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Ten Cities: Viewing Africa from the dancefloor

Samuel Breen

ten cities 300x225 Ten Cities: Viewing Africa from the dancefloor

The Goethe Institute in Kenya along with the Centre for Postcolonial Studies at the University of Naples have embarked on a project called Ten Cities. The idea? To look through the developing world and confront their club culture. To think of electronic dance events as politically charged as say, a town hall meeting. And to see what they can tell us about the city and its culture. It’s an inexact science but perhaps this radical approach is what’s needed.

Unsurprisingly, any attempt to negotiate urban theory will confront major pitfalls in the literature. ‘Spandrels’, ‘exaptive’, ‘interstitial’, and worse are some of the off-putting, baffling terms employed by conclaves of academics, architects, and town planners.

Over the years the rigid study of urban spaces has been criticised. You only have to look at the town planning of most major cities to realise the reductionist visions their designers had for them. Fortunately the criticism has brought about a concession in academic territory, and created a great wealth of real estate available to those creative enough to rethink the model. And for those mad enough to ask themselves,  “What is a car park?” For me, this is the kind of fresh thinking madness that I can get behind. Johannas Hossfeld who is leading the project, speaks to me from his office in Nairobi.

“I was looking for another angle on the public sphere, and in electronic music and club culture particularly in Africa. And we were interested in the different club scenes, and the different cultures and it’s cities. So the project is in two parts, it’s a research project on one hand, one that looks at public paces and challenges that theory and the other hand it’s a music co-production project.”

“The old theories on the public sphere is that the theories are often performed by old academics who always wrote about the public sphere, where the spheres are formed rationally and discoursively. And I always thought this kind of odd. And it has been criticised within the academic arm. So I was looking at taking this theory and presenting it in a way that is not word based.”

“The angle of club culture is a beautiful means of portraying cities not using the usual means. For instance, Lagos in terms of club culture looks a lot different to the ways. The point is to take an unusual perspective and to take a serial approach.”

Only last week the project finished a session over in Johannesburg. Other sites included are Nairobi, Cairo, Luanda, Lagos. These locations are studied as teams of musicians from Europe and the Occident: Bristol, Berlin, Lisbon, Kiev, Naples. It transpires that all the destination cities featured this time around are in Africa.

Revered Bristol producer Rob Ellis, better known as Pinch, went to Lagos for the second leg of the project and recounts his experience: “The studio sessions were fairly chaotic with lots of musicians passing through seemingly at random – certainly unannounced. One day four older guys turned up, complete with tribal scarring and their percussion outfits. Literally – they dressed into these matching outfits to record, then changed out of them again as soon as they finished! They were traditional agidigbo percussionists, full of character and constantly joking about – demanding alcoholic drinks the moment we were about to record, at 11.30am, quickly obtained inexpensively at a local ‘bar’ (a few patio tables behind a wall where we went for lunch each day). Two bottles of Guinness and a couple of Coke’s later we were treated to five 10 minute pieces of truly incredible percussion and vocals. Apparently they specialise in performing at wedding celebrations and so a lot of the vocals were appropriate to that context. Whatever it was they were saying – the music they played was astonishingly good, they obviously played together for years and were really amazing at what they do. The rhythms and the way everything flowed was really amazing to hear.”

At the moment any form of academia, irrespective of medium – written recorded, etc. – is still in the pipeline. And within the chaos of the events, and the unexpected circumstances and results the Ten Cities project finds itself with, it’s incredible these occurrences can be informally documented. Crucially however, what makes this project exceptional is its ambitions. Musical activities are common the world over but few have the desire to take their project to a level as foolish and precocious as this. Surely this is the kind of approach required to provoke culture’s advance?

More information on the project can be found on their website: www.ten-cities.com

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