On my ASM journey, I was able to amass a small archive of objects. Amongst them are these Angolan postal envelopes that date from 1972 to 1978. Stained with fingerprints, devoid of addresses or letters, they remain anonymous. I acquired them in a secondhand store in Lisbon.
Stamped and emblazoned with scenes and slogans of both liberation and struggle, they are pictorial elements of the communist propaganda machine that reminded the Angolan masses to rally round the flag. They both chronicle and herald a new era that signaled the end of the long, hard fought battle for independence from the Portuguese, while also depicting the bloody stage on which the 1972 to 2002 internal civil war between the Communist MPLA and anti-Communist UNITAwas enacted.
This proxy cold war was fought between the rival states of the Soviet Union, Cuba, South Africa, and the United States, and was one of the longest civil wars fought on the continent of Africa, lasting 27 years with a death toll of more than 500,000, and over 1 million internally displaced.
 The Peoples Movement for the Liberation of Angola
 National Union for the Total Independence of Angola.
From archaeological and oral histories, it is estimated that the Kongo kingdom was founded around 1390. At the initial arrival of the Portuguese in 1483, this sophisticated and stable kingdom had probably been established for at least a century with a population estimated at around three million. In 1506 King Nzinga a Nkuwu died. Utterly disenchanted with the Portuguese, the early relationship between The Kongo kingdom and the Portuguese held promise of a genuine partnership, but eventually deteriorated through avarice and mistrust.
With the blue print of the Trans Atlantic slave trade firmly instated, all hopes for a peaceful relationship between Africa and Europe were dashed. At this point I want to imagine, what hybrid soundtracks occurred in this 15th century setting? Franciscan clerics introduced Catholicism which was met with both acceptance and opposition: it was not fervently embraced at this time existing alongside other local belief systems, some of which adopted Christian elements to create hybrids such as Kimpasi. Daily joys, expectations and disappointments were sonically expressed. But for the first time in the history of music, traditional Kongolese and European instruments co-existed in close proximity to each other.
Cross culture musical exchanges must have ensued but, due to limited documentation, plus the lack of musical manuscripts, we can only imagine what these early music amalgamations sounded like. The absence of sonic archival detail beckons me to un-mute the silence and excavate the buried decibels.
In putting context to content, Afro-Sonic Mapping is a maize of trajectories that strives to investigate African colonial narratives from their respective sonic trans-migratory evolutionary developments. Probing the Lisbon sonic circuit in 2019, I encountered a relatively small Black music scene, which is predominantly controlled by white Portuguese entrepreneurs. Black-owned music labels and radio stations are pretty much non-existent, the few African labels that do exist such as Ngola specialize in African music from the continent.
Black Pirate radio stations play a vital role in the transfer and dissemination of subversive information. Radio made it possible to reach people in the urban and rural areas of Angola during the 1970’s struggle for independence. Radio is the perfect phonic tool to infiltrate social hierarchies.
DJ Johnny Leandro, a native Angolanidade, and Lisbon resident, has been a stalwart pioneer and mentor of local Black talent and various genres of music from the trans national African Diaspora. Leandro was instrumental in introducing Hip Hop and Jazz to the local Lisbon club scene. His current B sessions are a spiritual Jazz focused weekly club night event, where he spins vinyl and is always accompanied by live musicians. (I had the honour to play flute in one such session.) DJ Johnny creates a platform for spontaneous encounters to unfold, a space for musicians to improvise in realms of unpredictability.
Cities with colonial pasts that house the inner urban cultures that spawn hybrid music genres, are of particular interest to the Afro-Sonic Mapping project. The mission to reinvent pure sonic dance rebellion by the extreme melding of Kizomba, Trap, Funana, Semba, Grime, Hip Hop, Tarraxinha, Drill and Afrohouse, is the 140 Bpm mash up that Lisbon’s Modern Batida delivers. I propose, that what we can hear in the chambers of contemporary African Portuguese music is, in fact, a condensation of six centuries of dense sonic information, transposed and embedded in its creators’ DNA and collective memory.
The modulating decibels of inner-city sounds are contingent on their community’s respective histories and environments. The original Batida (the name means beats in Portuguese), appeared in the late 1980’s and was created in the Muceque communities (shantytowns) of Luanda. The current Lisbon version is a genre of electronic dance floor music that is created in both the social housing projects on the outskirts of Lisbon, and across the bridge over the river Tagus. Like many strains of Black urban dance music, Batida is produced in basic home studios. In its early beginnings it was predominantly played at Shabeens (late night neighbourhood block parties). For the new generation of disenfranchised Black Portuguese, it’s the grating voice of both protest and inclusion, still stigmatised in Lisbon’s segregated music scene.
But to the surprise of its naysayers, Batida has met with worldwide acclaim. Many of it stars like DJ Nigga Fox are signed to Principe Discos, a record label founded in 2011 dedicated exclusively to Batida and owned by a white Portuguese Lisbon collective. (Due to the lack of local Black enterprise there is no Brainfeeder, Def Jam or Motown in Portugal.) Hailing from Quinta do Mocho, a crime ridden social housing project, is DJ Marfox, a co-founder of DJ’s do Gueto (FYI, that’s ghetto in Portuguese). Marfox is hands down, the undisputed star Pioneer and mentor of the genre, his EP ‘Eu Sei Quem So’ (I Know Who I am) was Principe Discos debut release in 2011. Nine years later, Marfox still spins at Noite Principe, the labels weekly down town Lisbon club night, which has created an inclusive culturally diverse venue where Batida can be experienced by all.
Another one of the brightest stars in the Batida galaxy is 23 yr old DJ producer Nidia Borges, whose parents hail respectively from Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. Nidia is the only internationally acclaimed woman in the male dominated Batida world. In Lisbon, Black music trends are often influenced by genres outside Portugal including the ex-colonies. A prime example is Kudouro, which was born in the Muceques of Luanda in Angola.
Radical Black music in its very essence of antiphonal improvisation, has always imbued a unique shape-shifting spatiality. It both embraces and repudiates categorizations, demarcating radical complex codes of wizardry within its own sonic boundaries. Early African instruments often employed organic elements to create buzz noise distortion, centuries in advance of Fuzz and Wah Wah pedals. Listen to Albert Ayler, Jimi Hendrix, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Miles for the sorcery I am referring to.
I often find myself contemplating music’s alchemic unpredictability in that space of the un-played the eerie role that absence plays is key to this thought. To embrace the pulse of silence between the notes of collapsed surrender, creators play passages delivered in unheard displays of seismic burdened bliss. This is what I’m trying to audibly understand, through multiple Black radical sonic sensibilities. I want to think that we are able to augment the silence and through perceptiveness and un-listening, construct sonic architectures of these early periods, structures which will carry us into the farthest future.
The process of historiographical rewind is intensely traumatic in the visceral context of ancestral lineage to the non-winner side of Middle Passage narratives. It is both daunting and exhilarating to enter into bygone periods and experience the collapse of time – the sonic, tactile, and olfactory senses are activated through memory, imagination and multi-sensory perception. Those of us who have physically experienced these charged artefacts and architectures share a heightened, palpable awareness of their multi-generational journeys. Think of a fluid sensorial blueprint where nothing is heard but everything is said -the silence between the notes. I call it Black Sonic Sensory Perception.
It seems like years ago, but so do most things these days, don’t they in our collective Covid 19, Octavia Butlerian Parable Of The Sower, Orwellian moment.
It was on February 29th, yes I remember it well, at the advice and invitation of friend and curator Sofia Lemos, I biked down to the KW Institute for Contemporary Art for the opening of the Hassan Sharif exhibition I Am The Single Work Artist. Oh my bad, for those not hip, I’m based in Berlin, Germany and as you can tell by the date we were pre-lockdown. So let me reminisce: The Hassan Sharif exhibition is both poetic and visceral and I was very moved by his sculptural works. I must admit that works which employ found objects often speak to me in deafening decibels. There’s a certain epistemological language encoded in forms that employ everyday objects: they demand of us to reevaluate notions of class and worth. You know those objects that we have a prior mundane relationship too, but when utilised as material supports in a contemporary art context they literally shape-shift into multilingual entities that almost speak in tongues. Unfortunately the show will be over before you can visit it or even have the liberty to mingle, so let me draw your attention to the two works pictured here, and if at a later time you have the opportunity to view Hassan Sharif’s work please don’t hesitate. At the same venue I bumped into some friends who told me that a performance that was about to start in another exhibition at KW on the upper floor and, lo and behold, I bumped into an ex-band member friend of mine, the inimitable Christina Wheeler, who informed me that a mutual friend, Brooklyn based musician/visual artist Kyp Malone, was in town and in fact he was the performer. Kyp and his partner, Kris Lemsalu Malone, along with their friend Michele Pagel are exhibiting on the third floor gallery, with their collaboration, titled Love Song Sing – Along.
A deft use of mise en scène is lavishly applied in Kris Lemsalu Malones art practice which is comprised of sculpture installation and performance. Her persona and attire is also intrinsically connected to that aforementioned mise en scène flair. On entering the third floor gallery space at KW we are projected into a Lewis Carrolesque type fairy tale space. In this warm inviting zoomorphic setting we are confronted by a stationary deadpan, top hatted, giant swan who appears to be ferrying two mythic passengers, a hare and a jaguar, plus a few extra projecting arms with waving hands, to someplace – somewhere I don’t know. One can read a certain mischievous foreboding in the layers of this brightly coloured sheen and gloss sculpture, which seemingly floats or drifts on a light blue lake of net fabric. This scene is encircled by totemic birch trees incised with padlocks created by Michele Pagels, they appear to be witnesses and guardians. In a nut shell, Love Song Sing – Along is a very cohesive collaboration. I came away with the conviction that Kris’s self penned mythology moves into realms of animated dualities that invite escape from the obduracies of our current pandemic time. So good peoples, if you get a chance, I would eagerly suggest you pop on over to the KW and join the masquerade.
This entire extravaganza is complemented and embraced by Kyps un-stretched figurative paintings which are fragile to the point of palimpsest. They border on fairy tale narratives in a utopian dreamtime landscape. These narratives float in zones of both autobiographical and phantasmagorical realities. The colour choice is one of pastel hues which Malone paints onto very fine cotton cloth. The paintings, although suspended on the walls, wave like flags or sails in the wind. There is something refreshingly ungrounded in this installation – a cry for freedom in our all too restricted earthly conundrums. Let’s just tell it like it is, one can actually feel the love in this collaboration. This, my dear blogger’s, is my humble attempt to take you there.
Kyp’s solo performance, which had the same title as the exhibition, Love Song Sing- Along, was a very chilled out affair. Kyp played and programmed an array of synths, loopers, beat boxes and processors. It was a real time free-flow-happening – an inclusive partnership that collapsed the performer/audience hierarchy.
Kyp distributed various percussion toys and split the audience into sections by giving them harmonies to sing which crescendoed into a Love Song Sing- Along mantra type chant. Kyp, as some of you might know, is a member of the highly acclaimed, unique, Brooklyn-based band TV on the Radiothat plays an extremely eclectic style of music. They have delivered some absolute gems likeHappy Idiot, Cookie Mountain, I was a Lover, etc, etc. Kyp is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer and producer. He was cool enough in his busy schedule to hang out at my studio and do an interview in which we covered a lot of ground. One should never turn the camera off till the interviewee has departed, which is what I did – just when Kyp mentioned that his Grandad had played horn in the orchestra of Jazz giant Fletcher Henderson. So now for more info please check out the Kyp video.
I know iv’e been quiet of late but no fear more new posts are coming your way very very soon. Please stay Safe N Healthy, Hugs from a social distance, Satch.
Greetings to all in the Afro Sonic Mapping Fam, I hope 2020 is treating you right.
Last week I returned from New York and Oslo, Norway respectively – first let me delve into the New York chapter where I had the pleasure of being reunited with Burnt Sugar, The Arkestra Chamber: a brilliant music collective led by respected writer and social critic, Ironman – Greg Tate. I have been a member of the Burnt Sugar fam since 2001, holding the flute and percussion chair.
On January 30th we performed our version of the Miles Davis, Gil Evans recording of Porgy and Bess at The Lincoln Center. I hasten to add, our version bore little resemblance to either Miles’ and Gils’ or Gershwins’ versions: Ours contained loose stretched-out sketches allowing room for Conduction (structured improvisation) and swathes of in your face confrontational walls of sound, albeit elements, such as vocal melody’s, were still recognisable, The Sugar version of Porgy and Bess, which each time performed is unique, trampolines one out of the 1930’s Charleston hood life scenario into a dense celebratory cloud of Afro futuristic block party gusto narrative, with The Duke and George Bridgetower wading deep in the mix too – a kinda Black sonic lexicon.
After the performance, I was very fortunate to escape Manhattan and spent two days with Jen and Adolfo, friends of mine who live in Woodstock. We visited the very impressive Meleko Mokgosi exhibition Democratic Intuition at Jack Shainman – The School Kinderhook gallery, though one can hardly call a 30,000ft space an art gallery – its a veritable museum with a shrine to co-founder Claude Simard whom we dearly miss. For those of you who don’t know the Jack Shainman gallery in Chelsea NYC founded in 1984, its’ one of the first galleries to promote a culturally diverse program that champions Black artists, from both the African continent and the Trans national African diaspora, so needless to say they get much love from me; and, I hasten to add, I was in their Black Panther Rank and File exhibition in 2006 back when Claude was still with us, RIP Claude.
Now to delve into Oslo, returning to Berlin from NYC last Tuesday on Wednesday I was another plane, Oslo bound, to install my work Slave in the exhibition Listening to the Echoes of the South Atlantic, curated by Selene Wendt at the Oslo Kunstforening.
Slave, created in 2006 whilst I was living and working in NYC, is a work of mine that pays homage to the genius musician Prince and twofold investigates the long history of exploitation and the appropriation of Black music. Prince wrote the word slave on his cheek when he was in litigation with his then record label Warner Brothers. Stating that if a musician does not own their own masters (master tapes) they are subjugated to the position of a slave. The work employs Sonic Fabric which is woven from cassette tape that’s been recorded with bootleg music from Princes after concert jams. The viewer is invited to interact by stroking a Sonic Wand over the sonic fabric from which abstract sound is emitted from a guitar amplifier.
Amongst works that solicited my utmost respect in the exhibition is African American Oslo resident Camille Norment’s interactive sound piece Prime (2016). The viewer is invited to recline on wooden benches onto which speakers are attached to the undersides. The vibration of the church moans and chanting voices verge into wails which crescendo into a ghostlike haunting which penetrates ones body. The experience is extremely visceral with a poetic melding which culminates into what I will term a dark foreboding lullaby. The work investigates the deaths of unarmed Black people shot to death by the police, namely Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner to name just three who in the mid 2000’s fell victim to the ongoing racial profiling and fatal police brutality rife in this global right wing xenophobic era in which we live.
Another work which ritualistically spoke to me was that of Nyugen E Smith. His charged BundlehouseSculptures 1,2,3, (2019) are reminiscent of Nkisi Kongo Songye figures, though aesthetically they bear no resemblance, they viscerally project similar sensations. The plethora of found objects delicately arranged on legs similar to African stools are very elegant in stature. Smiths work recalls his Trinidadian roots and his submersion into African American culture. His complex performance at the opening left many in amazement – I really enjoyed our conversation the next morning over breakfast and look forward to more encounters with both of these artists.
Alpha Crucis, Contemporary African Art at the Astrup Fearnley Museum is another exhibition taking place in Oslo. The recent inclusion of African art into international museums seems to be a global phenomenon, although this particular exhibition is not exactly a survey of new generation cutting edge artists that are currently coming out of the continent. There are, however, some very relevant works on display. I would like to bring to your attention a work that particularly struck a vital chord with me, My Fathers Music Room (2007- 2019) by Kay Hassan, who hails from Johannesburg, South Africa. The main feature of this sonic installation is a large collection of vinyl records placed on shelves together with furniture and other various domestic accessories. The installation is a replica of the living room of Hassan’s childhood home, a home situated in a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg. When climbing the stairs to the museums upper gallery we hear the music of Fela Kuti and Hugh Masekela seductively informing us of the sonic cannon that awaits. On entering the installation we are confronted by two framed, air-brushed, photo portraits placed on the wall circa 1950’s whom I presume are Hassan’s parents, they imbue a certain melancholia which immediately reminded me of the important relevant role that music of resistance played during the horrendous period of apartheid, and its multifaceted role throughout the numerous independence struggles in the then predominantly colonised African continent; and further, the ongoing role that woke music still plays in our current uncertain global political climate.
Short excerpt of Camille Norment’s interactive sound piece Prime (2016) at Listening to the Echoes of the South Atlantic, at the Oslo Kunstforening curated by Selene Wendt.
In summing up Afro Sonic Mapping’s 2019 adventures to quote curator Paz Guevara We Rocked It. All our goals were reached and the promises made, were kept. As with all creative research based practices fresh conclusions were reached, friends artists and scholars expanded the theoretical structures that are in the process of being built.
For those of you who were unable to view the exhibition, experience the interviews and performances, or attend the talks, we are offering you the best iteration we possibly can of the Afro Sonic Mapping project which was held at the House of World Cultures Berlin in November 2019. You can get a very good idea of the communal feeling that was present during the guided tours given by Paz Guevara and myself. The jubilation in the audiences at the three performances. The ASM collaborators were all there from Luanda Angola, Salvador Bahia and Lisbon Portugal, and various other locations in the transnational African diaspora.
It was to say the least a great turn out, quite a few surprise visitors attended, old friends were reunited and new friends were made, to sum it up, all the research and ground work that was initiated in 2016 came to fruition in 2019 and has paved the way for other future mappings In summing up Afro Sonic Mapping’s 2019 adventures to quote curator Paz GuevaraWe Rocked It. All our goals were reached and the promises made, were kept. As with all creative research based practices fresh conclusions were reached, friends artists and scholars expanded the theoretical structures that are in the process of being built.
I am looking forward to 2020 being a year of possibly touring the ASM exhibition or at least elements which were presented at the HKW Berlin and embarking on new research in the Francophone and Anglophone Phonogram archives.
ASM’s approach to unpacking archives is in fact quite unique, The un-muting of archives followed by sonic restitutions, liberates and enables incarcerated looted archives to regain presence and live. In other words placing the past into the now with a optimistic vision to the future.
The decibels have been turned up ASM is making big noise and on this particular dare I say last post of 2019 it is my great privilege to have conducted a interview in my Berlin Studio with Louis Chude Sokei. whose book The Sound Of Culture is on my A list of recommended reading. Louis was in Berlin participating in a residency at the DAAD we have had quite a lot of correspondence this year as we are mining similar sonic terrains, We also share musician comraderie. In the interview he speaks of his personal migration from piano to bass, we muse on dub, sub bass frequencies the un-played new publications and other topics. I look forward to interviewing more folk for the blog next year and un-muting the francophone African archives and further sharing all the sonic info with you in 2020.
Now that the dust has settled and I have had a chance to muse on what we actually did over the past three years, culminating in the Afro-Sonic Mapping exhibition at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, I want to take a gulp and express deep gratitude, firstly, to my studio crew: Julianne Cordray, Kahori Furukawa, Trevor Morgan, Jordane Maurs, and Stephane Gaultier; and to the HKW crew: Anselm Franke, Agnes Wegner, Paz Guevara, and Lisa Deml. Coz without these key players, the dream would not of been realised.
We had an amazing program with brilliant lectures by luminaries such as Fred Moten and Greg Tate — to mention just two. Big thank you to those of you that were here in Berlin and gave your support. Thanks to the amazing support of HKW, I was able to keep my promise to all my collaborators in Luanda and Salvador da Bahia and invite them to Berlin to perform in the concerts. For those of you that were unable to attend, please know this: you only missed chapter 1. Chapter 2 is in the making.
P.S. If you happen to be in Paris this Thursday, Nov 28th, please come to the Cosmopolis #2 Exhibition at the Centre George Pompidou. At 8:30pm I am giving a solo sound performance of LATITUDE, which is the experimental album created in the rubric of Afro-Sonic Mapping. Looking forward to seeing you then.
It was a great pleasure to have Kiluanji on board at the opening talks and performance of the Afro-Sonic Mapping exhibition at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin. But hey, it’s only natural really, considering we’ve been friends for ages; been in many group shows together; and have discussed the obliteration of postcolonial tropes into the wee hours of the morning in New Orleans; or whilst sipping Ginja in the square near Rosssio in Lisbon.
I was very fortunate that Kiluanji was in Luanda when I arrived there last year to begin the Afro-Sonic Mapping project. We conducted this interview after a long lunch. He took me on a little tour, which eventually led to his Luanda gallery where, I must admit, I had the warmest and most congenial first meeting with gallery owners that I’ve ever had –Mex and Jardel are the best. Kiluanji’s friendship, knowledge, generosity and hospitality are always greatly appreciated. I look forward to returning to Luanda — hopefully next year. We are in the early stages of discussions on the logistics of an Afro-Sonic Mapping exhibition at the Jahmek Gallery. Meanwhile, sit back and absorb this very enlightening interview.
It was very cool to be with MC Sacerdote here in Berlin after not seeing him since we collaborated on the tracks for the Afro-Sonic Mapping album (as yet unreleased). He flew into cold Berlin from the Luanda summer season with a T-shirt – not even a hoody. But we set him up with some warm attire. It was quite amazing coz he never once complained about the cold.
In this last interview that I conducted with Sacerdote on my very last day in Luanda, he candidly speaks about the experience of working with the wax cylinder phonograph recordings, what he experienced on first hearing them and the obligations he felt to creating the tracks we built in his studio. I look forward to seeing him again in Sambizanga, Luanda in the not-too-distant future.
Greetings, to those of you that were unable to attend the Afro-Sonic Mapping opening – let me tell you, you were missed. For those that were there: well, you were a wonderful audience and played an important role in creating what can only be described as an amazingly relaxed and friendly atmosphere. On Oct 31st, I did a conduction (real-time composition) with an ensemble of seven musicians. On Nov 1st, the Afro-Sonic Mapping Band debut was witnessed. The band – apart from four guests – consists of musicians and vocalists that I met and collaborated with in Luanda, Angola, Salvador da Bahia and Lisbon, Portugal. I would like to thank all of them once again, and thank you and the very accommodating and patient HKW team: Agnes, Anselm, Paz, and Lisa. It was a great experience. And to you, dear followers, I very much hope to see you on Nov 17th for the closing talks and my premier performance of LATITUDE – a composition conceived and partially recorded during my Afro-Sonic Mapping voyage. A limited edition vinyl record with scented inner sleeve is available at the HKW bookstore and Motto Books Berlin. Here are some images from the opening events and quick tour of the exhibition. Much Gratitude, Satch.