Channel 1 – OAU 1963
Emeka Ogboh’s composition reassembles historic speeches given by African heads of state at the Inauguration of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa in May 1963. Delegates from thirty-two independent African nations and from liberation movements in countries still under the yoke of colonial domination met at the Africa Hall in Addis Ababa. The conference, which opened on May 22nd of that year, reached its highpoint on May 25th with the signing of a charter for the new Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to replace rival factions within the Continent. A further twenty-one states gradually joined, raising membership to 53 states by May 23, 1994.
Researching numerous archives, Ogboh edited together historic audio materials including remarks made by Julius Nyerere, President of the Republic of Tanganyika; Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia; Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of the United Arab Republic; Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, President of the Republic of Ghana; and further representatives of the thirty-two signatory governments of the OAU Charter.
The work draws attention to vocal gestures and the speech act, highlighting different styles of political oratory and revealing the complex discourses of the founding members as they strove to delineate the AU’s guiding concepts and principles including “unity and diversity” and Julius Nyerere’s idea of the “communitary”. The excerpted speeches chosen by Ogboh emphasize ideals such as the promotion of African Unity and solidarity among African states; the eradication of colonialism in all its forms; the implementation of democratic principles and human rights; the pursuit of peace, security and stability; and the improvement of the quality of life in all societies. The speakers affirm the desire to achieve these goals through cooperation and peaceful negotiation among the AU’s members.
Ogboh’s arrangements highlight the role of political speech and the importance of media communication to its propagation, predominantly through radio broadcast. Not coincidentally, Ogboh found a majority of the historical audio recordings in the archives of the Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency. Radio transmission has been a dominant means of disseminating political information and education across the Continent and beyond from the beginnings of the OAU until today. To reach a broad audience, many radio stations operate in multiple languages. The historic speeches reverberating on this channel recreate the atmosphere of the OAU’s early days. More than historical artefacts, the recordings constitute a part of African collective memory. Emeka Ogboh states, “the installation is conceptualised as a spontaneous ‘agora’, a randomly arranged acoustic common space where listeners meet in transit and memories shift.”
Channel 2 – Let Us All Unite and Celebrate Together
Emeka Ogboh developed an adaptation of the AU’s anthem “Let us all unite and celebrate together”. The lyrics have been translated into Akan/Twi, Amharic, Chichewa, Igbo, Kikongo, Kirundi, Lingala, Malagasy, Pulaar/Peul, Shona, Swahili, Wolof, Yoruba, as well as the African Union’s working languages of Arabic, English, French and Portuguese. Ogboh recorded native speakers reciting these translations in studios across the Continent. The anthem’s central motif of “unity in diversity” is expressed in a kaleidoscope of voices reciting each stanza in different languages accompanied by a subtle arrangement of pentatonic washint flute improvisations.
Channel 3 – The Gathering
As part of his installation in the garden of the Peace and Security Council’s building, Emeka Ogboh recorded bird calls from throughout the African continent. The recordings emanate from rock speakers placed among the varied topography, blending with the sounds of the local bird population and uniting the diversity of species in one geo-acoustic space. The bird calls further mix with ambient sounds, recordings of mundane urban soundscapes and the real-time voices within the space, permeating each other with varying clarity.
Channel 4 – !ke e:/xarra //ke
!ke e:/xarra //ke features a choral composition by South African composer Neo Muyanga commissioned by Emeka Ogboh to reflect the African Union’s theme of “unity in diversity”. The title of the composition is the translation of the motto “Diverse People Unite” from the South African coat of arms into the Khoisan language of the ǀXam. The motto informs the core of the a cappella piece and refers directly to current debates on Africa in many nations. The vocalists sing in ǀXam, Isizulu, Kiswahili, French, Sesotho and English, languages the composer presents equally as authentically and coevally African.
Neo Muyanga took inspiration for the lyrics in the hymn from the preamble of the South African National Planning Commission (NPC), a text composed by the poets Antjie Krog and Njabulo Ndebele. The NPC is a document created by some of the region’s leading minds to help chart a new course for South Africa, redefining it in line with new African and global realities in the 21st century. Paraphrasing the preamble in English, Neo Muyanga reinterprets it within the hymn:
ǃke e: ǀxarra ǁke
Our home is where everybody feels free
Bounded to others;
Where everyone embraces their full potential.
We are proud to be a community that cares.
We come with our mixed legacies
Now where we live we seek to change our
Narratives of conquest, oppression, resistance.
Our new story is open ended with temporary destinations,
It is a story of unfolding learning.
Even when we flounder, we remain hopeful.
We have come some way.
What we are, is because of who we have been
And what we want to become.
Who are we? We are Africans.
In an African century.
We are part of many nations.