A Masters Student Project from Leiden University, 2020


There have always been connections between Europe and Africa whether real or imaginary. Students of the course "Connecting Dreams: Europe in Africa, Africa in Europe" at Leiden University studied connectivity in expressions, movements, ideas, and resources, as well as mobility of people, stories and images since the late nineteenth century. The projects are both historically and anthropologically situated and include memory studies and migration theories.

The article "West African Gods On American Soil: Memory and Myth in American Gods" by Meredith A. Walker explores how the television show American Gods uses a unique blend of West African folklore and cultural memory, as well as intertextual symbolism as a way to explore and address historical and modern issues of racism toward African American in America.

In her article "Migration from the Gambia to Germany: An Agency-Oriented Analysis", Corinna Billmaier investigates the hopes and dreams of contemporary migrants from the Gambia to Germany by interviewing a young migrant himself and adding his voice to the debate. By analysing the place migration has in Gambian society the article asks whether the current migrant flow can be embedded in a wider historical tradition of migration in the Gambia and if we can speak of a “culture of migration."

In the article 'Connecting the Nigerian Diaspora: a gendered analysis of Nollywood consumption amongst women', Esther Verhaegh analyses the consumption and reception of Nollywood films amongst women in the Nigerian diaspora in the UK. Focussing on several interviews this article investigates whether Nollywood films are a means to stay connected to the 'homeland', Nigeria.

The article asking "what role did race have in the integration of retornados?" by Cláudia Coelho is an analysis regarding the Portuguese decolonization of Africa and the consequent integration of returnees in Portugal. Was race a factor in favouritism, when it came to integrate half a million people in a naive, socially retarded and poor community? Interviews with people, who experienced this event first hand, can provide an answer to the question. These people are the "retornados" and, even though this word is already fading away from day-to-day conversations, the Portuguese still remember them well.

The Nile in the Naviglio: Identity and Belonging at Eurovision 2019

By Sarah Bringhurst Familia ‘[A]n identity is always already an ideal, what we would like to be, not what we are.’ -Simon Frith, Music an
 In Italia ti dicono sempre che se fai il soul non va, se fai qualcosa di black non va.’ (‘perhaps the problem is that historically we are not very able to approach black music. In Italy they always tell you that if you do soul it doesn’t work, if you do something black it doesn’t work’). Mahmood as European Interestingly, while the dualism of East and West is an important and recurring theme in his music, nowhere in his songs or interviews does Mahmood explicitly identify himself as European. The concept of Europeanness, therefore, seems not to be a part of his everyday conception of personal identity in a way analogous to his usage of Italian, Egyptian, and African identities. Nevertheless, a few months after his near-win at Eurovision he did kick off his European tour (‘Europa Good Vibes’) by performing at the European Parliament’s 2019 Friends of Music event in Strasbourg. As part of the event, he got together for a chat and official handshake with David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament. His own portrayal on Instagram, shown at the beginning of this section, shows him in a conservative dark suit and highly polished shoes on a red carpet beneath a giant European Union flag. This formal photo is accompanied by a bathroom selfie featuring a ‘rock on’ hand gesture, and the caption, ‘READY TO MOOD UP THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT 🔥🔥🐒’. The implication is clear: Mahmood is European. But in his own way. Mahmood’s appearance and popularity at Eurovision, in fact, caused much less controversy than his performance at the Italian Sanremo contest. One commentator on his music video asked, ‘Italian music is more appreciated in Europe than at home?’, provoking agreement both from those who approved of Mahmood and his musical contributions (‘Yes, unfortunately the majority of people have a closed mind and don't accept change. Unfortunately we are still an old country, I'm sorry.’) and those who decidedly did not (‘because we are mans of honor and love our traditions and culture, instead of e.g. Germany, England... that lost their identity’). Participation in Eurovision, of course, also entails a certain sense of Europeanness. However, another aspect of Mahmood’s identity is also highly relevant to his participation in the traditional song contest: his sexuality. Since 1945, Europe has been engaged in what Evans and Cook in their anthology on queer cities and cultures describe as an aspirational ‘narrative of progression in terms of sexual citizenship linked to European liberalization’ since 1945. Perhaps nowhere has this narrative been portrayed more clearly or dramatically than on the Eurovision stage. Baker contends that Eurovision has served as a venue for the expression of ‘particular narratives of geopolitical (especially national) identity, with queer-coded signifiers among its building blocks. One of the means of defining LGBTQ inclusivity as a European value that she describes has been to link it to the ‘projection of homophobia on to racialised, excluded others, especially Muslims.’ This dynamic plays out on an institutional level in the European Union’s policies linking aid money for African states with human rights, including for LGBTQ people in an effort to export perceived European values of tolerance. The union sees itself as holding ‘normative power, which is intrinsically connected to the structural dimension of foreign policy that the Union has developed based on adherence to human rights’. However, similarly dichotomous discourse can be discerned in domestic European narratives linking Muslim communities with homophobia as a means to highlight their otherness and un-European character. Near the end of the Evans and Cook anthology, El-Tayeb argues that ‘the Europeanization of the continent's nation-states is in no small part manifest in a shared Islamophobia,’ strikingly evident in the ‘role of gender and sexuality in discourses around the continent's Muslim communities’. Her solution to this ‘homophile Islamophobia’ lies in ‘a progressive queer critique that applies intersectionality in order to analyse the effects of race and class on this seeming clash between progressive, tolerant, dynamic European society and traditional, intolerant, static Muslim community’. Mahmood identifies as Catholic, not Muslim; however, his Egyptian identity and afinity for narratives of Africa resulted in him being painted with the brush of otherness by Salvini’s right-wing government. From this perspective, the inclusion of strong elements of this racialised other in ‘Soldi’ embodied a sort of transgressional paradox: a gay man singing on the Eurovision stage in Italian and Arabic about his memories of Ramadan. Eluding Boundaries Characteristically, Mahmood resists fitting neatly into a simple or stereotyped version of his sexual identity. The New York Times quotes him stating, ‘“I don’t feel part of that Italy that judges”, explaining that he ‘has an aversion to being categorized, when it came to his nationality or sexuality.’ Vice similarly describes him in the introduction to their interview as ‘un artista che non vuole essere inquadrato’ (‘an artist who does not wish to be framed’). Rolling Stone makes it clear that Mahmood’s admiration for his ‘idol’ Frank Ocean is more than musical, quoting his description of the singer as ‘molto libero e in cui tutti possono identificarsi, gay o etero, perché l’essenziale è la persona e l’energia che trasmette e non l’orientamento sessuale’ (‘very unconstrained, and someone with whom everyone can identify, gay or straight, because the essential thing is the personality and energy that he transmits, and not his sexual orientation’). Mahmood’s resistance to being categorised has a philosophical foundation. He tells Vanity Fair, ‘Dichiarare “sono gay” non porta da nessuna parte, se non a far parlare di sé. Andare in tv . . . per raccontare la propria omosessualità mi sembra imbarazzante: così si torna indietro di 50 anni . . . se continuiamo con questi distinguo, l’omosessualità non sarà mai percepita come una cosa normale, quale è’. (‘To say “I’m gay” doesn’t lead anywhere except making people talk about it. To go on TV . . . to explain one’s homosexuality seems embarrasing to me: it puts us back 50 years . . . if we continue with this distinction, homosexuality will never be perceived as a normal thing, which it is’.) One could imagine him saying something similar about Italy sending an Egyptian-Italian kid who grew up in the periphery of Milan listening to African-American rap to Eurovision. Yet the Eurovision venue seems peculiarly appropriate, with its long history of fits-and-starts success at forging common causes, breaking down national and regional borders while celebrating cultural uniqueness, and making space for a multiplicity of ethnic, linguistic, sexual and other identities. It is, in the end, no surprise that viewers of this cheesy, ridiculous, wonderful song contest were delighted to watch Mahmood express a European heritage and identity that reached out to messily embrace the complexity of migration, multiculturalism, and yes, Africa. The singer’s identity, like his music, is complex and fluid, encompassing with equal ease his childhood visits to Egypt with his father, his upbringing in the poor periphery of Milan, his love of ‘gangsta rap’ and ‘crazy Arab vocals’, and his participation in a contest celebrating European unity in diversity. Mahmood falls into many categories, and yet ultimately defies categorisation. His popularity at Sanremo and then Eurovision point the way towards a Europe that--although still myopic over many forms of inclusion--in some ways, and some fleeting cultural moments, almost catches a glimpse of living up to its utopian ideals. Bibliography Primary Sources YouTube Videos/Comments “Mahmood - Soldi (Prod. Dardust & Charlie Charles)” YouTube video, 3:20, “Mahmood,” February 5, 2019,, accessed May 29, 2020. “Italy - LIVE - Mahmood - Soldi - Grand Final - Eurovision 2019” YouTube video, 3:25, “Mahmood,” May 18, 2019,, accessed May 26, 2020. 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Sheller, Mimi, and John Urry. “The New Mobilities Paradigm.” Environment and Planning A 38, no. 2 (February 2006): 207–26. Smith, Laurajane. Uses of Heritage. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006. Taulio, Lisa. “Könsstereotyper Och Makt I Eurovision Song Contest: En Multimodal Analys Av de Fyra Senaste Nordiska Vinnarbidragen.” Linnéuniversitetet, 2016. Ural, Haktan. “Turkishness on the Stage: Affective Nationalism in the Eurovision Song Contest.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 22, no. 4 (July 2019): 519–35. Wolther, Irving. “More than Just Music: The Seven Dimensions of the Eurovision Song Contest.” Popular Music 31, no. 1 (2012): 165–71....

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