News & Current Affairs

July 2, 2009

Americans seek their African roots

Americans seek their African roots

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey originally thought her ancestors were Zulu

First it was Oprah Winfrey’s wistful reach for the continent, now other prominent African Americans are finding their roots.

In 2005 Oprah Winfrey underwent DNA testing in an effort to determine the genetic make-up of her body’s cells.

The popular American talk show host wanted to know where her ancestors, taken as slaves to the United States, had come from.

Famous genes

Since then thousands of other African Americans have followed suit, many of them household names in the US.

Comedian Chris Rock discovered that he was descended from the Udeme people of northern Cameroon.

Chris Rock

Chris Rock is descended from the Udeme people of northern Cameroon

LeVar Burton, an actor who played the slave Kunta Kinte in the TV drama Roots, linked himself up genetically with the Hausa in Nigeria.

Civil rights leader Andrew Young traced his lineage to the Mende people of Sierra Leone and is also believed to be a distant relative of one of the leaders of the 1839 Amistad slave ship mutiny.

DNA testing has also resulted in some African Americans being bestowed with honorary African titles.

The Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker, who portrayed the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, was made an honorary chief of Igboland in south-eastern Nigeria.

He was given the title of Nwannedinambar of Nkwerre which means “brother in a foreign land”, during a visit to Nigeria in April.

Getting results

There are more than two dozen genealogy organisations in the US selling genetic ancestry tests but African Ancestry is the only black-owned firm.

It is also the first to cater specifically to African Americans. Of the half a million Americans who have purchased DNA tests, around 35,000 of them are African American.

African Ancestry charges $349 to test either a person’s maternal or paternal lineage.

Once the fee is paid, swabs used to collect a DNA sample from the inside of the cheek are sent to the customer and then back to African Ancestry’s laboratory.

We did not talk about where we came from when I was growing up
Lyndra Marshall

The DNA’s genetic sequence is extracted and compared to others in the firm’s database.

The company claims this contains 25,000 samples from 30 countries and 200 ethnic groups, and is the largest collection of African lineages in the world.

African Ancestry say that they are very precise in tracing where a person’s ancestors originate from.

Once this is known, a “results package” is sent out, including a print-out of a person’s DNA sequence, a certificate of ancestry and a map of Africa.

“It’s a kind of welcome to Africa package,” said Ghanaian-born Ofori Anor, editor of the African expatriate magazine, Asante.

Transformation

Gina Paige, a founder of African Ancestry, wants to transform the way people view themselves and the way they view Africa.

When many African Americans visited Africa in the past, they were interested mostly in kente cloths and masks, nowadays they want to know more about the country they are visiting.

A poster for African Ancestry

The company has been accused by critics of being inaccurate

Although they still visit the slave castles, they are now also interested in the price of property.

Purchasing a townhouse in the Ghanaian capital Accra or a commercial property in Sierra Leone’s Freetown feels less implausible.

“What we need now is for people to get deeply involved in one particular country or region or culture,” said Andrew Young, the civil rights leader whose consulting firm acts as a liaison for American companies wanting to do business in Africa.

There has been a change too in the way Africans see African Americans and claims of kinship that were once viewed with amusement are now embraced.

This is partly due to the emergence of President Barack Obama and because of the role played by African Americans in his historic election.

As a result, African politicians and businessmen want African Americans to lobby in the US on the continent’s behalf.

Traditional African rulers have also been busy handing out honorary chieftaincies to African Americans in the hope it will lead to an increase in investment and a boost in tourism.

With Obama being both African and American, and our president, this has made many of us interested in where we came from
Lyndra Marshall

Guinea-Bissau’s Tourism Ministry encouraged comedian Whoopi Goldberg to visit when in 2007, DNA tests showed she was descended from the Papel and Bayote people of the country.

Unfortunately, Goldberg has not taken up the offer as she has a fear of flying and has not been in an aeroplane for 20 years.

Unlike the Hollywood actress, as soon as Lyndra Marshall, a 56-year-old retiree from Maryland near Washington DC discovered her African heritage, she immediately boarded a plane for Ghana’s Ashanti region.

“We did not talk about where we came from when I was growing up,” said Ms Marshall.

Since she found out she was of Ashanti descent, she has been trying to get other people to visit and invest in the country.

Along with DNA technology, Ms Marshall credits President Obama with kindling an interest in Africa.

“With Obama being both African and American, and our president, this has made many of us interested in where we came from, too.”

Getting it right

Although many people are excited about the prospect of tracing their ancestry, critics say the work of America’s genealogy companies is far from accurate.

African Americans just want to be able to say they were once kings and once ruled the world
Ofori Anor
Editor, Asante magazine

On a visit to South Africa in 2005, Oprah Winfrey said that DNA testing had conclusively revealed where she is from. She thought she was Zulu but subsequent DNA testing showed she was a descendent of the Kpelle people of Liberia.

Professor Deborah Bolnick of the University of Texas is particularly critical of African Ancestry.

She says its database is too small to fulfil its marketing promise that it is “the only company whose tests will place your African ancestry in a present day country or region in Africa”.

“Consumers should know the limitations and complexities before they spend hundreds of dollars thinking they’re going to find an answer to who they really are,” said Professor Bolnick.

“It’s really much more uncertain than the testing companies make out.”

Despite these limitations, African Ancestry customers like Ms Marshall are convinced her results are correct.

“I have lots of family that look very Ghanaian, they are short like them, dark like them and I have a cousin that looks just like the Ashanti king.”

However, comments like this offend the Editor of Asante magazine.

“African Americans just want to be able to say they were once kings and once ruled the world,” said Mr Anor.

He feels that African governments and traditional rulers should stop the practice of granting citizenship and chieftaincies to African Americans.

“Just because your genetics show you came from a place, should that mean you can lay claim to that group of people or place now?”

August 16, 2008

Madonna turns 50: Highs and lows

Madonna turns 50: Highs and lows

https://i0.wp.com/blog.mobiles.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/madonna300.jpg

Madonna – one of the most successful stars in pop history – celebrates her 50th birthday on Saturday.

Use our interactive timeline to find out more about the ups and downs of her career.

Full name: Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone

Born: August 16, 1958, Bay City, Michigan, USA

Also known as: The Queen of Pop, Material Girl, Madge, Esther, Mrs Ritchie.

Biggest hits: Holiday, Into The Groove, Like A Prayer, Vogue, Ray of Light, Music.

Quote: “A woman who pulled herself up by her bra straps and has been known to let them down occasionally” (Bette Midler, introducing Madonna at Live Aid in 1985).

1963 – MOTHER DIES

Madonna’s mother, also called Madonna, dies of breast cancer. The tragic event has a lifelong impact on the singer. “You walk around with a big hole inside you, a feeling of emptiness and longing,” the star later says.

1982-1985 – INITIAL CHART SUCCESS

Madonna moves to New York in 1977, where she studies with choreographer Alvin Ailey and works as a model.

Madonna

Early music demos recorded with her boyfriend Stephen Bray make their way to Sire Records boss Seymour Stein, who demands to meet her, even though he is in hospital with a heart condition. Impressed with “the drive, the zeal, the ruthlessness” of a young Madonna, he signs her on the spot. But her first few releases only make an impact in clubs.

Holiday becomes Madonna’s first breakthrough hit in the US, reaching number 16 in late 1983. Her first top 10 hit comes a year later with Borderline, a song she later disowns. She is more proud of the subsequent, career-defining hits Like A Virgin and Material Girl. The sell-out Virgin Tour begins in 1985 with support from the Beastie Boys.

1985 – MARRIAGE

Madonna receives rave reviews for her role in mainstream film Desperately Seeking Susan (she previously made low-budget sexploitation movie A Certain Sacrifice in 1979).

She also hits number one with Into The Groove, plays Live Aid, and marries actor Sean Penn on a Californian clifftop, their vows drowned out by the roar of press helicopters circling overhead.

1986 – TRUE BLUE

True Blue

True Blue was the first time Madonna had a writing credit on every song.

The album True Blue, with its iconic Herb Ritts cover, cements Madonna’s reputation as the first lady of pop, reaching number one in 12 countries and spawning five hit singles.Papa Don’t Preach, which deals with teenage pregnancy, confirms the star’s willingness to tackle controversial issues, while Live To Tell’s raw vocals (recorded on the first take) show new emotional depth.

Her first world tour, Who’s That Girl, sees the singer mobbed by adoring fans in cities across the globe.

But Madonna’s film career takes the first of many serious beatings with the release of Shanghai Surprise.

A year later, she separates from Sean Penn, and the couple are granted a divorce in 1989.

1989 – LIKE A PRAYER

Like A Prayer video

The video for Like A Prayer caused storms of protest

The release of Like A Prayer marks the moment when critics first begin to describe Madonna as an artist, rather than a mere pop singer. The title track’s video, which shows the star kissing a black saint, causes storms of protest – but sends her straight to number one.She follows up the album with the hit single Vogue and the lavish Blond Ambition tour. At the end of 1990, Madonna seals her reputation with a Greatest Hits album – The Immaculate Collection.

1992 – SEX

Sex book

The sex book was shot by noted fashion photographer Steven Meisel

A coffee table photo book, Sex, finds Madonna in a number of sexually explicit poses with the likes of Naomi Campbell and Vanilla Ice. The book is derided in the press, and the dark and seedy Erotica album suffers as a result.Two years later, she makes a bizarre, expletive-filled appearance on David Letterman’s talk show. Madonna asks the host to smell her underwear, smokes a cigar and quizzes Letterman on whether he urinates in the shower. When she refuses to leave the stage, several audience members shout “get off”.

The show marks a low point in public perception of the star.

1996 – EVITA

Madonna’s casting in Evita helps to rehabilitate her image – and her film career. Meanwhile, she falls pregnant to fitness trainer Carlos Leon, giving birth to her first daughter, Lourdes, in October.

1998 – RAY OF LIGHT

Ray of Light

Ray of Light was produced by British musician William Orbit

Ray Of Light marks a musical return to form. Its laid-back blend of dance and electronica catches the pop superstar in a reflective mood, musing on fame and parenthood. She continues to mine this rich seam of futuristic pop with Beautiful Stranger in 1999 and Music in 2000, albeit with diminishing returns.In the meantime, she meets Guy Ritchie at a party thrown by Sting’s wife Trudi Styler. The couple have a son, Rocco, before tying the knot in Scotland days before the new Millennium.

2004 – RE-INVENTION

Re-invention tour

The Re-Invention tour took more than $125m (£62.5m) in ticket sales

After the lacklustre American Life album, Madonna looks to the past for her Re-invention World Tour. Highlights including the yoga-inspired dance routines of Vogue, and a bagpipe version of Papa Don’t Preach.She follows it up with a love letter to disco, Confessions on a Dancefloor, produced by the tour’s musical director Stuart Price. Based around European dance music – including a prominent Abba sample on Hung Up – sells 8 million copies, but its singles perform badly in the US.

The accompanying tour draws flack when Madonna performs Live To Tell while strapped to a mirrored cross, wearing a crown of thorns.

2006 – ADOPTION

Madonna and David Banda

Madonna ‘s adoption was challenged by Malawian civil rights groups

Madonna visits Malawi, arriving by private jet in the capital, Lilongwe. She says she is in the country on a humanitarian mission to visit Aids orphans, but government officials say she plans to adopt a child.A week later, Yohane Banda tells the Associated Press news agency the star has adopted his 13-month-old son, David. “I know he will be very happy in America,” he says.

Madonna denies she has used her status to “fast-track” the process, and the adoption does not receive final approval until 2008.

2008 – KEEPING BUSY

Hard Candy

Hard Candy features collaborations with Justin Timberlake and Kanye West

Showing no signs of letting up the pace as she approaches 50, Madonna parts company with record label Warner Brothers to sign a ground-breaking contract with concert promoters Live Nation.She is also inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; releases an album, Hard Candy; directs her first film, Filth and Wisdom, and produces I Am Because We Are, a documentary about Aids orphans in Malawi – all while fending off rumours about trouble in her marriage.

After celebrating her 50th birthday, the megastar sets off on her Sticky and Sweet world tour next week.

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