By Stephanie Shonekan, Contributing Editor, Art, Music, and Pop Culture
If African American musical culture is a stream flowing into Africa during the twentieth century, Michael Jackson represents the watershed because he was a significant and perplexing icon of pop superstardom, a gateway to not only the music, but also the identity of African Americans. As a young Nigerian growing up in the 70s and 80s, I was among millions of other youth who were attracted to what we thought was the very essence of African American identity through the music we heard on the radio and watched on television shows like Soul Train.
Jackson’s music and performance laid an important precedent for twenty-first century African American artists who are extremely popular in Africa and are able to charge top dollar for tickets when visiting African countries today. Artists like Lionel Richie, Erykah Badu, Chris Brown, Rick Ross, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z perform for African audiences who pay ticket prices that range from $100-$300. Each of these artists should thank Michael Jackson for blasting open the doors to a receptive and lucrative African audience.
For decades these audiences were mesmerized by Jackson to such an extent that several impersonators appeared throughout the 1990s. The day after Jackson died in June 2009, Nigerian performer and Michael Jackson impersonator Michael Eze Chikaria, also known as “Walko Chilko,” was quoted in a local newspaper:
Michael as a human being had everything it takes to be a superstar and every step he made was so unique and enticing that everybody knew that he was incredible and that is what I am too… Everything about Michael is me….People are saying that I look and dress like him…and that I could actually be a replacement for him, though coming from Africa; his ancestral home.