Finding harmony: Art of making music from bottle tops, toy guitars

Neo Musangi
Neo Musangi's typewriter. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Naijographia’s Wanakuboeka Feelharmonic is a collaborative experimental exhibition which engages the poet Fred Moten’s question: “A band makes music; the making of the band is poetry… How can you make the making of the music sound good?”

In many artistic spaces, knowledge can be a form of status. The experimental nature of this exhibition threw me and many members of the audience into the discomfort of not knowing.

One point of grounding yourself could be in Blak Odhiambo’s Chora Mistari Series. Vinyl records hang from the ceiling around the room. On them is painted the thought-provoking comedy one would find in matatu stickers, for instance, “Mbona WiFi kila mahali na maji safi haipatikani?” (Why do we have WiFi everywhere, but lack clean water?)

Neo Musangi’s Studio 44 was a set-up of a type-writer. On a paper were the words “Usha’ahi enda funeral ya artist ukaanza kuimagine n’ani next?”

The organisers encouraged people to type what they would like onto the paper. The keying in contributed to the music in the space and was a nod to the fact that around 40 artists contributed to the production of the exhibition.

Another interactive section of the exhibition was a makeshift room by Maasai Mbili where attendees could go in and make music.

I liked the fact that you could not tell who the original artists were as attendees filtered in and out and made music off the bottle tops, toy guitars and sufuria lids among others.

In Epistasis of the City, poet and microbiologist Michelle Angwenyi uses the constant on-off rhythm of interacting genes to explore the interconnectedness of the city space. She asks, “Where in the city or from where do things start and stop each other?”

Rosie Olang uses mixed media collages to explore structure and call and response in music.

Her work and Kamwangi Njue’s music got many positive reviews from the audience..

I loved the companion booklet which included literature by Alexis Teyie, Wairimu Muriithi, Bethuel Muthee and Carey Baraka. Also in the booklet are WhatsApp conversations between the artists as well as minutes of an Enkare Review meeting discussing the exhibition’s theme.

Short introductions next to the work could have made my first exploration of it a bit richer. However, some attendees preferred the absence of explanation as it compelled them to exist in the jarring confusion that characterises the initial process of making music. I will say, though, that the humility to tell the organisers you do not know and to request a tour of the exhibition will pay off and make you appreciate these artists’ work much more.