The Power of Cultural and Creative Industries

My attempt to perform the Ivorian Zaouli dance almost cost me my foot. The Zaouli isn’t just a dance; it’s a marvel that requires skill and agility. This traditional mask dance celebrates the beauty and grace of women. It is performed by a male dancer who wears a colourful costume and a wooden mask representing a female spirit. The dancer moves to the rhythm of drums and flutes, mimicking the movements of animals and birds. The dance is a ritual of joy and harmony that brings together people from different villages and regions.

Reflecting on my failure, I realized how much talent, discipline, and passion this art requires. The Zaouli is a dance that expresses and celebrates identity, culture, and values. I felt ashamed of my clumsy and disrespectful attempt to imitate something I did not understand or appreciate. I decided to investigate more about the Zaouli dance and the history and meaning of African dances, developing a deep admiration and respect for the skills and creativity of the dancers who perform them. I also wondered how Africa could harness the potential of its cultural and creative industries to foster economic development and social cohesion.

The cultural and creative industries (CCIs) encompass sectors of economic activity involving the creation, production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services with cultural, artistic, or creative content. These sectors include music, film, design, fashion, crafts, performing arts, visual arts, and heritage. While these areas are critical components of economic growth and employment in other parts of the world, Africa has yet to exploit these industries’ benefits fully.

According to UNESCO, the global share of CCIs in GDP was 3% in 2015, but only 1.1% in Africa. In contrast, Asia and the Pacific accounted for 4.2%, Europe and North America for 3.3%, and Latin America and the Caribbean for 1.9%. The top five countries in terms of CCI contribution to GDP were China (7.4%), Japan (6.8%), South Korea (5.8%), India (4.9%), and the US (4.6%). Morocco (2.5%), Tunisia (2.4%), South Africa (2.3%), Egypt (1.1%), and Kenya (0.7%) were the top-ranking African nations.

There are several reasons why CCIs only make up a little of Africa’s GDP. These include a lack of accurate data and statistics, the sector being undervalued, the fact that most creative activities are done informally, the lack of investment and support, the limited availability of markets and distribution channels, weak protection of intellectual property rights, and the fact that CCIs are not fully integrated into national development strategies and policies. However, there are also opportunities for CCIs to grow and thrive in Africa, given the continent’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, young and dynamic population, fast-growing digital and mobile penetration, and vibrant and innovative artistic scene.

Policymakers and stakeholders often underestimate or overlook CCIs’ potential, especially in African countries. Many challenges hinder their development and growth, such as inadequate legal and institutional frameworks, limited access to finance and markets, low capacity and skills of practitioners, weak infrastructure and technology, and insufficient recognition and protection of intellectual property rights.

Yet, CCIs are recognized as important drivers of economic development, innovation, and social inclusion, contributing to job creation, income generation, trade expansion, cultural diversity, and human development. The creative economy is currently worth an estimated $985 billion (UNCTAD). G20 Insights expects that by 2030, the creative economy will account for 10% of global GDP, while Deloitte predicts that the creative industry will grow by up to 40%.

According to UNDP, the creative industries generate yearly revenues of more than $2 trillion and employ approximately 50 million people globally. Approximately half of these workers are women, and these businesses employ more people aged 15 to 29 than any other industry. Television and the visual arts are the major revenue-generating businesses in the creative economy, while the visual arts and music are the top employers. Recent studies show that Nigeria’s CCI expects to earn $100 billion from the sector by 2030.

The benefits of the creative industry extend beyond monetary value. It is also a powerful tool for geopolitical influence, as it can enhance countries’ and regions’ soft power and cultural diplomacy. The creative economy can help project a positive image and identity of a nation or group of nations and communicate their values, interests, and aspirations to the world. Moreover, the creative economy can foster international cooperation and dialogue among different cultures and civilizations, facilitating the exchange of ideas, experiences, and expressions across borders and boundaries.

For example, the Lingala music and Ndombolo dance in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) showcase the creative economy. These culturally diverse forms of music, combining traditional Congolese rhythms with modern genres, promote artistic expression, cultural diversity, and income generation for thousands of young people despite the conflicts that have hindered the country’s development. Across Africa, this music and dance have been influential within the continent and in Europe, especially in France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom, where there are large communities of Congolese immigrants and descendants.

These countries have seen the emergence of artists who incorporate Lingala lyrics, melodies, and rhythms into their music, such as Youssoupha, Singuila, Jessy Matador, and MHD. These artists have collaborated with well-known Congolese musicians, such as Fally Ipupa, Koffi Olomide, and Papa Wemba, creating cross-cultural and intergenerational bridges. Lingala music and Ndombolo dance have also inspired European audiences and performers who appreciate the diversity and vitality of these genres. For instance, Stromae, a Belgian singer of Rwandan descent, used Ndombolo dance moves in his 2013 hit song “Papaoutai,” while Major Lazer, an American electronic music trio, featured Ndombolo dancers in their 2015 video “Light It Up.”

One of the most remarkable examples of the global influence and recognition of CCIs is the case of the Tofo Tofo Dance Group, which collaborated with Beyoncé in her 2011 music video “Run the World (Girls).” The group’s choreographer came across them on YouTube, where they had posted videos of their impressive dance moves fusing kwaito and pantsula styles. They were invited to Los Angeles to teach Beyoncé and her dancers their routines, and then they flew to the Mojave Desert to film the video with her. Their appearance in the video brought them worldwide fame and exposure, and they were later invited to perform at various events and festivals worldwide.

The Zaouli dance highlighted the immense skill and dedication required for African traditional dances and the broader cultural and creative industries. While underutilized in Africa, these industries hold significant economic development and social cohesion potential. With proper investment, support, and integration into national policies, Africa’s rich cultural heritage and dynamic artistic scene can drive substantial economic growth, innovation, and international influence. Recognizing and harnessing the power of cultural and creative industries can lead to a thriving creative economy, contributing to the continent’s overall development and global cultural presence.

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