kayfabe.
Kayfabe is that thing that makes us watch a show or events that we all know are unreal, scripted or fake, but then take them in and accept it as reality. In relation to this young DJ, my question now becomes, what does that 3 min video of her made by CNN and her winning awards and traveling the world and living the high life teach other 9 year old kids like her? That life is easy and you can have the glamorous life in 5 days?
I hope that this young, female superstar DJ continues on her path to greatness and fulfills her dream to become a gynecologist. Whichever way her success takes her, we do need more and more black influentials to raise Africa on the world map.