What do songs, lyrics and instruments from ancient indigenous cultures have in common with multimedia and the Internet? Perhaps the latter is the most apt medium to present and preserve the former. Curator Aryan Kaganof’s first edition of herri is a website redolent with images, songs, videos, writing, artworks and poems that provide an in-depth, colourful and absorbing exploration of traditional musician Matombi Matotiyana and the release of her first album, Songs of Greeting, Healing and Heritage.
It’s the navigation of herri that makes it unique: it’s totally up to you. The site has a red dot to click on, and a couple of red arrows, but where you go from there depends entirely on what grabs your interest. You may find yourself reading a text; then choose to do so accompanied by a music clip; then elect to watch a video that has appeared as you scroll down. Your senses are tantalised while your intellect is stimulated.
“The design team has been tremendously important in working together to forge a visual identity that is distinctive and immersive. Kudos to Tšepo Ntsukunyane, whose illustrations have formed the backbone of the first issue, and Andrea Rolfes, who worked tirelessly to find a visual language appropriate to the project’s ambitions,” Aryan says.
What/who is herri?
I like to immerse myself in whatever it is I write about before I sit before the computer, but realised after much immersion that herri is a truly enormous smorgasbord of information. Slightly overwhelmed, I asked Aryan what herri is, so he directed me to the ‘about’ section on the site, which reads: “herri is an attempt to answer the question, ‘what does decolonisation look like in this age of hybridity?’ We discovered that there is not just one answer. herri is a soundmine of narratives, mythologies, ideologies, statements, ambiguities and ideas just waiting to be excavated. herri is merely one option among many. Discontinuity is the continuity. Disconnection is the connection. Incoherence is the coherence.”
When I replied that this was a bit obscure for the average reader, and that I was trying to get an idea of where herri’s boundaries lie, he answered: “The focus will always be music first. That is to say, music that is geographically South African. But, for example, in the first issue there was a page on Moor Mother, and in the second issue there will be a feature on Jlin. So we basically also look at artists who are doing really challenging, interesting and formally ground-breaking experiments in music, irrespective of whether they are from South Africa or not.”
He also told me who the site is named after. “The name Herri is inspired by the first political prisoner to be jailed on Robben Island, Autshumao or Herri die strandloper [Herri the beach walker]. The spelling of ‘Herri’ as opposed to ‘Herrie’ is a decolonial orthography decision – we do not believe that the Dutch spelling of the sound ‘herri’ is necessary, and, inspired by the way SMS messages have influenced the orthography of contemporary Afrikaaps, we have decided to use herri as a flag signalling a de-linking from conventional colonial spelling. Herri the freedom fighter is inspiring, because he actually escaped from Robben Island.”