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k-wave in Eritrea

Have you ever heard of K-pop? Or K-drama? I bet you have because we are living at a time when the prefix ‘K’ is taking over the world: K-drama, K-pop, K-fashion and the list goes on.

The letter ‘K’ stands for “Korean”, representing the Republic of Korea which has succeeded in exhibiting its beautiful culture and traditions to the world and rise in popularity through its film and music industry. The Korean culture, food, drama, fashion, make-up and language are spreading in every direction like waves from an antenna. This phenomenon is called the “K-wave” to truly represent this unprecedented global rise in fame.

Eritrea is no exception to this Korean influence where K-“everything” is almost every teenager’s, especially girls’, favourite. You can hardly find a movie store in Asmara that does not put on display Korean films and songs, and you would be surprised by how many people line up to pay and sacrifice their time to put their hands on them. You would hear friends, siblings and relatives caught up in the long queues casually using some Korean words in their everyday conversations. They have incorporated words like “Ajhumma”, “Ajhussi”, “Noona”, “Eonni”, “Hyung” and “Oppa” to address each other, and words like “Salanghaeyo”, “Go ma sseum ni da”, “Mian hamida” and “Kwaenchanayo” to express their love, gratitude, apology and concern respectively, as well as many other words. You would also find them distinguishing the formal and informal forms of speech in Korean based on the age of the person they are having a conversation with, which is typical of the Korean culture. It is also amazing to see teens sing along Korean singers, trying to imitate the beautiful and synchronized idol dance moves, cheering on their favourite idol groups at school or in their homes.

I asked some K-fans about what it is that attracts them most about Korea. The most common answer was that even though Korea is geographically far away from Eritrea the two cultures are quite similar to one another. That is true to a considerable extent as Eritrea upholds most of the east’s cultural principles such as collectivism, reverence for the elderly and protection of a family’s honour and dignity. Another thing K-fans find very appealing about Koreans is their food and the way they eat it with gusto, with which I absolutely agree.

As for their favourite idol group the name that popped up the most was “BTS”, who are also one of my personal favourites. BTS have literally become “the biggest boy band on the planet.” As Tayra Banks, an American super model and the host of the America’s Got Talent season 13, said they have been the first K-pop group to perform. They have performed in different parts of the world and received many global awards. They have also been included in the TIME magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world along with other famous personalities like President Donald Trump, President Xi Jinping and the Liverpool footballer Mohamed Salah. They have transcended all the barriers between the east and the west and spread their voice embedded in their Korean culture and way of life.

Our world is rich with its diverse populations, races, cultures and traditions, and I believe that here lies its real beauty. Unfortunately, for centuries the world has been dominated by the western culture — songs, movies and way of life.

However, advancements in global economies have allowed other countries, especially those in the east, to rise and express themselves in their own ways. China is projected to be the biggest economy in the world in five years, and India is currently the fastest growing economy and many others engaging in a global cultural integration fostering a world free of superiority and racism where all cultures are regarded as equal. K-wave is a significant contributor to this phenomenon and has stolen the hearts of many of its admirers around the world including that of Eritrean fans.

It is my cherished desire to see a day when Africa is able to showcase its underrepresented diverse cultures and make its voice heard around the world. I hope that sometime in the future people will start talking about Eri-pop, Eri-drama or Eri-culture because I believe the world is missing out on many things by not exploring this diverse and beautiful continent.

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