Supporting our local singers—celebrating the music of Reuben T. Caluza (Journal of Visual Culture & HaFI, 17)
This is the seventeenth instalment of a collaborative effort by the Journal of Visual Culture and the Harun Farocki Institut, initiated by the COVID-19 crisis. The call sent to JVC’s editorial board, and a wide selection of previous contributors and members of its extended communities, described the task as follows: “There is a lot of spontaneous, ad hoc opinion-making and premature commentary around, as to be expected. However, the ethics and politics of artistic and theoretical practice to be pursued in this situation should oblige us to stay cautious and to intervene with care in the discussion. As one of JVC’s editors, Brooke Belisle, explains: ‘We are not looking for sensationalism, but rather, moments of reflection that: make connections between what’s happening now and the larger intellectual contexts that our readership shares; offer small ways to be reflective and to draw on tools we have and things we know instead of just feeling numb and overwhelmed; help serve as intellectual community for one another while we are isolated; support the work of being thoughtful and trying to find/make meaning…which is always a collective endeavour, even if we are forced to be apart.'” TH
Influenza 1918 (collaborative music and video project, initiated by Philip Miller)
Supporting our local singers—celebrating the music of Reuben T. Caluza
Choral music notation for the song “Influenza” (courtesy of Howard Phillips, In a Time of Plague: Memories of the ‘Spanish’ Flu Epidemic of 1918 in South Africa, 2018)
I am a South African composer who has embarked upon a project to assist funding singers and musicians who are currently unable to work and earn money during this period of the COVID 19 lock –down.
After recently reading an article written by Mark Gevisser (The Monthly Review, Business Day, April 7, 2020) I discovered the song “Influenza” from 1918, composed by Reuben T. Caluza, during a period when the Spanish Flu had taken the lives of so many people in South Africa and the rest of the world. After much research, I tracked down an old recording of the song, which was made in 1920. In the past few weeks of South Africa’s lock-down, I transcribed it and made an arrangement of this song for voice, piano, and brass.
Zulu choral conductor, composer, and teacher Reuben T. Caluza (1895-1964), photographer unknown
I brought together a team of young vocalists, with whom I have collaborated over a period of several decades. They have recorded the song in Zulu, each vocalist recording in their own home and then sending these as voice-messages for me to incorporate into a new rendition of the song. It is my response to the Covid -19 Pandemic.
Assembling all these voices and musicians together, I produced this song as an audio mp3 and music video available to download via many different social media platforms, including; Youtube, Vimeo, Facebook, Soundcloud and Spotify.
Highlighting the interesting parallels between the origins of the song during the Spanish Flu epidemic in South Africa in 1918 and the Covid 19 pandemic, I am also focusing on creating awareness of the difficult financial circumstances which freelance musicians and singers are currently facing. The ensemble of singers who participated in creating this song, rely entirely on live musical productions and gigs to support themselves and their families. This stream of income has abruptly stopped, due to productions and performances being cancelled or postponed, leaving them with no income.
The eight singers who participated in the recording of the song are based in the areas of Masiphumelele, Gugulethu, Langa and Soweto:
Ann Masina (soprano)
Thuli Magubane (soprano)
Lydia Manyame ( alto)
Lulama Mgceleza (tenor)
Masibulele Malima (tenor)
Lubabalo Velayi ( bass)
Bulelani Madondile ( baritone)
Reuben Mbonambi (bass)
The Campaign went live on May 1, 2020 using the on-line platform, BUSQR, where donations can be made into the relief fund #MusoReliefSA. All funds raised will be distributed amongst the community of local South African singers and musicians, who I have worked with over many years.
Philip Miller is a South African and international composer and sound artist based in Cape Town. His work is multi-faceted, often developing out of collaborative projects in theatre, film, video and sound installations. Miller is currently an honorary fellow at ARC (The Research Initiative in Archive and Public Culture) at the University of Cape Town
Lauren Berlant, the brilliant theorist of “cruel optimism” and related issues, died of a rare form of cancer on June 28. The following, devastatingly optimistic quote is from a 2016 essay on the commons as “infrastructures for troubling times,” part of a book that they worked on with the typically double-edged title On the Inconvenience of Other People: “What remains for our pedagogy of unlearning is to build affective infrastructures that admit the work of desire as the work of an aspirational ambivalence. What remains is the potential we have to common infrastructures that absorb the blows of our aggressive need for the world to accommodate us and our resistance to adaptation and that, at the same time, hold out the prospect of a world worth attaching to that’s something other than an old hope’s bitter echo. A failed episode is not evidence that the project was in error. By definition, the common forms of life are always going through a phase, as infrastructures will.”
Some basics from the Strike MoMA site: “Campaigns, actions, and letters chip away at the regime’s facade from the outside. Inside, every time workers organize, defy the boss, care for a coworker, disrespect secrecy, or enact other forms of subversion, cracks are created in the core. Cracking and chipping, chipping and cracking. As the walls that artificially separate the museum from the world collapse, we reorient away from the institution and come together to make plans. Let us strike in all the ways possible to exit from the terms of the museum so we can set our own.”
Valentina Di Liscia via Hyperallergic on the environmental impact of blockchain referring to recent NFT (non-fungible token) art sales: “This is not the first time the art world has come under scrutiny for being on the wrong side of the climate conversation. Artists and activists have protested everything from the carbon footprint of physical art fairs to the fossil fuel money funding major museums. But some say the energy consumption of cryptocurrencies is particularly egregious, and research shows it’s relatively easily quantifiable. A study by Cambridge University, for instance, estimates that bitcoin uses more electricity per year than the entire nation of Argentina. (Ethereum mining consumes a quarter to half of what Bitcoin mining does, but one transaction uses more power than an average US household in a day, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.)”
Nicholas Mirzoeff on “Artificial vision, white space and racial surveillance capitalism”: “Based as it is on ‘epidermalization’ (the assertion of absolute difference based on relative differences in skin color), AI’s racial surveillance deploys an all-too-familiar racialized way of seeing operating at plan-etary scale. It is the plantation future we are now living in. All such operations take place in and via the new imagined white space of technology known as the cloud. In reality, a very material arrangement of servers and cables, the cloud is both an engine of high-return low-employment capitalism and one of the prime drivers of carbon emissions.”
Sara Ahmed on the performativity of disgust (from The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2004): “To name something as disgusting is to transfer the stickiness of the word ‘disgust’ to an object, which henceforth becomes generated as the very thing that is spoken. The relationship between the stickiness of the sign and the stickiness of the object is crucial to the performativity of disgust as well as the apparent resistance of disgust reactions to ‘newness’ in terms of the generation of different kinds of objects. The object that is generated as a disgusting (bad) object through the speech act comes to stick. It becomes sticky and acquires a fetish quality, which then engenders its own effects.”
November 7th, 2020
David Graeber (1961-2020) on What Would It Take (from his The Democracy Project. A History, a Crisis, a Movement, 2013, p. 193): “We have little idea what sort of organizations, or for that matter, technologies, would emerge if free people were unfettered to use their imagination to actually solve collective problems rather than to make them worse. But the primary question is: how do we even get there? What would it take to allow our political and economic systems to become a mode of collective problem solving rather than, as they are now, a mode of collective war?”
September 7th, 2020
T.J. Demos on why cultural practitioners should never surrender, via tranzit.sk: “For artists, writers, and curators, as art historians and teachers, the meaning-production of an artwork is never finished, never fully appropriated and coopted, in my view, and we should never surrender it; the battle over significance is ongoing. We see that battle rise up in relation to racist and colonial monuments these days in the US, the UK, and South Africa. While the destruction of such monuments results from and is enabling of radical politics, it’s still not enough until the larger institutions that support and maintain their existence as well as the continuation of the politics they represent are also torn down. This is urgent as well in the cultural sphere, including the arts institutions, universities, art markets, discursive sphere of magazines and journals, all in thrall to neoliberalism, where we must recognize that it’s ultimately inadequate to simply inject critical or radical content into these frameworks, which we know excel at incorporating those anti-extractivist expressions into further forms of cultural capital and wealth accumulation. What’s required is more of the building of nonprofit and community-based institutions, organizing radical political horizons and solidarity between social formations.”