Artist Bartira's project cover for a podcast honoring the legacy of Henrietta Lacks. This podcast "tells the story of the crossroads, the minerals hidden underground, in silence, in hysteria, triggering the immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks," says Bartira.

The hashtag that woke many up to the origins of Noise and other forms of experimental electronic music

Through #MakeNoiseBlackAgain, a creation by Italy-based Brazilian artist, Bartira, the creative honours the history of Black communities pioneering visionary ideas from a crazy time and intense perspective in electronic music. 

“Noise [music] is not some white dude turning knobs, it is what Black people used to do in clubs, improvising with their own instruments or making their own instruments. ‘Noise,’ in the hashtag is not so literal to the genre, but more to its fluidity and its ability to evade definitions.”

Between breaks in setting up a sonic art installation in Marseille, a vibrant port city in southern France, Afro-Braizilian artist, Bartira, declared the roots of Noise music. She is in careful thought on how she will present her experimental storytelling, so she takes her time expounding on the nuance of Noise. As she talks, methodically, she places each piece of her exhibition and keys up music with an unspoken rhythmic axé.

Noise is uncomfortable sounds made from unconventional means, such as broken instruments or found objects. This now subgenre of electronic music finds its origins in the experimental sounds created in 1900’s Italy. However, critics contend that the origin of Noise as music, as a force for disruption and resistance to the status quo.

It is as vast as the first Africans who made their own instruments and played music in the Americas. Noise is new, but old in revolutionary spirit. It is connected to the 1980’s boom-bap, hip hop sound blaring from boomboxes in the streets of New York; to the Carnival sound of the steel drum created in Trinidad and Tobago after slavery was abolished. Drawing from a range of rich Diasporic cultural heritages, Noise and the hashtag Bartira created, #MakeNoiseBlackAgain, is a statement formed on the origins of the sounds of resistance and liberation throughout history.

Waiting at La Friche, once Marseille’s old tobacco factory, but now a vibrant skatepark and community centre, I met Bartira and her artistic partner, Caetano, at their latest project #MakeNoiseBlackAgain #MaNoBa #DANGERBASS. During our month together, I was introduced to concepts in Black Speculative thought by writers such as W.E Du Bois and Pauline Hopkins, and ancestral technologies of a Bahian nature. In our talks, Batira and Caetano explained that the creation of new futures through technology will lead to an expansion of the idea of liberation. 

Spending time watching their creative process and walking the streets of Marseille together, I got a keen vantage point on what makes their collaboration meld so well. Unapologetic and unafraid, they make music for themselves first. Moving in step with their Bahian spiritual inheritance and the sonic technologies that came from that, they create visuals, sounds and feelings that cause the antiquated vestiges of power to quake. From George Clinton to Yoruba Cosmology, the connectivity of the web and alienation from it, their references are far reaching, yet connected to the single idea of the cosmic imagination as a vehicle for complete liberation.

Under the curation of Samar Kehdy, these visionaries were invited by the French Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, Mucem. In the conversation below, they discuss their vision for the project versus the expectations of the institution, and their intimate connection born out of the adolescent creative spirit. As I observed as neither an artist nor institution, it was evident that the decolonial narratives that run through the project could make for an uncomfortable exchange between the duo and MuCem.

Though the nature of Bartira and Caetano’s work initially drew the institution to invite them in, it may have been too expansive for the institution’s lens on Colonialism. I watched as the fruits of their labor came with an almost unrelenting struggle, as their art created revolution, whether the Mucem accepted it or not. 

ARK: You are both from the state of Bahia, in Brazil. Did your artistic partnership begin there?

CAETANO: In some sort of way, yes. As far as I remember, we have been involved in a local underground circuit, even if just exchanging knowledge. We haven’t directly collaborated in projects, but shared music, ideas, thoughts, parties—and most importantly, support. In the end, we got to know each other from the deep of the web times (ICQ) since our teenagehood. From everyone, Bartira is one of the few that I still keep in contact with and share interests. These circuits also expanded between other friends that we met independent of each other, yet they always connected us back again. It’s like we’ve been oscillating our encounters through adulthood, and now we sat together and got to make something.

BARTIRA: That’s a really precise description of how we met. I also think that distance and periods of disconnection played an important role in our relationship as well. We were getting deeper into our practices, struggling to keep our heads above water in different places of this so-called, ‘Eurozone.’ These, at times, traumatic experiences, strengthened our connection and kept that essence, the same; which made us so strongly relate to each other, intact. 

ARK: It has been 17 days since the performance #MakeNoiseBlackAgain #MaNoBa #DANGERBASS. How did you feel immediately after and how do you feel now upon reflection?

CAETANO: For me it has been a rollercoaster of mixed feelings. As we finished performing, I was so happy we did all this together, and with the other amazing people we met in Marseille. Not forgetting the people, there were satellites as well, giving us support, such as my partner Aurélia, you and Lou. And Samar [curator of the project] who invited us to participate in the program, and has been a great friend during all stages of the process.

In opposition to that, there was a frustration of not being able to share this with other people as we were not allowed to have the public in the space. It was quite frustrating to perform just for the cameras [This was due to COVID restrictions at the time limiting the amount of people in the space at one time].

Having said that, it was even worse to perform for Mucem’s cameras. Mucem has been performing quite some acts of institutional violence against the program, and [on] the artists involved in the program. On one hand, we had a great team of technicians willing to help and do their job properly. On the other hand, we had the program director boycotting us constantly. I rather think that the presented video is the Colonial Edit of our presentation. As it displays the view of the French white male editor, following Mucem’s instructions.

BARTIRA: It was war. A performance war, where each political side battled for its ground. On one side it was us, hypervisible and honestly performing for each other, after the circumstantial frustration of having to re-think the whole work.

On the other, Mucem’s invisible hands pulling rugs and trying to break our legs—but we’ve inherited the technology of Capoeira [Afro-Brazilian martial art] and moved as to dance, while we fought to beat them with our ideas, incarnated into audiovisual performance. It was mind-blowing. Now, it feels like a post-orgasm moment that I’m still recovering from, to have pulled out that performance in a time like this, get friends involved, and people I met throughout, who constantly inspired me during the whole making process. 

Bartira at #MakeNoiseBlackAgain sonic art exhibition. Photo credit: Bartira’s Website

ARK: With this project #MakeNoiseBlackAgain #MaNoBa #DANGERBASS what was the process like?

CAETANO: A great opportunity to hangout and play with beautiful people around.

BARTIRA: I like to think that circumstances play a great role in determining what I do. Caetano once said to me the opposite ‘Make the circumstances.’. This was an attempt to exercise just that. Also, hanging out and playing together while doing it. 

ARK: Are there any recurring themes that you work with in your projects? 

BARTIRA: I probably have a sort of fractal practice where I can see links everywhere and further create more links to explain the other links, and so on. So [much] more than themes, it’s the underlying schemes I’m interested in. I could think about things such as human resources, fermentation, shea butter and emotional currencies, and come up with an entire epistemology to make sense of what’s around me. So I guess, recently, my practice is quite a theory/thought-based headache. 

CAETANO: Most of my work has been presented in the context of visual arts in project spaces. I’m quite obsessed with systems, and especially observing how systems affect our body. How they can alienate us, oppress or empower. I’ve also been amazed how we can be so comfortable living a representation of something. Pre-internet times, we had banana flavour and supermarkets. Then the web came as a representation of experiences, our phones evolved to become extensions of our bodies. We don’t need to have friends, to flirt or even to learn anything. All we need is to Tinder our sex drive out of the way, ‘like’ someone’s post to show empathy, and watch a fiction-documentary at Netflix to learn history, or a Youtube tutorial on how to play an instrument. In the end, what we really need to do is to be locked at home in front of our laptops or phones, working. Either working for making money, or just clicking and liking and swapping our screens ‘entertaining’ ourselves, while someone, somewhere is cashing up on our generated data. 

And we don’t even question all the ideology behind all this technology we consume.

In that direction, Bartira and I played our synthetic drums, trying to recreate certain (sacred for us) beats, or shaking Amazon’s plastic [wrapping material], or our asses to Swingueira. Everything becomes just layers and layers of representation of things that are not what they claim to be. On top of that, we ended up presenting a performance which couldn’t be experienced by any public, and had to be filmed and broadcasted online. Reflecting, rather, the institutional gaze on our work than our own ideas. So much meta-meta-meta…. A node intersecting different systems. There is an euphoria that fills me up [by] observing systems, mixed with a desire to make everything even more than a live shaking grounds. Experimentation comes in place to break comfort zones, to threaten my own alienation.

For the Festival Novas Frequências, Bartira resignified a moblie sound van in Rio that also sold goods such as produce. During the project, Baritra used Rio as a field of study to explore sonic elements inherent in the city. She performed a combination of text, music and field recordings. Photo credit: Bartira’s website.

ARK: This is the first time you have both worked with Mucem and curator, Samar Kehdy. How was the experience?

CAETANO: Second. I participated in a project led by Leandro Nerefuh in 2018, presented at Mucem and part of Samar’s program. But first time invite to create a project to be presented in the same context.

BARTIRA: This is the first time I worked with Mucem. It was an interesting institutional experience. It taught me many things and reminded me to keep my guard up. These aren’t safe places to work with. It’s one more place where we have to operate from a tension between subjugation and resistance, as Moten says. While I think art institutions simply have to open up to all discourses and get on with it, rather than cut out what doesn’t align with them, that’s not really what reality is. [Because of this], we have to do this dance with traps to try and make them bend to accommodate our demands. But sometimes, things are lost on the way. Working with Samar was good, we shared the same violent experience caused by Mucem. There’s a clear agenda there and Samar seemed to be working within this same tension I mentioned before.

A deeply rooted understanding of each other, their context, and a trust in what the other will bring to the creative process, even if unexpected, is what makes this duo work so well.

Through the traps of the colonial lens, these Bahians forced a space of hypnotic exploration. Using their theory of abundance being placed in the body, rather than the mind, they use the kinetic energy of sound to create revolution in an already crumbling canon of thought. Their ideas and sound are really more suited to the liberated and imagined mindscapes of the future, where a fully realised creative freedom resides. For now, the beautiful reality this pair created, juxtaposed against the museum cameras, rented plants and burning lavender, generated a portal on what a new future could feel and sound like.

Dora Nketiaa covers race, culture and politics in the UK, Italy and France.

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