Idris Elba: In Tune With Motherland Africa
The spirit of Africa
Africa is a phoenix rising from the ashes of a charred history of scorn and exploitation. She rises, dazzling the world with the beauty of her culture, the diversity, resilience, and the tenacity of her people.
British-Sierra Leonean actor Idris Elba was born and raised in Hackney, London but you can tell he embodies the spirit of Africa. It shows in his zeal to work hard, his passion to connect with the motherland and its people both in the diaspora and on the continent. You can also see it in how he pursues and easily manifests his multiple talents.
Is there anything Idris Elba can’t do?
In 2020, a British sketch show, Famalam, released a skit in which an Elba look-alike, complete with his bulldozing confidence, tried his hands at everything from being a barista to curing cancer and attempting to start a black hole at a research centre.
While the real Idris Elba has not attempted to cure cancer, his portfolio is impressive nonetheless. From starring in award-winning films, earning writing credits, rapping on Jay-Z’s album, DJing at international platforms, to even kickboxing – Elba is living his dreams.
Born Idrissa Akuna Elba to a Sierra Leonean father and a Ghanaian mother, Elba has always wanted to be an actor since he was young but he also had to support himself by helping his uncle’s wedding DJ business. He would later take on odd jobs, in between roles, including tyre-fitting, cold-calling, and working night shifts at Ford Dagenham, a major automotive factory located in Dagenham, London.
By following the path illuminated by his dream, Elba has risen above his past challenges to become one of the highest-grossing actors in North America, and appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), Essence’s Sexiest Man of the Year (2013), People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive (2018) and winning the MOBO Inspiration Award (2014).
African Till The Day I Die
It is not easy to stick firmly to one’s root when you’re courted by fame and fortune but Idris Elba has not forgotten where he is originally from. He calls himself a “proud African” and true to his words, at every opportunity he gets, he connects with Africa and her people. Either through philanthropy, highlighting her issues and spotlighting talents.
He believes that Africans should control their own narratives and he says that now is the time.
“I think what we’re seeing right now is Africans controlling the narrative. Africans showing people and showing the world who we are, what we’re about, what our culture stands for, what our expression is, and it’s such an exciting time – especially for the young who have the ability to touch the world from their phones. It’s definitely a good time to control the narrative.”
He added: “Africa has faced adversity and we know that, but what we’re looking for is going forward and that’s all I try and do. Whether it’s by what I do as an actor, as an entertainer, I am always trying to push my narrative forward, I’m always trying to be innovative. If anyone that follows me sees that, hopefully it plants a seed for them.”
In October 2014, he presented the series “Journey Dot Africa with Idris Elba” on BBC Radio 2, exploring all types of African music. The same year, he also collaborated with the UK Parliament in their efforts to eradicate Ebola from West Africa, working alongside the UK Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening.
Last year, Idris Elba and his wife, model and activist Sabrina Dhowre Elba launched a new United Nations fund to help farmers in poorer nations, calling on richer economies to provide aid to prevent “needless hunger and suffering” stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
Elba along with his wife contracted the virus themselves in March 2020, although they reportedly only suffered mild symptoms. He counts himself lucky to have survived the virus.
“Just taking the moment to just reflect on everyone that’s lost their lives. I was very, very lucky to have gone through COVID and survived, and I tell you what, as a person as a human being, has come out of that experience in a much more appreciative person. I realised that tomorrow is not promised and having been through a situation like COVID which for a lot of the world has been absolutely fatal, to have the opportunity to live past it just makes me thankful for the days that I have. Now, I certainly don’t want to take things for granted.”
Africa Day Concert
Later this week, on the 25th of May, Elba would return as the host of the Africa day concert, a virtual concert to celebrate Africa Day and raise funds to support families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. He hosted the inaugural concert last year and talks about the experience.
“It was a really interesting time because at the time the whole world was under lockdown and here we were trying to celebrate a very historic day in Africa but one that is lesser-known.”
Elba says he was inspired to participate in the concert by someone telling the story of Africa and putting a spotlight on new talent in the continent. “Even though the world was going through, and it still is, a crisis, I’m attached to it. I’m African till the day I die and as long as there’s an Africa Day and an opportunity to showcase through talent and showcase what’s happening in Africa, I’m definitely going to be a part of it.”
For Elba, Africa Day is a time to focus and look at things in Africa and around Africans, “our issues, our growth, and just really taking time to celebrate it. There are so many beautiful things happening across the continent, and also in the diaspora, that, you know, it’s always good to pat yourself on the back now and again. In history, I didn’t realise how important Africa Day was on the continent and the history of it going back all the way into the 60s, but here we are today in 2021 giving a new spin on it, giving it some new energy and some new focus.”
This year’s theme will be ‘Africa’s Next Global Wave’ and will highlight the future global giants of the continent. Elba says this theme resonates with him because the future is always around the corner and is literally the next minute.
“Keeping one eye on the future is as important as keeping an eye on where you are today. I’ve always been an advocate for talent and new talent and keeping that door open for, for the next wave,” he says. “It’s great because I think audiences around the world are getting to see who’s coming up next. It’s been amazing to see some of the giants that we’ve seen over the last four years, but there is a new generation and they’re coming quickly.”
A decent human
Speaking about some of the lessons he has learned from failing, Elba says that failure is a part of success. “You can’t succeed without failing. It’s the yin to that yang and obviously, failure doesn’t feel good, but the truth is when you’re in hindsight, if you don’t have those failures, you will never understand what it feels like to win. I’ve taken some Ls in my time and every time I have, I’ve learned from it. My skin grows thicker, my confidence goes up because I’ve been rock bottom, but ultimately you don’t dwell on that. The most important thing about being knocked down is getting up.”
Elba has so much going on for him and we wondered what he would like to be remembered for amidst all his endeavours. He says, “I would like to be remembered as someone that lived by their heart, lived by their instincts, tried to be a decent human being and hopefully inspired people to be decent human beings, and be good at what they do.”