Today on The Domestic Soundscape blog I bring you news of a project by my friend and comrade, Claudia Wegener, AKA Radio Continental Drift. This is a long post, but an important one, so I would urge you to fetch tea and join me and Claudia for a Q&A about her current major project, the All Africa Sound Map!
Claudia Wegener, “The Producer” at Radio Continental Drift, image taken from here
I first met Claudia at the In the Field symposium where her impassioned and compelling talk about her work as “a listener with a bag” really blew me away. (You can hear that talk here and also by clicking on the player below, which begins with an introduction to the panel by Cathy Lane and then goes into Claudia’s talk.)
Claudia’s feminist stance and dedication to addressing global inequalities through broadcast speak strongly to my own political leanings and conviction that sonic practices can (and should) also be social and community practices. The project Claudia is currently working on is the All Africa Soundmap, which connects an archive of recordings and interviews created by Claudia last year with a forthcoming project with Bulawayo filmmaker Priscilla Sithole to spread film and audio making skills and resources amongst community groups in Africa.
Like my current work with mapping sounds from the Shetland wool industry, the All Africa Soundmap uses aporee, created by our mutual friend Udo Noll, as its platform. Today Claudia will talk us through this map and how it relates to her forthcoming work, answering questions I sent her a couple of weeks ago.
Q1. First – very simply – what is the All Africa Sound Map, and how can people all over the world contribute to this project?
A1. The All Africa Sound Map is a project map hosted on “radio aporee:::maps”. Berlin-based artist Udo Noll created this sound-map in 2006 as an interactive, online project, allowing listeners to upload digital sound recordings from all over the world at the exact sites where they were recorded. Radio aporee maps near to 20,000 recordings, contributed by a globally dispersed community of about 1,000 people! Aporee is free to use, and has a facility which allows users to set up their own dedicated project maps, so that they can group and collate specific types of recordings relating to different themes. The All Africa Sound Map is a dedicated project map, so it is both part of aporee, and a discrete project, with its own specific aims. A big THANK YOU! from all of us “Zambezi Women” to Udo, “father” of radio aporee maps, for creating such an inspiring form of participatory radio and online listening.
When I searched for “Africa” on radio aporee maps, I found only a few recordings among the contributions uploaded so far. What I found were mainly African street musicians playing in the streets of Europe or America; and on the continent itself, a few recordings from lodges and Safaris, a football match in Johannesburg, the war in Sudan… while there are thousands of contributors and diverse local sounds from Europe and America, the huge continent of Africa is almost blank. Such an uneven picture of the “global” network is by no means confined to the aporee sound maps; across the digital knowledge pool of cyberspace, you find very little media content about Africa, and most of what does exist is not contributed or produced by African users. This is a huge gap in the knowledge and human resources of what is known as the “global” information society…
With our women-driven participatory media project in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, we want to join those people worldwide who have been and are working to address this gap. A wide collective effort by all of us is needed to share skills and resources in a more just and balanced way. With THE WOMEN SING AT BOTH SIDES OF THE ZAMBEZI we are tackling this task very locally. Together with the Bulawayo filmmaker Priscilla Sithole, we want to train women as instructors in film and creative media, so that the skills for producing digital, cultural content and the tools for its distribution can be spread amongst the women through their work across professional networks and local communities.
Now, with our local efforts, we want to reach out from the outset to others, and especially other women groups and initiatives involved in similar work elsewhere. One of our tools – and perhaps the most inspiring one – is the All Africa Sound Map. The map features sample tracks of recordings with women in Zambia and Zimbabwe, which I made last year in research and preparation for this project. The recordings made so far can help people listening from in other parts of the world to picture our local environment, and that of our neighbors on this and that side of the Zambezi, through the voices and stories of the women recorded in these places. Listening means travelling with your imagination in real time.
We invite all listeners to respond to our recordings on the map from wherever they are, geographically, in their life, work, and environment; everyone can upload their own recordings on the All Africa Sound Map by just clicking on the map. (I will leave all further details to Udo, who does a beautiful job of explaining everything about uploading to aporee here: http://aporee.org/maps/info/).
The range of recordings contributed will be as wide as the diversity of our listeners from around the world. Some might respond to the fact that we, and our project, are located in Africa, and upload recordings from Africa, or recordings of African voices and sounds wherever they encountered them. This can also include sounds, which reminded them of Africa, of African culture, or specifically of the way the women on the All Africa Sound Map tell their stories. Listening and response – interaction via and across the global map – is our call-out. This, I think, is a process of a collective, ever evolving, “streaming” kind of archiving, which is attuned to the oral cultures that speak so strongly in the voices of people from the African continent.
Q2. Several of the recordings collected on the map so far seem almost like contemporary forms of oral history; you have collected many in-location recordings in which women speak about their lives in places which are important to them. I have found that when working with oral histories or recording people speaking, there is much in the recordings beyond just the words which provides invaluable information and context… data which would disappear if these accounts were printed as mere text or disseminated just as written words. What do you think the advantages are for keeping cultural stories alive through audio recordings, and could you give us an example of one recording on the map so far which – for you – is as rich in its sonic details outside of language as in the words which the speaker is conveying to you?
A2. I often relay on the methods of oral history collection in my work in one way or another. The recordings from my journey last year constitute a kind of oral history research; the more than 70 women I recorded are all working, in many different ways, in the fields of Arts, Culture and Media. So far 21 of these recordings have been uploaded online and shared via our blog, facebook group and the All Africa Sound Map. With the DURBAN SINGS project for example, we actually trained our participating youths groups in oral history and conducted joint research in their communities. One of the most powerful potentials of field-recording on the African continent is the opportunity for a collective “writing” of history and a collective production of media by the people themselves; that is, using contemporary media to make a connection to traditional forms of collective storytelling. The first step must be to pass the skills and tools into the hands of the storytellers themselves.
What you are saying about the significance of place and how it might “speak” in a recording, Felicity, is beautifully true. I don’t know how much oral historians working in an anthropological or ethnographic sense have drawn on this resource? Some might avoid it fearing that their recordings will be too densely loaded with ambience. The aim of a traditional oral historian is likely to be a written analysis and synthesis of his/ her audio collection, while perhaps for practitioners like us, the synthesis and analysis of our material might have a different focus – as a soundtrack, or podcast, and so on. I guess that what inspires us as artists to use oral history methods is its “horizontal” approach, it’s mapping-out of history and storylines in a multitude of voices, and in the sonic textures of place.
It’s a beautiful feature on aporee maps that contributors are asked to precisely map the time and place of their recordings. Time and place are both co-ordinates, which also speak through a recording. We might not always understand what is being said, but we might well hear the weight of its significance in a voice, and the ambience might appear like a musical contra-point to a speaker. Listen for example to the recordings with Chiwoniso. The music “in the background” is quite prominent, yes, but it’s a particular music, the sounds of mbira (fingerpiano), which is Sis Chi’s instrument. I don’t know exactly the songs that are played, or the lyrics, which might resonate (I will have to ask friends about it…); but what I can hear is that the music filters more and more into our conversation, and its rhythm imprints itself on it, and on us. I can hear Chi tuning-in, streaming with it… and on the contra-point of these sounds, she relates much of her spiritual connection to the mbira… (I’ll have to add here, that these recordings have now, since Chi’s sudden departure in July, a particular significance for me, and many, many listeners…). Do listen to the end of the recording with Chiwoniso, where she beautifully relates a rural music gathering…!
This recording was made in the Book Café in Harare, Chi’s favorite hang-out. She was often present at the Sistaz Open Mic events, supporting younger artists. Quite a few of my Harare recordings were made here.
Jazz Diva Dudu Manhenga and Mbira Star Chiwoniso Maraire at The FLAME project’s Sistaz Open Mic at Book Café Harare run by Pamberi Trust 18 Aug 2012, image taken from the Radio Continental Drift photostream here and licensed under a 2.0 Creative Commons License
Q3. I very much enjoy the specific focus in your work on women’s experiences within different African societies, and your open call to artists to contribute to this map specifically extends a warm welcome to the sistas! My work with the sounds relating to wool and the domestic soundscape mean that gender issues are always integral to my projects, and women’s labour and the construction of gender are very important topics for me, too. However, my geographical situation plus my obsession particularly with wool and women’s work with wool, means that my focus has been somewhat unintentionally confirmed to cold, European contexts. I have done interviews and created field recordings in Estonia, Cumbria and Shetland… but have not ventured further south; nor have I worked outside of comparatively affluent, Western societies. What do you feel the benefit could be for women’s stories from all areas of the globe and all different walks of life to be shared on one giant sound map? What I mean is, how does it benefit everyone for – for example – my recordings of women talking about wool carding in Shetland to be placed on a map side-by-side with your recordings of Abbigail talking about the basket weaving of the BaTonga women? And – finally – why is it important to you that in such a global project, Africa remains a core focus?
A3. It’s wonderful, Felicity, that with your work you are highlighting women’s voices and stories, women’s labour and the construction of gender; and that you are picking up on our warm invitation to our sistas, wherever they are, to interact with us via the All Africa Sound Map.
The map, as a tool and a virtual place can function for us over time in many different ways. It is an archive, or a re-invention of an archive, a particularly inviting, open, and interactively inspiring sound-archive. On the whole, it celebrates the art of listening, and of storytelling, and the creativity of women. Across the globe, I think one can find that storytelling is a domain of women… since it’s the way through which culture and history are passed on from mothers to their children. This kind of storytelling happens at home or in places of local work.
The All Africa Sound Map could become a bridge to a new “global information society” where women’s voices meet and share their storytelling in the unlikely environment of “cyberspace”. I’d like to see it as a specific sort of community of listeners, themed around women inspiring and empowering each other through stories and storytelling. There’s a need to amplify how female knowledge is heard and distributed across cultures, across histories, across our communities and societies; the All Africa Sound Map can be a prototype or workspace in which we can already envision what the global information age could look like if women’s voices were amplified in cyberspace, and if the age-old tradition of storytelling was enhanced with digital media tools.
Though this sounds grandiose, it is in fact very simple and down to earth. For example, listen to the recordings with Agness Yombwe in Livingstone, where she relates her experiences about the Mbusa among the Bemba people.
In the track, there is also a reference to the recording with Janet and Luyando in the BaTonga Museum in Binga. I had played some recordings to Agness earlier on, and one in particular captured her imagination as an artist: it’s the image and tradition among the BaTonga, which Janet relates, in which women place red beets on the bed at the time of their menstrual cycle.
In the recording, Agness promises to make a work – perhaps a new painting about this ritual practice in daily life… Agness’ future paining would be a kind of “re-mix” of the story she received from across the Zambezi, a new cultural production. I hope she’ll do it, and that her painting will one day be exhibited in Binga… so that stories feed stories, and so that ideas circulate from speaker to listener, but in an expanded, global sense, facilitated by technology and media (be it painting or sound), which, in the case of sound allows us to hear stories recorded in their locality, but perhaps 1,000 miles away; and to listen to these stories in our own time and place, alone, or with others, once, or many times.
To give you an idea how the storyline of listener’s correspondence, or what I call “slow broadcast” might continue: in the case of the DURBAN SINGS project, recordings traveled from Durban’s townships via the Internet Archive across cyberspace and airwaves, via broadcasts on Cjam in Canada remixing voices and stories of Durbanites over locally popular tracks, like Detroit Techno, Cjam’s online archive, back via CD replays in meetings and events to the people on the ground in Durban; on the way, of course touching the ears of many other listeners elsewhere…. There is an audio piece I made “picturing” the correspondence and the many voices and stories involved, the DURBAN SINGS rough radio mix: http://www.gruenrekorder.de/?page_id=1821
The powerful potential of the creative interaction of listeners across the globe like this is that it is an invaluable tool for inter-cultural reflection, promoting cross-cultural understanding and sharing in a way which celebrates and inspires responses rather than fears difference.
You could also listen to Abbigal’s recordings where she relates how she re-tells information she has gathered in online research to local crafts women developing together with them, and based on their knowledge and skills, new products and new ways of production… this is another example of how live and shareable archives of sonic knowledge can feed cultural productivity, as well as aiding knowledge transfer.
Abbigal Muleya and her colleague from ZUBO Trust at the office of Basilwizi Trust in Binga, image taken from the Radio Continental Drift photostream here and licensed under a 2.0 Creative Commons License
With our women trainees in Bulawayo, we also want to activate and engage in such processes. So while the young women filmmakers will gather local footage for their films of women’s stories in Bulawayo, they will also use the All Africa Sound Map as a resource library and integrate responses and contributions from the map into the soundtracks of their films. Further information about the interaction and its eventual CD/ DVD publications can be found on our call for listener’s contributions on our blog: http://both-sides-of-the-zambezi.tumblr.com/post/56356794542/call-to-listeners
To understand why the “global community” should begin again with Africa, and with listening to the stories of knowledge and cultural production told by African women, let me just add this to what is already woven through our conversation, Felicity: Much is to be learnt by all of us from the story of cultural resilience and resistance as it speaks – and acts – in multiple voices and tones from across the African continent. With African music that story has already traveled around the world, and a tale of triumph could be told here… though, I feel that in the aftermath of this, one can see that energies get diverted and collective effort dispersed, and resources are streaming into the pockets of a few, while only but a trickle ever reaches down to the true source of culture: the people on the ground. Fresh inventive efforts must be made to draw new circles and draw them wider, and with much more scope for everyone to act and interact in the process.
Q4. Where can people read more about the project?
A4. You can access all about the project, its recordings and stories on our blog
http://both-sides-of-the-zambezi.tumblr.com/ where you can also find details of our call for listener’s contributions to the All Africa Sound Map: http://aporee.org/maps/projects/all-africa-sound-map
and you are very welcome to join our facebook group for updates: http://www.facebook.com/groups/506668076047173/
A crowd-funding-campaign for our project just went live here if you are interested in helping to get this project off the ground: http://www.startnext.de/women-media-training-zimbabwe
Thank you for listening!
And thank you for spreading the word!
Questions: Felicity Ford http://thedomesticsoundscape.com/wordpress/
Answers: Claudio Wegener http://radiocontinentaldrift.wordpress.com
More pictures are available on: http://www.flickr.com/photos/radiocontinentaldrift/sets/72157633008670965/