Sampa the Great’s work embodies Pan Africanism today.

Zambia-born, Botswana-raised hip hop artist Sampa The Great spends her time between Australia and Botswana. Her album The Return (2019) was an important work that received much praise. From it, the songs Final Form and Energy are representations of hip hop’s Pan African voice.

In the songs’ music videos, for example, we see dance styles found in diaspora and African communities. We see facial paint designs like those seen in South Africa and masks like those found in Mali. In Energy she features British-Sierra Leonean artist Nadeem Din-Gabisi performing poetry in Pidgin English.


We’ve seen important collaborations between hip hop artists across Africa and in the diaspora that go back to the early 1990s. But we see an increase after 2010. When African artists started using social media and file sharing they were able to increase their collaborations.

In 2011, Senegalese hip hop pioneer Didier Awadi released the major collaborative project, Présidents d’Afrique (Presidents of Africa) featuring collaborations with artists from Burkina Faso, DRC, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, France, and the US. It also sampled speeches from past leaders like Aimé Césaire, Nyerere, Nkrumah, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King.

And the growing presence of Africans in important positions in the US entertainment industry has meant these collaborations are beginning to happen in more mainstream platforms.

Two big budget projects that have attracted significant attention are the US film Black Panther (2018) and US pop star Beyoncé’s Black is King visual album (2020).

There are many important criticisms of these projects. Major labels prefer proven (profitable) formulas over artist innovation. There is a tendency towards a homogenization—a lumping together—of Africa and a marginalization of African artists’ voices.

Beyoncé is criticized for her representations of Africa.

But we also need to understand that both projects are products of the transnationalization of African communities and identities. They exist in part because of the increased mobility of African communities around the world. We also must recognize their impact on helping to cultivate Pan African identities.

In Black is King, we see the prominent influence of West African culture. The project was the product of the creative vision of Beyoncé, Ghanaian creative director Kwasi Fordjour and Ghanaian creatives Blitz Bazawule (Blitz the Ambassador) and Emmanuel Adjei. Also on the project were Nigerian creative directors Ibra Ake and Jenn Nkiru.

Pan Africanism is hip hop

There will be more of these projects produced. There will also continue to be these projects produced on smaller budgets. But imagine if Sampa the Great’s Final Form had a Black is King budget? Would there be criticism of this artist if she incorrectly used a particular African symbol?

Songs like Final Form and Hello Africa are celebrations of Blackness, in global spaces. This Pan Africanism is recognition that African peoples are transnational and multicultural. It is an understanding that African peoples must stand together. It is also a call to understand and respect the differences in our struggles and to resist the temptation of imposing “universal” models of liberation. Pan Africanism is also feminist, anti-homophobic and anti-imperialist.

The importance of African music and hip hop is that it also clues us in on what is going on with Pan Africanism. Pan Africanism is not a movement that faded away or only lives on among a small minority. It is dynamic, and has adjusted to new realities.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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