Today we begin the SOUND OF NAIROBI blog. For those who don’t know: SOUND OF NAIROBI is an online, open access archive of the sounds of the city of Nairobi. It employs sound as a material that can be archived, researched and explored as a source for information, telling the story of the city. It is intended as a resource for artists, researchers, recordists and anyone interested in knowledge through sound.
To launch the SON blog today is not by accident. It is exactly one year after we ended our first exhibition LISTEN at the Goethe Institute, Nairobi. From the 7th to the 20th of November we presented field recordings from the workshop City Walks, which we did in September 2019 with a group of interested soundophiles. You can read more about that here (City Walks) and here (LISTEN). But the closing evening of the exhibition on the 20th November 2019, for me was something truly special: it was the performance by DJ Raph featuring Mc Blak and Jublack on the mic. In the first 35 mins, DJ Raph, only using the field recordings from the exhibition, sent me on an imaginary journey through Nairobi not only through space but also through time. I was transported by the sounds of the city which mingled into one another and let me drift away, opening images in my head that were informed by reality but not quite there. I went from Nairobi’s green outskirts into the city centre and here I was met by rhymes of the two MCs Blak and Jublack, who took me out of my trance and brought me back to the now before drifting away again by the city sounds arranged by DJ Raph. One of the things I love when listening to a mix (and I think DJ Raph is a pro in that, not only with field recordings) is when the sound takes me on a journey so smoothly that I don’t realise I am on it and by the time it ends I have no idea how I got there.
Long story short, we have a recording from the performance, the first 22 min and you can listen to it. Or for the ones who were there remember the vibe 🙂 Hear, this!
This is how last year ended for us and this year… what did we do?
It started for the SON-team with recovering from the exhibition and preparing for the new year, and then February came with a little surprise: the COVID-19 Virus hijacked the world – and our break was over. If we want to be a relevant archive documenting history then we had to act. The aim was simple: record the changes in the soundscape of the city during the pandemic. We reached out to our affiliated recordists and presented them with the idea and luckily they were interested – Sounds Like A Pandemic? (#SLAP) was on the way. In the first two recording phases (April/May and July/August) 10 – 12 people ventured out to record the city. From Kikuyu to Kibera from Eastlands to Langata, sounds were collected and archived.
At this moment we are in midst of the 3rd recording phase. What we conceived as the recap phase in the beginning, the time when everything begins returning back to normal, turns out to be just another chapter in the never-ending story of Covid. And so it begins to dawn that we are heading into a future in which the Virus seems to be a permanent resident in our lives. What does this mean for the recordings we did last year before Covid? What is their importance now?
Sounds like a Pandemic? encapsulates a bit more though, it asks a question which, I would say, is one of the main quests of Sound of Nairobi: What can we know from sound?
What are the sonic traces the virus leaves on the city and its people? And what does this tell us about ourselves, our life with others in a community, our governments, etc? For the project we asked writers and musicians to explore the recordings and share what they detect in them through their creative approach. Two texts are already up by Lutivini Majanja and Kamwangi Njue and new ones are to follow.
You can find the recordings of the project in the archive (if you type pandemic in the search field you get only the recordings of the project otherwise keep an eye on the date). The texts are here (Lutivini) and here (Kamwangi).
And now back to this blog, what will happen here? We like for this to be a space where we explore Nairobi in a sonic way, through its sound and through listening, where we share ideas and impulses about acoustic ecology, audio technology and experimental sound art and where we present our adventures into the soundscape of the city. We hope you will enjoy!