A few years ago I got fed up with the depiction of Africa in the media. It seems like every time I hear the African continent mentioned on the news it's in relation to some crisis, pandemic, conflict or internet scam. I'd be lying if I told you that all of the sob stories are untrue -- there are real and legitimate problems on the continent, though arguably some of the most significant among them (e.g. the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the mosquito-born scourge of malaria) get the shortest shrift in our news coverage.
Still, the reality of life in many places is a far cry from what is depicted on our TV screens. It would be as if the images of the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were presented as "life in America." There is reality in what is shown, but the real truth often lies in what is left unsaid...
Rather than raise hell about "media bias" as an artist I decided to make my own media. So I took a team of 20 friends -- musicians, educators, activists & filmmakers -- on a trip to Accra, Ghana, where I was born, and we proceeded to walk around my hometown shooting images of "real life" and set them to a remake of a West African anthem called "Sweet Mother." This was the result:
The video hit #4 on the Ghanaian video charts after works by R. Kelly, Usher & Beyoncé and went on to air in over 50 different countries. It turned out that my vision of my community resonated with a lot more people than I'd expected...
Fast forward to a few years later. In collaboration with a Jamaican producer I met during the "Sweet Mother" project, I wrote "a song for all the people who fight on, in a world that doesn't see them." Months later I was playing a concert at a school in northern Minnesota when I looked out at the crowd and heard the students chanting "Fight On, Fight On." As we started playing the song we were met with the sound of hundreds of kids singing it right back to us.
It turns out the students had used "Fight On" as the soundtrack for a video they made about student engagement. A year later I would stumble on a clip of the song closing out a video made by LGBT activists on a roadtrip to DC. Then last year a friend in Australia used it in a video to raise awareness about malaria. And thus was born an idea:
If I could use a music video as a vehicle to share MY vision of my community, then why couldn't anyone?
And so as part of Take Back the Mic -- a social enterprise that uses art & technology to empower young people -- we created the "Fight On" campaign. We grabbed a bunch of our friends in L.A., shot a video on a FlipCam, and created a competition for people to show the faces of the faceless in their own communities -- the hopeful, the hopeless, the inspired, the indigent and the incredible.
So often we exalt the "fighters" in our society, whether the fictional gunslingers in True Grit, or the real warriors who defend us in places like Iraq & Afghanistan. In this case, I'd like to take a look at a different kind of "fight" -- the struggle to live, thrive, dream and survive in a world that may not know nor understand your story. Here's a chance to tell it, in your own words.
Enter the competition for a chance to win a $4500 prize. We look forward to seeing your world through your eyes.
Follow Derrick Ashong on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ashong