‘Because you’re African doesn’t mean you know traditional African history’ – Jidenna

Nigerian-American artist Jidenna is Lagos promoting his sophomore album, 85 to Africa.

The artist spared a few minutes with the Guardian’s Chisom Njoku where he touched on a number of subject including his evolving style, how his early upbringing influences his perspective, and more.

“My first seven years [developmental years] were spent in Enugu, Nigeria before I moved to the United States so that means I learned all the primary things here first,” he says. “It means I learned how to speak English here first, I learned to walk here, my facial expressions come from here, I gained wisdom from Aunties and Uncles here so by the time I got to the U.S everything I saw was from a Nigerian perspective or a wider African lens.

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Jidenna also doesn’t believe that being born an African means an understanding of the history of the continent. He says:

“Many Africans are miseducated in Africa too, just because you’re African doesn’t mean you know traditional African history. Most people only know what was fed to them by a colonised education system.

“It’s important to be properly educated because not only do we [Africans] not know African history, we don’t know black American history and the struggles and sacrifices they made so Black people everywhere could have rights, the feeling of not being wanted in the country you call home and having no flag, no land and to have Africans say you’re not African, that hurts them.”

Jidenna had earlier revealed, in the led up to the release of his album 85 to Africa, how a shady landlord suddenly evicted him from his home in Atlanta. He found himself in Africa and spent several months on the continent, an experience that culminated in the album launch. Speaking of all those experiences, Jidenna tells Chisom:

“I decided to stay out here on the continent and I lived between a few countries for six months. I started in Nigeria and then I lived in South Africa for a while before moving on to Swaziland, Mozambique, and Namibia. These six months on the continent helped to shape the album that became 85 to Africa.

“There are a few tracks that have soul samples especially the hip hop tracks that were inspired by the stories and experiences I had in Nigeria.

“The first record is called Worth The Wait and it features Seun Kuti, I implored him to collaborate and bless the album.

The song 85 to Africa is a Fela sample, the rhythm and sounds on Zodi and Sufi Woman, of course, are directly inspired by Nigerian music.”

Jidenna’s aspiration is for Africans everywhere to feel proud of their African heritage and to feel at home anywhere on the continent.

His words:

“I want people to feel proud to be of African descent anywhere in the world. The album really is a soundtrack of global black music without borders, without tribes if you will. I want people to feel that anywhere you go as a descendant of Africa, you [can] feel at home with other descendants of Africa. I want black people from America to come to Lagos and feel like they are in the midst of family and I want people from Dar Es Salaam to be able to go to Russia and if they see an African community from another country, they still feel at home.”

For more on the interview, visit the Guardian website.


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