It's important to know your own roots, to have knowledge of where you've come from, in order to better chart where you can go next.
It's a task Afrikan Boy has been struggling with for some time. As the rise of ancestry testing allows people greater awareness of their past, it seems to place greater emphasis on the present.
New single 'Ancestry' picks apart this issue, with the M.I.A. collaborator delving into the African diasporic experience.
Here, Afrikan Boy writes for Clash about identity, race, and where music fits into all this...
- - -
- - -
My new song ‘Ancestry’ is highlighting the composite of us as living beings and our quest for identity - be it genealogy, heritage & origin, or perhaps for legal purposes to ascertain parental rights.
On the flip side, I have always wondered about these Ancestry websites and companies offering to reveal my ancestry through a DNA sample and a bit of cash. It always intrigued me but for most part I was always certain I was Nigerian through and through so there was no real reason to take a test.
As the years have gone on, it seems there has been a rise of these ancestry websites capitalising on people’s quest to ‘Know Thy Self’. I have always remained respectful to an individual’s search to know where and possibly who their ancestors are but the other side of me has been a little sceptical about the whole process and the idea of giving over my DNA to these companies that I don’t know - what they will do with that information, do I really trust these people with something so personal?
A friend of mine was getting their ancestry tested, they were born in Jamaica and they wanted to confirm where in Africa their descendants were originally from. After waiting six weeks for the results they finally came through and he discovered that majority of his ancestry according to Ancestry.com was from West Africa and then 1% of it was Irish. My point is, the results didn’t seem to have any significant effect on this particular friend of mine as they still identified as Jamaican - not 20% Nigerian, 22% Cameroonian, 15% Ghanaian etc.
Most of the countries weren’t even called these names going back a few hundred years back. How accurate are these results in actually pinpointing the origins of the DNA?
- - -
- - -
My next question was, if someone is not fully comfortable in who they are, then could the results of an Ancestry test be more damaging than helpful? I know some people who have actually left the experience feeling more confused. I have spoken to a few people from different walks of life and ethnicities who have taken the test. People do it for different reasons, some to gain clarity, some to prove a point, some just for fun.
Imagine you were a member of a racist group like the Ku Klux Klan and you took an ancestry test only to find out you have 12% African DNA in your make up! I’ve watched videos like this online, it is soul shattering but obviously quite satisfying for me to watch...!
The main point is what if everything you believed about yourself turned out to be false? This main question is what led me to write the song ‘Ancestry’. I thought about the idea of finding out that I am not fully Nigerian and in fact I’m Irish, Indian, Chinese, or something. The song and its video take you on a journey of a young man trying to find himself through Ancestry... The only problem is the doctor keeps getting the results wrong! This results in numerous trips in his head to different countries and cultures to try and ‘find himself’.
There are also a few hidden messages in the video that I’m intrigued to see people pull out over time. It is one of my favourite works to date because it reminds people of my first break out single ‘One Day I Went To Lidl’ because of its story telling qualities and humour but it also touches on very important and current issues without shoving the message down your throat - like a baby taking medicine.
So, my question to you is... Would you give up your DNA to find your Ancestry? What if you didn’t like the results?
- - -
- - -
'Ancestry' is out now.
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.