The superlative performance of South Africa’s Ndlovu Youth Choir at the America Got Talent show was met with excitement from both the audience and the wider viewing community.
The talent, energy and effort that went into the making of the choir could be gleaned the moment it came on stage. A judge, Simon Cowell, put it succinctly when he said that America Got Talent has “been waiting for a choir like this, something we’ve never heard before…”
While the outstanding performance of the choir, and the judge’s enthusiasm are refreshing, the Choir’s introduction of itself, however may have left many African progressives with a strong, deeply rooted feeling of distress.
Perhaps, in a bid to pull at the hearts strings of the judges, the choir opened its introduction by delving headlong into the rather unfortunate, inferiority-complex ridden statement of being from a small, poor community.
From what is known about the Limpopo province and the Moutse village, the choir must have been largely raised in a beautiful and serene environment, in a community full of rich relationships, mutual respect and dignity. Regrettably, the depressing narrative cast the happy and healthy looking choir members in an adverse light.
The world was not told, even in one brief sentence, about the beauty of the environment that is Moutse village, including the green flatlands, low rising hills, clean air, huge baobab trees, etc. A place renowned for a strong sense of community among its inhabitants and a dedication to the progress of the village.
Not one mention of anything positive was made about the family background and upbringing of the choir members. How unfair to humanity, that such goodness was brushed aside in the narrator’s rush to plunge headlong into negativities, and to brand the beautiful world this well-adjusted children grew up in as nothing but poor.
That word poor, might as well have represented everything evil in this world in the ears of the listener; poor in values, poor in love, poor in respect, poor in hygiene, poor in environmental beauty; poor, poor, poor, trashy, evil, undesirable, poor life. One very much doubts if Ndlovu choir members would truthfully agree to such as the true story of their lives. Sadly, that is all the world now knows about them.
The disastrous effects of the one sided, poverty-focused narrative of Africa has been severally addressed by concerned individuals. Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk on the Dangers of a Single Story aptly captures the issue. Negative branding leads to negative outcomes.
What you call yourself is who you are to yourself and to the world. Africans are human beings with feelings, who build and maintain rich fulfilling relationships with family, friends, neighbors. Africans are part of humanity and they exist within environments that can be strikingly beautiful and peaceful. Africans are not a bunch of poor, desperate, depressed and miserable people.
Thankfully, the real spirit and essence behind the Ndlovu Youth Choir’s performance was recognized and validated by the America Got Talent Judges. None of the judges made any mention of poverty nor did they allude to the much advertised sufferings and hardships the group introduced all its members as facing in their community.
Such statements as, “to consider where you are coming from,” or “what you have been through” were not heard from the judges. Neither were terms such as “adversity,” “overcome,” “poverty” or other such synonyms liberally thrown around by the judges.
A judge, Julianne Hough while addressing the group said, “to feel your authenticity and joy coming through, I felt like you transported us to where you’re from. It was so beautiful, so magical.” Another judge, Gabrielle Union said to the group, “You showcased the beauty that you represent. You are giving so much hope, I can’t thank you enough.”
America Got Talent judges must be commended for giving back dignity to the Ndlovu Youth Choir when it was denied of that by whoever wrote the introduction to the Choir’s performance. A judge, Howie Mandel commended the choir by saying, “there’s nothing more exciting to see people come to this stage from far away and you bring your culture and you bring your life, share your talent. Everything you did, how you’re dressed, I mean, I love the color, I love the sound.”
The judges made it clear without saying so, that they judged the uniqueness of the Ndlovu Youth Choir presentation without recourse to emotions; that they saw human beings who brought much joy, peace, beauty, life, energy and goodness to a platform that has not witnessed such in a while. In doing so, the judges were telling the Ndlovu Youth Choir, that they have in abundance every single thing they have given to the audience, since you cannot give what you do not have.
May we always remember that Africa has so much to give, to Africa and to the world, but that giving can only be made possible if Africans acknowledge that, indeed, they do have so much goodness within and around them to spread to the world.
Dr. Chika Ezeanya Esiobu is Founder and Executive Director of African Child Press www.africanchildpress.org @africanchildprs (twitter).
She blogs at www.chikaforafrica.com and her social media handle is @chikaforafrica