Giraffe Humming, an Afro-Asian production spearheaded by sociologist Ari Sitas from South Africa and educationalist Sumangala Damodaran from India is a journey of historical musicology that existed before the 1500s around the Afro-Asian seas
“Can we look at Afro-Asian music that’s beyond fusion?” South African sociologist, writer, dramatist and civic activist Ari Sitas and Indian musician and educationalist Sumangala Damodaran asked each other when they decided to collaborate to explore the Afro-Asian pre-colonial historical musicology.
The Giraffe Humming performed at Kochi-Muziris Biennale, by their team, at the Cabral Yard of Aspinwall, Fort Kochi, to a packed audience is one of the productions from their project Insurrections Ensemble that searches the historical connections between Africa and Asia from the pre-colonial-times-which didn’t later get reflected in the history of our contemporary times.
“Looking at the past is difficult. We can do it easier if we do contemporary things. Our project started with a variety of questions– can we create music that finds a home on both sides of the Indian Oceans which stands beyond the cliché of fusion? Are Indian forms compatible with their African counterparts? Can songs and spoken words in a variety of languages make sense? Is there a soundscape lodged in the tonalities of string instruments that can find a new resonance?,” says Ari Sitas.
Kochi-Muziris Biennale hosted Giraffe Humming’s first performance in India. The team had performed it twice in Cape Town earlier. The group consists of artists from India, South Africa, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and China.
Insurrections Ensemble has been looking at how colonialism has resisted Afro-Asian countries to delve into their histories that go much beyond. Through the association, according to Ari, the creators have tried to discover forms of music that literally declined during colonization. “The music that was present before we were forced to separate places, before musicians traveled, ships traveled and giraffes traveled. Giraffe is a representation of the issue of the relation between humans and nature and the violence on nature which started way back,” Ari says.
Giraffe Humming tells the tale of three giraffes received by the ruler of Bengal Saifuddin Hamza as a gift from Africa in the 1414 century. Africa’s most exotic creatures were transported to Bengal via the Arabian peninsula through Malabar, what is Kerala now. That’s when Zheng He, admiral of China arrived in Bengal with his more than 300 ships and asked for one of them. The ruler couldn’t say no to him. Hence, one giraffe was taken to China in one of the astonishing ships he used to travel.
“The brutality of displacement – taking away the giraffes from its land to a foreign country as gifts of aristocracies from place to place explores the importance of the past civilizations and also the cruel side of it. We should stop idealizing it like fundamentalists and essentialists calling it the pure kind of past. Here, all of the sudden colonization happens. It is important to look at what Kozhikode or Surat was back then. We tried to look at those histories and find the appropriate music for that. We also wanted to make it an educational kind of experience,” Ari explains.
About the process that was adopted to conceive the project, Sumangala says that they never wanted the project to be tagged as ‘fusion’. “We responded to each other’s music. There were similarities and also dissimilarities. But somewhere we were connected. It made us think that our ‘old histories’ is also playing out somehow in similar kinds of tonalities.” she says. Their performance will next be showcased at International Theatre Festival Kerala.
Report : Aishwarya