Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Angelica Mesiti’s Citizens Band at NEW12, ACCA

by Hayley Haynes

15 May 2012

I had high expectations for Angelica Mesiti’s Citizens Band. They further heightened as I approached the space to find it full, buzzing with excited school kids. They filed out and I was left alone. Seated in the dark, my anticipation rose. Four blank projection screens faced me. I wondered which to watch. The seat was surprisingly squidgy. I liked it.

The first screen illuminated to reveal Cameroon-born, Geraldine Zongo. She stood tall in the water. Her hands slapped the surface, producing a drum-like beat. They call her a water-percussionist.  Her music is known as akutuk, traditionally performed by women in the rivers of Cameroon. But Geraldine was not in a river. She was alone in her swimsuit, beating the water of a Parisian swimming pool.  Indoors.  Her body was far from Cameroon, yet her heart was close. The concentration on her face and the growing smile, suggested that Geraldine had been transported through time. I tried to imagine her slapping river water as a child. Her movements were energetic and perfectly timed. The intensity of the performance grew. It looked exhausting, but Geraldine continued, strong and proud.  The sound was like nothing I had heard before. The performance slowly concluded. Geraldine lowered herself into the water, ready to swim Back to reality.

The screen dimmed.

Wow.

The next began to illuminate. I swivelled on the squidgy seat.

We were still in Paris, on the metro. I recognised the turquoise seating. Algerian-born, Mohammed Lamourie was busking. He played a Casio keyboard that rested on his shoulder like a violin.  His fingers scaled up and down the keys producing a soft, gentle tune. He began to sing. I couldn’t understand the words, but the sound of his voice was soothing.  It was Algerian rai, a form of folk music. It seemed deeply emotional. Passengers looked on with curiosity. Others ignored him.  Mohammed continued to perform as the train sped through the city. It was definitely Paris, I just saw the Eiffel Tower. We are reminded of the context. As with Geraldine, the music appeared to take Mohammed away from the bustle of the city.  He was distant. I too, felt elsewhere. I didn’t know where, but it was somewhere peaceful.

I found myself once again in the dark. Totally moved. There was a lovely flow to the work. I knew which screen would be next. 

Swivel.

It was night. Outside a convenience store in Newtown, a man was seated, playing a horse headed fiddle. It was the morin khuur and the musician was Mongolion, Bukhchuluun Ganburged. Bukhchuluun is also a throat singer.  Throat singing is a traditional form of Mongolian singing whereby one vocalist simultaneously produces multiple pitches. In the case of Bukhchuluun, the initial tone heard was deep and sounded almost like that which might come from a didgeridoo.  The overtone followed. It was a sweet, high-pitched whistle forming the melody. Despite the musician’s control, there was a longing in his sound.

Was he really making those two sounds at the same time? Woahhh.

Swivel.

The final video was a particularly cinematic portrait of a Sudanese taxi driver in Brisbane.  Asim Goreshi appeared to be alone in the car. He whistled. Not just any old song, rather a complex tune to which he looked deeply connected.  I imagine it was a traditional Sudanese song.  There was a pause. The camera zoomed in as Asim wet his lips. He continued, tapping his fingers on the door, like African drums softly beating.

There was no applause.  These performances were not for the crowds. Instead, they represented a form of cultural preservation that reconnects the performer with their homeland.  Mesiti’s presentation demonstrates the transcendental power of music and the importance of continuing cultural practice. She highlights that even through diaspora, traditional practices can remain strong.

A flurry of colour encircled me, traversing all screens. The four soundtracks blended to form a cacophony. The noise was familiar. It sounded like the city. No city in particular, but a city in which exist infinite examples of traditional practices being adapted to unfamiliar contexts. All as a means to connect, both with the city and the homeland.

Seated alone in the dark, I’m not quite ready to leave. I had forgotten how squidgy the seat was.

I liked it.