Masr! Egyptian Club Night, Mzantsi! South African Club Night: The titles of these events, featured at the Antigel Festival in Geneva and the Kaserne Basel, are intriguing - as is their content. So what is the link between Islam Chipsy, a wacky electro chaâbi phenomenon, and the work of creative sound experimenters, Janiv Oron and Michael Anklin, with their Egyptian alter-ego Nur?
So what do South African performer, singer and choreographer Manthe Ribane, especially known for her work with Die Antwoord, and the Swiss electro soul duo, Kami Awori, do together? A quick search on the web reveals that these two evenings are the submerged part of a vast awareness-raising operation around the importance of culture in all societies worthy of the name.
Artists, the mirrors and forerunners of our societies
Jointly organised by Pro Helvetia and the SDC, the project is entitled CROSSROADS - international perspectives on culture, art and society. Two days of conferences, debates, concerts, theatre and dance performances, readings, experimental films and videos are also on offer at Basel University and at the JazzCampus of the Musik Akademie. The project is part of an approach of dialogue and has been placed under the artistic direction of Sandro Lunin, the future artistic director of the Kaserne Basel (from September 2018). Pff... a whole bunch of events to proclaim loud and clear that "Cultural well-being is an essential part of the overall well-being of any society. It means more than heritage preservation. Artists function act as mirrors, interpreters, critics, educators, builders and forerunners of society”, as the event’s programme clearly states from the outset.
As a reminder, Pro Helvetia is the Swiss Arts Council, which is active in Switzerland and abroad, and the SDC (Department of Development and Cooperation) is the body within the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in charge of international cooperation. The former supports and disseminates Swiss art and culture, among other things through artists’ residencies abroad. The latter devotes 1% of its development aid budget to supporting culture in the countries in which it is present.
A festive and reflective jubilee
Contacted by phone, Jasper Walgrave, head of this project for Pro Helvetia, puts the operation into perspective. "We realized that we were celebrating a triple jubilee with the 10th anniversary of our office in India, the 20th anniversary of our office in South Africa and the 30th for our office in Cairo. We wanted to exhibit our field work in Switzerland, as it is largely unknown. We also wanted to create a space a moment of reflection between the various actors in this field". A welcome promotional event at a time when culture, the right to information and social actions are being challenged in the poorest countries of our planet, as well as in the richest...
Some would ask: what is the point of funding artists’ residencies in those parts of the globe where the artistic world often has low economic impact and where career development opportunities for Swiss artists are practically nil? “Our mission is not to fulfil a narrow and sole financial role. We are also taking a long-term view of the civic and social role of the arts. In this context our international approach means the desire to open minds, to break stereotypes, to avoid remaining confined to our island, to make a relevant impact on an increasingly globalised world".
A gigantic networking operation
"With globalization, artists should theoretically be able to exchange content more easily. In reality, this remains complicated”, says Géraldine Zeuner, head of the Culture and Development Department of the SDC, a few hours later during another phone conversation. Through debates and round tables entitled ‘Cultural rights under pressure, a contemporary arts perspective – Creating safe spaces: the grounds of independent arts – The digital realm – risks and opportunities involved in occupying virtual space. CROSSROADS seeks to bring together artists, academics and politicians from some forty countries to discuss the issues and to enable the different speakers and participants to network more closely. This is a unique undertaking that should enable the SDC to improve its work in the field.
An original creative process
The only Swiss artists to participate in evening event Mzantsi! South African club night, also baptised South Africa, What's up? by the Antigel Festival, the two young women who make up the Kami Awori duo are enthusiastic about the Crossroads project. Thanks to it, they went to South Africa for two weeks to get creative with the singer and choreographer, Manthe Ribane. "There is an extremely stimulating side to this kind of work. We leave our comfort zones, we approach things differently. We imagine things beyond the imaginable” says Awori, a singer and photographer born in Uganda, who arrived in Geneva at the age of ten. To which the beatmaker, keyboardist and DJ, Ka(ra)mi adds "Together we made movie music, so it’s very visual, but also very electronic. Aside from Manthe, we also met other artists from the CUSS collective. In South Africa there is a whole rather futuristic music movement, sounds that are heard nowhere else".
These three women, all afro-descendants (Ka(ra)mi is of Hungarian-Haitian origin), soon found a common language, a base on which they could constitute an entirely new repertoire, which they are playing, recording and filming these days in Geneva. Kami Awori’s approach is to participate already in meetings and exchanges. The two artists are completing an album made over several years and with stops in a number of cities around the globe (Bamako - Havana - New York - Berlin). "Where the Crossroads project is interesting is in the process of going back and forth. With Kami Awori, we collaborated with Malian and Cuban artists in their home countries, but none could come to Switzerland due to lack of funds. Here we have come full circle. We went to South Africa and Manthe Ribane came to Geneva”. Crossroads also enables the duo to position themselves ever more firmly in this new movement of African artists, or afro-descendants, who have things to say and seek to: "reverse the dynamics of domination in music by creating their own sound and their own structure" concludes Ka(ra)mi”.
All information and full programme : www.prohelvetia.ch