Seinabo Sey’s Statement at the #Grammis16 Awards Made Me Think

Swedish-Gambian artist Seinabo Sey has become a big star in Sweden over the last year with her big voice, straightforward songs, and performances in all the important places (even Conan O’Brian). This week, she was given the prestigious closing performance slot of the Swedish music awards, the Grammis. There she also won the Pop Award of the year.

I had heard of her performance, and this evening, I decided to watch the entire awards gala. After 17 awards, finally it was time: Sey is alone on stage, lit from a spotlight above creating a beautiful classical singer aura and start singing her song “Easy”. After the wailing intro, a row of black women dressed in all black walk in to stand behind Sey, more keep coming, and more again, they are so many they fill up the stage and one row also comes in just below the stage. Sey segways into the song “Hard Time” where the lyrics go: hard time forgetting/even harder to forget/before you do same/you might regret/ The women have a neutral or even serious look on their face and “just stand there”.

It was amazing! See for yourselves!

After the performance Sey has gotten the question of what she meant by the performance. To the Swedish Television Company, SVT, she said:

– Jag vill att folk ska tänka själva. Det är konst – det är ljud och bild – och jag tror att människor gör mer när de får tänka själva än när de blir tillsagda vad de ska tänka.

– I want people to think for themselves. It is art – it is sound and image – and I think people do more when they are allowed to think for themselves than when they are told what to think.

Such a great and educative answer.

Her performance was most definitely a political statement and watching the clip from Ghana what went through my mind was: “I have never seen that many black women at once in Sweden, but they are there, they are there to stay, they are all ages, all shapes and sizes, all types of hair styles (gotta love black women!), they are there, how are they treated? How does it feel to be black in a political climate of xenophobia and outright racism? How does it feel to be a black woman in Sweden today? How will my daughters feel if they decide to live there?”

Earlier in February, I heard someone (blogger Ebba Kleeberg von Sydow?) review the Stockholm fashion week and comment there was surprisingly little political commentary in the fashion when Sweden is going through turbulent times politically. I was happy to see that did not happen to the yearly show-off of the Swedish music industry.

To use one’s platform is a requirement. Well done, Seinabo Sey. 

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Hipsters in Ghana: Part 1

So, a Swedish friend of mine wrote an article about how politicians can learn from hipsters. For those of you who do not read Swedish, his argument was basically that even though hipsters might look silly and obsess over city farms, homemade bread and vintage clothing – they offer insights into sustainable living of the future. As I complimented hom on the interesting frame (learning from hipsters), he responded with a question: How is it with hipsters in Ghana?

Well, let’s back track and fist find a definition for hipsters. Urban Dictionary thinks it is:

 a subculture of men and women typically in their 20’s and 30’s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.

So, are there hipsters in Ghana?

Hipster collage

I guess that depends on who you ask. Candance (who recently moved to Ghana from the US) for instance recently commented that on Instagram that she was at a Ghanaian farmers’ market with NO HIPSTERS!

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 12.54.59 PM

But that might just have been due to language. That market likely wasn’t called a “farmers’ market”. And how will then hipsters know it’s a place for them?

But when used clothes are called “Vintage”  as well as when social media is discussed, hipsters do show up, also in Ghana. The indie scene in Ghana, in my humble opinion, is flourishing with TEDx events (read about TEDxOsu here from just this past weekend), AccraDotAlt’s TalkPartis (and check out these great hipster photos!) and Jungle Music Festival Asabaako where the Ghanaian hipster community discuss art, listen to local DJs play indie music and eat local foods. However, the best place to spot hipsters in Accra is at The Republic Bar, where local spirits blended into great cocktails meet nostalgic decor. Does it get more hipsterish?

Yes, the hipster scene in Ghana might be small, foreign inspired and sometimes elitist, but I think  – just like my Swedish friend – we can learn a thing or two from hipsters and their obsessions (for instance The Republic Bar manages to have the best AND cheapest cocktails in town as they use local ingredients).

What did I forget about the hipster scene in Ghana? I will gather your comments and write a follow up post as soon as my homemade bread has risen. 

Photo collage trying to prove my point with photos from Facebook groups for Vintage Gh and BloggingGhana.


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My Road to the Humanist Conference in Accra, Ghana

On Friday 23 Nov 2012, the first ever humanist conference takes place in Ghana. The organizer is the newly founded Ghana Humanists, a group I keenly follow on Facebook as I most definitely am a humanist or a freethinker. I also agree with one of the key speakers at the event, Nigerian skeptic Leo Igwe, that certain beliefs in Ghana – like witchcraft – are hurting people and need to be questioned.

I remember moving to Ghana and suddenly being under an immense pressure to go to church, praise God and believe! Quickly, I adopted a strategy that involved never speaking about my non-faith, throwing in some “Thank God!”, “By the grace” and “Insh’Allah!” in my daily speech and agreeing to visiting people’s places of worship (also I was curious, like most humanists!). If asked directly, I’d say I was a Lutheran – as The Church of Sweden is Lutheran – and I felt I wasn’t exactly lying, even though strictly speaking church and state were separated in year 2000.

It was such a relief, when I decided to speak up. It started when I began teaching and a student one day asked me about my faith. I just couldn’t say I was a Lutheran to someone I was going to teach. It didn’t feel right to hide who I was when I was telling my students to be proud of who they were. Although reluctantly at first, I now take the debate on issues relating to faith, especially with my students and particularly when it comes to dogmatic instructions of not asking, not questioning, not even for a second doubting.

One on one, I have talked about in depth why I can’t “give it to God”. In larger groups, I have initiated debate by for instance showing the film the Witches of Gambaga at the university where I teach and moderated the ensuing discussion. A freethinker’s club has recently been formed on campus and even though it is a small group and the Christian and Muslim groups have many more members, I still think its a great step to illustrate the diversity: Not everyone in Ghana is religious.

If you are interested in attending the conference follow the instructions here.

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