Exploring African Electronics

This is the first in a series of op-eds exploring African Electronics.

Serge Attukwei's African Electronics

Serge Attukwei’s African Electronics. Photo by Serge Attukwei

Like Afrofuturism, a new wave of energy/ power to create is sweeping through the continent. Africans are now creating and finding solutions to their problems. This energy to construct realities is moving mainly within the technology, automobile and creative art industries. These creations are usually referred to as “African Electronics” in Ghana. African Electronics isn’t necessarily about electronics per say it has more to do with our creative force as a people.

African Electronics could also mean adopting traditional esoteric knowledge as a problem solving mechanism. Ghanaian inventor Kwadwo Sarfo has stated publicly how his invention ideas come through messages from otherworldly beings. Young contemporary artists like Cyrus Kabiru, Serge Attukwei Clottey, and CrazinisT ArtisT are using their installations and performance art to solve environmental problems like electronic waste and gender issues. That is African Electronics.

Kantanka SUV

Kantanka SUV via Ghana Rising

At the last Talk Party Series, co-director of ACCRA[dot]ALT, Mantse Aryeequaye said Africans can find knowledge and inspiration from folklores and traditional music to construct an African reality that thrives on an infinite imagination. “Ghana should not have an energy crisis at this time,” he said.

To some people, African Electronics refers to African spirituality. It is that place Africans draw their creative impulses from. Traditional folklore has stories about interactions with non-humans and interplanetary travel. Stories like Akomfo Anokye conjuring the golden stool from the heavens, Togbe Tsali, the famous ancient Ewe King transforming into a fly, teleporting or making corn grow and ready for harvest within minutes to save his people best explains African Electronics. Installation and performance artist Serge Attukwei has a strong conviction that modern technology is engineered through this form of African electronics.

Cyrus Kabiru C-Stunners

Cyrus Kabiru C-Stunners. Photo by Cyrus Kabiru

African Electronics is undeniably a part of us. It is in our music, literature, film, education, new inventions and innovation. Music emerging from the continent, like electro-house is influenced by experimental sounds created with simple, traditional instruments like the fontomfrom and djembe drums (made from wood and cow leather), the Kologo, kalimba, kora and many others. The narratives evoked in these sounds create realities that make Africans reimagine their societies and are influenced by folk stories that have been around for years.

The influences can be heard in Francis Beybey’s electro sound of the 80’s to Blitz the Ambassadors’ Afrobeat horns and percussion influenced sound. Nigerian writer Amos Tutu Ola’s book, “The Palm wine Drunkard” demonstrates how African writers are recreating metaphysical realities that present new ways of perceiving identity. Explaining how African spirituality and other traditional methods help him solve problems, he writes: But when I thought within myself that he might harm us, I performed one of my jujus and it changed my wife and our loads into a wooden-doll and I put it in my pocket.

Software programmers and animators like Eyram Akofo-Tawia (Leti Arts) and Francis Brown (Animax FYB Studios) are creating games and animated films based on obscure traditional knowledge systems. Sci-fi writers and filmmakers like Nosa Igbinedion from Nigeria[ Oya: Rise of the Orishas], Wanuri Kahiu from Kenya, writer of futurist, dystopian short film Pumzi are telling stories that tap into supernatural and metaphysical folklores that have long lived with Africans. Futurists’ theories and alternative realities have always been part of everyday lives of Africans contrary to popular belief. I believe Africans are using traditional knowledge and creativity on the continent to create the unimaginable.

Extract for this year’s theme “African Electronics is a popular term describing indigenous esoteric knowledge that Ghanaians use to create the impossible. It is the grand manifestation of our most powerful creative ability as a people, the cryogenic refrigerant that has kept our technologies alive across time. It is a way out – a secret pathway to possibilities unseen before. Through this portal, we document histories of triumph, innovation and encounters with the unimaginable. It is the magic wand that creates what we want at will and transports us wherever we want to go. African Electronics is timelessly regenerating the next wave of transformative energy.”

Written by Nana Osei Kwadwo

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