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DO READ THE COMMENTS

YouTube music video comments are the safe space for the pan-African romantic in all of us

YouTube screenshot
A screenshot from the music video of Innoss’B featuring Diamond Platnumz for Yope Remix

YouTube’s comments section is widely acknowledged in modern internet culture as one of the worst places on the Web. Even the most benign videos of a tech toy’s unboxing all too easily descends into vitriol, sexism and discriminatory outbursts. 

Over the years it’s become so bad YouTube has been experimenting with hiding comments as a default on certain types of videos.

But of course there are millions of hours of YouTube videos watched everyday and not all videos inspire nasty comments—far from it. In fact, if you want to enjoy overwhelmingly positive comments, then watching most popular African music videos are where you want to be.

It’s almost always good vibes in the comments for your Burna Boys, Sauti Sols, Wizkids and Diamond Platnumz, who between them rack up hundreds of millions of views each year. You have the roll-callers and the hype(wo)men “Who is still listening to this jam in 2019?” or “If you have listened to this song more than 5 times today, click like” or “If you are Kenyan, please hit like on this comment,” or “I don’t know why this song hasn’t made it to 5M views. Hit like and keep sharing!”

In the recent past even more than before, African music has been crossing borders—aided by the rise of social media and the diaspora that gave musicians more opportunities to instantly release their music to the world. African pop genres developed over the last decade like Nigeria/Ghana’s Afrobeats and South Africa’s gqom have benefitted greatly from YouTube in particular which made it so much easier to go global without major record labels (though they’re now all on board). There has also been a growth in the number of radio stations exclusively dedicated to hits from all over the continent.  

Investors are seeing the opportunity and investing in homegrown music labels. Even Beyonce hasn’t been left behind with the recent release of the Lion King soundtrack that is packed with Afrobeats artists. Big name collaborations are becoming commonplace – bringing black artists across the continental divide together. Afrobeats hits have even made their way into the Caribbean carnival scene.

Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP
Burna Boy performs at Coachella Festival, Indio, California in April

The thing about African social media on every other platform is it’s not that different from social media everywhere else in some senses. It is either naturally separated into national groupings like on WhatsApp or on open platforms like Twitter and Instagram it quickly evolves from jokes about who makes the best jollof rice into questioning each other’s national integrity and general mayhem ensues. 

But specifically on YouTube African music videos, the pan-African spirits of Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah and Thomas Sankara and others seem to combine and take over. Whoever you are, you just slip off your shoes and slide into an African music video comments “room” with goodwill and love.

First, you introduce yourself, “Jane from Tanzania, listening to this song in Malaysia.” Having greeted those in the room, you ensure that they know you come with good tidings. “I love Africa” or “I am so proud to be from this beautiful continent” or “I have never been to Africa, but this video makes me want to visit the continent even more.” You then establish your commonalities, “I am from Cuba and this sound reminds me of a very popular type of music we have here,” or “We have this same dance in Haiti!”

When initial introductions have been made, grab a seat, feel at home and let’s gist.  “Angola, Stand up! Representing for the best country in this beautiful continent.” “Representing from the pearl of Africa – Uganda.” Soon, you can bring salutations from your country-people as their unofficial spokesperson, “Ivorians approve of this song.”

Language is not an issue. In a sea of Portuguese comments, you might have one person who says, “I have no idea what this song means, but I can’t stop dancing.” You will definitely experience some African hospitality, “Let me translate all the Swahili sections of this song for those who don’t understand it.” 

As music transcends borders, languages and cultures, feel at home even when you’re not sure what is being said. In August of this year, DR Congo’s Innoss’B put out a club-banger Yo pe mostly in Lingala and some French, getting 9 million views. One month later, he does a remix with Tanzania’s Diamond Platnumz still mostly in the same languages, but getting 22 million views with an overwhelming number of comments from Swahili speakers. While they might not understand the lyrics, they cannot help but dance and enjoy the great African collabo vibes.

Let us not forget though that success has many fathers. In some cases literally. “Yes, he is Cameroonian, but his mother is from Nigeria. Nigeria, stand up!” or “I am Ivorian, but I grew up in DRC. They are the best dancers on the continent. I’m representing for Congo and Cote d’ivoire.” As you dance, there will also be those moved to moments of religious fervor by just how good the music is, “May Allah bless this continent!” “I am praying for all of God’s blessings in your life.” The prophets and prophetesses will not be left behind, “If you hit like, you will be rich this year!” or “Whoever is reading this, your future holds nothing but success. Be blessed.”

Having washed your hands, feasted on some hearty meal and maybe imbibed some local brew, your tongue might loosen. “Those 1k dislikes come from bleaching cream manufacturers” or “Imagine how ashamed Ugandans are feeling seeing a South African sing in fluent Swahili.” Or “Nigeria, even if our government fails us, our artists will not.”

As you leave the comments party, you will reaffirm your pan-African love, “Viva l’Afrique!”, “There is no place like home,” or “I love you Mama Africa.”

Wherever you’re from, there will always be a seat for you in the YouTube comments section – just remember, only good vibes allowed here.

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