Hey Africa! Let’s talk about something. We’ve noticed it and we know you have too. Unless you live under a rock, you must know that the music industry in Africa is going through a bit of a “golden period.” Artists from Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa and Uganda (you name them) have taken Africa and the world by storm. That’s meant lots of flashy music videos popping up almost every day of the week.
Creativity abounds but, unfortunately, so does something else: many of the artists seem to prefer using white or light-skinned models to dark-skinned ones. If you went on YouTube right now and cued up ten of the latest music video offerings from top artist in West, East and Southern Africa, this would quickly become apparent. In fact It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that top African artists are a colorstruck bunch. Just to drive the point home, here are a few that leap out even from a cursory glance.
Creativity abounds but, unfortunately, so does something else: many of the artists seem to prefer using white or light-skinned models to dark-skinned ones
Marketing gimmick or shameless colorism?
We’re not the only ones that have noticed this deplorable trend.
Colourism is bad enough in #US but in W Africa its unbelievable. Is v rare sight indeed 2 see dark-skinned women as main part in music video
— Afua Hirsch (@afuahirsch) April 12, 2013
Why is every black girl in these Nigerian music videos light skinned ???? colorism is a big issue in Nigeria (and Africa) too
— Drew (@tiredwalrus) July 20, 2013
One of the obvious comebacks here is many African artists shoot their music videos outside the continent. Another, we imagine, is they may be looking to appeal to a larger audience outside Africa. Both excuses don’t cut it. Africa’s battle with colorism (preference for lighter skin over dark) trumps any financial considerations.
As was Siji Jabbar memorably observed while writing for This Is Africa back in 2014, the problem of colorism and general negative body image issues in Africa cuts pretty deep. It pops up in our movies (lead actors are almost always light-skinned), magazines (using Photoshop to lighten up photos of dark skinned models) and even on social media (just ask Ghanaian nurse Mzznaki Tetteh). It’s everywhere.
By promoting “light” skinned women as the ideal in their music videos, African artists are making themselves part of the problem. They are, subliminally, telling dark skinned girls that they somehow don’t measure up. That they can’t be desirable and sexy because their skin is a few shades darker. That maybe they should put something on their skin to change it. That they would stand out more if they did.
We shouldn’t have to tell African artists that they should promote positive body attitudes among black people. That’s something they should know innately. That enough of them don’t is a shame worthy of its own song.