Browse Tag: Diaspora

Message in a Bottle

Define Culture

So… despite my tumultuous relationship with poetry, I recently committed to participating in ‪#‎NaPoWriMo‬ (National Poetry Writing Month), during which the challenge is to write a poem a day. I wrote something earlier this week that I’d like to share.

I’ve been a recluse about my writing lately so posting this publicly is part of my attempt to get back into the practice of sharing (rather than spend so much time lamenting all my writing’s imperfections). I hope to return to the practice the self-love I preach so often, and more regularly celebrate even the smallest of victories, like the fact that this piece of work didn’t need to be perfect to be done.

Note: I’d like to say a special thank you to one of my favorite poets, Idalia, for gently yet firmly nudging me to finish it and to the amazing friends I have who sent me the affirmation I needed to amass the courage to share it. 

Define “Culture.”

Attempt #1:
a simple roll of the tongue;
salt in the wound of history’s affair
with Spanish conquerors
that didn’t burn fast enough in the sun
to save nations from genocide,
or mothers from marrying
their daughters to the wrong ones;
if we define culture to be
a simple roll of the tongue
then I guess the murder of
a millenia of bloodlines
is justified as language preservation.

Attempt #2:
Culture is a cautionary tale;
If superstition were a weapon
then Africa would be considered
a nuclear bomb;
we would never have welcomed strangers
with cocoa beans and open arms
the way our government still does
to D-List celebrities and modern day missionaries, while
rich white housewives on the verge of a nervous breakdown
search for salvation in the smiles of orphans on sale.
If we defined culture as a cautionary tale
told by pale narrators who lack introspection,
perhaps we would have paid attention
when our grandmas told us
they could feel their left eyelids twitching
at the expectation of visitors upon our shores;
perhaps we never would have wished the mermen
who called us moors, “safe passage”
in our native tongues
as they staked their claim
and carved their names
into our homes.

To define culture…

Attempt #3:
A synonym for “Home”
Neither a place or person,
these days, home is a political position
– the privilege of passing through
unrecognized as
an intruder on lands built on the backs of your forefathers.
But to the generation whose parents
cast us across the Atlantic,
raised captive in colonizer lands as cultural orphans
who never learned
to speak their native languages,
– home offers compromise
and forgiveness
to those with even less familiar roots.
A synonym for home…
only ever understood
in absence or disenfranchisement,
in dearth or gentrification,
in silence,
in loss,
in ostracization,
like a place that could never exist
for two queer brown women
and their extended family members
to settle down,
raise a kid,
or join a yacht club.

Attempt #4:
To claim culture
– to testify survival
of a massacre,
a genocide,
a raping of nations.
to dispute discontent,
or belonging
to feign knowing despite
the frenzy of stabilizing
a leaking boat
Culture is a usurper,
a lost turn
adrift from harbor
as fleeting as seagulls
in ocean light
and as slippery
as oysters
in search of
an anchor.

Do you know where you’ve come from?
Or how far you’ve sailed from harbor?
What glass containers of sea water keep your memories of belonging afloat?

 

Walking the Tight Rope: An African LGBTI Anthology

Call for Submissions (Poetry, Prose, Photography): Walking the Tight Rope: An African LGBTI Anthology

Cross posted from QWOC Media Wire .

——————————————–

QWOC Media Wire was founded on the belief that there is incredible power in telling our own stories, and highlighting reasons to celebrate as much as our vision for what we hope to change.

In the wake of anti-LGBT laws and the barrage of negative media attention currently being directed towards Africa, we are so excited to present the following call for submissions:

Walking the Tight Rope: An African LGBTI Anthology (of which our very own founder, Spectra, is an editor) seeks poets, writers and photographers within Africa and the Diaspora to share their stories.

Walking the Tight Rope: An African LGBTI Anthology

Call for Submissions in Prose and Photography

Thanks to the high interest in the new African LGBTI Anthology and the engaging poems we received in our original call for submissions in poetry, we’ve decided to expand the focus of the anthology to include prose – more specifically short fiction and short (creative) lyric essays – and some photography.

As before, we encourage writers who identify as gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, or transgender, living in Africa and first or second generation Africans living in the Diaspora (i.e. if you are African or one of your parents is African) to send their best work for consideration. Works will be chosen solely on merit.

Guidelines:

We prefer works that are unpublished. All prose should be no more than 600 words (exceptions can be made in rare circumstances) and in English or English translations. All submissions in photography should be in either JPG or TIFF format.

We encourage writers to submit photography and prose addressing the following themes:

1) Relationships
2) Body
3) Self
4) (Re)Definition. Works addressing other themes will also be considered.

Since we have a good representation of Nigerian and South African writers, we especially encourage writers from other parts of Africa to submit their work. Also, we urge the use of pseudonyms where writers feel threatened.

Submissions should be sent through Submittable under African LGBTI Anthology.

Questions can be sent to Abayomi Animashaun via email at abayo.animashaun@gmail.com. Please include “African LGBTI Anthology” in the subject line. Our deadline is April 15.

For more information, please visit the anthology’s website: http://lgbtafricapoetryanthology.wordpress.com/

Spectra's Resilience

Love Was My Revolution in 2013, But So Was Resilience.

I know it’s been a while. I’ve had a lot going on. 2013 was quite a year – one that I’m not likely to miss but will always remember for how much it grew me.

Why am I writing now? Well, I don’t really have much else to do. I’ve sung through about 4 musicals (Les Mis, Rent, Chicago and Wicket, in case you were curious), played my computer game (The Sims 3) for over three hours, and I’ve run out of credit on my phone to make any more international phone calls.

In Nigeria, it’s a few hours to 2014 and, admittedly, I’m depressed. I’m alone in a city with no friends or community, no furniture in my apartment, save for a very hard mattress, and feeling overwhelmed with sadness at having to spend yet another festive season away from my family (who – as usual, due to geopolitical circumstance – is separated across several continents). I would say that I’m used to it, and it’s probably true; but it doesn’t make it any less difficult, especially with all the music, laughter, and raucous I can hear happening outside my window.

So, yeah, I’m not in the highest of spirits. But I’m determined over the next 90 minutes to work my way back to the optimism and positivity that propelled me so far ahead of where I was just a year ago, that I now have the luxury of complaining that I’m alone in a brand new city, doing work that nourishes me, and with really bright prospects for 2014.

I’m choosing, right now, at this very moment, to not let my ambitions, my personal drive, my impatience at achieving the goals I’ve laid out for myself, diminish my gratitude for all the positive things that have transpired in my life this year. I’m choosing to remain the positive spirit that believes things are what you believe they will be, that I am in control of my thoughts, my outlook, my destiny.

It was about two years ago, I looked at my partner and told her that I wanted – no, needed, to move back home. I missed warm weather, dark soil, tactless conversations, and loud parties. I was tired of people asking me where my accent was from, or thinking that I’d been named after a character on Cartoon Network (yeah, “Dora the Explorer”, don’t get me started).

I missed greeting people in different languages, having fellow Nigerians laugh at my bad pidgin, being made fun of for being the first daughter – a fact they could tell instantly from my name. I missed fried plantain, african music, annoying aunties that poked you in the ribs, and called you fat while hugging you. And, most importantly, I missed being able to be close to my parents, who I’d watched age so fast over the years via the occasional low resolution photo. I was tired of the weight of the Unite States’ xenophobia and racism crushing me, my family, my dreams.

The day I told my partner it was time for me to go home, I knew I would be choosing to swallow the poison of Nigeria’s thick sexism and homophobia for the sake of experiencing the  affirmation of being with my own people: women whose curves looked like mine, who didn’t “eew” at food I liked, who walked with the same grace – as though we each balanced pails of water, golden crowns on our heads, masculinity whose gyrating hips to afrobeat I recognised, however entitled, domineering, flawed.

I don’t regret moving home. Not even for a second. But it hasn’t been easy.

I have no idea how I’ve actually survived in Nigeria as a ‘single’ woman (who isn’t the daughter of a governor, or the wife-to-be of a rich suitor) and managed to position myself for professional success in an environment in which over 70% of women don’t even own a bank account, and men think it’s improper for a woman to travel alone.

I have no idea how I still find the courage to correct strangers when they erroneously refer to the fiance who “put a ring on it” with male pronouns. “She… she’s in Boston,” I say, each time, before holding my breath for either backlash or a barrage of questions at having “met a real one.”

I have no idea how I’ve experienced the amount of blatant exploitation, devalue-ing, and frustration from leadership in the development sector in which I work (which resulted in my near homelessness for over 2 months, waning mental and physical health, and personal finances – but I can’t even get into it), and still come out, relatively okay.

I mean, there was one night I stayed up, out on the street, till 5 in the morning, because I had no place to sleep, and no one to call. I remember crying to my sister on the phone, stating over and over again that I couldn’t do this anymore. I couldn’t. I remember she kept saying to me, “You can. You can. You have. You already have.”

A dear mentor recently said to me, “If there’s one theme I feel that describes your year it’s Resilience.” And you know, sitting here, thinking about everything that has happened to me – so much I can’t even write about – I’m encouraged by her observation, and the fact that she’s absolutely right. Yes, the Love from people in my life was encouraging. But, at the end of the day, “I” had to get up in the morning; “I” had to face Nigeria on my own; “I” had to go home alone, with no one’s shoulder to cry on; I had to learn to comfort myself and. just. keep. going.

Resilience. That’s how I got through the year. That’s how I’ve made it this far. Resilience. That’s how I left my home country at the age of 17 and moved to a physically and politically cold place that could never learn to pronounce my name, let alone recognise the pain of having needed to leave your family to make life better for them in the long run, maybe.

Resilience. And perhaps a bit of stubbornness. That’s how each of us continues, persists, even through the worst of circumstances.

And on that note… when I take a step back, my ‘circumstances’ aren’t all that bad. In fact, they’re pretty great. I’m sitting on my own bed, in my own apartment. Yeah, it’s empty. Yeah, mosquitoes are biting away because the landlord still hasn’t fixed a broken window and they’ve decided to have a party on my legs (cause, oh, I also have no blanket lol), but! After being homeless for so long, I finally have a place that’s mine. And what’s more…

I said I would move to Nigeria, continue to hone my craft as a storyteller, media, and communications professional, and I am doing just that.

I said I would find a way to be closer to my parents (who still aren’t in the same city, but now a 45-min vs. 8-hour flight away), and I did.

I said I would always take big leaps, I would always live out loud in love, and in hope, and I have. I have. I really have.

I’ve been kicking myself for not having the emotional capacity to write about my experiences in Nigeria so far (aside from my cockroach post, which was just so necessary given how many sleepless nights those critters cost me!); I’ve been hard on myself for not being ‘stronger’, maintaining high spirits while adjusting to a completely new terrain, all by myself; but I’ve been ridiculous – I’m human! And we all deserve to experience the full spectrum of our emotions. That is the only way to honour our individual journeys, by being honest about where we are. It doesn’t matter what things we didn’t accomplish along the way; all that matters is that we’ve kept on.

Love was my revolution in 2013, but so was resilience. Love kept me hoping, reaching, but Resilience kept me going.

So tonight, I celebrate my accomplishments against all odds, and my will to continue even when things get hard. I celebrate my courage to persist on a path that is NOT easy, because I know I’m doing what I’m meant to do. I celebrate the LOVE I received from everyone that cheered me on from afar – friends in the US, UK, fans and followers of my work. It is in part because of you that I’ve been able to stand my ground in the face of an environment that has many times attempted to silence me, force me into submission and conformity. I celebrate my rebel, my non-conformity, my humanity, and my convictions. And I celebrate my audacity to strive for more than just surviving, despite all the media propaganda that suggests queer Africans like me are simply lucky to be alive.

Nigeria, I love you. But come the morning, I will conquer you. You’re not even ready.

Nevertheless, till then, the seasons best wishes to everyone, and a very Happy New Year to all.

Where Are All the Nigerian Language Resources?

To Nigerians Who Don’t Speak Any Native Nigerian Languages, And Their Bullies

A Conversation at the Airport (Which Represents 99% of the Initial Exchanges I Have with Nigerians) 

— Begin Scene —

Me: Good Afternoon

(I hand over my passport to security check and brace myself for the interrogation that’s sure to follow…)

Officer: Mmm. (Doesn’t look up. He studies my passport seriously for a moment, then…) Where are you from?

(He can see it. It’s on my passport. But he asks anyway, because he wants us to bond over our ethnic groups.)

Me: Delta State.

Officer: Ehhh? I am also from Delta.

Me: (feigning surprise) Really? So you are my brother.

Officer: (Finally looks up, his face warmer, a small smile breaking out across his face.) Yes, my sister. You are from Agbor?

Me: Yes, my father. My mother is from Abia state.

Officer: (He lights up even more, cocks his head to the side for dramatic emphasis.) Na true? My wife is from Abia state oh.

Me: Great… (I smile politely.)

Officer: You know Abia women are very beautiful.

Me: (I laugh nervously. This is beginning to get awkward. I just want my passport back before…)

Officer: I’m from [insert name of town I don’t know, here]. You should know it. It’s not far from Agbor now.

Me: Oh okay, is it [insert name of town I don’t know, here]? By….

Officer: Just one hour, not even up to, by road.

Me: Eh, I know it now. (A lie.)

Officer: Eh hen! So you see we are relatives. Kedu? (“How are you?” in Igbo)

Me: O di mma (“Fine” Please don’t ask me to say anything else.)

Officer: (Speaking more Igbo)

Me: (I shake my head, smiling) My brother, I don’t understand oh.

Officer: (exaggerated look of horror) Ah, you no hear Igbo? How come? Your said your mother is Igbo now. Your father is from Agbor!

Me: I knooow! My parents didn’t speak the same language growing up. (A half lie – it’s proven efficient at evoking sympathy vs. a full on lecture)

Officer: Ohhhh. So you don’t speak? Not at all? (It worked. He pities me.) That is not right!

Me: (feigning disappointment) I know, I know. (Please just give me my passport so I can be on my way.)

Officer: Ah, but your parents should not have done that. (More pity.) So, okay, what about you? (Now comes the challenge: are you really Nigerian or not?) English is not your language now. You should have learned to speak Igbo by yourself now. Why haven’t you learnt it?

Me: (Deploy damsel in distress followed by light does of flattery) No one has taught me oohhh. I’m always asking people but nobody wants to teach me. Also, I wasn’t living in Nigeria. But now that I’m back and you are my brother, you will now teach me, abi?

Officer: Ah but of cooourse! Anytime. Because you must speak. You can’t say you are a Nigerian if you don’t speak. You should be speaking Igbo by the next time I see you. You hear?

Me: (laughing, subtly, as I gesture to my passport.) Yes, yes. I really want to learn. (That part is true, though. I want to learn Igbo, for myself, not for the benefit of appeasing cultural gatekeepers at the airport, bank, in taxis etc.)

Officer: And you must learn. Ah ah. You are a daughter of Delta State, Iboland. You must hear Igbo. This is not America. You must speak your language! Or how will you find your husband? No, you must speak Igbo, and you must teach your children to speak Igbo. (He hands back my passport, laughing).

Me: (I swallow the response I would have loved to give him for that last diatribe…) Thank you.

Officer: So when I see you next time, I will greet you in Igbo. Only in Igbo!

Me: (I go for the conversation-ender as I turn my back to him, walking away from the counter.) By God’s grace!

— End Scene — 

For the Nigerian Who Doesn’t Speak Any Nigerian Languages, I Feel Your Pain

I’m anticipating two major responses to the scene above: 1) vigorous nodding in shared understanding about how native language fluency is policed in Nigeria (or anywhere really), or 2) *blank face* from folks who don’t get it, and agree whole-heartedly with the officer. To the latter category, this post is really for you. 

Earlier this year, I wrote an article titled, “What Kind of African Doesn’t Speak Any African Languages? Me.“, in which I proposed people stop using indigenous language fluency as the yardstick by which to decide one’s cultural belonging, or at the very least, refrain from using it as a way to invalidate people’s identities, given that culture comprises many elements, not just language. The article was published in the Diaspora Debate section of Royal African Society’s African Arguments, news aggregator site AllAfrica.com, and ended up sparking quite a bit of online debate. Seems language as is pertains to cultural assimilation is quite the conversation starter.

I reference this article because a few points stood out to me from the conversations inspired by the piece and now, also, from having to navigate Nigeria as someone who doesn’t speak any native Nigerian languages:

  • I am not alone; based on the outpour of comments that affirmed my own experiences and shared similar, there are so many people who’ve experienced social exclusion due to not being fluent in their mother tongues.
  • This is not a Diaspora issue; per my article, even Africans who grew up and live on the continent aren’t learning their languages due to various factors such as globalisation, migration, and intra-country socio-political history.
  • Contrary to popular assumptions, not many people actively choose not to learn their native languages; this decision is often made for them at a young age, by schools and parents, perhaps pushing for assimilation into the dominant culture in which they live, or due to other factors. (See previous point.)
  • When people can choose to learn their native languages, usually in adulthood,, the tension between indigenous languages and the language of business and cultural access in an increasingly globalised world — dominated by English, French, Spanish, now Japanese and Mandarin — is in part responsible for people choosing to learn other languages over their own.

A Few Barriers Worth Noting to Learning Nigerian Languages as an Adult

Following from that last point, and in response to the skeptics who commented on my last post who insist that the only reason one does not attain language fluency in adulthood is strictly a matter of personal choice (sigh), I think it’s important we all consider the challenges to learning African languages post-childhood learning from parents/relatives at home or after one no longer lives in an environment. So, do consider the following:

1) Language Immersion Isn’t the Most Practical in Diaspora Communities

Unlike some other immigrant communities, the presence of Nigerian/Diaspora communities across the US doesn’t translate to pockets of America in which only Nigerian languages are spoken. To the best of my knowledge, our versions of say, “Chinatown” will contain everything we need – clothes, food, travel agencies, hole-in-the-wall restaurants etc, except a universally spoken Nigerian language. Why? I’m guessing it’s because we’re not a monolithic culture. Nigeria comprises well over 300 ethnic groups, and just as many languages. We wouldn’t be able to communicate across all those dialects without English. So, given that even in the most isolated of Nigerian communities outside of the country, you’ll always run into people speaking English, finding opportunities to practice a single Nigerian language using mass media (TV, Radio, even street signs), or every day communication, etc., would be challenging.

2) Language Immersion Isn’t the Most Practical in Major Nigerian Cities, Either

The best language teachers will tell you that immersion is the way to go: visit the country where the language is spoken, spend some time there, consume copious amounts of their media, make local friends, and you’ll surely pick it up. Except, part of why immersion works is that you’ve given little to no choice but to learn to communicate in the local language. The immersion strategy would work well in countries in which the local language is the language of trade, commerce, media. That is not the case in Nigeria, a former English colony, in which English is spoken in all major cities. Moving back to / living in a major city in Nigeria (after having not learned your mother tongue growing up) wouldn’t necessarily guarantee language immersion either, unless of course you quit your day job or take time off and relocate to a remote village, which brings me to the next point…

3) The Costs – In Both Time and Money – of Learning a Language Can’t Be Ignored

Not everyone can afford to take time off long enough to move into a city, town, remote village for language immersion. I remember when I started schooling in the states and met Americans who understood at least one other foreign language. Most of them had learned it at school, and then spent some time (either via a study abroad program or volunteer gap year) in their specific country practicing via cultural immersion. (Oh, and by the way, it’s not like there were “Learn Igbo Abroad” programs when I was at school in the states.) This approach to learning languages can cost quite a bit of money; there’s a reason why study abroad programs and the voluntourism industry are primarily sustained by white westerners with class privilege. Nevertheless, while I was in college,  I would often have conversations with my parents about moving back home after I was done, and going to stay with my grandfather in the village for 6 months to a year, for the purpose of immersing myself in my culture and picking up the language. It seemed like a great idea, but with over 30K in student loans, day to day financial responsibilities, and of course, my own career ambitions, finding that chunk of time (and financial support) to do nothing seemed impossible, and honestly, didn’t make much sense.

4) (Good) Nigerian/African Language Learning Resources Are Few and Far Between

African countries haven’t really invested in language cultural preservation the way some other nations have. So naturally, the pool of resources for learning indigenous African languages isn’t as large as say, for Spanish. Nigerians, for instance, have rarely said to me, “Hey Spectra, if you wanna learn Igbo, go to this website.” Or “Check out this software on Amazon.com – it’s like the Rosetta Stone of African languages!” Or even, “There’s a school near you that offers Igbo and Yoruba, and I hear they’re really good.” What’s more, is that if one lives outside of Nigeria, where distribution of local media is minimal/non-existent, don’t bank on finding any children’s books or cartoons to learn the basics. (No, Barnes and Nobles doesn’t carry Nigerian children’s books. Don’t pretend to be surprised…). Mind you, it’s not because these resources don’t exist at all; in comparison to e-learning tools available for other languages, sure, African language learning e-tools and software are few and far between, but even that’s changing. So it would best serve advocates of African languages to spend less time criticising people for not learning their languages, and more time learning about which resources already exist so that they can share them.

People Like Me Want to Learn Our Languages; We Need Support, Not Criticism

And here come the look on people’s faces when I explain why I haven’t been able to learn either of my parents’ native languages till now. They’re thinking, “She’s making excuses. If she really wanted to, she would have. She just doesn’t take pride in her culture.” And I’m not being paranoid. These very words have been said to me time and time again, and especially after the post I wrote about speaking African languages. But they piss me off, not because I care so much about what people think, but because such singular opinions are riddled with uninformed assumptions that reduce such a complex issue to trivial polarities: “Who’s really African and who isn’t? Who’s really proud to be African and who isn’t?”

Rather than reduce this conversation to cliche criticise of Africans who never learned their mother tongues, wouldn’t it be more productive – and in better service of African cultural preservation — to frame our conversations about language around solutions to the diminishing fluency of African languages i.e. what we could do to increase interest AND access to learning? Not just for Africans, but for everyone?

Digital Media and Technology Could Spawn the Next Generation of African Language Resources

When I think about the popularity of the Rosetta Stone series, I can’t help but crave an entire suite dedicated to African languages. Even focusing on Nigeria alone could lead to at least four product lines, for Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, and Fulani. But why wait for the Language Learning industry to pay attention to the demand for products that promote Nigerian/African languages? It seems Nigerians (including in the Diaspora) are taking matters into their own hands.

Incidentally, when I google “Learn Igbo Online” there are actually a surprising number of online resources, including a software coaching tool (with an accompanying manual), an e-portal for connecting with Igbo teachers, an entire site dedicated to Igbo culture, history, and language, and even a YouTube channel. I swear, none of these resources were around when I was younger, but with globalisation and the development of so many different e-learning platforms and tools, clearly, things are changing. For instance, I recently “met” (online) a young woman – Nigerian Diaspora – in the US, who’s developed an iPhone app to each toddlers Yoruba. (I’ll be publishing my interview with her early next week, so stay tuned.)

Technology alone won’t be able to solve the problem of diminishing fluency in African languages. Africans themselves must demonstrate through their actions a commitment to ensuring that our history and traditions, embedded in our indigenous languages, are safe guarded. And more importantly, our commitment to seeing this through must move beyond the admonishment of those who are not fluent, to ensuring that we support and encourage each other to strive towards Africa’s cultural preservation, together.

Have you experienced the kind of language policing I described above? People make fun of you because you don’t speak your native language? Have you yourself done the poking? I’d love to hear from you. Meanwhile, if you know any good Nigerian / African language learning resources — books, DVDs, computer software and/or digital platforms — please share them in the comments section! 

Shishani Namibia Lesbian Artist

Award-Winning African Artist Shishani Releases Video for New LGBT Equality Anthem, “Minority”

Shishani Namibia Lesbian Artist

“You’ve got rules telling me what to do
But is there anybody checkin’ up on you?”

Award-winning acoustic soul artist, Shishani, has just released the music video for her latest single titled, “Minority”, a catchy, upbeat, acoustic track that calls for freedom and equality for all people despite perceived differences.

Shishani got her big break when she performed at the 2011 Namibian Annual Music Awards in the capital city of Windhoek, where it’s still illegal to be gay. And though, she says, she’s made no real attempts to hide her sexuality, she hasn’t come out as an “out lesbian artist” till now.

“I wanted people to get to know my music,” she says, “Sexuality doesn’t matter. It’s like pasta — asking if you prefer spaghetti or macaroni. It just doesn’t matter… I’m an artist first, before being a gay artist.”

Born to a Namibian mother and a Belgian father, Shishani spent her early childhood in Windhoek, before her family relocated. Due to her mixed race ancestry, the curly-haired songstress is no stranger to discrimination, but is candid about enjoying a relatively liberal upbringing in the Netherlands, known for its liberal social policies, including legal protections of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) people.

“Being raised abroad gives you a certain freedom… It took some time before my parents were okay talking about stuff, but eventually we did. I was even able to live with my partner of four years…  But living in Namibia, it became so clear to me how much more people are discriminated against–and for a variety of different reasons, like their ethnicity and sexuality.”

Homosexuality is illegal in a number of countries in Africa, and Namibia is no exception. Even though Namibia has been independent for over 20 years, and its constitution views all people equal under the rights of the law, punitive colonial laws against sodomy (though not enforced) have remained. Thus, LGBTI people risk harassment  and violence due to a strong culture of stigma in part reignited by religious leaders and government officials.

In 2001, past President Najoma’s called for “anyone caught practicing homosexuality to be arrested, jailed, and deported”. And, just over a year ago, Namibia’s first gay pageant winner, Mr. Gay Namibia, was beaten and robbed shortly after securing his title.

But Shishani, who upon her return in 2011, found a safe haven in Windhoek’s art performance communities, is optimistic that the current climate for gays will improve. She recently became an honorary member of the board of Out Right Namibia (ORN), a human rights advocacy organization that aims to address widespread homophobia in the country, and is eager to continue evolving as an artist, while using her platform as a musician to advocate for freedom and equality.

Shishani Singer SongwriterSince her breakout two years ago, Shishani has released indie tracks such as “Raining Words”, an acoustic ballad about a new relationship, “Clean Country”, a soulful, melodious call to action to raise awareness about climate change, and–inspired by Alicia Keys’ chart-topping tribute to New York–“Windhoek”, a song that celebrates the beauty of her hometown.

As a student of cultural anthropology and self-identified activist, it’s no surprise that her music has been described as a fusion of sounds from such socio-political music icons as Tracy Chapman, Bob Marley, and Nneka. “Minority” is the first single through which seeks to address the issue of same-sex love.

Alluding to the potential controversy of her new single, Shishani says, “Two years ago, I was really just trying to get my face out there…. When I returned to Namibia, I started booking my own gigs, performing solo, writing new songs. When I was invited to perform at the Namibian Music Awards, I was afraid to perform “Minority”  because people didn’t know who I was yet. But to make a statement, you have to be strong.”

As an African musician who identifies as being a part of the LGBTI community, the lyrics of “Minority” no doubt challenge the infamous meme “Homosexuality is unAfrican.” But, Shishan insists, her song is about much more than being gay.

“In Namibia, it also makes a difference what ethnicity you are. “Minority” argues for equal rights for all people regardless of their cultural backgrounds, economic status, sexuality, religion,” she says, “There is so much systemic discrimination against people, for so many reasons.”

The release of “Minority” is timely; January is the month in which outspoken Ugandan LGBT activist, David Kato was bludgeoned to death in an anti-gay attack three years ago, sparking an outcry from fellow African human rights activists. January is also the month in which people in the U.S.–perhaps even all over the world–celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a powerful civil rights leader and icon. His call for freedom and equality of all people has been taken up by activists all over the world, including Shishani, whose lyrics echo his principles of love and unity.

“Homophobia all over the world comes from the same place; colonialism, apartheid, racial segregation. All our struggles are connected.”

When asked about being a visible lesbian African artist, especially in light of the hardships experienced by LGBTI people in countries such as Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, she says:

“My music is becoming more popular in Namibia. I’ve been working hard and trying to make my mark, so I feel stronger, now. I may lose some fans, but it’s okay. So many others have it way worse than me. So many others activists are risking much more. It is an honor to be viewed as a role model. So, if I can contribute to the movement through my music, I’m happy to, and I will.”

Check out the video of Shishani’s new single, “Minority” below. To learn more about Shishani, visit her website at http://www.shishani.nl.

 


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