The Rhythm Foundation Hosts Afrobeat Band Antibalas and African Strings Group 3MA
It’s been five years since the United Nations declared that 2015 to 2024 would be the International Decade of People of African Descent, and a year since Ghana initiated the Year of the Return, inviting descendants of enslaved African people to come home, explore their heritage, and even seek citizenship. It’s also been a century since Jamaican civil rights activist Marcus Garvey initiated the Back to Africa Movement.
These events have long played a role in drawing well-deserved attention to the resilience of an area that has long been exploited through colonization, slavery, and intense mining of its natural resources. And though traveling to Africa requires a substantial degree of planning, South Floridians can catch a glimpse of the continent’s musical offerings through the Rhythm Foundation’s two African music concerts being staged this week. This Thursday, January 23, 3MA — a trio of African stringed-instrument players — will strum up a sweet soundscape of three continental corners: Mali, Madagascar, and Morocco. Then, on Friday, January 24, New York’s legendary Afrobeat outfit Antibalas will thrust audiences into what ought to feel like a transatlantic jam cruise featuring an energetic fusion of Latin and Yoruba rhythms.
“We play instruments that are really born in Africa,” Malian 3MA member Ballaké Sissoko says, adding that his instrument, the kora, is the one that reaches the farthest across the continent. It originally comes from what is now Gambia but is played widely in the region in present-day Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Guinea. Meanwhile, Malagasy artist Rajery represents the sounds of East Africa through Madagascar’s valiha, and Moroccan artist Driss El Maloumi uses the oud to fuse North Africa and Europe’s Iberian Peninsula.
South Africa: Lovedale, a National Treasure of a Press, Faces Closure
The 200-year-old Lovedale Press is kept alive by the dedication of its owners, who work without pay. But if funding is not found, it could close, leaving South Africa the poorer.
Lovedale Press in Alice in the Eastern Cape is in a building on a quiet street full of potholes. Outside a plaque on an old wall is inscribed with the following: “The earliest record of anything written by any Bantu-speaking African in his own language in South Africa was made at the small printing press at Old Lovedale.” AC Jordan, a prominent writer of isiXhosa texts published by Lovedale and one of Fort Hare’s most eminent literary alumni, apparently wrote these words.
Inside, there is a broken wooden counter, a crumbling chair and a bookshelf filled with plastic bags with what looks like food inside them. No one is sitting at the reception. I shout for attention. No response. I repeat, louder this time.
Suddenly, from behind a dark window, someone comes out. A tired old man greets me with a smile and invites me to follow him for a tour of what was once an important press.
A brief history
Lovedale Press is almost 200, having started in 1823, and has had an erratic history. Around 1834, the press was abolished. It started up again but was gutted by fire once more during the War of The Axe in 1846 and 1847. At one point, the original building caught fire and a section with a number of books, manuscripts and other valuable records could not be saved. It was torn down again in the late 1940s, from which it never fully recovered.
The press was originally founded at Tyume valley in Alice. The beginning of written and published isiXhosa dates back to the early 1820s, when two former members of the Glasgow Mission Society, John Ross and John Bennie, began the work of recording isiXhosa in the area. The press was part of Lovedale College, and it primarily concentrated on empowering young black people with skills such as book binding and printing. The press promoted African literature not only in South Africa but also on the continent.
In 1936, an isiXhosa-language newspaper, Izimvo zabantsundu (Views of the black people), was published by Lovedale. The press also published prominent works by great isiXhosa novelists, poets and historians such as Zemk’ Iinkomo Magwalandini by WB Rubusana, Ingqumbo Yeminyanya by AC Jordan and Intlalo kaXhosa / South Eastern Bantu by Tiyo Soga.
Professor Wandile Kuse, 86, notes: “One of [Lovedale Press’s] major projects … was the translation of the isiXhosa Bible, hymn books, dictionaries, grammars and Christian literature.” But even after the arrival of freedom in 1994, the press continued to suffer.
Inside the building everything is dusty and the lights don’t work. There are paper bags containing books, functioning printing and folding presses that are over a hundred years old, containers full of ink, a lot of paper scattered on tables, stacks of Bibles, letters, broken pieces of equipment and more. All this is of historical significance. If it is not preserved, it can all abruptly vanish.
Only three people work at the press. Each is committed to keeping the legacy of the institution alive. The trio understands what the press could mean for future generations and feel they need to work to save it. As a non-profit organisation, Lovedale Press is in dire need of funds. They are unable to pay rent and owe their landlord huge amounts.
Eighteen former employees took it upon themselves to buy and save Lovedale Press when its owners auctioned it off in 2001. They used their pensions. But their investment did not bear any fruit. Instead, the press continued to struggle. When they bought the company, they hoped the government, the corporate sector and the public would support their efforts to keep the heritage of the region alive.
But for years, Lovedale’s dedicated employees have had to work without pay, including the remaining trio, the last of the 18 whose money bought the press. Seven have died and eight are no longer active in matters of business.
Cebo Ntaka, 49, is the youngest of the three. He hails from Ngcobo, hundreds of kilometres from Alice. With only a matric certificate, he could not find work anywhere else. Over the years, he has worked hard to become one of the go-to people when it comes to operating the gigantic lithography machines. But life for him and his colleagues is often a struggle.
Bulelwa Mbatyothi, 59, from Ntselamanzi, the only woman in the company, joined the press 19 years ago. She says she is not happy to still be working for no pay.
Bishop Nqumevu, 76, comes from Gaga village. He has been with Lovedale for over 47 years printing historic books. “We are here … to preserve the heritage of Lovedale,” he says. He adds that the Department of Arts and Culture is aware of their problems, as is the National Heritage Council, but neither have helped.
Books are still being created at Lovedale Press, though, at a slow pace. As it is not going to migrate from traditional to digital formats, the press is unlikely to get much day-to-day work. Nevertheless, this national treasure deserves to be protected – either as a business or a heritage site.
AFRICAN MASQUERADE RITUALS AND SPIRITUAL REALMS UNMASKED AT BOCA RATON MUSEUM OF ART
The exhibition opens January 28 and is on view through May 31. On May 17 at 3:00 p.m., Galembo will visit the museum to share personal stories about her work and her travels, the ritual mask ceremonies, and will sign two of her books at this personal appearance–Maske (published by Aperture), and Mexico, Masks and Rituals (by Radius Books and DAP).
Photo: Two in a Fancy Dress, Red Cross Masquerade Group, by Phyllis Galembo. Winneba, Ghana, (2010)
Starting on January 28th, museum-goers will be spellbound by the transformative power of the African masquerade, as the Boca Raton Museum of Art presents Phyllis Galembo: Maske.
Galembo’s striking photographic series of contemporary mask rituals has drawn national and international critical acclaim. These large-scale images are nearly life-size and explore spiritual realms with brilliant, mesmerizing colors.
For more than 30 years, the artist has traveled around the world to photograph participants in contemporary masquerade events that range from traditional, religious ceremonies to secular celebrations.
The exhibition opens on January 28, and is on view through May 31. On May 17 at 3:00 p.m., Galembo will visit the museum to share personal stories about her work and her travels, the ritual mask ceremonies, and will sign two of her books at this personal appearance–Maske (published by Aperture), and Mexico, Masks and Rituals (by Radius Books and DAP).
Her portraits are celebrated by the world’s leading fine art photography editors for their stunning resonance, setting her work apart from documentary and anthropological studies.
They will be shown in concert with the Museum’s historical collection of more than 40 African tribal artifacts and indigenous masks in the gallery across from Galembo’s show, for a complementary perspective.
Through her lens, the viewer gains special access to the rarely seen other-worlds, as she captures the raw and sometimes frightening aspects of ceremonial garb. Masking is a complex, mysterious and profound tradition in which the participants transcend the physical world and enter the spiritual realm.
In her vibrant images, Galembo exposes an ornate code of political, artistic, theatrical, social, and religious symbolism and commentary. She has made over twenty trips to sites of ritual masquerades, capturing cultural performances with a subterranean political edge.
Her photographs depict the physical character, costumes, and rituals of African religious practices and their diasporic manifestations in the Caribbean and Mexico. Galembo’s images reflect both the modern and ancient worlds. The fifteen portraits by Galembo that were selected for this exhibition reveal the meticulous detail and creative imagination of mask-making.
“The tradition of masquerading is universal and timeless, and continues today in most cultures, including western societies,” says Irvin Lippman, the Executive Director of the Boca Raton Museum of Art. “Bringing together the Galembo photographs and masks from the Museum’s African collection underscores the cross-cultural complexity of meaning and purpose. However, what they have in common is their vitality, power, and boldness of humanity.”
The costumes in Galembo’s photographs are worn in several types of modern-day rituals. They are created to summon ancestral spirits and deities during a range of events, including agricultural hardships, land disputes, rites of passage, funerals, harvests, moments of gratitude and celebration.
Galembo’s large-scale portraits in this exhibition capture the mask-oriented cultural traditions of Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and Sierra Leone. While traveling and embedding herself for long periods in these societies, Galembo works with local assistants and translators. They negotiate the terms with elders, so that she may be granted permission to make photos of these masqueraders.
“The translators often find that gaining permission from community leaders can sometimes be quite helpful during these painstaking negotiations,” says Galembo. “Once an agreement has been struck, I set my own lighting and place the subjects in front of a neutral backdrop that enables the eye to focus on the diversity of materials in each costume.”
The masks and costumes in these photographs are made from a wide variety of surprising materials ─ leaves, grass, patterned fabrics, burlap sacks, full-bodied crocheted yarns, colored raffia, quills, shells, and even lizard excrement.
All of her photographs are shot as portraits rather than during the act of ritual. She is allowed to photograph her subjects at the very moment right before their rituals and festivities commence. Galembo prefers her colors to be brightly saturated, enhancing the spiritual and transformative powers of these garments.
“I never see my subjects out of costume, although the masqueraders are always men, often paying homage to women,” adds Galembo.
Despite secularization and fading traditions, masquerading in Africa is abundant, robust, and far from disappearing. Most of the photographs in this exhibition reflect sacred rituals, the spiritual aspect of masquerading rather than secular celebrations. By donning garments, the masqueraders gain access to traditional knowledge, enabling them to relay critical messages to the community.
“I like the way viewers can grasp the real stories behind each image. Every mask, costume and fiber of material can represent so much to the people in these portraits. Many of these subjects created these ritual costumes because a spirit inspired them. These are people who make masks and costumes that are very spiritually motivated,” says Galembo.
The modern world also finds its way into these costumes and masks with the usage of plastic bags, cardboard, and found objects.
Awo-O-dudu (A Spirit They Saw) reveals a ghost- like shape summoning ancestral spirits during the dry months or times of crisis, when spirits are called to bless the deceased and entire villages.
Ko S’Ogbon L’Ate (You Can’t Buy Wisdom at the Market) is a tribute to mothers, goddesses and ancestors. The wooden headpieces represent an animal and a human, each sings a different song during the ritual.
Affianwan (“white cat woman”) represents spirit and transparency. The stunning headdress of this work is crocheted from one long flowing piece of fabric.
Two in a Fancy Dress and Rasta illustrates the cross of African and European traditions (fancy dress).
More About the Artist: Phyllis Galembo
Phyllis Galembo’s photographs are included in numerous public and private collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library. She is represented by Axis Gallery. She was born 1952 in New York, where she continues to live and work. Galembo graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1977 and has been a Professor Emeritus at Albany, State University of New York since 1978. Using a direct, unaffected portrait style, she captures her subjects informally posed but often beautifully attired in traditional and ritualistic dress.
Attuned to a moment’s collision of past, present and future, Phyllis Galembo is recognized for her ability to find the timeless elegance and dignity of her subjects. She highlights the creativity of the individuals morphing into a fantastical representation of themselves, having cobbled together materials gathered from the immediate environment to idealize their vision of mythical figures.
While still pronounced in their personal identity, the subject’s intentions are rooted in the larger dynamics of religious, political and cultural affiliation. Establishing these connections is the artist’s hallmark. Her work has appeared in Tar Magazine, Damn Magazine, Photograph and Harpers. She has been profiled on CNN, NPR Radio and NBC Today. Other collections that feature her work include: Oceania and the Americas, Photography Study Collection (New York); the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Houston Museum of Art; the International Center for Photography (New York); the British Art Museum, Yale University; Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library; Polaroid Corporation (Boston); and the Rockefeller Foundation, among many others.
MORE ABOUT THE MUSEUM’S AFRICAN COLLECTION
Complementing Galembo’s exhibition are more than 40 African tribal artifacts from the Museum’s collection, including headdresses and masks, each pertaining to masquerades and ceremonies. These are exhibited in an adjacent gallery, across from the Galembo show.
The two Kuba masks in the collection (Kuba Bwoom Mask and Kuba Ngaady-A Mwash Mask) are both from the Democratic Republic of Congo, recreating the Kuba dynastic history. Another work in the museum’s African collection, a Bamana Headdress (Chiwara), represents a mythical character who taught humans to turn wild grasses into grain.
A Mossi Nakomse Headdress (Zazaido), is used in secular and religious rituals by young men. The Zazaido masquerade honors male and female elders at funeral ceremonies, and blesses survivors. A Yoruba Crown from Nigeria is worn on state occasions, and reflects the spiritual connections of the ruler. The face represents his royal lineage and ultimately the god Oduduwa, who remained on earth and became their first king.
The collection also includes a Dan mask (Deangle), an Ogoni Mask (Nigeria), a Toma Mask (Landai), a Senufo Mask (Kpelie), a Guru Mask (Gu), an Igbo Crest Mask (Nigeria), and a Yoruba Oro Efe Gelede Mask (Nigeria/Republic of Benin).