Amogelang Maledu

A note on Sghubu sa BŪJIN and not-in-between [1] academic sonic glitches

I also don’t know to what extent sounds are allowed to be experiments without being defined as genres. (Esinako Ndabeni, author of Born to Kwaito)

In her mixtape Techna Respectademica (2020) – released as part of her MA studies specialising in sonics and performance at the Institute for Creative Arts at the University of Cape Town – Dani Kyengo O’Neill, also known as BŪJIN, gestures at the ‘tactical absence’ [2] academic institutions are haunted by. Bearing in mind the context of the ongoing decolonial project of curricula change in institutions of higher learning following the #MustFall movements in South Africa, BŪJIN creates a mixtape that expands the diversification of epistemic production in academia which, for a very long time, has been premised on exacting (mis)understandings. Techna Respectademica is interested in delegitimising these (mis)understandings which solidify the academic institution’s multiple violences and its preoccupation in Western philosophy.  

Techna Respectademica – in its reprise, interpellation, metronomic character, personal as well as collective archival concerns, ‘interest in Blackness,’ and sonic glitches – speaks to a foundational indeterminate practice of freedom. [3] It is founded in the lineage of electronic Black music theorised towards speculation, rather than absolute junctures in sound. [4]

In her artist statement, BŪJIN writes that the project, among other things, investigates the historiographical techno trails of Black sonics and the sonic qualities of artists such as Maria Chavez. With its sonic influences of sghubu and yaadt music, Techna Respectademica embeds the cultural flux of taxi music, street bashes, and backyard jols as legitimate forms of cultural and artistic knowledge. BŪJIN nudges the listener to connect the dots. She challenges us to confront and engage with sonic Black cultures on the peripheries, with their ingenious improvisational sounds seeped in experimentation, community, and Black joy: “… a soundtrack to the improvisational life and living of Blackness under the control of white supremacy.” [5]

There is also something about a mixtape like Techna Respectademica that evades translatability. As the introductory quote to this piece suggests, there is freedom in non-understandings. To borrow from Fred Moten, one of the preeminent theorists on the Black radical tradition: “New things, new spaces, new times demand lyrical innovation and intervention, formal manoeuvrings that often serve to bring to the theoretical and practical table whatever meaning can’t.”

[1] In Black and Blur (2017) by Fred Moten the term not-in-between is used to speak to broader ideas of the opacity of Blackness and refuting the Hegalian approach of dialectics. Moten’s term is helpful in subverting the notion of Africa’s modernity as delayed. The term is also rooted in his definition of the Black radical tradition  which recognises the current impossible return to an ‘authentic’ Africa yet espouses improvisatory foundations that ‘’forecast of a future in the present and in the past here and there, old-new, the revolutionary noise left and brought and met, not in between’’ (Moten 2017:13).

[2] In Njabulo Ndebele’s The Rediscovery of the Ordinary ([1991] 2006) the author uses the phrase ‘tactical absence’ in responding to the future of post-protest literature that acknowledges past injustices that have informed cultural production, but also similarly interested in futurity.

[3] Homi Bhabha, “Freedom’s Basis in the Indeterminate," The Identity in Question, ed. Rajchman, John (1995). 

[4] Wilton Shereka, “Sonic Afrofuturism: Blackness, electronic music production and visions of the future,” (2018). Available here.

[5] Shana L. Redmond and Kwame M. Phillips, "'The People Who Keep on Going': A Futures of Black Radicalism Listening Party, Vol. 1," (2017). Available here.