“In Ta’abir El-Zaar we were all women, unique and together, we were chanting, howling, singing, grunting, hypnotized by one another's presence, infecting and inflicting one another to release, collapse, to eventually heal. It was all about chanting, about sound, drumming, and the sound of our magnetic voices to connect and communicate. To disconnect. There were no rules to follow. But I do remember wanting to find this sound, this inner voice in me, a vibration that would carry me into others, further into transcendence and transformation. My voice is the catharsis to release my demons, my madness and hysteria. Taabir means an expression, it is that moment of accepting catharsis to heal such demons." - Jasmina and Kamila Metwaly. Words from their ongoing research The sound of the wind is not a metaphor.
In this contribution, Kamila Metwaly attempts to continue a conversation with Halim El-Dabh, an Egyptian composer, pioneer of electronic music, creative ethnomusicologist, Panafricanist, and sonic philosopher that she started shortly with El-Dabh's before his passing in 2017 at the age of ninety six. During that very short span of time, El-Dabh has become one of the key figures that has influenced and shifted Metwaly's artistic and curatorial thinking and practice.
With El-Dabh and this sonic imaginary conversation/piece, Metwaly enters an intimate space of wearing archival material with questions that engage with a listening beyond the time of the Western sonic avant-garde. This piece also questions reductionary mechanisms and attitudes that have been far too been normalised by one/a possible avant-garde we know. This conversation, asks: what are the mechanisms by which Halim El-Dabh could be excluded from the canon?
An artist whose legendary composition It is Dark and Damp on the Front (1949) rought him international recognition before he received formal music training; who collaborated with the modern dance titan Martha Graham; who composed one of the earliest pieces of electronic music known to date, Taabir El-Zaar (1944), which launched a wave of experimental electronic music flourishing until today; whose sound installation Here History Began (1961) has become synonymous with the pyramids in Giza; and whose Panafricanist vision led him throughout the African continent to connect and collaborate with thinkers, musicians, and politicians like Leopold Sedar Senghor and Haile Selassie while collecting sounds and instruments from around the continent and the diaspora. A composer who through a span of seventy years cross-pollinated sonic disciplines ranging from music for voice and electronic music to opera, symphony, ballet, orchestra while conducting significant research into the sonic traditions of Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Morocco, Greece, Macedonia, Uzbekistan, Brazil, Mexico, and Jamaica, and the United States.
This contribution is looking into possibilities that might have prevented that ongoing work of agnosia from deleting the future memory of the black avant-gardes as Kodwo Eshun underscored during SAVVY Contemporary’s retrospect on Julius Eastman, yet another composer actively excluded by past and future history. In this ongoing, and constantly changing sound piece, Metwaly in conversation with El-Dabh, would like to imagine possibilities of many futures that are informed by the many pasts and possibilities of listening that make our sonic histories more relatable spaces and histories.
In her work, Metwaly returns constantly to the question: Who Do We Listen To? which becomes a cue to her curatorial work and a long-term investigation into histories of sonic arts and experimental music. Through various approaches to listening listening, Metwaly attempts to re-imagine an egalitarian world that listens closely to the voice-body-mind nexus that challenges the colonial, the racist, the oppressive, the sexist and the aggressive histories that sound histories carry. Working with sound, the aural, and the acousmatic does not only stress on the politics of listening, but also becomes a proposal into activating the ear as a political organ of bodily histories.