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Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance1

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance2

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance3

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance4

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance5

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance5

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance5

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance5

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance6

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance7

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance8

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance9

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance10

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance9

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance9

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance9

 

 

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Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance1

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance2

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance3

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance4

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance5

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance5

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance5

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance5

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance6

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance7

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance8

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance9

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance10

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance9

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance9

Sunara Begum, Let the Elements Sing & Dance9

 

'The Loneliness of the Soul in Urban Spaces'

 

CCA - Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos

 

In the sudden stillness, what Ali Farka Toure, Tinariwen and other ‘desert singers‘ refer to as asouf – the loneliness of the soul in the desolation oft he desert, permeates the space. But we are not in the desert. We are in a room at the Centre for Contemporary Art for an evening of film, music and discussion and the desert is evoked by what Tunde Jegede’s fingers does tot he kora. He plays it with such sensitivity, as if making love to a woman you truly care about. It’s like lovemaking in a deeper, aesthetic sense: it’s an opening up, a comingling of cultures, a fusion of kora and cello. Like the Lebanese singer, Rabih Abou-Khalil says, “There are always doors between cultures.“ Yet, walking through this door is not as simple as it may seem“classical European music is written down in notes, and the performers before us have music sheet before them, playing and interpreting the piece as it’s written.


The tradition from which the kora comes from, does not rigidly lend itself to such technical precision, but rather, to the performers mood, intuition, context. It possible to say that a person can never truly touch the soul oft he kora except one has touched, experienced the soul oft he desert. The beauty oft he performance is also in the harmony with which we fill the space. Just before the performance, we sit before a flickering screen. It’s like apperitif – the images and sounds convey a sense of what is to come, and a hunger for it. It’s a film by Sunara Begum, Truth & Art. Really, it’s more than this. It is an exhibition that fuses fine art. Musical documentary and performance to tell the story four global artists from distinct musical and creative backgrounds to trace, by visualizing the trajectory of their artistic journeys. There is Diana Baroni, the flautist and singer from Argentina; there is Briton, Derek Johnson, guitarist and folklorist; there is Tunde Jegede, composer and multi-instrumentalist; and there’s Sunara Begum herself, photographer and filmmaker. There’s an intimacy to Sunara’s photography, heightened during her potrait of Jegede – so like visual lovemaking. Filmmaker and film subject seem to fuse, to overcome their separateness.


There’s beauty and tenderness tot he photography, I want to ask Sunara if her conception of art is a marriage of truth and beauty, that is, if Truth and Art equals beauty. Afterwards, separately, I ask her about the photography: she has done it herself. Sunara Begum was born in London, of Banglashi descent. She was brought up with the traditions of the place she is native to, in a Sufi-Muslim household. Encouraged by her mother, who would always recite to her from an early age, stories of growing up in the villages of  Bangladesh, Begum decided to pursue a life in the visual arts, beginning her studies at the Camberwell College of Arts. She had her first exhibition at the National Annexe Gallery in 2004 as part of a group show in Cape Town, South Africa. Among the wide range of artists she has collaborated with is Trevor Mathison of Black Audio Film Collective and was sound designer for John Akomfrah’s documentary, Handsworth’s Song. Sunara ist he author of photographic poetic narrative, The Legend of Ara, a mythical character. An unseen voice tells us that Tunde Jegede is a spirit from another age. What Jegede evokes, however, is a qriot, a being, yes, a physical being. But, one from another age.


One could imagine him in a flowing jalabia, in a Bedouin’s tent, in the libraries of Timbuktu. In this lies the contradiction, this fusion of the ancient and modern. The music Tunde Jegede bleeds with his fingers is modern – in the sense that, all art, like the inscription on the wall of the Egyptian Musuem in Munich states, has always been contemporary. In that room at the CCA, the walls fall away and we are in the desert. With us are a number of Tuaregs – they do not consider themselves by this term, for it is an invective that means “damned by God,“ rather they call themselves Kel Tamasheq (after their language) or Imazighen, which means “free people.“ There’s freedom in the room, the freedom of the composer to play classical European music with classical (I hate to use the word traditional in this regard) African instrument without his European teachers from music school raising a disapproving eyebrow. Born in London to a Nigerian father and English mother of Irish descent (perhaps, this duality is the root of his desire to leave an open door between cultures, to fuse classical European and African instruments in music? Is it a deeper, personal need to fuse himself?) Elsewhere, Tunde has said that “Living between worlds allowed him,“ to form his identity and “embrace my part as a nomad.“ Tunde Jegede is a master kora player and specializes in the West African classical music tradition which dates back to the time of Sundiata. His apprenticeship in African music was developed fully when he went with Amadou Bansang Jobarteh, a master of the kora to Gambia to study the ancient griot tradition of West Africa, where he found a sense of home and belonging, where his “inner and outer voice began to merge.“ Before then, Tunde had studied cello from an early age and over the years was taught by the likes of Alfia Bekova, Elma de Bruyne, Joan Dickson and Raphael Wallfisch at the Purcell and later the Guildhall School of Music. In 1995, a BBC TV documentary, Africa I Remember was done on Tunde Jegede’s music.


That evening, we’re all nomads, the performance becomes a traditional nomadic gathering. As darkness slowly descends Jegede’s music became a refuge from the approaching sandstorm. Who are these wild men in turbans armed with kora, violin, cello? And then, instructed by the tribal leader, a female singer steps out from the Arabian nights – it’s not her appearance, it’s her voice – cutting through the desert night effortlessly, with her voice, as if to scorn the rude challenge privileging profit over art that was to come later.It is a song of the campfires, the hour of a griot’s magic. The voice intimates the desolation of the spirit in the infinity of the night; of loneliness and melancholy. It is a voice catapulted from the stillness of the oasis by the hungry desert.
The desert is advancing steadily south, eating up the land, smothering soil with sand. To live on the frontline states, as the desert fringes are called, is an eternal struggle against nature – for water, food and shelter. The desert had dried the oasis, buried houses, swallowed villages and farmlands.‘The water is gone. The firewood is gone. The pasture is gone,’ the kora seems to say, mourning its remembrance of things long gone. ‘No herdsman loves the desert. We love water and green vegetation,’ the kora wails. ‘In the desert, there is nothing. Who would love nothing?’ To not understand the language of the kora is to forget. Far from the voice of the kora it is easy to remember the immediate cause of the crisis: in the northern fringe of Nigeria: the Fulani herdsmen are waging a war by slaughter, rape and pillage, razing thousands of villages. It is easy to forget that in the past the herdsmen and the farmers cooperated until good land became scarcer, and the two sides began fighting for it. Far from nights like these, it is easy to forget that Jos is, at root, a resource conflict; it is about grass, about cattle. But, I‘m not thinking these things.


The words of the kora fills my head. ‘I am a child of the maternal earth, not of the desert. But now, I am of the naked horizon.’ Lost in the ancient rhythm of desert women emitting sharp quavering trills – I‘m not thinking anything. Even as the mood is broken by a voice rudely, and insistently, demanding why an artist should privilege art over profit – a question, which by the way, Tunde Jegede answered so well in his first response only for Bisi Silva to place a shopkeeper’s calculator atop the kora – I‘m not thinking anything. Besides, a single wrong note does not destroy a symphony. And also, I have, afterall, known the depth of the desert night. Far from this performance, I had encountered the words of Suroor: “For I, Suroor,/ have known too the outcome of night;/ a thousandfold might it exceed its bounds, no further than morning can it ever extend. I too had known the outcome of night, known how it could exceed its bounds, how it could extend beyond morning. I want to ask Tunde Jegede, in the broken silence, I want to ask Tunde Jegede – who is the artistic director of the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) if the process of creating music is, for him, intricately bound with the process of creating memory.But the unseen voice has already answered: “Tunde Jegede is spirit from another age.

 

Text by Didi Cheeka ©

Filmmaker, critic and curator of Lagos Film Society

 

Sunara Begum
info@sunarabegum.com

 

UK
Chand Aftara Studio

Islington

London

 

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Chand Aftara Studio
Lagos Island

Lagos

 

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