As 2020 came to an end, I finally took time to recap and bring a closure to a project I started with Noam, titled Our Malawi; No words needed.
This interactive photography exhibition started as a passion project, from an infatuation we’ve developed with the country.
Malawi, a small country in eastern Africa, has a special place in our hearts. While we traveled there in 2019, we had no ambition to make a large project from it. The scenery and the people have imprinted a new look on life in us. We saw beauty everywhere we looked. They don’t call it ‘The warm heart of Africa’ for no reason!
The people, mainly, have made a lasting impression on us.
When we got back to London and started collecting our materials, we realized we have an entire exhibition’s worth of photographs and field recordings, all of which of unique nature. They were from all around; portraits of incredible people we’ve met, landscapes and occasions – from rural areas, villages and city life. Malawi has it all. Also, the third largest lake in the continent!
Unu House; A charity based in Chikale, N’khata Bay region, which serves as a open-house model for the local kids, giving them after-school activities, cultivating excellence in sports, theater, arts and music.
Malawian musicians; A documentation of musician jam session around the country. Every musician I met, I had asked to play me folk songs, or original music, based on the area where they grew up in Malawi. This album is an effort in documenting these songs, making up an album to spread the music out to the world.
Malawi Wawi; This album came out of the Kapeska community, located near Chinteche, in the Northern region. The project is an NGO, working together with the local cummunity to help them build new schools and accomodate training facilities and English studies for older members of the community. The music is from the rehearsal of the local church choir, as well as environmental recordings from the Malawi-Wawi headquarter’s grounds.
The nice reception made us feel like we HAVE TO show it to our newly made family in Malawi, and so we started the preparation for showing in and around Malawi, contacting everyone we could think of. Lucky for us, we have made a bond with Zilanie Gondwe; a human rights activist, working with women empowerment projects in the capitol, Lilongwe. Zilanie treated us like family from the get-go, and she has truly taken a deep place in our hearts. without her, all of this could have never come to life, and for this we are indebted to her forever.
I have made a page on my website on the topic, with all the documentation of the project, from London to Malawi and back here.
Bringing the art back to show it in Malawi was a tremendous feat for us, and allowed us to expand our ideas of the art itself. The reception, the comments and people’s reactions were mainly incredibly good, a bit of an eye-opener on the local art scene and artist led spaces in the country. We’ve met some incredible artists and spaces, and were able to collaborate with them, as well as give talks, lectures and workshops on our own practice.
Each one Teach one, but in the real world. Put our practice where we see instant gratification, on the behalf of others. Exposing people to new art mediums, and get back a smile, a laugh, some nice words.
This project has left a dent in my heart, with a deep yearning to return as much as possible to re-meet with old friends and acquaintances, which have now turned into an extended family.
I hope we can continue this in the future, but first we need to recap on the latest developments in our art practice.
Referring to the idea of sports in school, relating to maintaining the human body through physical exercises.
Travelling through Malawi has taught me a valuable lesson, which is to experience life, or to live the experiences.
Our travels led us to Nkhata Bay, Malawi: one of the biggest tourism spots in northern Malawi. The serene atmosphere on the lakeside created a great bed for tourism in the area. When we reached our hosts in Chikale, we soon realized we were stepping into something bigger than what we had imagined.
Unu House Gallery is an open-house model which started a few years ago for visitors and travellers to live close to the local community and learn about Malawian village life, providing a peaceful environment to children and youth from the villages around. It invites people to come together to share knowledge, skills, experiences, stories and support. The children come to the house to play, draw, sing, dance, drum or to do whatever comes into their mind, in a free and open environment. Since many of the children are exposed to confusing and conflicting occurrences in their daily environments, it’s very important for them to have a child-friendly space where they can gather and just be kids.
The Project was founded by Antje and Phillip, a Swiss-German couple which came to Malawi in 2015 and started renting the house. In 2018 Anton, Annetta and Nicole, three young travellers from Germany, took over the house from Phillip and Antje.
There are many toys, musical instruments, books and painting materials in the house you can share with the kids. The main fields of interest revolves around education, games and group activities.
Many educational misconceptions I came with were confronted immediately upon our arrival; The physicality of the education seemed inescapable. The kids’ participation was mainly manifest in group dance and making fun of my moves. Whilst dancing was the first thing everyone played, it proved to be the key to their musical participation as well – if they could dance it, they would play and sing it, reminiscent of the African churches which they have yet to attend.
After our 2nd day, Noam and I started participating in activities, Noam making art activities with the children, and I tried to help with musical activities. Through playtime, the importance of language was long gone, and we were left to our own devices, improvising dance and song.
A local musician and educator, Lumbani “Jah Youth” M’kandawire, was the kids’ instructor to musical activities. We became fast friends, jamming into the night and having lengthy conversations on the past, the present and the possible future.
The kids were shy at first, but after we had jammed a little and danced a lot they became willing and took active participation in everything we did.
After a week of participating and helping with musical activities, the kids presented a theatre play they had written, with the help of the people of the house. I recorded the entire show, edited and mixed it quickly to play it back to them.
It was the first time some of the kids heard their own voice played back, and it was beautiful.
After Noam and I left Unu House I felt agitated and uneasy. I could not concentrate on relaxing and enjoying the lake, as I felt I had more to do in the house.
I took the Ilala boat ride from Usisya (northern region) back to N’khata Bay by myself, this time with the intention to record the children’s songs they had written for the show, with higher quality.
Once again, the physicality of the experience led me to make some decisions on recording techniques, informing my misled conception of music recording, allowing me to go back to the “old way of recording”. We did placements for each member of the band, we tried different microphone positions and we orchestrated the whole session to fit the children’s short attention span. Everything felt like going back to the 1950’s, concentrating on performance and room tone, not post production; everything had to happen then and there. The physicality of the process had become the product itself.
This collection of recorded songs presented here represents some of the best moments we had in this 3 day recording session.
Some of the songs are written and performed solely by the kids, some present Jah Youth on guitar and some extra vocals, while some are just captures of moments during the process.
Check out the full album on my bandcamp acount, it’s free to download, but please consider giving a donation, all proceedings will go to Unu House for musical equipment❤️
Stay updated, more posts coming soon!
My Malawi Pt. 2
My Malawi Pt. 3
Our Malawi; No Words Needed || interactive audio-visual Photography exhibition