Though one of the largest nations in Southern Africa, Namibia's harsh geographydominated by the coastal Namib desert and the Kalahari desert in the easthas kept the country sparsely populated. As a result, Namibia is often overshadowed by its more populous neighbor, South Africa. In fact, the area that would become Namibia was directly controlled by South Africa for over 70 years, from the end of WWI until official independence in 1990.
Originally home to indigenous San people, as well as later Bantu immigrants including the Nama, Ovambo and Herero peoples, Namibia's first encounter with Europeans came in the 15th century when Portuguese explorers charted the coast. But Namibia wasn't truly colonized until the late 19th century, when Germany claimed the region as an imperial protectorate called South West Africa. After the German defeat in WWI, South Africa administered the land as a League of Nations mandate. Despite the dissolution of the League of Nations and a 1966 UN resolution that officially created the nation of Namibia, South Africa refused to relinquish its grip on the country, and a rebel movement known as SWAPO (South West African People's Organization) undertook a guerrilla war against colonial rule. After decades of insurgency, SWAPO finally achieved power in a peaceful election in 1989, and President Sam Nujoma took office in an independent, multiracial, multi-party Namibia in 1990.
While Namibia has achieved political independence, culturally it's still dominated by the South African media juggernaut. Musically speaking, there is a wealth of indigenous folkloric music, but no true homegrown pop music. The most popular Namibian sounds are importedR&B, hip-hop, reggae and South African kwaito predominate. Likewise there are few homegrown pop artistsgiven the small size of Namibia's media market and overall population, it's not easy for artists to make a full-time living playing music. Many, such as singer Unathi, emmigrate to South Africa, where the highly developed music market offers more opportunities.
Still, like Mozambique and other re-emergent Southern African nations, Namibia is slowly staking out a place for itself in African pop music. The recent compilation, A Handful of Namibians (Afrimusik!), showcases some of the most popular local musicians around the capitol of Windhoek. Producer Christian Polloni worked closely with the Namibian government to uncover such impressive local talent as Sebulon Gomachab and Ngatu. With this kind of commitment to cultural development, its only a matter of time before a genuine Namibian star breaks onto the international music scene.Tom Pryor