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Breathing Space | Projects

Talking Drum: An experiment in listening, talking and grooving


Talking Drum

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A Breathing Space Project

In 2020 we saw many of our assumptions about society, culture and economy upturned or broken. We saw in equal measure the emergence of possibilities for rapid and transformative change, and the deepening of existing fractures and injustices. It is clear we are inside a period of disruption that neither began nor will end with the COVID-19 pandemic, and in which the larger social-economic-ecological crises of our time become vivid and present. Against this backdrop, the Breathing Space grant programme of Pro Helvetia’s Johannesburg office looked to enable modest relief, or ‘breathing space’, for arts practitioners, organisations and networks across the subcontinent to rethink ways of working, to experiment with new formats of production, exchange and collaboration and reimagine the shape and position of cultural and creative work.

Talking Drum is a podcast and sonic library project by artist and researcher Zara Julius that is interested in excavating the aesthetic and affective links in the musical echo-chamber (Chude-Sokei, 2008) — both within the African continent, and between the continent and the African diaspora in the so-called global south. The project re-focuses the mission of KONJO, an initiative started by Zara in partnership with Paul WaxOn, as an independent Pan-African music collective invested in curating live music events (with musicians across the diaspora), and moves to explore the archives, and cultural contexts from which various African folk musical traditions emerge, evolve and continue to find vitality.

Talking Drum is an experiment in speaking, listening, community and grooving, with an initial season of 6 episodes that feature collaborations with sonic artists, archivists and musical fugitives in four African countries (South Africa, Cote d’Ivor, Mali, & Angola) and two Latin American countries (Cuba & Colombia). Drawing from these various contexts, and Zara’s own pre-existing research interests in each context, Talking Drum imagines how worlds connect through sonic performance and musical conversations. Zara explains that “this project is a response to a sustained frustration with what appears to be a limited exchange of knowledge and cultural production within the African continent and our diaspora, in a cultural climate where cultural mobility continues to occur along colonial trade-routes — from African or Latin American artists to Euro-American audiences. What if, like a talking drum, we were to communicate directly with one another, instead of using the global north as a primary and intermediary audience?”

For Talking Drum, each participant will be commissioned to produce and record content in their own context that investigates the sonic archive as conceptual, affective and physical space in which memories are persevered and reactivate the histories they tell. The sixth and final episode in the series will be live-taped and co-produced by Zara and Tumi Mogorosi, who will lead a live band to interpret some of the songs from the previous five episodes into a live set. This will be open to the public and take place on 17 April 2021 at a garden location outside of Johannesburg,  inviting people to engage with the repository of stories, anecdotes, sound and albums  reference throughout the production of the series.


Zara Julius (Johannesburg, South Africa) is a social practice artist, cultural researcher, and vinyl selector. She is also the founder of KONJO. With a background in anthropology, religious studies and photography, her work is concerned with the relationship between aesthetics, frequency and fugitivity. Working with sound, video, performance and object-based installation, Zara’s practice involves the collection, selection and creation of archives through extensive research projects. The bulk of Zara’s projects have focused on mapping the sonic and spiritual mobilities of spiritual rapture and rupture with congregants of syncretic religious practices in Africa and Latin America, and on (post)apartheid narratives around race and place as they pertain to intimate archiving practices. As a selector, she is especially interested in the evolution of spiritual music forms and how they find themselves in contemporary “global bass” music. Zara selects vinyl regularly on the festival circuit in Southern Africa, has toured London (being hosted by Touching Bass, Balamii radio, Hoxton FM, and Total Refreshment Centre) and has also gigged in Cuba and Colombia. Zara is passionate about creating and imagining conceptual, visual, sonic, interpersonal and political links throughout the Global South.

DJ Jigüe / Isnay Rodríguez Agramonte (Havana, Cuba) was sent on a mission from an alternate future to connect the two worlds. He travelled from the past to the present to bring his language: Tropical Afrofuturism. He erased the contours of normality through his style by mixing experimental electronic music that weaves traditional AfroCuban, Caribbean, folkloric rhythms with mysterious and throbbing electronic rhythms. His name is Isnay Rodríguez, and everyone knows him as Dj Jigüe. In 2015 Jigüe founded Guampara Music, the first independent urban music producer in Cuba. He has produced several albums including Habana Cultura, Súbelo Cuba; produced together with the renowned Gilles Peterson. He has participated in several international festivals such as WOMEX (Katowice, Poland) 2017, ART BASEL (Miami, EU) 2017, SXSW (Austin, Texas) 2018, Bahiodora, (Mexico) 2018; Winter Music Conference (Miami, EU), 2019; DMZ Peace Train, (South Korea) 2019. Due to his performance, he has been represented in Vice Thump, The Fader, Vice, Red Bull Panámerika and Remezcla.

Oualid Khelifi (Abidjan, Cote d’Ivor) is an arts producer, documentary filmmaker and communication strategist. He has worked extensively across the African continent, carrying multidisciplinary assignments in over two dozen countries, including his native Algeria. From fundraising and R&D to showcasing and digital dissemination, Oualid has produced and managed a series of international collaborative projects featuring African artists and counterparts in the UAE, the UK, the US and all the way to South East Asia and Latin America. As an artistic director, he has programmed for Sharjah Art Foundation (UAE), and curated and co-produced in collaboration with Marsm (UK) on festivals and masterclasses.

Foreigner / Adam Cooper (Los Angeles, USA) is an LA-based designer and DJ born in Trinidad & Tobago and raised in Caracas/ Venezuela & Brooklyn/NYC. Best known for his Junkyard Jouvert and Roadblock™ parties and his live DJ sets on NTS Radio and around the city, he focuses on drawing the most fun and unexpected connections between the Caribbean, West Africa and the Americas. This commitment to Panafrican philosophy has established foreigner as the creator of some of the wildest Afrodiasporic parties in Los Angeles.

Alsarah (Brooklyn, USA / Khartoum, Sudan) is a singer, songwriter, bandleader and a somewhat reluctant ethnomusicologist. Born in Khartoum, Sudan, she relocated to Yemen with her family before abruptly moving to the USA, finally feeling most at home in Brooklyn, NY where she has been residing since 2004. She is a self-proclaimed practitioner of East-African Retro-Pop music. Working on various projects, she has toured both nationally and internationally. With her main outfit, Alsarah & the Nubatones, she has released 2 full-length albums titled Silt, followed by Manara (Wonderwheel Recordings, 2014 and 2016). She has also released 1 full-length album with French electronic producer Débruit titled Aljawal (Soundways Recordings, 2013). Alsarah also works with the Sudanese artist collective Refugee Club Productions on a variety of projects including the critically acclaimed documentary “Beats of the Antonov”.

Tumi Mogorosi & band (Johannesburg, South Africa) is an award-winning South African jazz drummer, bandleader, composer and writer interested in the Black Sonic, and what he terms ‘DeAesthetics’.

Brenda Sisane (Johannesburg, South Africa) started her career as a Public Relations Manager, and joined the broadcasting world as a radio and television broadcaster in 1991 which opened doors into the communications sector. She launched her PR consulting firm in 1995 subsequently diversifying her business to specialise in International Relations and the Creative Arts. She leads both SPIN Productions and The SPIN Foundation, which serve the local and international arts and culture marketing space. Her company has produced global collaborations for the International Jazz Day initiative by UNESCO, as well as the Herbie Hancock Institute for Jazz, who launched a worldwide jazz campaign for global unity and tolerance. Brenda currently hosts a radio show with a slant on Global Jazz, and Classical African music. To this unique program, she lends her passion in international relations, communications and social development.

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