From the mid 1920s, the Bantu Mens’ Social Centre (BMSC) served as a lively centre of cultural activity for black men – and some women – in Johannesburg, attracting and nurturing many outstanding intellectuals and artists. This piece revisits the site nearly a full century after its opening, foregrounding how practices of listening, aurality and their attendant ways of knowing have shaped public and private urban experiences. Though the BMSC was silenced as a site of musical sociability by apartheid, the piece reflects on the extent to which the city’s jazz cultures have sonic afterlives that extend across historical ruptures, even if they have travelled elsewhere. Presented here as a sound essay, the piece has been recorded being read aloud in the hall of the BMSC. The sounds of the author’s voice resonate in the space to which it refers, inscribing its contemporary sonic materiality in a reflection on what lasts of the BMSC, and also what has been lost. The spoken text (which can also be read in textual form) is accompanied by two other audio sources, each with their own spatiality and temporality: the ambient resonance of the hall, and a 1959 recording by local jazz icon Zakes Nkosi, named after the BMSC. Page development: Andrea Hayes. Facilitated by Andrei van Wyk.
Readers/listeners can turn the concentric dials around the blue plaque on their screens to adjust the relationships between three audio sources, each with their own spatiality and temporality, thus choosing whether they’d like to treat the plaque as a monument or a dial, or a portal, as the handle of a scroll, as an archive, or perhaps in ways that they author and web developers haven’t anticipated.