Music Business: Nicki Minaj Says Angola Show Was About Black Female Empowerment

Music Business: Nicki Minaj Says Angola Show Was About Black Female Empowerment

U.S. mega-star rapper Nicki Minaj changed the lyrics of her single, “Only,” to “independent women only” in a shout-out to Angolan women when she performed a holiday concert in the capital Luanda, HuffingtonPost reported.

A New York-based charity called for Minaj to cancel the concert over human rights abuses by long-term Angolan President Jose dos Santos, who has been in power since 1979.

Minaj, 33, went ahead with the performance anyway, appearing Dec. 19 in a packed stadium at the Show Unitel Boas Festas concert, sponsored by phone company Unitel. Unitel is controlled by Africa’s richest woman and its youngest billionaire, Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the president.

Minaj has long had the status of black feminist icon, HuffingtonPost reported.

When Vogue asked about her relationship to feminism, Minaj said, “I think of myself as a woman who wants other women to be bosses, and to be strong and to be go-getters. I’ve always said that, since I came in the game.”

“Minaj is the most globally visible female rapper of all time,” according to Vogue. “This makes her something of a canary in the music coal mine, testing what can and cannot be done within the tricky, competitive landscape of pop.”

Minaj posted a photo of her meeting with Isabel in those terms, too, HuffingtonPost reported. She wrote, “She’s just the 8th richest woman in the world. (At least that’s what I was told by someone b4 we took this photo) Lol. Yikes!!!!! GIRL POWER!!!!!”

Nicki Minaj’s Controversial Show Goes On in Angola Billboard
Nicki Minaj and Isabel dos Santos. Photo: nickiminaj Instagram/Billboard

Angola’s government has been accused of intimidation, oppression and
jailing supporters of democracy, IndependentOnline reported. Thor Halvorssen, founder of the Human Rights Foundation, asked Minaj to cancel the concert, highlighting the plight of Angolan hip hop artist Luaty Beirao, who was arrested in June after attending a meeting that discussed democracy in the country.

In a letter to Minaj, Halvorssen said, “Ms. Minaj, you are well known for being involved with charities such as the Get Schooled Foundation, which helps motivate young people to graduate from high school and succeed in college.

“If you move forward with this performance for the dictator and his family, you will be in league with the people stealing educational resources and opportunity from young Angolans.”

A disappointed fan wrote on the rapper’s Facebook page, “Not cool, Nicki, not cool. I guess you don’t care about human rights, eh?”

A headline in the Trinidad Guardian read, “Listen up, Nicki: Angolan lives matter.”

The Human Rights Foundation on its website described the Angolan president as a “cunning tyrant” who “survived a legacy of colonialism and devastating civil war to consolidate control over the presidency, military, and judicial system, all while crushing independent journalism and civil society,” Billboard reported.

“He uses rigged elections to fake democratic credentials, and his suppression of dissent is ruthless. As part of a national wave of arrests his regime has put 17 activists on trial for reading books on nonviolent resistance. Earlier this year, his security officers carried out and covered up a massacre of hundreds of civilians.”

Dos Santos has “exploited Angola’s vast natural resource wealth to build an enormous business empire, enriching his family and positioning them at the top of the country’s key industries,” HRF said.

Commentary in HuffingtonPost said you can’t argue with the Human Rights Foundation, but the inflammatory terms it uses to describe the dos Santos regime raise a lot of questions.

From HuffingtonPost. Story by Omise’eka Natasha Tinsley.

When Minaj accepted the invitation to perform in Luanda, she joined Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Erykah Badu and Kanye West in a list of artists reprimanded by HRF for performing for African and Eastern European “tyrants” in exchange for seven-figure paychecks.

It’s nearly impossible to argue with the foundation’s statement titled “Nicki Minaj Shouldn’t Be Performing for Dictators.” But in touting this self-evident platform, the foundation and other human rights watchdogs leave several important questions unasked:

When we talk about politics in Africa, why do we move so quickly into inflammatory terms?

The Human Rights Foundation calls dos Santos “brutal,” “a cunning tyrant” and “ruthless,” among other terms. Please be clear: I make no apologies for dos Santos’ regime, which includes the rise of deadly income disparities, arrests of nonviolent protesters, and a spike in child mortality rates.

But brutal, cunning, ruthless–rather than detailing Angola’s political situation–perform an ad hominem attack that echoes imperialist rhetoric about Africans’ savagery. The idea that Africans are too “brutal” and “ruthless” to govern themselves has been the irrational underpinning for numerous imperialist interventions into Angola and other African states, including the U.S.’s backing of Angolan guerilla group UNITA, funded by Western governments opposed to the then Marxist-Leninist state.

Why don’t we apply the same lens to ourselves?

This isn’t the language usually employed to talk about North American and European rulers, but why not? In the United States, nonviolent Black Lives Matter protesters were arrested in Boston and Minneapolis, while Sandra Bland’s death under dubious circumstances in a Texas jail in July remains obscured.

When we talk about politics in Africa, how seriously do we take black women’s voices?

You can agree with Minaj’s version of feminism or not. But a high-profile chance for a Black Trinidadian woman who lives in the United States to be in conversation with Angolan women about what empowerment means to Black women in diaspora: That’s a valuable moment.