Quiet Conversations: July 19, 2023

Sibonelo Gumede speaks to the temporalities and cartographies of Black sonic geographies in Southern Africa and beyond.

Quiet Conversations: July 19, 2023


Quiet Conversations are a series of conversations with artists, architects, researchers and thinkers working in and with the south, as a conceptual site and geography. Curated by Catalina Mejía Moreno and Huda Tayob, editors of this issue of Ellipses, the conversations work towards a methodology of shared sites, sounds, objects and practices through a turn to acts of remembrance, recall and repair. In this series we invite a close and intimate listening of meandering conversations; to stay with the words, silences and utterances that through conversation share entangled and implicated relationships of site, objects, people and places. Drawing upon sound and the act of speaking and listening as affective and political, together we ask, how might located and grounded practices enable us to draw out relational histories? How might creative research and associated methodologies of critique generate ways of listening, speaking to and engaging with the built environment, architectures, land and violence beyond extraction? And how might we share and build collective methodologies for working and thinking together? 

In the series of 6 excerpts shared here, we invited each conversant to share an object as a prompt for a wider conversation around methods, materials, and practices.

Jumoke Sanwo speaks to the mirror as entangled with the trans-atlantic slave trade, and her work as curator of Dúna Dúrà - A Portal of Reimagination; 

Felipe Arturo shares an Iraca palm fan, as a form of technology that exists within and outside of colonial and neo-colonial economies, material and embodied practices; 

Marcelo Ferraz shares the throne of Òsùmàrè as an entry point into a wider conversation around his immersive experience of designing with the Terreiro de Òsùmàrè, in Salvador, Bahía;  

Zara Julius speaks to the entangled geographies and soundscapes of the machete as an object that speaks to entangled layers of labour, oppression, violence, resistance and liberation. 

Sibonelo Gumede speaks to the temporalities and cartographies of Black sonic geographies in Southern Africa and beyond.

Russel Hlongwane speaks to the ‘Black interior’ as a practice of negotiating comfort and home in post-Apartheid suburban South Africa.

Ana Luisa Ramírez Flórez, Jenry Serna Córdoba, Daniel Ruiz-Serna and Catalina Muñoz Rojas speak to sound, listening and collaboration as reparative practices in the lower Atrato region in Chocó, Colombia; a region wounded by multiple forms of violence more recently affected by paramilitary violence and other extractive practices.  

As Françcoise Verges writes, ‘To dare to imagine is to reject time’s opposition of past, present, and future’ [1] in the search for an alternative temporality of repair. Across sites and methods, these conversations recall extreme violence and “quieter forms of abjection” [2] alongside numerous seemingly “small” acts of making and re-making place and space. For as Tina Campt argues in her framing of ‘quiet photography’, the possibilities of other futures are ever–present, yet “we must not only look but also listen for it in other, less likely places.” [3] In each of these four conversations, there is the consistent awareness of ongoing and ever-present violence, an engagement with structures of complicity, and an expansive generosity and commitment to sharing ways of being, voices, stories, knowledge and time.

[1] Françoise Vergès, 2022. A Feminist Theory of Violence, London: Pluto Press, p. 98
[2] Elizabeth Povinelli, Economies of Abandonment, Durham: Duke University Press
[3] Tina Campt, Listening to Images, Durham: Duke University Press, p. 17 

Launch Project


Sibonelo Gumede speaks to the temporalities and cartographies of Black sonic geographies, 19 July 2023

Sibonelo Gumede is an urbanist and cultural worker based in Cape Town, South Africa. In urban environments, Gumede is interested in the intersection of city-making processes and explorations of colonial afterlives, in a bid to make connections between aspects of spatiality and relationality through which connective memory and reparative practices can be built.

Cape Town

In this conversation, Sibonelo Gumede, urbanist, curator and researcher speaks to three Malombo Jazz albums: ‘The Indigenous Afro-Jazz Sounds of Dr Philip Ncephi Tabane and his Malombo Jazzman (1969), ‘Malombo – Pele Pele’ (1976), and ‘Matjale - Thabang Tabane’ (2018). For Gumede, within this sonic history is aspatial and urban history of centres and peripheries, urban and rural sites, all in dialogue and negotiation. Through Malombo Jazz, the  NE1/95 (Non-European house) and mining hostels of urban South Africa, designed for containment and control, become fungible sites of cultural production, overlapping temporalities and multiple spatialities. These sites are reconsidered as spatial, pedagogic, and social infrastructures, that point to futures not contained by anti-Blackness and instead characterised by joy. As Gumede notes, these albums also speak to a wider continental and diasporic geographies of minor and major festivals, practice and performance sites, where following the sonic path is a ‘geographic act’, and a site of possibility.

00:02 I was thinking about the discography of Dr. Philip Tabane, who is the father of Malombo jazz, which is a very distinct South African, way of playing, and distinct sound of jazz. […] I brought three albums, one is titled 'The Indigenous Afro-Jazz Sound of Philip Tabane and his Malombo Jazz band'. This album was released in 1969. And maybe I read a small blurb of the liner notes. It reads: ‘They are indigenous Afro jazz sounds of genius, Philip Tabane, the original Malombo Jazz man. It started in 1964 at Orlando Stadium when Philip went on stage leading his group, the Malombo Jazzmen. On that Saturday afternoon, South Africa was staging its first Jazz Festival. Philip and his group walked away with all the honours. Malombo Jazz music was introduced for the first time that year.’

00:04 And the album that I'm holding now is titled ‘Pele Pele’. This was released in 1973. And if I read the short blurb of it too: ‘It's Malombo, Venda for Spirit. Create some of the weirdest, most haunting systems of sounds I've ever experienced. Though their music has strong roots in traditional African tribal music, they draw from such a broad spectrum of influences as to render any crude categorizations ludicrous. If you can imagine an African Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry jazz musician who plays six flutes at one time while humming. We are beginning to visualize the personality of Philip Tabane, half of the two-man orchestra.’

My interest in these particular albums is through reading South African history of the 20th century and thinking about some of the strong, cultural work influences that were able to steer a conscientization of the political struggles of the time. And to look at the extent of those, cultural activities, especially in environments which were declared socially dead and in environments which were very even unsafe to for artists to perform politically influenced expressions. But they took place nonetheless. So Philip Tabane, rehearsed in Mamelodi in his house, a four room house, and to think about that house, from an architectural perspective, and just the lounge where all of this music was […] There's so much there to contend with. When we think about even the formation and the designing of that house, its function was that it would house workers. It needed to be just enough for someone to be able to sleep, and wake up and advance the labour systems of the time.

00:07 But with such work and such history, we learn of the multiplicity of how those spaces were used and how, and how their expressions were interventions of thinking critically about spatialities. For instance, Philip Tabane being from Venda and them coming to Pretoria, for, for various reasons, how they were able to travel with that particular sound and be able to, influence a whole generation with it.


00:09 this discography of Philip Tabane is very important, at least for me, in contending with fringe histories around music, how we conceive of music as indigenous South African people, how to think about it through the modernity turn, and how to Imagine possible futures. These are sounds that are true, in some ways, to the geographies and the spatialities that we grew up to know.

The actual drum itself is made of wood and cow skin which gives it a particularly distinctive sound compared with the materiality of a Eurocentric drum, which is made of metal… So Philip Tabane's practice in some ways paid homage to, or was a form of reconstitution of that particular way of making the drum and being able to being true, to that form of, media, of, sound. … This also opens up ways of thinking about the grammars and what's negotiated, what was lost and what was retained.


00:17 It's also interesting that Dr. Philip Tabane's, mother was a healer, and a sangoma. And you get a sense of that influence of spirituality and sound. Dr. Uhuru Phalafala works with the theoretical framework of the matri- Archive and , thinking about the influence of women in households, like Philip Tabane's where a strong influence of whatever that comes, comes from that matri- archive. We see this within a multitude of jazz figures, even a contemporary jazz musician, like Dr. Nduduzo Makhathini's strongest reference point is of his grandmother, mother, and that's where the source of music comes from. Keorapetse Kgositsile, the poet also speaks about their grandmother and the influences of their grandmother. Miriam Makeba’s mother was a very big influence to how they conceive of music and also them being a sangoma too. In some ways, the actual drum, in this instance becomes one that subverts the patriarchal normativeness that we've come to know. Here, the actual portal of histories and knowledges are one that come from women and those other figures that in some ways have preserved some of the most important facets of, of our histories and sensibilities, the things that are important to us.


00:21 Most of the urban sounds in a South African context, which were conceived in the 20th century, have a strong influence of more rooted indigenous sounds. So, even a sound of like maskandi for instance, has a repertoire of singing, which could be linked to ways in which women would sing back in the rural areas. And that was carried forward to the urban areas when men needed to go work and in a way of just keeping themselves afloat, they would sing and perform in makeshift spaces[…]So it was kind of like being conceived wherever that it could.

It is interesting to think about the house, the four room house, as a convergence of rehearsal and performance. Because I'd say, not even rehearsal, it's actually performance. Because music was played and it was somewhat restorative to the people that were occupying that space. And later on, it was shared in wider spaces.

00:23 There's a multi-function that the four room house, has played and continues to play, how the practices that indigenous people somewhat engage in necessitates that the living room at times need to change from it being a living room and that the couches would be moved and it would play a different function. And if, for instance, there's a, a funeral or death, it becomes the key room, the mourning room where people will come to comfort the family. And all of these, forms of space making in some ways are interlinked with how in the rural areas, all of these practices would happen, but in the urban areas, it becomes a thing of there's a limitation of space and we'll make whatever that we can, we can make out of what we can...

00:33 And so these are like some of the scratches and traces of thinking about even futures of, of reconstitution. How do we listen more deeply? And where do we need to be paying our attention to in conceiving of, of African futures? Which will be a negotiation, which is a negotiation, but what is very important is to ask how do we lean into that which has been on the fringe and try to see it as practices that have been steering a particular futurity in how we can conceive of ourselves and, and the spaces around us?

This is an excerpt of the longer conversation, where sonic history is intimately spatial, drawing in fringes and peripheries to rethink urban African experiences. The conversation meanders across sites, practices, gender, and aesthetics, which circulate in dialogue with major events such as FESTAC (Second World African Festival of Arts and Culture in Lagos, 1977), to a multiplicity of sites and stories. As Gumede notes of the various actors, ‘they were all influencing ways in which futurity was being imagined outside of the conditions that they were experiencing.’ For Gumede, this is a futurity rooted in what Uhuru Phalafala speaks to as the ‘matriarchive’, the backbone of a ‘polyglot internationalism’ that allows us to reconsider the gendered ‘inheritances of these historical itineraries’.

Excerpt from a Quiet Conversation with Sibonelo Gumede


This conversation series is supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, The Space for Creative Black Imagination and a University of Cape Town URC grant. It was developed in conversation with Raél Jero Salley at The Space for Creative Black Imagination, based at MICA in Baltimore, and James MacDonald. 

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