Sometimes when you dive into an internet wormhole, it takes you through a portal, and you pop out in another dimension. At least, that’s what it feels like happened to me when I started to do research for this month’s episode of Africa Is a Country Radio.
As I was deciding on which port city in East Africa to focus on, I started wondering about the possibility of applying Paul Gilroy’s theory of the Black Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Having spent time in both western and eastern Asia, I was already familiar with communities of Afro-descended peoples scattered across that continent (from both ancient and contemporary migrations), so I knew that there was a deep connection between Africa and Asia. What I didn’t realize is how deep and close that connection actually was.
The diversity of experiences across the rim of the Indian Ocean for both African and Asians is what shocked me most. Migrations, often shaped by painful histories of enslavement and colonization, have shaped culture and politics, religion and identity in this part of the world for tens of thousands of years. And the more I learned, the more stories of the Black Indian Ocean began to reveal some sides of human history that I had never considered.
In our contemporary world, the relationship between Asia and Africa has gotten renewed interest in international circles. With China making its mark on the world as a superpower, and investing particularly in the development of many African countries, some of that interest is marked by an anxiety in the West. And perhaps some of this anxiety is justified considering, as AIAC contributor Vik Sohonie wrote for us, there was a time when African and Asian leaders looked to each other for guidance when coming out of centuries of European domination. Today, as the West continues to convulse from various crises, the ties between these two continents might be the nexus of global power in the next century and beyond.
So in this show, we use music as a launchpad from which to think about the long historical relationship between Africa and Asia, how that manifests in contemporary culture and national identity, and ruminate, briefly, on what possible futures a world that revolves around Asian and African exchange might hold.
In the second half of the show, we will zero in on a unique case study, the port city of Djibouti, and will be joined by Vik Sohonie himself, who also runs the Ostinato Records music label and is working on producing albums of Djiboutian music for international release today.
Listen below and follow us on Mixcloud.