‘We found love in a hopeless place’

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.



Neelika Jayawardane

Sharp-tongued literature professor. Senior editor at Africa is a Country.

    1. who knows or cares anymore at this stage? …

      about now thinking of grabbing a couple of lighter skinned pals to go film something in east africa to go viral on youtube and piggyback on that to raise funds for a techie project …

      I really hope she was referring only to Kenyans cos if the Nigerians catch a hold of this, their ministry of information might call for a boycott of this video … and Zuma might marry both ladies if RSA gets slighted.

      everybody has gone mad … mad … I tell you ….

    2. we’ve collectively figured out that she sings “hopeless place” first, and then “holy place” and finally, “whole new place” (bit blurred); the general direction of change in wording suggests the inherent ability of Africa to transform the visitor, and, perhaps…how the ‘visitor’ can mobilise Africa from a place of hopelessness to a place that can launch a whole new brand!

  1. africans co-opting africaness to sell africa … what the hell is the world coming to?

    everybody has gone mad … mad … I tell you ….

    1. Maybe I should be asking is the video offensive because of what it does or who it does it to? Is it both or neither? Would it make a difference if that video had been produced by a wealthy kenyan in a poverty stricken part of the same nation? (hence reference to the Safaricom advert)

      1. @kimemiaandy: You’re comparing fruits and vegetables. The “We found love …” objectifies and others Africans; Safaricom is selling nationalism.

  2. It seems this song is a kind of global rent-an-insult. When I first saw it I was reminded of Hackney, and assumed it was exploiting the aesthetics of the 2011 riots, and (mentally) took offense on behalf of London. It seems the good people of Belfast, where the original was filmed, took offense too. One local farmer ‘slammed’ Rihanna for the video, citing religious objections to the Bajan singer’s nearly-nude appearance in his wheatfield, and received worldwide coverage. I wonder where Doonhamer Calvin Harris had in mind when he wrote thing, or what intoxicant induced this bathetic nonsense. For my money it’s a tedious song – emo-pop froth with a bad aftertaste – lacking the muscularity of, say, Man Down.

  3. Rent-an-insult indeed. It’s creepy. ‘This is the first time they hear a violin’ – how incredibly, anachronistically patronising!

  4. Also, what’s with the shot of the kids crowding around the one camera guy as he shows them his footage on the camera? It’s as if to say “Hey, you won’t believe this – they’ve never seen a camera either! That’s why we cut to an otherwise inexplicable shot of the cameraman!”

  5. It is so laughable! There are some people who can be condescending in a subtle way. The vulgarity of this video (and its producers) is only matched by Kony2012.

  6. We’re glad that other bloggers love our writing…but please attribute when you ‘borrow” our ideas, and barely paraphrase. We do this for free – so please respect our labour.
    I won’t name names, but see below:
    “And then the lyrics change… “We found love in a holy place… we found love in a whole new place.” Oh wait, so God’s involved in this? How surprising. Lord, you have wrought me anew.”
    “In the Rihanna video, the “hopeless place” is Northern Ireland and it’s a place where models and their beautiful friends can make out, wear DMs, pretend to skateboard and take drugs in the bath together.”

    1. Hey Neelika,
      We did give a plug to Africa is a Country- it got cut from the original edit but it is now back in. I got sent the video by a sometime colleague in Kenya and it was only once I’d started writing the piece that I saw that you guys had (of course, as ever) got there before me. I felt as though I could add some stuff to it and look at it from a slightly different angle (meaner, more cynical, screengrabs etc) while also backing what you said here up. We’re coming from the same place, after all. I realise that, from what you’ve quoted, it looks bad, but it seemed hard to avoid since it was a discussion of the same two videos- God, making out and DMs feature heavily. Anyway, I want to keep plugging AIAC (I’m hoping for a contribution on an upcoming piece) because I think it is great and I’m sorry the attribution went missing.

      1. A ‘plug’ isn’t enough when it comes to properly crediting sources, Oscar. When quoting or borrowing ideas from others – either directly or via paraphrasing their original ideas/analysis – it must be attributed directly as their words/ideas at each point where you quote/borrow:
        “According to X, …” ; or “As Y has already pointed out in abc…” ; and “furthermore, Y also argues that….,” etc.

        We appreciate that you’ve been honest about the fact that ideas were borrowed from this post for your own; and you’re hardly the only person who’s done that within the past year. We’ve just arrived at the point where we know that we must take some action about protecting our writing as original work, and ensuring that our labour is attributed in a fair manner. I’m happy to have your readership. Here’s to sharing thoughts!

        1. Life is not as complicated as you would like it to be. I think the video is great and your comments are rude and self serving. You are using your literary skills to criticize others and find flaws in everything. And you are selling that skill. You promote negativity and look for the flaws in everything. What a terrible job you must have. Wake up and smell the roses. Everything is not a conspiracy and making money and promoting an upbeat video is not a sin. God, it must suck to be you.

      2. Rest assured, X & Y will go thoroughly acknowledged in future- I honestly thought a ref. to AIAC was enough on this but I see your point. Anyway, not to bleat on but I’m always singing your praises through Africa Confidential and Vice etc. I’m gonna leave it at that. Thanks Neelika, keep up the good work.

    2. Neelika, I liked how you handled this in a professional manner. Here’s to professionalism!

  7. Swahili has never hurt my ears this badly. “Tumepata mapenzi”—we have found love. That phrase from the song is killing me right now.

    I will survive.

    We will survive this.

  8. Hopeless?Really, have lived in this place for 27 years now, have travelled many corners of this country, the civilized and the deeply traditional.
    Have not seen hopelessness, all i see i great determination, passion, hope desire to live and grow childred in there conditions.
    We talk of people living in less than a dollar a dollar a day? these are people who can survive in no dollar a day, who have embraced non financial based trade.
    There’s no hopelessness here, if thats what you hope to see when you visit, dont visit but if you must, i urge you to embrace an open mind and keep your keep your social and developmental dichotomy to self.

    1. Are you trying to insinuate that black folks have “fat” kissable asses? Just checking …

      But really “bobo” … I think you can do better than this … I believe in you … rewrite that but in a more readable and coherent, preferably with some line of persuasion, format this time …



  10. Thank you AICI for voicing your opinion about this! this went ultra viral on my feed by teen-middle aged white, missionary americans ofcourse, i couldn’t bring myself to comment and point out everything wrong about it!

  11. Why the brouhaha over this video?! Chick found LOVE in a sea of hopelessness.. What’s more, she found Maasai warriors, elephants, smiling kids living in abject poverty who are full of life. She fell in LOVE with the motherland, wore authentic clothing made by our dearly beloved. I mean, shiiiiid. If this video did not make you want to start an authentic love affair with a Maasai herdsman, Iunno what will. I’m on my way, to find me LOVE in a sea of hopelessness, roaring hills and manyattas.

    I actually, do quite infact LOVE the song!!

  12. Liked ur comment kimila. When people talk about those that live for less than a dollar a day, they sometimes forget that in some of those places, that amount is enough to live on for a day….as long as there are no medical issues to contend with. Issues have to be put in perspective to truly understand their real implications. Also liked Oscar, and how he took corrections for not attributing properly. A decent way to handle corrections which helped appease Neelika – wish everyone was that way.

  13. This is so silly – it passes for a well done spoof. Nicely done, Lindsey and the VenTribe!

  14. This video was beautiful. If you looked into the singer and her other videos (not just Lindsey Stirling), the whole point of the movement is that Africa is not a place for Westerners to go and do charity work and make Africa look poor. The whole point is that Africa is a beautiful place, and is an emerging entity in this world, and that the “western world” needs to take notice. The fact is, there are places in Africa that struggle with poverty, and yes, a girl “prancing around with a violin” is a novelty, and is a sight to see. Just like I love to see African percussionists and hear African music, its different, and a lesson in different cultures. There will never be equality while there are people separating the ‘east,’ the ‘west’ and ‘African.’ Why can’t a warrior want to play the violin, just for kicks? I understand the bitterness that is behind this article, but I think this is an attitude that will hinder the continent’s growth, not help it.

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