A conversation with Toronto-based radio artist Andrew O’Connor [Instagram] and Todd Lanier Lester one of the founders of Lanchonete.org, an urban research and artist project based around a neighbourhood lunch counter in Conjunto Santos Dumont in central São Paulo.
Late in September 2022, Andrew installed a site-specific radio artwork in the laneway of Conjunto Santos Dumont, based around a series of interviews he conducted with the residents with the assistance of local architect, urbanist and interpreter Gabi Ushida.
On the first weekend of October we collaborated on ‘Rádio Santos Dumont’; a day of workshops, events and performances alongside Merien Rodrigues of Itinero Grapho [Instagram] who runs a mobile printmaking studio and workshops from her Kombi van, and with journalist Amber Cortes, and illustrator Carl Nelson who had traveled from the US to be in Brazil during the presidential elections (2 October). Local musicians Gabriel Edé [Instagram] and Vitor Wutzki [Instagram] contributed a very successful songwriting workshop. Carol Godefroid [Instagram] and Gabriel Carnelós [Instagram] provided live translations (and photodocumentation) and their voices feature in this episode alongside those of Francisco Josepha de Castro AKA Chico and Nadija.
Woven through this episode are excerpts from Andrew O’Connor’s radio installation and edits of a recording of São Paulo-based musician Felinto [Bandcamp] whose performance closed the first day of the event.
Special mention must go to the people of Conjunto Santos Dumont who welcomed us: notably Liduina whose fruit shop was a base for our activities and Tarcisio, whose bar is the base for Lanchonete.org.
‘Story of the Storyteller’
An audio fanzine about Agus Nur Amal PMTOH [Instagram], an artist and storyteller from Aceh Indonesia. He employs a ‘Tri Tangtu’ way of thinking that combines rationalism and spiritualism. Drawing on tradition and child-like imagination he has developed a unique form of object theatre. Our interview was recorded during the opening days of documenta fifteen, June 2022, at his exhibition at Grimmwelt Kassel.
‘Buy 1 Free 1’
An audio travelogue/proto-riddim mixtape, featuring music, musicians, friends and recordings of events made traveling through Sri Lanka and Malaysia in July and August.
In Kuala Lumpur, the artist Sau Bin Yap [Facebook] suggested I search for bunga telang (butterfly pea blue flower) at Pasar Chowkit. Browsing a spice stall, I heard a DJ Slow Bass mix and was struck by DJ Acan’s Koplo take on ‘Joko Tingkur’.
Tharagai is a young KL-based rapper who I came across via Rap Porkalam, a TV talent show fostering Tamil rap in Malaysia. My cousin Prem, who works as a producer on the show, claims the music phenomenon burst forth from KL’s underground hip hop scene.
Search-engining for more I got hooked in by ‘Namma Aalu’, a shopping centre sponsored Deepavali ‘anthem’ by Roshan Jamrock, Yunohoo and Arvinder Raina. You can hear a snippet before being transported to Kuala Lumpur’s famous Sri Maha Mariamman Temple. I did try to interview the temple musicians G Mohan (Tavil) and Samugam (Nagaswaram) from Chennai, but after an afternoon’s work they more interested in lunch than a chat … and besides my Tamil ist nicht sehr gut!
Cut to a recording of the so-called ‘Nine Gods’ ritual I walked into near Pataling Jalan, while out with a friend Amalen. You can hear Amalen’s commentary during this season of ancestors and ghosts, before the night took a dramatic turn. It’s not in the mix, so for the record: I witnessed Amalen and two young holidaying nurses we met save a man’s life! Even more surreal was that their extraordinary efforts to keep him breathing as his anxious companions sought to bring an ambulance into the blocked-off alley were perfectly timed to the ritual playing out around us.
The mix is interspersed with reworkings and mashups of the productions mentioned above. In particular is a remix of ‘Metal Walk’ riddim by Dinoj Mahendran [Instagram] made during our Thaalam Riddim Reapers workshop during Dinacon 3. I intend to push this riddim further, so expect more to come.
Moving in reverse, the travelogue ends at DreamSpace Academy Batticaloa on the final days of Dinacon. This is where I learned of Sandaru Sathsara, the Sri Lankan-born viral YouTube singer. Bruce and Bruce who manage the DreamSpace cafe towards the end, get in the last word.
An email sent to some partners on this project in April, that seems worth revisiting as I prepare the first podcast that marks the beginning of ‘Fugitive Radio’ (it could be that Barraca do Sound System becomes one aspect of Fugitive Radio…let’s see how things pan out).
I’m now in Berlin, and the conversations I’ve had with people here in the time of Corona often acknowledge just how privileged we are. After checking the stats and listening to the popular Coronacast with Christian Drosten with my housemates (and keeping an appropriate distance), I spent some time yesterday exchanging messages with friends around the world. I’m self-quarantining and I noticed Berliners seem pretty at ease with it. Maybe it’s the weather? The last couple of days have been superb. After dealing with my health care paperwork and applying for some emergency funds, I had an exchange with some friends in Bangladesh. A Channel 4 news report circulating on Facebook discussed a leaked government document that projected up to 2 million COVID-related deaths there. It mentioned poor but vibrant neighbourhoods that I visited when I was in Dhaka in February, and where friends are running long-term community-focused projects. A dear friend, A, an artist, activist and journalist, told me the city has been evacuated. Many of the businesses are closed, but not all, and some people are forced to keep working. His office is closed but he continues to work long hours from his apartment because people rely on the news. Him and K, another friend in the chat, were both alarmed by the Channel 4 segment, and we scheduled a conference call later in the week. I checked in with a Bangladeshi friend in Berlin and asked her how I could support and she replied that she is simply collecting money and donating regularly to organisations there that she trusts.
Later in the evening a friend in Colombia checked in on me. C wanted to know if I’d arrived in Berlin OK. She was visiting family when the pandemic hit. The state went into total lockdown, even citizens were not allowed back in. C and her family were at that time visiting relatives in Mexico and had to rush back. All seventeen of them were forced to stay in a small apartment where they could register on arrival. Police perform regular check-ups so they have to remain there. She said it was better to do so, because when people get scared and anxious the violence also escalates. Last night she messaged to say she had moved to another apartment that was free for a fortnight. Her brother drove her across town but she had to hide in the back of the car because they would otherwise be pulled over. In Bogotá the lockdown laws are strict. Other than accessing medical services, people were only allowed out to shop for groceries, to walk a dog or for short bursts of exercise. Furthermore, the days you are allowed out are determined by your ID card number. This had proven to difficult to manage, and the mayor recently announced that this process would be from now on determined by gender: females on one day, males on another, couples on a third. Obviously, this significantly affects gender non-conforming people, who were already the target of police harassment and violence. C said aside from those working in essential services, people with press passes were also relatively mobile. Many of them were now organising food drops and running errands. C brother’s drug dealer is also a bus driver and thus an essential worker. He could get you anything and then would deliver it to your door in uniform.
I fell asleep thinking of other friends around the world with whom I’ve been checking in lately; folks in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Pakistan, Brazil, Spain and Australia. All of them in lockdown and often trying to get to places with better infrastructure or facilities, or isolating away from urban centres. My mind kept re-working that well worn cliché: ‘the pandemic is everywhere, it’s just not evenly distributed.’ Before waking I dreamed about ‘Kimberly Crenshaw’ — not theKimberlé Crenshaw — but the host of a popular Canadian talkshow, ‘The Crenshaw Connection’. Friends were sharing her live webcast on social media. I’d never watched her program or even knew what she looked like. Her partner had suddenly died in the last 24 hours from the Coronavirus. He was not a celebrity and he was Black. She was broadcasting her breakdown live and people were sharing it as a kind of collective grieving.
I woke up and wrote down what I could recall and began to think about a live radio project that would connect and collect these different experiences of the virus. I made a list of people I know, making connection across much of Europe, Asia, Latin America and Australia.
I used to daydream about releasing a 7″ vinyl record split between a free noise band I infrequently play in, Antipan, and the Aboriginal ‘postcolonial death metal’ band Dispossessed. Antipan is made up of a group of settlers in so-called Australia (white and first and second generation immigrants) that emerged out of Sydney’s improv/experimental music scene around 2004. Dispossessed were labeled as ‘Fanon’s children’ by Daniel Browning, the long-standing host of AWAYE! on Australia’s Radio National. The band have described themselves as as ‘vessels carrying our ancestor’s wrath, sorrow and vengeance’ and as a platform for a wider movement of Aboriginal resistance and struggles for justice. While Antipan arguably take great pleasure in loud, unbridled sound. These bands have little in common in terms of life experience and are positioned differently along the matrix of settler-colonialism, but they both extend a genealogy of punk rock, hardcore and metal. Given the uncompromisingly sensibilities of several influential groups in these genres, I imagine that our release would be a material-sonic testament to anticolonial solidarity.
At the risk of over-emphasising binaries, my fantasy split 7″ raises a number of ideas concerned with sound: signal/noise, meaning/message (medium), didactics/aesthetics, which lead me to think about noise in relation to politics.
Tuesday 2 June 2020 was declared ‘Black Out Tuesday’ by USA workers in the music industry, ‘a moment of solidarity that unites the music industry against racism, injustice and inequality experienced by the Black community’ according to a statement on Soundcloud.
While many on social media replaced their profile pictures with black squares, others on were critical of the initiative, claiming that social media was a crucial source information for those resisting racism and fascism in the USA. There were also concerns that as people uploaded black squares they were using the hashtags associated with the Movement for Black Lives and thus obfuscating the flow of important information.
A surprising intervention came from legions of K-Pop fans, who over the week of protests and uprisings following the public lynching of George Floyd, refrained from Tweeting not insignificant news about their idols, such as the release of BLACKPINK’s collaboration with Lady Gaga, Sour Candy. Instead, they turned their social media savvy to take on those opposed to Black Lives Matter (eg #whitelivesmatter, #bluelivesmatter) and went on to flood US police and FBI channels had called for evidence of the protestors’ violence with K-pop content. Music scholar and critic Josh Kun described these actions as an act of solidarity and acknowledgement of the influence of Black performers on Korean popular music.
To all BLINKs and BP fanbases! Please stop using the tagline so we can all show our respects for George Floyd. Instead let's put our energy into fighting for justice, signing petitions, and spreading awareness. I hope everyone understands, please and thank you. #BlackLivesMatter
On Saturday 6 June 2020 a anti-racist gathering occurred at Alexanderplatz, Berlin, promoted as a ‘silent protest demo’. In the morning I was arranging to meet with friends from the Black Earth climate justice collective, who were critical of the premise of the demonstration given that Black people had been silenced for centuries and they had no intention of suppressing their outrage. Soon after I received this pamphlet from another friend:
Noise demos, casserolado … Noise can be thought of as dissonance, an undesirable or disagreeable sound that must be filtered out from the message (as medium) in order to discern meaning. Noise might also be that which is not ‘on message’, drawing attention to the affective, material and textural qualities of what is being announced. Improvised noise as dissonance — dissensus — is arguably an opening; an attempt to break into an experience that is not predetermined. Free noise is potentially liberating, uninhibited by the strictures of formalised music or what is recognisably organised sound. Free noise might seem out of control, yet it can also be purposeful.
As I write, I am thinking about a report describing members of a Latinx punk band Vandalize, who mounted a generator, drum kit and guitar and into the back of a pick-up truck to play a ‘literal soundtrack for the oppressed’ during Black Lives Matter protests in downtown LA.
I’m also reminded of Steve Reich’s tape collage Come Out (1966), built from a four second loop taken from hours of recordings of interviews and testimonies about the Little Fruit Stand Riot in Harlem, New York, 1964. The incident occurred when a group of school children started to throw around the spilled contents from an overturned fruit stand. The vendor whistled for them to stop, alerting the police who allegedly descended viciously upon the children. Daniel Hamm, an eighteen-year-old local Black resident intervened upon hearing the children’s screams, as recalled in a 1966 report filed by James Baldwin:
…we heard children scream. We turned around and walked back to see what happened. I saw this policeman with his gun out and with his billy in his hand I like put myself in the way to keep him from shooting the kids. Because first of all he was shaking like a leaf and jumping all over the place. And I thought he might shoot one of them.
Hamm and another Black resident Wallace Baker were taken to a police station for their efforts to stop the violence, where groups of police took shifts to beat them for several hours. It is Hamm’s voice around which Come Out is composed. Severely bruised, the police refused to take him to hospital because he was not bleeding. Hamm speaks to tape: ‘I had to, like, open the bruise up, and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them.’
Hamm and Wallace were eventually released, pending charges over the fruit stand riot, despite the vendor testifying they had nothing to do with it. Then ten days later, Hamm alongside five other Harlem youth were charged with the murder of Margit Sugar, a local used-clothing merchant. The group became known as the Harlem Six and Hamm served nine years despite a ‘paucity of evidence’, according to Andy Beta in his essay marking the 50th anniversary of Come Out.
Beta notes that despite the Civil Rights movement in US being one of the biggest issues of the time, Reich by his own admission ‘wasn’t doing anything about it really’. By chance he was contacted by a civil rights activist, Truman Neslon, who had recorded interviews with the Harlem Six and their mothers for a book, The Torture of Mothers (1965), to raise awareness about their case. Nelson asked Reich to edit a story out of the recordings to played at a benefit, which Reich agreed to do pro bono on the proviso that he would be able to use the recordings for his own compositions.
I keep re-reading this paragraph from Beta’s text, in which he asks Reich:
Was Come Out made as a piece of agitprop? ‘I think a lot of ‘political pieces’ are, to put it kindly, a waste of time,’ Reich says. ‘If it’s a really good piece of music, then the political purpose to which it’s put is betrayed by the sense in which music will just vaporize, and the theme will vaporize along with it.’
I’ve long been a fan of Reich’s piece and much of his oeuvre, yet there is something about his sentiments expressed in Beta’s essay, also published in 2016 in the midst of struggles to counter anti-Blackness, that makes me feel uncomfortable; that Black pain is the source for white/non-Black production and consumption and as the material upon which we leverage our careers. I’m disturbed by Reich’s claim that good music ‘vaporizes’ any political purpose to which it may be put, although as Beta emphasises immediately after, the history and context in which Come Out was made is often acknowledged by those who cite, sample or refer to it in their own practices.
Reich describes to Beta how Come Out was received as ‘pass-the-hat music’ when premiered at a benefit for the Harlem Six at Manhattan Town Hall:
I don’t think people paid a great deal of attention to the music. They just thought it was some kind of funny sound effect that was atmospheric to get them to contribute. It wasn’t a concert situation at all!
Arguably Come Out is the piece that broke Reich as an artist and has become a canonical work of process music and minimal art, yet Reich’s recollections make me wonder more about how music, sound, noise, performance, reception and discourse produce publics who perceive events in different ways. To me Come Out is not so much proof of good music ‘vaporizing’ political intent, but rather raises issues about historicisation (and specific bias or privileged perspectives that I could label ‘white noise’).
Beta concludes his essay by paraphrasing Reich discussing Picasso’s mural Guernica (1937), which depicts the bombing of a Basque village during the Spanish Civil War: ‘Good art preserves the stuff it’s about.’
Again this idea of preserving, embalming, fossilising history strikes me as quite odd, when police violence continues to shapes the lives of racialised people today. For me, Come Out serves as a portal into the Little Fruit Stand Riot and the case of the Harlem Six that it draws from, and the contesting understandings of this history. It rides on the political momentum of the Civil Rights movement, the ‘long hot summer of 1967’ and vividly bursts into the present as I read Baldwin’s words:
The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer. To respect the law, in the context in which the American Negro finds himself, is simply to surrender his self-respect.
Come Out viscerally catapults Hamm’s voice into whatever situation it is being played in. I also note that Bexta managed to contact the now elderly Hamm who declined to comment for his commemorative essay. Bexta observes that the Harlem Six, once a significant flashpoint for the civil rights movement has disappeared from ‘popular culture’, yet Come Out still resounds; according to the music scholar Sumanth Gopinath as its ‘most prominent historical memorial’. Might the history of Daniel Hamm and the Harlem Six outlive Reich’s hagiography or will they remain irrevocably entwined?
Today is the first day of a year-long artist-research project Barraca do Sound System and I want to mark the day with a clearing gesture. Given the current climate of anti-Blackness I want to begin by acknowledging my debt to Black culture, Black ingenuity and Black resistance. As a project that proposes to investigate and develop anti-racist media activism (initially in Europe), it makes particular reference to Afro-Brazilian practices and innovations.
The above Instagram post is from Daddypus Rex AKA Lee Richards, a multidisciplinary artist/poet/stand-up comedian and yoga teacher here in Berlin, which they published after the Black Lives Matters rallies following the lynching of George Floyd. Listen to Lee and Camille Barton speak about decolonial practices of healing, connection and pleasure during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Anti-racism can seem too general a term as differently racialised, and thus privileged people, confront anti-Blackness in their own families, communities and indeed in their own thoughts and perceptions. As the curator and scholar Kathy-Ann Tan recently demanded on Facebook:
non-Black People of Color need to step up and stand together with Black people to decry anti-Black violence!!! That means you, Asians in the diaspora — you who know only too well, and have internalized, the reductive and infantalizing cultural stereotype of the model minority.
This is a time for radical love, empowerment and care, for the force of anger and the erotic as power. It’s a time for re-connection to those who came and fought before us, because they believed in justice and deeply understood what solidarity meant at all costs. Because they knew that no one is free until Black people are free, no one is safe until Black trans people are safe.
With Barraca do Sound System I would like to extend an ongoing process of Black, indigenous and people-of-colour (BIPoC) solidarity that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of with the Berlin-based climate justice collective Black Earth. Even in the context of white supremacy, BIPoC solidarity cannot be presumed. I understand it to be a careful process that unfolds in ways that are particular to the communities, places and spaces in which it occurs. Barraca do Sound System proposes to develop such spaces, platforms and infrastructures where such solidarity can develop, online and ‘in real life’.
Barraca do Sound System is a practice-based research project, investigating the overlap of migrant media activism and urban music culture. It combines practice-based ‘DJ-as-method’ media experimentation with urban research and academic scholarship. The project is funded by the Kone Foundation Finland and is being developed in collaboration with Pixelache, a transdisciplinary platform for emerging art, design, research and activism based in Helsinki.
This episode presents a chronological sweep of field recordings and interviews taken in Madrid during COP25, December 2019, by our guest host Dr. Sumugan Sivanesan. It begins with the December 6 Manifestacíon in which around 500,000 people marched in the streets of Madrid, before tracing discussions at the Social Summit for the Climate (Cumbre Social por el Clima) at Complutense University and at other actions around the city.
Featuring the voices of: Asad Rehman, Executive Director of War on Want;
Vanessa Nakate, Founder of the Rise Up Movement; Nicole Figueiredo de Oliveira, Director of 350.org in Brazil and Latin America; Marta Bordons Martínez, Climate activist, Fridays for Future Sevilla; Moñeka de Oro, member of the Micronesia Climate Alliance; Nigel Henri Robinson, Denesuline organizer, radio host, and humorist from Cold Lake First Nations, Indigenous Climate Action; Chief Dana Tiyza-Tramm, Vuntut Gwitchen First Nation.
Sound Swarm #5, a radiophonic protest sound performance and choreography organised for the 6 December Manifestacíon in Madrid coinciding with the UN climate conference COP25 by Grey Filastine, a verteran activist and musician. Sound Swarm was first produced by Filastine and the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination for a bike bloc at COP15, Copenhagen 2009.
Bi’Bak is a kino, event space and archive focused to Turkish culture in Berlin, and more broadly migrant experiences.
On Thursday 28 November 2019 Can Sungu delivered a talk and screening on Turkish film and video culture in Berlin. It emerged in the 1960s with Gast workers bringing in film reels to Munich. Here they would book out kinos at odd times, eg 9.30 am, and play to full houses of recent immigrants. Soon kinos popped up in major cities such as Stuttgart, Hamburg and Berlin, catering to the Turkish community. The culture expanded dramatically and in the 1980s with the advent of video. Films were also made in Berlin employing a range of tropes and stereotypes to describe the migrant experience and it’s relationship to the ‘homeland’. Video saw the demise of the Kinos, and a video piracy market also developed alongside regular rentals. A dubbing industry for Bollywood films and Danish porn also developed to serve the migrant market!
Today I met up with Moro Yapha one of the producers of We Are Born Free Empowerment Radio, an activist radio founded by refugees broadcasting live out of Kreuzberg on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 13.00–16.00.
Moro told me the radio which launched in 2015 in a Projektspace made available to them from the inhabitants of Waldemarstraße 46., following the Oplatz Occupation nearby (October 2012–April 2014).
The media activist radio took part in Kotti FM, which ran 24-hours-per-day over September 2016.
Alongside Moro, from Gambia, the station is run by Muhammed Lamin Jadama, also from Gambia, and Bino Byansi Byakuleka from Uganda. Located in a supportive Keiz, the radio station/media centre connects directly with the neighbourhood, with a street front door and locals reguarly dropping by during broadcast hours. The projektraum also hosts meetings and workshops. With the cramped studio housed in a small windowless room around the back, Moro tells me it is a space that nevertheless inspires self-confidence and is a safe space for his brothers and sisters. It is place they can some to hang out, cook food and socialise, not like a ‘proper’ radio studio where they would be allocated a timeslot after which they would have to leave.
The station which broadcasts in Berlin via Reboot FM also has a significant audience in Africa, who most often listen in via Facebook. It also connects to students at Humbolt University and their partners in the US. Moro also tells me they have collaborated with a number of organisations to produce remote broadcast events including SAVVY Contemporary, YAAM, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Africa Avenir and have also run workshops for refugee youth housed at the former Templehof airport.
Alongside refugee issues, the radio also advocates for range of minority rights including gender, race and ablism.