The central point of this song and music video by violinist Lindsey Stirling (the singer is one Alisha Popat) begins with an invocation of a familiar trope: Africa is a hopeless place. But African love springs eternal. So much so that it has the ability to save and teach privileged people from the west, who arrive with fancy hopes of ‘saving’ picturesque Africans. Hell, I’m sure you could even save the elephants if you spent long enough prancing around them playing the violin and the elephants somehow managed to resist the temptation to grind you into the dust with their massive feet (note to American celebrities). And people love this kind of thing. By late last night, this video had nearly half a million views since it was first posted on Youtube on Monday, May 7.
Once you get over the Johnny Clegg-Ladysmith Black Mambazo echo, and after some violin performances for the requisite gaggle of adorable black school kids (we’ll never get why posing a lone American adult with a bunch of African kids plucks the heartstrings of the Youtube crowd), another performance under an acacia tree (pop up text reminds you “this is their first time hearing a violin”), a virtuoso drummer (another local?), and then the gracious sharing of the ceremonial violin with Maasai warrior (another requisite trope of any transformative Africa video), we get the re-minted lyrics: “We found love in a holy place.” We’ve collectively figured out that she sings “hopeless place” first, and then “holy place” and finally, “whole new place” (bit blurred).
Yup, once again, the amazing transformation that Africa is ever burdened with granting to soul-searching westerners has magically taken place. So: this land is now the tabernacle of God, if not the location of God himself. Deep stuff. In the Rihanna original, of course, the “hopeless place” is basically somewhere where you get to do a vast amount of snogging: snogging in a cornfield, snogging in a skatepark, in a burger-joint, in a car, in a grimy apartment after having taken loads of drugs, in the bath wearing Doc Martens. But no snogging for Lindsey Stirling in Kenya. Instead there’s just a whole lot of very determined and very chaste smiling. Grin and bear it.
They also find ‘authentic’ Kenyan clothing and accessories. (Must be the knockoff Vlisco prints, or the red tartan blankets given to the Maasai by Scottish missionaries?) Sadly, it wasn’t the fantastic young Kenyan designers these people ran into. Imagine the transformation that might have happened. If only. The credits suggest Lindsey et al went to Kenya on the dime of an online retail store, but you wouldn’t know this whole Save the Children thing is about selling clothes. So maybe all that minor tinkering with the original wording not only suggests the inherent ability of Africa to transform the visitor, but also, perhaps, how the ‘visitor’ can, in turn, mobilise Africa from a place of hopelessness to a place that can launch a whole new brand.
Meanwhile, however, they find love in a hopeless place.
* Elliot Ross and Sean Jacobs contributed to this post.