The Digital Way
0:00 [harp sounds] Episode 2 begins with an extract from the end of the previous episode:
‘...So like you know with that the acid band was becoming a very big act’
Excerpt from interview with Thomas Mapfumo by Banning Eyre on Lion Songs Essential Tracks in the Making of Zimbabwe
00:14 I recently heard AbdouMaliq Simone speak about the transmutational power of liminal spaces. At once one thing, and also entirely another. Both useless, and making use of everything. And Simone speaks about a mutating ensemble of technics that makes this bending of space-time-matter possible. I quote:
‘And by technics I don’t mean just metabolic functions, smart cities, geovisulation, broadband cables, but rather a choreography of other kinds of switches, conveyances and motors. Technics includes ensembles of lures, traps, bluffs, dramas, dissimulation, soundscapes, bodily arrangements and more.’
01:00 What happens when we engage these systems as science, as technology, on a par (or maybe even more sophisticated).... Undoubtedly this makes our Digital Worlds, larger Now.
Excerpt from ////// God Lives Through - A Tribe Called Quest //////
01:25 [record scratch and whip sounds, akin to the start of Oh My God (feat Busta Rhymes) - A Tribe Called Quest]
Excerpt from ////// Madzangara Dzimu - The Green Arrows //////
01:30 It’s me again. Allow me to pick up where I left off and welcome you all to episode two of the Mhondoro Marauders Show.
01:46 [Lion roar] ‘... in a word, the bourgeoisie creates a world in its image. Comrades, we must destroy that image…’ Excerpt from ////// Jean-Luc Godard, British Sounds (See You At Mao) //////
02:00 In Episode 1 we went to Zimbabwe, exploding the corniness of the typewriter through Baraka; the ‘first touch with science fiction’ which John Akomfrah finds in African drumming; the intergenerational communication and conjuring of Chimurenga music through Hallelujah Chicken Run Band’s big track Ngoma Yarira, and the musings of the maestro Thomas Mapfumo; and then Abdou Maliq Simone’s illumination of the technics of everyday life, in liminality and resistance.
02:34 Into all this throw the whispers of the bush telegraph, the time space compressions inherent to Black Life, which we feel viscerally in James’ Brown’s Money Won’t Change You - But Time will Take You Out, and we find the potential for Black technologies of Space travel; a kind Black Digital in which sonic and spectral realms expand our very idea of technology itself.
02:59 Episode 2 continues this work.
‘...One day when we were at Mhangura mine, we had another gentleman called…what is his name Mai Manatsa? Gerald? [Mai Manatsa: Gerry.] Oh he was called Gerry. Gerry. He was playing rhythm that man. We were together, we were staying together at Mhangura mine. From there we started our group. Should be jazz.. Jazz band. [Mai Manatsa: Mambo.] …Mambo Jazz Band. laughs. Being three; myself, Stanley my younger brother and Gerry. [Analog Africa: And you were playing bass?] I was playing bass, Stanley playing lead, Gerry playing rhythm. Then at that time, it was 1959 or 54, and another…inaudible…[Analog Africa: 54 you were 10 years old?] Yes! [Analog Africa: 10 years? So must be 64…] This time, yes, I’m now… sixty what… Sixty-six… [Mai Manatsa: Sixty-eight! Ah fifty-eight!] I’m fifty-eight! So it should be 54. So there was another gentleman called Mujakadji who was staying in Chinhoyi. He came to us, then he listened to our music and said ‘boys, why can’t you come to my place?’ There’s beer there. He owns a nightclub. It was Mujakadji nightclub in Chinhoyi. Mujakadji. So we played there, we agreed. Long back. Or I will not say long back, but we didn’t know if you talk to another person, another chap, you must make an agreement, a written agreement. So we worked there about three months, no pay. [Analog Africa: Nothing] Nothing. Now what we did was, when were in Chinhoyi, we worked three months. After that three months no pay, I said to my younger brother Stanley, how can we stay without pay? What are we going to do now. We must take… because he bought us two electric guitars. Bass and lead. [Analog Africa: The manager?] Yes. So we said, if we can give some money. Because I had a brother who was working, staying in Bulawayo towards transport. If we get money to go to Bulawayo, we must take all these guitars.’
Excerpt from interview with Zexie Manatsa by Analog Africa
05:45 We begin again, where we left the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band, in the mining town of Mhangura, Zimbabwe where another giant of Zimbabwean Chimurenga Technics, Zexie Manatsa would liberate two guitars from a hotel they’d been booked to play and establish The Green Arrows, shapeshifters of the highest order.
06:06 Excerpt from ////// Musango Mune Hangaiwa - The Green Arrows //////
Like Hallelujah Chicken Run Band, The Green Arrows put these two electric guitars to work, translating mbira music with its haunting, conjuring effect for a new age. Thomas Turino breaks down the construction of the sound:
06:30 ‘Guitar-band mbira music is based on the 12/8 metric rhythmic structures of mbira pieces, with the drummer strongly accenting beats 1,4,7 and 10 on the kick drum and playing hosho like triple patterns on the high hat. Guitar band renditions range from moderate to quick tempos (120-150BPM).. Throw into this mix the use of Shona vocal techniques such as huro (high yodelling) and mahonera (low, soft, vocal singing)’
07:00 This might sound innocuous; interesting to listen to, complex, polyphonic music, but it is extremely important when you consider it, as in this part of the world, amongst the technics of temporal disjunction. Mbira songs, and later guitar band mbira music, invoked spiritual possession. As Mhoze Chikowero and Tafataona Mahoso write, they summoned the ancestors from a living past, to overcome the tyranny of the time (and the tyranny of time) and build transgenerational solidarity. In Madzimbabwe cosmologies, death signifies the end of one’s physical being, opening up to a form of space travel to nyikadzimu, a ‘metaphysical realm of spirits.’
07:43 Chikowero writes that this terrified the colonial church and state - in its ‘defying of Cartesian, western linear time and [rejection of] notions of individual justice and rights over stolen property’. The coloniser was terrified of this ideology but also of these spirits themselves. Rhodes is said to have been haunted by the ghost of M’limo writing in 1915 that if the spirits persuaded the people to rise they would, without question, do so.
08:14 So consider the potency of this now, when you hear the Green Arrows perform Musango Mune Hangaiwa, the Doves are in the forest, referring simultaneously to the guerillas fighting for liberation in hiding in the bush, and to the disquieted spirits they were calling on to assist in the struggle.
Excerpt from ////// Madzangara Dzimu - The Green Arrows //////
08:34 It is a 3 hour drive from Mhangura to Harare; a journey that the Green Arrows, Zexie Manatsa and Jealous Siyagwaja, took with their stolen guitars, on the hunt for more favourable wages. I thought of them as I took the same road earlier this year en route to Mazowe Earth Station, with their early simanjemanje records playing out the car radio.
08:58 The Earth Station comes into view as you weave down the mountains into the Mazowe basin. One of the first mining sites in the country, colonisers digging for gold on appropriated lands. And also, one of the first sites of the anticolonial movement, some of the early miners killed and thrown down the shafts in a violent uprising led, in part, by the powerful spirit medium of the area, Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana.
09:21 Now, again, this is a site of reconciliation between the realms of land and sky, as the home of the country’s young Space Agency and its main telecommunications hub. Huge white satellite discs capture the local imagination, with all manner of speculation of what takes place here. The reality is more magical and surreal than any rumour I’ve heard yet.
09:43 Chikowero writes how it was central to the ‘colonial episteme [in Zimbabwe] to create new African identities…orphaned, ahistorical, disempowered [people] severed and alienated …from the memory and history of their ancestors.’ Part of the way this was done was through the tight control of communication and public media: what could be discussed and shared, when, how and by whom. During the liberation struggle, as we’ve already touched on, subversive music provided one technology of circumventing these strictures, of keeping other epistemologies and cosmologies alive. The Smith regime invested huge sums in building a 40000 watt transmitter nicknamed "Big Bertha", to jam the signals from the BBC and other smaller transmitters used by exiles in neighbouring countries - what the President of the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation called at the time “a barrage of hostile propaganda over the air". And following independence, a regime of surveillance and control continued as the country’s communication systems were all routed through neighbouring apartheid South Africa.
10:50 So it stands to reason that one of the first acts of the independent Zimbabwe government would be to wrest back sovereignty over communication through Space. This is probably one of the country’s most digitally advanced pieces of infrastructure and yet, when Chief Telecoms Technician Mr Mupeti shows me around, I am struck by how much it recalls the technologies of polyphony, subversion and conjuring of the like of Mapfumo, Zexia Manatsa and the Green Arrow band.
11:18 Here is a piece of Space Infrastructure, enabling the connectivity and communication of millions, that relies on one man’s constant monitoring, tweaking the position of the dishes nearly every day, and goading decades old equipment into dialogue with systems and servers which quite literally speak another language. Power is unstable and unreliable and so a series of Nippon Sharyo diesel generators are regularly powered up to keep a country online. This is done by hand. Usually by Mr Mupeti himself who is always keeping a constant eye, listening out for a trip like the high hat, the shimmer of a satellite off sync like the hosho, that triggers an action, a call and a response.
12:00 “When you rely on Western technology,” says Mr Mupeti “It’s very difficult to speak”, but looking around I am moved to wonder how Western this really is anymore. Mupeti is a quite remarkable person. Joining the Ground Station not long after it was built in the early years of Independence, he still has the energy that the generation before mine describe of civil servants back then. My mum who worked then for the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, tells me of how in many government departments there were two parallel ministries following Independence: one comprising Rhodesians, continuing on in a formal capacity, and one of ex combatants, and people inspired by the politics of liberation who committed themselves often without pay to working to bring about the changes necessary to build Zimbabwe.
12:53 Looking at the infrastructure sustaining the Ground Station in Mazowe, I am reminded that these stalwarts can still be found: commandeering, coaxing and rewiring systems that have broken, aged beyond recognition and been corrupted, into working for the masses today.
13:12 Just a few days prior I was on the back of tuk tuk in the Kenyan coastal town of Watamu. I had spent the day trying to find the San Marco platform, now something of a black site obscured on Google Earth, but which I know to be nearby. Don’t ask me how. This was the site from which the Uhuru satellite was launched into space on Kenya’s 7th Jamhuri or Independence Day, under the remit of NASA and the Italian Space Agency. Uhuru was a satellite of many firsts: the first to document a comprehensive all sky survey, to produce evidence of black holes and the first US satellite launched by a foreign government.
13:50 Uhuru was launched in living memory, 52 years ago, but everyone I ask has no knowledge of it. Instead what has taken hold are the gelato shops, the cafeteria, the resorts, the countless Italian tourists who come to stay, to holiday.
14:00 On this particular occasion we didn’t find San Marco, and that’s a story for another episode anyway. But I was introduced to a new concept by the tuk tuk driver Anthony Kevin Otieno.
Thandi: ‘So Kevin, tell me again about the houses with the blocks’
Kevin: ‘ The houses with the blocks. It’s called the Digital Way.’
Thandi: ‘And why is that?’
Kevin: ‘It’s because at long time, people built their houses out of soil. They take soil and stones and sticks, but now we use blocks. And cement. Which makes the house to be the digital way’
Thandi: ‘And what else is digital?‘
Kevin: ‘Here in Watamu? The transport of things. Motor vehicles, cars, batteries. Long long time we were using donkeys..’
Thandi: ‘But now it’s digital’
Kevin: ‘Now it’s digital you see. [inaudible] Now I’m driving a tuk tuk. Amazing’ [both laugh]
Thandi: ‘Thanks so much’
15:32 Here on the coast, in the shadow of the Uhuru satellite, is the Digital Way. A term which speaks of a shift in the ways in which things used to be done - once out of soil, now out of cement and blocks. But instead of signifying a particular form, performance or materiality of technology, instead it speaks more to the complex temporality in which Black life exists as a result of multiple, complex, colonial and capitalist forms of encounter, their material effect and metaphysical affect.
16:07 Kevin laughs when we speak about Digital life on the coast. In a way, it’s also a send up. To return again to Baraka:
These white scientists on lifetime fellowships, or pondering problems at Princeton’s Institute For Advanced Study produce a telephone is one culture’s solution to the problem of sending words through space. It is political power that has allowed this technology to emerge, & seem the sole direction for the result desired.
A typewriter?–why shd it only make use of the tips of the fingers as contact points of flowing multi directional creativity. If I invented a word placing machine, an “expression-scriber,” if you will, then I would have a kind of instrument into which I could step & sit or sprawl or hang & use not only my fingers to make words express feelings but elbows, feet, head, behind, and all the sounds I wanted, screams, grunts, taps, itches, I’d have magnetically recorded, at the same time, & translated into word–or perhaps even the final xpressed thought/feeling wd not be merely word or sheet, but itself, the xpression, three dimensional–able to be touched, or tasted or felt, or entered, or heard or carried like a speaking singing constantly communicating charm. A typewriter is corny!!
A typewriter is corny!!
17:25 [record scratch and whip sounds, akin to the start of Oh My God (feat Busta Rhymes) - A Tribe Called Quest]