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.
What Butch Morris invented and offered this planet is a unique subversive music vocabulary — one that breaks all pre-conceived notions of both creating experimental improvised music and the art of conducting large ensembles.
He wrote a sonic alphabet that liberates the musician to explore her or his most inner core of virtuosic creative expression, whilst adhering to a number of hand and baton symbols — eighty-five in total. An open invitation to deconstruct all previous formal conditioning. You gotta learn the rules before you can break ’em, is the prerequisite to all forms of improvisation.
Butch was a friend of mine; Butch was a bon vivant. He loved great wines and cigars, culinary delights and fine clothes. On stage, he was the dark ninja, the tyrannical maestro. When Butch took center stage dressed in black, he would clutch his baton close to his chest and in a gruff voice say C’mon, make it strong; and if you got it wrong, he would shout at you, even throw the baton. He was the ultimate perfectionist, who guided musicians into waters of the unknown – enabling them to realise the eternal possibilities of ensemble improvisation.
As a musician in Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber, I was shouted at and often left rehearsals with a stiff neck. But working with Butch – in fact, being played by Butch — was such a revelatory and liberating experience, especially when we recorded The Rites1, and later that year played it at the Summer Stage Festival in Central Park, NYC.
I will never forget the very first time I experienced a conduction: it was upstairs at Tonic the Jonn Zorn-owned Lower East Side club, which supported avant-garde, creative and experimental music. I was in the audience, and as I recall, there were around fifteen to twenty musicians huddled on stage in the ensemble. Christian Marclay, the visual artist, was on turn tables. I was in the audience with Michaela Angela Davis and Trevor Schonmaker. I was dumbstruck. The experience was akin to when I first heard John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix. I was transported — transported to another galaxy — and at one point, the conduction sounded like Butch was sculpting forms in a massive swarm of bees. Butch Morris was a manifestation of sonic hybridity rooted in Blackness.
In a 2008 NPR Radio interview with Farai Chideya, the question of how his music could be categorised was asked and he responded thus:
I’m a Jazz musician, I know what I am and this is what I do — I do conduction. And it doesn’t matter whether the music you think I’m playing or professing is jazz or not; it’s kinda not my problem. I work with classical musicians, Japanese, or Turkish traditional musicians, Jazz, Funk or Pop musicians. I’m still showing everyone the same signs.
Each conduction is a terra nova of real-time composition. Nothing is to be repeated unless you receive the symbol to repeat what you just played (eg., ‘memory 1’). To be an element in a conduction ensemble is to be led, to be played — which takes a lot of trust. In fact, one must surrender to the unknown. All gravity is removed. One is projected into limbo-ness: you glide, you’re in flotation mode without a parachute.
I’m listening to The Rites while I’m writing this post. The multiple galaxies that this conduction explores are once again dawning on me. It’s the utter non-predictability that remains fresh on each listening. The music literally traverses industrial turmoil, Baroque Blues, New Orleans Kikongo cyber Klash places and spaces.
In the same NPR interview, Farai Chideya asked Butch, How did you get started on the path? He replied:
Why I started doing this in the first place is, I realized there is a great divide between what is notated and what is improvised and I wanted to understand what that divide is.
I wanted to hear twenty-five people play like a Jazz trio; I wanted to have that kind of combustion spontaneity and momentum and condensity.
I thought about conduction ten years before I even started practicing it.
I didn’t want to do it with one community; I wanted to bring a lot of communities together. Sure, it incubated in the Jazz and free music communities, but I realized that if non-improvisers wanted to do this I could incorporate all of them into the ensemble.
Butch Morris is the epitome of Afro-Sonic Mapping — that’s what he did. His conduction methodology is a radical cartographic approach into diverse sonic realms with a foundation planted firmly in the fertile soil of the Eternal Afro-Sonic Signifier. He sailed fleets into unknown subversive terrains. May his baton, like a celestial sextant, lead us into more expansive, experimental, radical plateaus and plains.
Gratitude and obeisances. RIP Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris.
1 The Rites: Burnt Sugar, Pete Cosey, Butch Morris, Melvin Gibb, Vijay Iyer, Stravinsky, 2003, Avantgroid music and pixelworks.
In late August, I was invited to participate in Ai Confini tra Sardegna e Jazz festival with Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber (FYI, I’m one of the original members). It was a great reunion. The concert, which included elements of conduction, was a revisitation of Porgy and Bess — the Miles Davis / Gil Evans rendition, that is. After the concert, I had the great pleasure of meeting Daniela Veronesi, who befriended Butch in New York on a break after finishing her PhD studies. Daniela attended a number of Conductions in both NYC and Italy and was very instrumental in ploughing through decades of diaries, which eventually led to her editing Butch’s book The Art Of Conduction.
Daniela kindly granted me an interview for Afro-Sonic Mapping, so please sit back, absorb and enjoy.
I was very fortunate to be in Paris in July, linking up with old friends: like Guillermo Brown, a great drummer and composer visiting from Los Angeles; the Paris-based effervescent and brilliant curator, Raina Lampkins-Fielder; the notorious Paris-based Mike Ladd — poet, writer, composer and rapper vocalist; the celebrated Saul Williams, composer, slam poet, vocalist extraordinaire and ex-Paris citizen, now based in LA; and Samantha and Mario Caldato — Samantha a Brazilian ceramics artist and Mario the brilliant producer of Seu Jorge and Beastie Boys, amongst many many others. The Caldatos are based in Los Angeles and have recently launched Amor — a non-profit record label.
Amor is, in fact, an embassy of cultural resistance and production. Mario recently produced Jupiter & Okwess in the Amor Los Angeles recording studio. Jupiter & Okwess is based in both Kinshasa and Paris. Jupiter Bokondji (born 1965 in Kinshasa) has a long history in radical, subversive, woke music. Jupiter’s adolescence was partly spent in Berlin, where he experienced both GDR East Berlin and the West — as his father was a diplomat stationed there. This Cold War period experience is an integral element in the ethos of his eclectic fire brand music, which boasts multiple guitar lines that lace and dance over and in complex crisscross rhythms, all rooted in a strong multi-Congolese identity.
Der Neger is the name of one of his earlier bands, which was formed in Berlin. Jupiter & Okwess’s current headquarters is a house in a suburb on the outskirts of Paris. Their next door neighbours, who are very close friends of the Caldatos, hosted a BBQ in their and the band’s honour. We, the guests, were so lucky to be able to get our dance moves on to the band’s vibrant grooves. Yes, Jupiter & Okwess played a short set in the garden, which catapulted us all to another stratosphere. Watch out for their upcoming album on the Zamora label. And watch out for the upcoming Amor label release of Orquestra Afro-Brasileira.
My many encounters with Latasha Nevada Diggs, hanging in my Berlin studio to contemplate her Ebonic morphs into Edo-period Japanese and multi-patois linguistics.
It all leads to Africa. We’re in this triangle space, right, and each point has its individual vocab, she said.
Yeah, twenty years on, me and my good friend Latasha are still discussing and experimenting with the binary interweave of the word and sonics. We started our friendship back in 2001 as band mates in Burnt Sugar, the Arkestra Chamber. That was in NYC on the eve of 9/11. She was one of the first vocalists I experienced all looped out in a loop station, plus the other pedals she was tweaking as she sung, screamed, cried and sermonized in the whirl of Butch Morris-esque conduction (real-time composition) loosely sketched from the baton of Greg “Ironman” Tate.
Yeah, those were the early days of Burnt Sugar’s unabashed forays into terrains of improvised non-predictability, and those are the days I count as my most erudite and mind-bending, sans drugs. Sonic moments where we fifteen musicians were lifting each other as a melded mass into trodden and untrod spaces – quite often a Miles-meets-Maggot Brain space with a tinge of Barok and Karnatic raga to aptly glide into a dark groid urban bashment beat.
That encapsulates the situation in which I met my good friend Latasha Nevada Diggs, so please enjoy Part 1 of our interview.
Satch Hoyt: You know this interview is for my blog, Afro-Sonic Mapping: Tracing Aural Histories via Sonic Transmigrations, so I’m actually looking at black narratives from a sonic perspective. Obviously you were in the UK at a very important period – a transitory period. And there were a lot of amazing musicians coming through. Would you like to talk a little bit about some of the musicians that you met and what was sonically going on in that particular period of the ‘60s?
Margaret Busby: Well, I’ve talked about my late ex-husband, Lionel Grigson – he was a jazz musician. He played trumpet and piano. After he graduated, he was involved with the university jazz group. In London he used to play at this place called the Troubadour on Old Brompton Road; a lot of musicians came through his group and played there. In fact, just down the road from that place was a pub, which was actually a gay pub, but it had a West Indian session on Sunday at lunchtime, I believe. So, a lot of West Indians came through.
SH: Did you know Joe Harriott?
MB: Yeah, I knew Joe Harriott. I was also thinking the other day about this Trinidadian, David “Happy” Williams, who actually used to play with Lionel. He went to the States and ended up playing with Cedar Walton for decades. Freddie Redd was also in London at one time; there was also Alexis Korner – so, blues and jazz musicians. Fela’s fusion was also going on. Actually, I published a book about Fela in 1983 – called Fela, Fela: This Bitch of a Life.
SH: Who wrote that book?
MB: A Cuban friend of mine called Carlos Moore. He was in Paris for a long time – that’s where I first knew him.
SH: What period was that?
MB: The ‘60s.
SH: That’s when James Baldwin and Richard Wright were there, as well.
MB: Yes. There were a lot of expatriate blacks in Paris in that era; they were all connected. There was Carlos, there was a Jamaican called Lindsay Barrett, who’s a writer and wrote about music – he’s still a friend of mine.
Back in the ‘60s, I also saw Black Orpheus and fell in love with Brazilian music. In fact, I started to learn Brazilian Portuguese just because I loved the music and wanted to understand the lyrics. I remember one song seemed like the beginning of a novel; it started: “I’ve got the marks of her teeth on my arm.”
SH: All of those instruments in Brazilian music – the berimbau or the cuica – are actually Angolan instruments, which is quite amazing. I was in Luanda last year working on my project. I’m actually looking at the way the music left the continent; I’m arguing, in fact, that the slaves acted as portals and carried this mnemonic network of sounds over to the Caribbean basin and the Americas. Then, amalgamations occurred in New Orleans with French classical music, creating jazz in Congo Square and so on and so forth.
MB: And then going back to Africa.
With Randy Weston over the decades. Left: with Randy Weston, ca. 1983; Right: Fatou Weston, Pam Weston, Chris Calhoun, Randy and Margaret Busby.
SH: Exactly. For instance, with Franco and the rumba in Congo. Or with Fela studying here, then going to America, meeting the Black Power Movement, and then his music becoming politicized, as well as all of the jazz influences that occurred.
MB: Well, even with people like Randy Weston. In fact, one of the early books I did – around 1970 – was by Valerie (Val) Wilmer and it was called Jazz People. It featured interviews with about a dozen jazz musicians, including Randy. Actually, one interview she had done was not quite an interview – it was with Miles Davis and went like this: “When I said later, baby, I meant later.” That’s what she got from Miles.
Then we did another book by her later – which was just reissued last year by Profile Books – called As serious as your life. The title is a quote from McCoy Tyner, who had said, “Music is not a plaything; it’s as serious as your life”.
SH: Do you have a Miles Davis story?
MB: I heard him in London. I think the last time I heard him was not long before he died. I used to go to Ronnie Scott’s a lot and I heard a lot of good people there. It’s funny how in those days you took things for granted; like, you’d just hang out with Freddie Hubbard after a gig, or whatever. I was sharing a flat with my sister in Belgravia and Freddie and his then-wife would come by. I actually used to write song lyrics, as well.
SH: Who did you write song lyrics for?
MB: For my husband and his band. The singer Norma Winstone also sang some of my lyrics – lyrics to something called “Some Time Ago”. Norma recorded it, as well as some Brazilian singer. In fact, by chance I came across a CD and there was this singer, singing my lyrics – I’m not sure how she found them. So, not a lot was recorded, but I used to write a lot of lyrics.
SH: What about the Brotherhood of Breath – did you know those guys: Chris McGregor, Louis Moholo and Mongezi Feza?
MB: Yes, of course. Abdullah Ibrahim is also a friend of mine. A lot of them played in a jazz club – the Jazz Cafe. Happy Williams played with Lionel; Philly Joe Jones, the drummer, was in London for ages. He used to hang out with us. There were quite a few who came through London at that time.