Brian Eno once famously remarked that the problem with computers is that there isn’t enough Africa in them. I kind of think that it’s the opposite: they’re bringing the ideals of Africa. After all, computers are about connectivity, shareware, a sense of global discussion about topics and issues, the relentless density of info overload, and above all the willingness to engage and discuss it allóthat’s something you could find on any street corner in Africa. I just wanted to highlight the point: Digital Africa is here, and has been here for a while. This isn’t “retro”óit’s about the future. For the Venice Biennial 2007 I decided to go through a lot of my files of music from around the African Continent to accompany my installation for the Africa Pavilion. I looked through my record collection for non-cliché kinds of stuff, like the Baka People who make drums out the way they play in water, or the “Car Horn Orchestra” of Ghana, which has a gathering of many taxi drivers who converge in downtown Accra to make a large symphony of honks from their taxis at the end of the work day or for funerals of drivers. When I was a kid I went through different parts of Africa with my mother: We went to Kenya, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Egypt, and this was the first time I’d been to Angola.
The mix reflects a lot of my interests in electronic music from the continent, and the way they’ve shaped and molded a lot of material in the “New World.” The “Ghost World” mix is all about the multiple rhythms and languages of Africa, but it makes no attempt to give you everythingóit’s from my record collection. That’s what the “story” of the mix is: Polyrhythm, multiplex reality. There’s even more current material like the Kuduru sounds of Luanda (who says Techno doesn’t exist in Africa!?) and old school hip-hop like Zimbabwe Legit from the early 90s of classic “conscious” school hip-hop. Yes there’s material from Akon, but he gets mixed with Nelson Mandela, or MC Solaar, but I looked for material of his that combined with jazz, so Ron Carter’s brilliant bass playing worked out with that. There’s even material from my favorite South African composer, Abdullah Ibrahim, or vocal outtakes from David Byrne and Brian Eno’s “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” and various guest appearances by African dictator Idi Amin or the former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, talking about democracy in Nigeria. Pretty ironic, eh? From the northern part of the continent groups like the Lotfi Double Kanon or the Master Musicians of Jajouka represent radically different approaches to history and contemporary Arab culture’s complex hybridity, as does the legendary voice of Egypt, Oum Kalthoum. It’d be a pretty wild party to see them all hanging out together!!!
Anyway, contemporary Africa is a place of paradox where some of the world’s most resource-rich countries are bound hand and foot by corruption, human malice, and the basic sense that the continent has been left out of the march of progress of many of the “rich” nations of the world. I made elements of this mix when I was in Luanda, Angola, getting ready for the Venice Biennial, and the sound that was coming out of all the clubs and sound systems was “Kuduru,” a kind of relentlessly fast minimalist rhythm that combines hip-hop and techno.
I like to think of this mix as a homage to Ben Okri’s novels and the classic works of Amos Tutuola. William Gibson said back in the ancient early 90s: The future is already here, it’s unevenly distributed. I like to think that the mix is about the future of Africa and its global diaspora as much as it is about the past.
History is never silent; it reminds us, again and again and again, that we live its presence in every part of our life every day. The mix is an art project that accompanies my installation at the Venice Biennial Africa Pavilion. Enjoy!!
Download DJ Spooky’s mix at djspooky.com/articles/venice_2007.html