THE new three-part series Africa Rising with Afua Hirsch (BBC2, from Tuesday of last week) presents three of the continent’s nations — Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa — “in its own terms”, through their burgeoning art and culture. Hirsch, writer, journalist, and lawyer, finds example after example of “creatives” (her word), most of whom, in different media, celebrate their country’s historic craft skills, interpreted through the most forward-looking technology.
Success is no longer measured by how far the results are appreciated (and bought) by the wider, particularly Western, world: this is art for its own place, local community empowerment a significant element. Liberation from repressive conservative attitudes — anti-feminism, homophobia — was centre stage in many vibrant, exotic, playful, and celebratory manifestations. But the individual segments were too brief, cut off just as they became interesting.
Hirsch is delightfully direct; yet her constant enthusiasm and brilliant smile became, alas, as wearisome as they are in popular clergy. The second programme, about Nigeria (20 June), was far better, as her universal positivity began to crack. Here she acknowledged pervading corruption and social injustice: the appalling discrepancy between super-wealth and the 40 per cent who live below the poverty line. Nigeria’s hyper-energy and unbounding creativity is realised in art — but also in venality and criminality. This is art born of anger and despair: revolutionary and potentially dangerous — and so all the more compelling.
Hirsch visited Ogiame Atuwaste III’s court, where traditional obeisance and gift-giving jostled with contemporary technology. This newly crowned Olu of Warri would have relished Trooping the Colour: The King’s birthday parade (BBC1, Saturday). Commentators kept telling us how this would set the tone for the King’s revising of the Royal Family and its relationship with the armed forces. Indeed, generational change was apparent in the saluting party, and far more women fill many roles — but, overwhelmingly, this celebrated the most traditional values: loyalty, discipline, hierarchy. The event delights all who revere liturgy, arcane ritual, and dressing up.
It is like a secular version of Benediction: the Colour, to which is ascribed the soul of the regiment, is trooped up and down the ranks, inspiring and reinforcing the familial spirit so vital in combat. Perhaps the tamed barbarism of trumpet flourishes, drumbeats, barked orders, and countermarching massed bands is Britain’s national music as authentic as any found in Africa.
Symbolic ritual actions were well understood by the subject of BBC4’s marvellous documentary Michael Tippett: The shadow and the light (8 June). This highly political composer, by turns socialist, Stalinist, and Trotskyite, and overwhelmingly pacifist, wrote music consciously to empower the masses and transform society radically; but his great operas and symphonies became fiendishly difficult and elitist. Is his greatest legacy A Child of Our Time, whose spirituals convey immediately both the horror of our inhumanity and humans’ desperate longing for freedom and hope?