Akon: ‘America was never built for black people’
The Senegalese-American recording artist talks frankly about US race relations, “rebranding” Africa, and his music.
Senegalese-American artist Akon is a five-time Grammy nominee who has sold over 35 million records worldwide, and has collaborated with some of the biggest names in popular music, such as Michael Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Lady Gaga and David Guetta.
The musician, songwriter and producer, who was born in the US but spent much of his childhood in Senegal, is also an activist and a philanthropist – and he has turned his sights on helping Africa.
How many African-Americans do you know actually consider Africa as a vacation spot? Not one... Even just for knowledge, just to know where they came from, just to get an idea of what that is; there is so much fear instilled in them that they wouldn't even want to go there to visit. You mention Africa, they start shaking.
His current ambitious project, “Akon Lighting Africa,” is working to bring solar-powered electricity to Africans in 49 countries by the end of 2020.
Akon is also an ambassador for the non-profit organisation Peace One Day. Last year, he and actor Jude Law brought their celebrity power to Goma to a concert to promote peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But Akon has also caused controversy through his performance style and his lyrics.
Akon talks to Al Jazeera about running his musical career as a business; his projects – both philanthropic and artistic; singing songs for peace and whether he thinks it can really make an impact; and being an African in the US.
The artist was born in Missouri, the US state where protests against police brutality targeting African-Americans erupted after the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson last year.
On Talk to Al Jazeera, Akon shares his views on race relations in the US and speaks frankly about why he thinks African-Americans should understand Africa better.
He says: “Pick a project in New York, for instance: that’s a five-star hotel compared to the environment I came up in…. They actually get money from the government, there actually are programmes that help the impoverished and the poor, and you get food stamps. I mean, they have it good compared to Africa…
“There’s a huge difference in how the government allocates funds for the poor in Africa, the environment is not even left and right. If these groups were to be taken from the environment where they are now to the same ‘equal’ environment in Africa, they would be crying to come back to America.”