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 Bundlehouse Sculptures 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.