Travel in Africa, like the continent itself, is multi layered. While it is often the iconic wildlife that first draws us, it is the human connection that makes the story real. There is another side to going on safari, one of cultures both ancient and modern. It is an important side as the fragility of Africa’s wild spaces rests significantly in the decision making of the continent’s urban centres and each individual nation’s own people. As is only to be expected, there is a creativity, dynamism and beauty of the human spirit that helps paint the true picture.
These human stories are told in many ways, including art, music, dance, architecture and clothing. From therianthrope rock art in the Matobo Hills to the contemporary art of Khartoum, Saharan rock engravings, Benin bronzes, Ghanaian trading beads and Zimbabwe stone scultpures, the continent’s art history dates back thousands of years.
Likewise, music and dance is an integral part of traditional culture and spans the gamut. The trance dance of the San in the Kalahari, the Wodaabe’s yaake dance, Samburu singing wells, Sufi mystics in the land of Sheba, the adumu dance of the Maasai, the Zulu indlamu and Senegalese mbalax musicians all tell stories that bond their communities.
Meanwhile Ethiopia’s Orthodox architectural tradition includes Axumite rock stelae, the monolithic churches of Lalibela and is believed to be the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. Stories abound in what was one of the world’s last empires and are best heard over buna in the birthplace of coffee.
Of course Africa is a continent on the move and while these art forms are fundamental to their communities there are equally inspiring places to visit in modern, urban Africa. The Dakar biennale, Ghanaian kente cloth and East African kitenge markets, the Timkat epiphany festival, Cape Town café culture and grooving with the Brazzaville sapeurs; these are adventures of the heart that ring true.