Photo credit: AP Images

Film & TV

The Top 2023 Cultural Moments Across the Continent

Photo credit: AP Images

2023 marked the pinnacle of Africa’s cultural renaissance, showcasing its global rise and creativity across diverse forms

By Wale Oloworekende

December 2023

If African cultural cachet has been on the rise since the tail-end of the 2010s, 2023 was the year when it reached the peak of that global ascendancy across diverse forms, giving credence to the idea that Africa is at the cutting edge of global cultural inspiration and execution despite the structural issues confronting creators on the continent. From music to fashion, art, sport, and film, cultural output from the continent has made a huge leap in quality led by an eager diaspora keen to change the narrative surrounding Africa and help facilitate a humane and contextual understanding of the continent. 


At STATEMENT, we compiled a list of some of the moments that have piqued our interest and have deeper significance for Africa’s reputation as a future cultural powerhouse. 


Mami Wata’s International Success 


African cinema’s big year kicked off with C.J. “Fiery” Obasi’s Mami Wata premiering at Sundance to rave reviews in January 2023. The movie, based on West African folklore, was a victory for indie filmmaking and picked up the Special Jury Prize in the World Dramatic Competition at Sundance for its cinematography, and has continued to receive rave reviews across the world for its ingenuity and socio-political commentary. Additionally, Mami Wata has played in major cinemas in the United Kingdom, United States, and more since its theatrical release. 


Rema’s Historic Billboard Hot 100 Run


When Rema released his debut album, Raves & Roses, last year, it was seen as a major landmark for the Mavin star, who has been at the forefront of Afropop’s next-gen since his introduction in 2019. However, few would have predicted the global success of “Calm Down,” one of the album’s lead singles. After initially debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 2022, “Calm Down” has gone on to become Afrobeats’ biggest crossover hit and in June 2023, it hit a stunning peak of number three on the Billboard Hot 100 Additionally, the Selena Gomez-featuring remix of “Calm Down” has crossed over 1 billion streams on Spotify, joining the platform’s prestigious Billions Club.  


Amoako Baoafo’s New York Solo Debut With Gagosian 


This year, art from Africa made its big splash on the global stage, entering spaces that were previously considered out of reach for creative work from the continent. Earlier this year, Ghanaian visual artist, Amoako Baoafo, held a solo exhibition at the Gagosian New York titled what could go wrong, if we tell it like it is. Following in the footsteps of some of the most influential artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, Baoafo’s showcase, which featured large-scale portraits commemorating friendship and black identity, was a groundbreaking moment for African art as it’s one of the few major galleries to showcase an exhibition by an African-born artist. It was also the first time a major gallery would collaborate with an African artist to stage a show in Africa with Baoafo’s showcase coming to dot.ateliers, his artistic space in Accra following its display period in New York. 


Tems’ Dress At The Oscars 


The Nigerian singer was nominated in the Best Original Song category at the 95th edition of the Oscars that took place in March 2023. Tems turned heads with her ethereal white gown from LA-based Lever Couture. A prominent feature of the dress was its headgear, which was deemed to be obstructing the view of other attendees in the gallery by many on social media, and it sparked a debate on whether it was an appropriate dress for the Oscars. This turned out to be a nice moment that emphasized the star power of Tems and the social media currency of Nigerians and Africans in general. 


Kamala Harris’ Visit To Vibrate Space 


Since its Year Of Return campaign in 2019, Ghana has steadily become the location of choice for members of the black diaspora looking to rekindle their ties to the continent. This year, United States Vice President Kamala Harris visited the country, becoming the Biden administration’s highest-profile official to visit the continent. And in recognition of the rising power of African culture, Vice President Harris stopped at the Vibrate Space in Accra, a creative spot where she held court with some of the country’s most innovative stars like Black Sherif and Amaarae. Her decision to visit highlights the growing appeal of African youth culture in the Western world, and represents the biggest intersection of Africa’s cultural scene and political authority in the West. 


Grammy African Category Announcement 


Beyond just breaking into the American market, receiving Grammy nominations has always been the preeminent goal for Afrobeats acts eager to make their mark on the global music scene. Over the years, several African acts like Burna Boy, Wizkid, and Black Coffee have received Grammy Awards in a number of categories. However, the continual nomination of African acts in the Best Global Music category was frustrating for many African music fans. In June, the Grammys announced the addition of a Best African Music Performance category ahead of the 2024 edition of the awards, showing the growth of African music.. 

Some of the continent’s foremost acts, like Tyla, Asake, Davido, and Olamide, have been nominated for the inaugural edition of the award. 


South Africa’s Rugby World Cup Win 


We’ve seen the Springboks–South Africa’s Rugby national team–win the Rugby World Cup four times, but seeing their triumphs doesn’t get old. After their last win in 2019, the Springboks, led by captain Siya Kolisi, clinched the biggest prize in rugby once again [this year], sparking celebrations in South Africa and across the continent as they remain the only African country to make it at the rugby’s world stage.


Disney+’s Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire 


Due to a dearth of funding, it’s quite rare that animated content tells the story of what is happening on the continent. The release of Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire in July 2023 by Disney+ was an important date for the continent’s fledging animation industry as 10 short stories inspired by African lore and customs were reinterpreted with futurist lens by some of the continent’s leading lights. From shorts like Moremi to First Totem Problems, Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire presented a vision of Africa that was worth celebrating and helped propel African animation to global audiences. 


Release of The Black Book


The subtext of Editi Effiong’s feature directorial debut, The Black Book, might be the institutional decay that plagues the police force in his native Nigeria. Still, even that grimy circumstance could not dim the light of his masterpiece. A runaway Netflix hit, The Black Book has been a resounding success worldwide, with praise for the performance of its stacked cast. It has quickly become the most successful Nigerian movie on Netflix with over 70 million views and hit number one on Netflix charts in South Korea as well as breaking into the top 10 movies on Netflix globally. The film stands as a good omen for Nollywood and African productions in 2024.


Tyla’s Billboard Hot 100 Hit 


South African music has been on the rise recently thanks to the global popularity of amapiano. But South African music goes far beyond the wavy bass lines and log drums of amapiano with a vibrant soul and pop scene that is also taking off. This year, pop wunderkind Tyla made a global impact with her single, “Water.” Originally teased on TikTok, the single has gone on to be a monster hit, charting in the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making her the first South African in 55 years to enter the chart. The song also reached number one in New Zealand and the top ten in Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, UAE, Philippines, South Africa, Ireland and Sweden. “Water” also received a nomination in the Best African Music Performance at the 2024 Grammy Awards.