In January 2010 the Zimology Institute was vandalized.Ngqawana passed away on May 9, 2011, at the untimely age of fifty-two. The Zimology Institute was not rebuilt before his passing. Located on a smallholding on the outskirts of Johannesburg, the institute was established by the South African saxophonist, composer, and improviser Zim Ngqawana as a personal project devoted to the practice of free improvisation and the nurturing of young jazz musicians. Premised on Ngqawana’s personal philosophy, the Zimology Institute advanced an alternative vision of education: it spurned the idea of tuition fees, for “true education” is free and is “about love,” and was furthermore dedicated to seeking a “universal consciousness” that was “free from race, class, and the specificity of history.” Kakaza, “Healing with music.” Ngqawana cited parents, village life, and his experiences as a student with Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, as models of this holistic notion of education.See Kakaza, “Healing with Music”; and Van Wyk, “Zim Ngqawana.” Moreover, the institute was underpinned by Ngqawana’s concept “Zimology,” which he defined as the “study of the self” or “knowledge of the self,” in which improvisation provided a central vehicle for this exploration.Ngqawana, quoted in Kakaza, “Healing with Music”; and Mabandu, “Zimbol of Free Sound.” The inscription of his name in the titles of his projects is one of the ways in which Ngqawana inscribes himself in his artistic endeavors.
As far as crime goes, the vandalism of the Zimology Institute is but one instance of the petty metal theft that is a common occurrence throughout South Africa,In 2011, 72,533 incidents of metal theft were reported to the police, amounting to an estimated seven billion rand in losses to the economy. See Pretorius, “Criminological Analysis,” 31, 48. an indelible reminder of the institute’s location in a country where high levels of inequality and soaring crime rates imbue lives and livelihoods with precarity. Whereas Ngqawana sought to transcend race, class, and the specificity of history in his teachings and practice, the act of vandalism brought their material manifestations to the Zimology Institute’s door. If the vandalism of the Zimology Institute represents crisis, understood in its original Greek sense as the cusp that augurs a turning point, a transition, or a change, Ngqawana’s response to the vandalism provides the starting point for this chapter’s reflection on the threshold moment that the notion of crisis implies. In the wake of the vandalism of the institute, Ngqawana improvised a healing ritual, a performance of transformation and change. It is through this response that this inquiry reflects on the critical capacities of improvisation as a response to crisis.See Kaganof, “Exhibition of Vandalizim.” The description “musical ritual” was used on the website of Stellenbosch University’s Documentation Centre for Music (domus), which hosted a live performance of The Exhibition of Vandalizim; and “healing ceremony” appears in Philip Kakaza’s “Healing with Music” in the Mail and Guardian, which served as publicity for the live performance of Vandalizim at Gallery momo in Johannesburg. These are apt descriptors, as will become clear in the following discussion.
The healing ritual in response to the vandalism took the shape of a performance of free improvisation that Ngqawana titled The Exhibition of Vandalizim. Joined by the pianist Kyle Shepherd and the filmmaker Aryan Kaganof—both acclaimed artists in their own right—the group improvised amid the building rubble of the wrecked institute, using vandalized instruments and fragments of debris along with intact instruments. With six albums and several music awards to his name, Kyle Shepherd has gained prominence in South Africa as well as abroad. As a musician and cultural activist, he is concerned with the reclamation of Khoisan cultural heritage, as evident in an album like South African History X! or the Afrikaaps hip-hopera, for which he was musical director, which foregrounded the creole history of Afrikaans. Kaganof is an independent filmmaker, poet, and visual artist best known for his award-winning films that explore politically charged and provocative subject matter. A number of his films focus on music, including Blue Notes for Bra’Geoff (on one of the father figures of jazz in Pretoria, Geoff Mphakati), An Inconsolable Memory (on the history of South Africa’s first opera group), and Death and the Archive (on the South African veteran pianist Tete Mbambisa). The event was attended by a small gathering of close friends of the institute, and in a subsequent extension of the initial project, the film of the original performance was reedited and screened during further live performances of Vandalizim at Gallery momo in Johannesburg, the Cape Town City Hall, and Star Metals scrapyard in Stellenbosch. See Mail and Guardian, “Healing Ceremony,” 17. This chapter focuses primarily on the film version of Vandalizim,The film is available on Vimeo. although it takes into account how the film continued to inform and interact with the music improvisations in subsequent performances.
The Exhibition of Vandalizim is an artist’s reconciliation with the destruction of a labor of love, the Zimology Institute, but it also an aesthetic response to the broader social conditions that gave rise to desperate measures such as vandalism of instruments for scrap metal. It invites us to consider the way that the aesthetic order interacts with the sociopolitical. Certainly, Vandalizim demonstrates the widely asserted connection between improvisation and social practice, as evident in statements like Ekkehard Jost’s that “free jazz shows precisely how tight the links between social and musical factors are.”Jost, Free Jazz, 9 (emphasis in the original). The question that remains compelling to musicians and scholars alike, however, is how the social could be understood as engaged through a nonrepresentational medium such as music.Born, “Music, Modernism and Signification,” 166.
This chapter reads The Exhibition of Vandalizim to prompt to further reflection on improvisation’s critical potential and the connection between aesthetic and social regimes. As such, The Exhibition of Vandalizim is a springboard to a series of theoretical deliberations, bringing together diverse frameworks to explore improvisation as a form of social agency and critical practice. The sections that follow each consider an aspect of Vandalizim that dovetails with the next to probe this interaction between the aesthetic and the sociopolitical. The first two sections ask how the social is inscribed in aesthetic regimes such as improvisation and film. Revisiting the model of improvisation as dialogue, these sections suggest how the troubled social environment of South Africa in the wake of apartheid becomes inscribed in the performance through different notions of interaction, and then consider how film as a medium might be understood to widen this dialogue as an engagement with the broader sociopolitical context. The last two sections consider how improvisation constitutes critical engagement. By reading ritual alongside improvisation, the third section overlays Victor Turner’s conception of the transformative and conscientizing function of ritual with similar claims made for free improvisation. The fourth section delves further into what happens in this transformative and conscientizing moment. This question is explored through Jacques Rancière’s notion of politics as the disruption of the status quo, located in the moment where the imperceptible becomes perceptible and the distribution of the sensible shifts.
Introducing Vandalizim; or, The “Error” and Its Recovery
The spirit of hopefulness that marked South Africa’s transition to democracy in the 1990s has since dimmed to a simmering discontent as the ruling party, the African National Congress, has only partially delivered on its 1994 election slogan that promised “a better life for all.” Recent spates of service-delivery protests over the insufficient provision of basic amenities such as water, electricity, sanitation, and housing demonstrate the level of frustration among the country’s poorest with the lack of meaningful change. South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, with the gap between affluence and poverty even more pronounced than in India, according to indicators used by the World Bank.The Gini coefficient is a widely used indicator that measures the spread of wealth and access to resources, with 0 representing perfectly equal distribution. In 2011 South Africa’s Gini coefficient was pegged at 65, compared to India’s 38 for the same year. See World Bank, “Gini Index.” Comparing the sets of data used across different studies, Jeremy Seekings concludes that South Africa’s levels of inequality are increasing. Seekings, “Poverty and Inequality,” 28–30. While the removal of racial constraints to economic prosperity after 1994 meant that the spread of wealth at the top end of the economic scale now includes Africans in a sector formerly occupied almost exclusively by whites, the better life that the political sea change of South Africa’s transition to a democracy augured has since become a reality for far too few.Seekings, “Poverty and Inequality,” 30.
What this means in the day-to-day life of South Africa’s poor emerges in accounts such as Adam Ashforth’s description of the insecurities that characterize life in Soweto. In this sprawling suburb south of Johannesburg, widespread poverty and unemployment (estimated at 34.9 percent across the entire South African population in 2015) prevail; notoriously high crime rates and levels of physical violence are met with no assurances of the “law standing above all”; and poor health services buckle under the onslaught of hiv.See Ashforth, Witchcraft, 20–62; also see Comaroff and Comaroff, “Occult Economies,” 292. The unemployment statistic is from Reuters; see Times Live,“South Africa’s Unemployment Rate.” Ashwin Desai’s account of living conditions in several other townships echoes Ashforth’s descriptions but tells the story of communities’ responses. In the absence of formal infrastructure and services, communities employ improvisational tactics in self-organizing to secure basic services, often in dissonance with local authorities.Desai’s We Are the Poors, based on his own involvement and fieldwork in grassroots movements, provides a moving account of the tactics communities employ in the struggle for daily survival. For a brief summary, see Desai, We Are the Poors, locs. 130–52 of 2560. Such tactics draw attention to the social practice of improvisation as a function of necessity and a mechanism of community mobilization, which simultaneously becomes a means ofempowerment.Silver, “Incremental Infrastructures,” 799. Moreover, they demonstrate Daniel Fischlin and Martha Nandorfy’s conception of community not as a stable, existing given but rather as a metaphor that is continually forged through relational contingencies.Fischlin and Nandorfy, Community of Rights, 87. In other words, community can be understood as an ephemeral formation that is constituted through its performance—galvanized in the face of crises like the lack of basic services or evictions.
Although metal theft presents a different order of improvised livelihood outside the system (and the law in particular), it arguably emerges from the same matrix of systemic failure. Metal theft has been a growing problem since the 2000s, with the province of Gauteng, where the Zimology Institute was located, proving to be a hotbed.Pretorius, “Criminological Analysis,” 24. Small-scale metal theft, such as the looting of the Zimology Institute, is most commonly ascribed to “subsistence” or “bread-and-butter thieves”, in other words, those who steal for survival.Pretorius, “Criminological Analysis,” 127–29. The vandalism of musical instruments for pieces of scrap metal serves as an acute and literal reminder of the inextricability of Ngqawana’s music practice from this environment of precarious living conditions and improvised livelihoods that many people in present-day South Africa confront.
In The Exhibition of Vandalizim,Ngqawana, Shepherd, and Kaganof subject these realities of everyday life to aesthetic contemplation, inscribing the events and context that prompted the performance—the vandalism of the Zimology Institute—through their improvised responses to it. Both the sounds of the improvisation and the visuals of the film index the place and context in evocative ways. From the outset of the film, the materiality of the music-making process—the performance environment, the instruments, and the bodies that perform on them—is visibly and audibly conspicuous. No narration accompanies the film, and only a brief contextual note, introducing The Exhibition of Vandalizim as a response to the institute’s vandalism, is given upfront. Hence, the viewer is plunged into the aural testament to the vandalism and the camera’s depiction of the damage. Visually, the film alternates between color and black-and-white, using footage filmed in daylight and at night, indoors and outdoors, providing a sense of landscape, place, and time. Scenes show the entrance to the smallholding, focusing on the cables that hang limply from a telephone pole, clipped and stripped of their copper wire, then proceed to the inside of the Zimology Institute building, where pianos balance precariously on their sides, wheels pillaged, and a double bass stands muted against the wall, pegs removed, and thus relieved of the tense potentiality of its strings. Wires protrude from the wall where a light switch used to be, the hollow chamber of the bathroom is cleared of its built-in conveniences, and in a chapel-like recital room a piano without legs shares the floor with a dislocated washbasin, toilet cistern, and kitchen cupboards. The film follows the performers moving from room to room, improvising as they survey the destruction that surrounds them.
With the exception of two scenes at the entrance gate of the Zimology Institute, all sounds are diegetic, and thus the improvisation is rendered visible through the camera’s eye. It makes for curious viewing: the intactness of the instruments the musicians brought along—Shepherd’s uhadi and violin, Ngqawana’s flute and saxophones—stands in stark contrast with the broken instruments, instrument fragments, and debris that the musicians requisition to join the ensemble in the course of the performance.
In the opening scene, Ngqawana plays a frantic torrent of notes reminiscent of John Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” at an open fire that flickeringly illuminates his image in the otherwise-dark outdoor surroundings. It is a mystical setting, evocative of traditional African gatherings. Five minutes into the film, Ngqawana is first featured speaking, introducing his intention to raise awareness about the vandalism of the Zimology Institute through the improvised performance. Five further short statements by Ngqawana, ranging from thirty seconds to four and a half minutes in length, appear over the course of the forty-seven-minute film. Otherwise, the film presents a continuous cascade of improvised sounds and images.
The improvisations themselves are pan-tonal, and the improvisatory strategies range from spontaneous utterances, often in the extreme ranges of the instruments, to more pensive improvised melodies and repeated riffs in the instruments’ middle ranges. As the musicians move from room to room, they relay each other or play in ensemble—sometimes from different rooms. The use of instruments is striking: besides improvising on their usual instruments, Shepherd, who is best known as a pianist, is first seen playing an uhadi but uses a modern violin bow to elicit sound rather than striking the string with a thin reed as it is traditionally played; Ngqawana, who is principally known as a saxophonist and flautist, plays on the institute’s damaged grand piano in a blurry cluster of notes as the strings continue resonating (the damper pedals, we later notice through the film footage, have been removed). Every object could serve as a sound source: Shepherd toes the tuning pegs of the double bass, broken off by the vandals, around the floor to make percussive, grating sounds. Ngqawana, in a sonic reprise of Marcel Duchamp, uses a broken toilet cistern simultaneously as an echo chamber that distorts his voice as he sings into it and as a drum on which he beats a rhythm.
The trope of dialogue and interaction has been widely used to describe improvisation as a process.Texts expounding this model, such as Ingrid Monson’s Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction (especially chapter 3) and Paul Berliner’s Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation (especially chapters 6, 7, and 13), have become standards in jazz literature, so to speak. Daniel Fischlin and Ajay Heble’s edited volume The Other Side of Nowhere: Improvisation, Jazz, and Communities in Dialogue also advances the premise of improvisation as dialogue. Besides the interpersonal interaction between musicians in the course of performance, dialogue and interaction also characterize the musical process itself. Robert Hodson, for instance, depicts free improvisation as “continual interaction in which each musician’s improvised output . . . [serves] as input to which the other performer may respond.” Hodson, Interaction, 117. In a slightly different take on interaction, as taking place not between players and the sounds they produce but within the sequence of notes produced by a single performer, Frederic Rzewski significantly calls the “first idea” that commences the improvisation an “error, a wrong note, a fumble in which the ball is momentarily lost.” What follows is “the graceful recovery of the fumbled ball, a second ‘wrong’ note that makes the first one seem right,” thus modeling improvisation as a perpetuation of “errors” and “recoveries.”Rzewski, “Little Bangs,” 379. We can thus think about improvisation-as-interaction in The Exhibition of Vandalizim happening on an interpersonal level between Ngqawana and Shepherd, on a musical level in the sounds each musician produces that serve as impetus for the other’s response, and on an intramusical level within each musician’s playing, where he salvages the sounds that came before, to paraphrase Rzewski.
This model of interaction becomes more complex when taking into consideration an aspect that renders this performance particularly remarkable: the idiosyncratic and eclectic use of intact and vandalized instruments, as well as found objects as instruments. What Derek Bailey calls the “instrumental impulse” is arguably another force in the interaction complex that critically shapes improvisation. As he explains, “it is the attitude of the [free improvising musician] to the tactile element, to the physical experience of playing an instrument, to this ‘instrumental impulse’ which establishes much of the way he plays. One of the basic characteristics of his improvising, detectable in everything he plays, will be how he harnesses the instrumental impulse. Or how he reacts against it. And this makes the stimulus and the recipient of this impulse, the instrument, the most important single factor in his musical resources.”Bailey, Improvisation, 115. If the instrument is central to the improvisation as a musical resource (both “stimulus” and “recipient”), what happens to the improvisation when the instrument is disfigured? Whereas an element of unpredictability is germane to free improvisation performances with normal, or even prepared instruments, an intensified unpredictability enters where instruments have been vandalized, resulting in often-unforeseen distortions or, where found objects are commandeered as instruments, opening novel possibilities of sound production.On unpredictability in improvisation with normal instruments, see, for instance, Corbett, “Ephemera Underscored,”222–23. This precipitates new responses, by both the player and his ensemble partner(s). For Ngqawana, this has greater significance than merely dealing with contingency. As he states in the film, “I am grateful to the thieves and the thugs . . . whoever did this to this place, for giving us such inspiration to improvise further . . . [to] expand our vocabulary . . . from your conventional instruments to the instruments that are not known.”Ngqawana in Kaganof, Exhibition of Vandalizim (film), 7:09–7:38.
Shepherd’s and Ngqawana’s creative reactions to the unexpected distortions of sound, and indeed their deliberate elicitation of this distortion, create a third force that, in turn, following Bailey, determines the musicians’ actions. In their responsiveness the musicians are attuned not only to one another but also to the manifestations of the vandalism in the distortion of instruments’ sounds. In other words, the vandalism becomes instrumental to the performance: an integral part that conditions the improvisation itself.
Ngqawana’s statement suggests that we think of the metonymic presence of the vandals through the distorted sounds. This presence profoundly locates the performance within a chronological sequence of events and a particular performance environment that is South Africa. The improvisation becomes a response to an “error” (the vandalism) and performs its “recovery” through the healing ceremony. To extend the analogy of “error” and “recovery” even further, the scrap-metal theft could be regarded as an improvised and disruptive response to poverty, thus constituting the original “error” that is “recovered” through the performance of Vandalizim as a response. In this way, Ngqawana and Shepherd can be understood to enter into a symbolic dialogue with the social conditions described above that gave rise to the vandalism, for which the distorted sounds and fragments serve as metonyms.
The Paradox of the Improvising Film
My ability to describe the improvisation in the performance of the Exhibition of Vandalizim in such detail hinges on the paradox the film presents: recording something as ephemeral as improvisation. Jarrett, “Cutting Sides,” 321. In this section I suggest that the film does not so much operate as a representation of improvisation as it actively participates in, and extends, the improvisatory process, bringing the temporal and spatial aspects of Vandalizim into sharper focus. Authors like John Corbett posit that improvisation is defined exactly by its resistance to the reification that enters in the act of recording, a stance that reveals improvisation’s entanglement with the idea of liveness. “Records of improvised music,” Corbett writes, “ . . . are not the same as improvisation, but are instead a more refined form of inscription, of composition.” Corbett, “Ephemera Underscored,” 219. From the perspective of performance art, Peggy Phelan argues along similar lines that “preserving” performance art through the reifying process of writing or filming renders the record of the “performance” on the page or screen fundamentally different from the event that it captures. Phelan, Unmarked, 148. Yet the film The Exhibition of Vandalizim problematizes such neat categorization as mere recording in several ways.
The filming, done with only a single handheld camera, is highly responsive to the sound improvisations it captures, veritably improvising the filming process through the steep angles in which the subject matter is framed (often a forty-five- to ninety-degree tilt), or by panning and zooming in quick, jagged movements, visually elaborating (or contrasting) bursts of frantic sounds that emanate from the music improvisations. The filming does not efface the camera’s presence, nor does it merely record the scene in a passive sense. Rather, the filming as a visual response to the sounds as they are improvised becomes part of the improvisation itself. The camera’s movement and its angles of portrayal do not make for complacent viewing. It is therefore debatable whether this is part of an improvisatory or compositional approach in Corbett’s dichotomy.
The reediting of the film for the purpose of subsequent live performances by Ngqawana and Shepherd (as mentioned in the introduction) again challenges easy classification as part of an improvisational or compositional act. While a compositional gesture undoubtedly enters when a prolonged performance is cut to forty-seven minutes, when sounds are superimposed nondiegetically (even though this is the exception in The Exhibition of Vandalizim), or when images are rendered in monochrome or color, I would argue that more than “inscription” or “preservation,” which Corbett and Phelan respectively refer to, takes place. In the same way as Hodson describes the improvisatory process as the (re)entry of improvised material into a system that generates new responses, the reedited film served as a visual impulse for subsequent improvised performances of The Exhibition of Vandalizim at Gallery momo in Johannesburg and Star Metals scrapyard in Stellenbosch.Hodson, Interaction,117.
The editing of the film thus fits into the trope of improvisation as dialogue and interaction. Or, as Corbett would put it (following Roland Barthes), it renders the “readerly” text “writerly,” shifting the emphasis from product (where meaning is authoritative, reified, rendering the reader the passive consumer of the preordained meaning of such a text) to production (in which the reader, or listener, actively participates in the processual production of meaning).Corbett, “Ephemera Underscored,” 219. Viewed as such, the film Vandalizim forms an additional mode of improvisation to the otherwise musically improvised performance. If the film provides a “visual layer” of improvisation additional to the sound improvisations, it is possible to conceive of the editing process as a performative filmic act, in other words, a further visual improvisation responding to the musical improvisation that thus extends the temporality of the performance beyond the duration of the musical performance in the strict definition of the word.
The two dimensions that The Exhibition of Vandalizim as film heightens, the contextual and the temporal, contribute to a consideration of how social context inheres within an aesthetic medium such as improvisation. In addition to the aural presence of the vandalism through the distortions of the sounds, the visual images of the destruction reinforce the metonymic presence of the vandals. It is amplified by inclined camera angles that disorientate the viewer’s spatial perception of up and down, floor, wall, and ceiling. It mirrors the disorientation of a piano toppled on its side, stripped of its wheels (see figure 2.2). As the film pauses, focuses, angles, and zooms in on or out from the destruction of the vandalism, it powerfully spatializes the improvised sounds, heightening the viewer’s awareness of the destruction that gave rise to the performance. It invites contemplation of the social and political context that precipitates vandalism for scrap metal. The film thus heightens the sense of context that is made sonically present through the unusual sounds of the musical performance. This is one of the ways in which an improvisation practice conceived of as universal becomes differentiated and profoundly situated in its immediate South African environment.
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s theorization of performance space provides a useful framework to unpack the ways the Zimology Institute relates to its broader environment. Performance space, he reminds us, is never empty space. It is shaped by the relations between performer and audience within the venue’s confines, but is also subject to the performance space’s relationship with the broader environment and power structures in which it is located, as well as with the histories of the space (what came before, which shapes the present). Ngũgĩ, “Enactments of Power,” 12–13. This helps to think about the ways that the spatial and temporal dimensions of improvisation conjoin in Vandalizim. The improvisation is shaped not only by relations among the performers, the audience, and the immediate performance space within the Zimology Institute at the time of its performance but also by its locus in South Africa and the history of events leading to the performance: the incidence of vandalism. Understood this way, a much broader contextual and historical dimension to the performance is ingrained in the fabric of improvisation.
Drawing on Rzewski’s model of the first idea of the improvisation as the “error,” followed by its “recovery,” we may think further about the temporal parameters of Vandalizim. In a narrow understanding of the word performance, The Exhibition of Vandalizim is hedged by the first and last note of the improvised healing performed on January 30, 2010, at the Zimology Institute itself. The film Vandalizim presents yet another sense of sequence, as the edited footage presents a longer time frame for which the improvisation on January 30, 2010, is the starting point, and the editing process and subsequent screening-improvisations at Gallery momo, the Cape Town City Hall and Star Metals scrapyard are part of an extended performance. But the “first idea” or “error” that was the impulse for the performance (or series of performances) altogether is arguably the act of vandalism itself; and the vandalism itself could be seen as a response to systemic failure in South Africa. Within this broader view of performance, the “first idea” or “error” occurs much earlier than the sound of the first note of the performance of Vandalizim—be it the film or the actual performance thereof.
Playing with the parameters of the improvisation goes beyond a mere exercise in thinking through, or challenging, theories that describe and circumscribe improvisation. An extended perspective of the interactions through which The Exhibition of Vandalizim is constituted enables us to contemplate a more holistic view of improvisation: how the social is inscribed in performance, and how improvisation could be conceived as a response to broader concerns within the society in which it is located.
Improvising Ritual, Liminality, and Communitas
So far, this essay has focused on how social context is made present in The Exhibition of Vandalizim: through sound, harnessing the instrumental impulse of vandalized instruments and debris, thereby integrating the product of the vandalism in the improvisation; and through film, prompting an extended understanding of the temporal and spatial dimensions of improvisation so that social context is understood as part of the impetus to which the performance of Vandalizim is a response. The remainder of the chapter considers how Vandalizim engages with these social concerns through ritual, healing, and the enactment of politics.
Vandalizim invokes ritual in several respects: the opening scene is set at the fireside in darkness, where Ngqawana performs amid a circle of onlookers, a mystical setting evocative of ritual; and the performers’ subsequent movement from room to room, improvising while observing the destruction, brings to mind gestures of exorcism or anointment. Similarly, the musicians’ use of the vandalized remnants as mnemonic devices invoking the vandalism suggests improvisation as a musical meditation on the events. Among the hallmarks of shamanic conceptions of healing are extended notions of temporality and context beyond that of the present ritualistic performance. This is evident in Michael Titlestad’s summary of Mircea Eliade’s ideal-typical features of shamanic conceptions of healing. “In the act of healing,” Titlestad writes, “ . . . the shaman narrates the creation myth, confronting the first entry of disease into the world and, in its turn, the advent of the gift of healing. The particular process of recovery emerges, then, as an affirmation of the whole of creation by situating both the healer and the ‘patient’ in the grand narrative of the clan’s origin and history. . . . Shamanism is, then, also a narrative process of (re)integration and (re)membering.” Titlestad, Making the Changes, 205–6. It is worth dwelling on the notions of temporality and community in this description, as they link to the exploration of how Vandalizim invokes a broader context discussed above. From Titlestad’s description we glean several notions of time: the performance of healing through narration in the present; the history of the people and the onset of illness in the past as recounted in the narrative that draws it into the present; and the progression of the narrative act itself through time. These notions map onto the problematic of locating the boundaries of performance in Vandalizim. “Performance” in the strict sense corresponds with the narration of healing as it unfolds in the present; the advent of the illness corresponds with the “error” or “first move” (the act of vandalism, or even the broader social conditions in South Africa that it betokens, as I have argued), which is brought into the present and thereby recovered through the act of narration, or, in the case of Vandalizim, through improvisation. Most important, in Eliade’s conception of shamanic healing the past is invoked to right the present—to reinstate wholeness within a fractured community. In Vandalizim this process is symbolically enacted through a musical process of playing (or recovering) vandalized instruments, thus performing a musical (re)membering and (re)integration through improvisation.
Music understood as a form of healing is not unprecedented in Ngqawana’s work. Two of his albums’ titles, for instance, refer to the role of the musician as a healer and to music as integral to healing practices in African societies. The album title Vadzimu means “traditional healer” in isiXhosa, and the title of another album, Ingoma, literally translates as “song” but also refers to singing and handclapping at festive occasions or divination ceremonies in Nguni healing practices.Following the definition in Tshabe, Shoba, and van der Westhuizen, Greater Dictionary of isiXhosa; also see Friedson, Dancing Prophets. As Ngqawana explained in an interview, “You know that the whole continent understands music as Ingoma? And even understands certain instruments, and certain dances, as Ingoma? The whole concept of Ingoma means healing. And that is the true purpose of music.”Ngqawana, “Zim Ngqawana.”
Even as this statement suggests Ngqawana as a bearer of tradition in casting himself in the role of the healer, it should not be taken as a straightforward continuance of an established cultural practice. While Ngqawana would have been familiar with Xhosa healing practices from his upbringing in the Eastern Cape, an area that is still the heartland of Xhosa traditional practices, he qualifies that as an artist—“living in an urban center—one realizes that you cannot continue practicing your tradition the way it used to be practiced in the days of old. So you need to refine and update and adopt the techniques that are used to create that music, within the right context.”Ngqawana, “Zim Ngqawana.”
This reconfiguration of tradition is more than a response precipitated by encounters with modernity, or processes of urbanization and globalization. As Jean and John Comaroff suggest, “the practice of mystical arts in postcolonial Africa . . . does not imply an iteration of, a retreat into, ‘tradition’” but is “often a mode of producing new forms of consciousness; of expressing discontent with modernity and dealing with its deformities. In short, of retooling culturally familiar technologies as new means for new ends.”Comaroff and Comaroff, “Occult Economies,” 284. In this light, the reconfiguration of indigenous practice functions as a form of critical practice that rethinks and reforges ways of being in and engaging with the world.
Even as Ngqawana reconfigures tradition in an indigenous South African sense, it is simultaneously conversant with another tradition across the Atlantic—that of American improvisation building on the legacy of jazz. Ngqawana especially looks to John Coltrane as a keystone in his conception of improvisation as a vehicle of self-expression and spirituality. Having first encountered Coltrane’s music as an adolescent in Port Elizabeth, he later studied with Coltrane’s erstwhile associates, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and Yusef Lateef during a year’s sojourn at the University of Massachusetts.It is difficult to establish the extent of Ngqawana’s studies at the University of Massachusetts, as the biographies available on Ngqawana, written mostly for concert publicity or journalistic purposes, are vague on the details. Piecing together snippets of information from various websites, it appears that Ngqawana attended the International Association of Jazz Educators Convention in the United States as a member of the South African group the Jazzanians and was subsequently offered scholarships to attend the Max Roach/Wynton Marsalis Jazz Workshop hosted by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Following the workshop, he received a Max Roach Scholarship to attend the University of Massachusetts, where he studied with Shepp and Lateef. This study reinforced the resonance he felt with these American musicians who understand jazz “as a spiritual journey.”Ngqawana, “Zim Ngqawana.” While the focus on ritual as a conceptual framework in this section does not permit me to go into greater detail, it is clear that the circulation of ideas about jazz, spirituality, and ritual between the African continent and diaspora in Ngqawana’s musical practices and thought merits further discussion. In many ways his statement can be read in parallel with Steven Feld’s accounts of jazz musicians’ relationship with Coltrane’s music and thought in Accra. See Feld, Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra. Ngqawana’s perspective on African notions of spirituality and ritual as a direct influence on his jazz practices, enhanced by ideas on African spirituality that circulate in the African diaspora and are brought back to the African context, would provide a fascinating complement to American texts situating ritual through its diasporic ties to American blues and jazz, like Samuel A. Floyd Jr.’s The Power of Black Music: Interpreting Its History from Africa to the United States and Travis A. Jackson’s “Jazz Performance as Ritual: The Blues Aesthetic and the African Diaspora.”
As a case in point, consider the correspondence between Ngqawana’s notion of Zimology, described as “the study of the self” or “knowledge of the self” through improvisation, and Lateef’s definition of autophysiopsychic music as “music that comes from the physical, mental, spiritual, and intellectual self.” Lateef, quoted in Porter, What Is This Thing Called Jazz?, 242.
In Eric Porter’s discussion of Lateef’s thought on improvisation, it is especially striking that Lateef conceives of improvisation as a form of therapy.Porter offers an extended discussion of Lateef’s thought on music in chapter 6 of What Is This Thing Called Jazz? See especially pp. 242–46. “The musician,” writes Lateef, “is expected to skillfully filter his profoundest sensations in order to extract their properties and recompose them in performance. This is a process which compels the musician to not only recall his feelings but, to analyze and understand. If we look at emotion-memory squarely, we see not only an improvizational tool but, a great boon for the ego, a therapeutic toy.”Lateef, quoted in Porter, What Is This Thing Called Jazz?,244. By means of performance, the therapeutic quality of autophysiopsychic music furthermore extends not only to the improviser but also to the listener.Porter, What Is This Thing Called Jazz?,245. Following Lateef’s line of thought, healing in Vandalizim could thus be understood as a function of Ngqawana’s and Shepherd’s improvisation (also rendered through the film), through which they delve into and analyze their emotional response to the vandalism, which engages listeners through performance.
The hybridity of influences evident in Ngqawana’s reinvention of tradition underscores Titlestad’s observation that Ngqawana “simultaneously refers to and constructs versions of memory, history, tradition and nationalism.”Titlestad, Making the Changes, 213. This syncretic reinvention of ritual does not fit one strand of thinking about ritual that regards it as an essentially conservative endeavor that entails repeated practices that communities, conceived of as fixed and stable, have agreed on. J. Lewis, Anthropology of Cultural Performance, 56. As a highly idiosyncratic performance that taps into local as well as transnational senses of community, ritual in The Exhibition of Vandalizim emerges as a transformative or perhaps even a transgressive practice that responds to incongruities within the social fabric. It is closer to Victor Turner’s conception of ritual in the context of social drama, as a response to a “disharmonic social process [that arises] in conflict situations.” Turner, Anthropology of Performance, 74.
In the resolution of social drama, the moments of crisis (understood as the moment when the original breach comes to a head, such as the act of vandalism) and recovery (the process to resolve the dispute, such as Ngqawana’s performance in response to the vandalism) are characterized by a state of liminality. The word liminal derives from the Latin for “threshold” (limen) and marks a state of transition or change typical of ritual practices.Turner, Ritual Process, 94. In Turner’s discussion, liminality typically involves the inversion, or suspension, of typical social, political, and economic rungs, which are reinstalled with greater wisdom and sensitivity to the welfare of the whole community after the rite of passage is completed. In this liminal state, the usual hierarchical structures that regulate political, economic, and social order are radically reordered or suspended, enabling the emergence of a particular mode of egalitarianism that Turner calls communitas, which emphasizes the performance of community rather than its tacit, and static, existence. Turner, Ritual Process, 96–97. As Turner puts it elsewhere, “communitas emerges where social structure is not.”Turner, Ritual Process, 126. Turner’s communitas indeed recalls Fischlin and Nandorfy’s notion of community as a metaphor for relational contingency—something that does not exist in and of itself but is, instead, constituted through its performance.
In reading Turner’s description of ritual with another eye (or ear) trained on improvisation, as Vandalizim prompts me to do, several parallels with descriptions of improvisation emerge. Similar to the liminal space of ritual, improvisation provides a performance space in which existing structures are suspended and challenged. Bailey’s formulation of improvisation, for instance, draws attention to the subversion of the hierarchy of the tonal impulse and conformity to meter, the resistance to preordained structure and extension of timbral possibilities. Bailey, Improvisation, 110. The suspension of structure is imbued with an added sociopolitical significance when George Lewis refers to free improvisation as “a symbolic challenge to traditional authority” that is engaged in the recovery of the black voice from its historical silencing. G. Lewis, Power Stronger than Itself, 41–42. Lewis’s statement corresponds with Turner’s notion of communitasas an enactment of egalitarianism, in other words, the creation of a platform where those who are usually silenced are heard, afforded by the liminal space of the performance.
Turner’s concept of ritual helps to think about how improvisation as liminal space fosters transformation. In the suspension or reordering of structure, both ritual and improvisation provide a forum where the social fabric is open to critique and to reconfiguration, thereby enacting transformation. It becomes a space where the weak have a voice and the ability to chastise and conscientize the powerful. Communitas is not achieved or maintained only in states of ritual or liminality, however; it is also permanently embodied in the figure of the weak and inferior that unsettles any stable sense of community (and we may think of the vandals in Vandalizim as such a disruption to a stable sense of community), or in states of outsiderhood like the vocation of shaman or healer (such as Ngqawana). Turner, Ritual Process, 109–10, 116. The status of being an outsider enables the shaman “to criticize all structure-bound personae in terms of a moral order binding on all, and also to mediate between all segments or components of the structured system.”Turner, Ritual Process, 117. This may in turn serve as a description of the role of the socially engaged improviser.
Commensurate with both Eliade’s and Turner’s description of the narrative and conscientizing functions of the healer, Ngqawana points to the root of social ill, the vandalism, in a statement two minutes before the end of the film:
We used to play music here, before they vandalized it. You see it is strange that people can go to this extent of vandalism. To me it shows the extent of what has happened to them: the vandalism of the soul, the vandalism of the heart, of the mind. These people were not born like this, they have been created by a system that we live under, a system of barbarism, of ignorance. I am talking about the political system, that has turned people into barbaric creatures, that has retarded people, kept them in ignorance through their lousy system of education, religions, political systems. . . . I’m not looking at this vandalism, I am looking at the vandalism of the soul. And this system is responsible for this. . . . All society is responsible for this. Ngqawana in Kaganof, Exhibition of Vandalizim (film), 40:30–42:30.
This statement supports the argument this chapter advances that improvisation in Vandalizim figures vandalism as a metonym of broader social ills confronting South Africans and presents a form of social engagement and critique. Using the liminal space of the performance, Ngqawana locates the root of the vandalism in the systemic violence that keeps people in their place—or what Turner calls “structure.” The performance of healing in Vandalizim may be directed toward the actual vandalism of the institute, but symbolically extends as a critique of structural oppression, in which free improvisation is symbolically significant as a medium of performance. Given the South African sociopolitical context, where the state fails to meet the basic needs of communities, Vandalizim presents trenchant criticism that joins discourses over basic human rights and the conditions for human dignity.
In anthropology there has been resistance to a loose definition of the term ritual that elides the differentiation between ritual and performance, arguing that it empties ritual of its usefulness as a theoretical concept.J. Lewis, Anthropology of Cultural Performance, 44. Yet it is exactly in this slippage, where it is difficult to disentangle notions of musical performance as artistic, aesthetic practice and ritual, that The Exhibition of Vandalizim operates. In the reconfiguration of ritual in imaginative ways that defy anthropologists’ neat definitions, the improvisational aspect of The Exhibition of Vandalizim is particularly evident.
Rancière and the Politics of Free Improvisation
Let us now use the idea of liminality to think further about the ability to critique through an aesthetic practice like improvisation. What exactly in the suspension of order allows sounds to serve as critique? And how does improvisation, as a means of sounding critique, invoke communitas—an articulation or enactment of a more egalitarian society? One thinker who is particularly concerned with the juncture between aesthetics and politics implicit in these questions is Jacques Rancière. Rancière’s volume Aesthetics and Its Discontents deals extensively with the relationship between aesthetics and politics. The scope of this chapter and the particular focus of my inquiry mean that the discussion is limited to one aspect of a much wider theorization that most resonated with my reading of Exhibition of Vandalizim. His notion of the distribution of the sensible offers a particularly evocative framework to think about the relationship between music and politics.
The distribution of the sensible refers to the moment when those who are usually not seen or heard become apparent. The exclusion of the lower rungs of society from participating, or being heard, in the order of things, justified by the Platonic idea that they have neither the time nor the talent to do so, is what Rancière refers to as “the originary wrong.” Politics, rather than referring to an omnipresent tension characterizing power struggles in various relationships, occurs in the moment when the silence of those who are rendered mute, or supposed to be mute, is broken. At this moment, the distribution of the sensible shifts—those who are, in the common order of things, unheard become audible; those who are invisible become perceptible. It is sense, both as a mode of perception and as comprehensibility, that is transformed.Rancière, Aesthetics and Its Discontents, 24–25. The French verb partager (translated as “distribution”) refers both to the division (parting) between those who are heard and those who are muted and to participation in political speech acts. Thus, for Rancière, the aesthetic dimension of politics is not concerned with art or beauty per se, but with the realms of perception and the sensory. The problem of the sans-part, literally “those without a part,” is not only that they are not heard but that their complaints, when raised, are not recognized as meaning-bearing language. Davis, Key Contemporary Thinkers, 91.
Sound operates as a central metaphor in Rancière’s thesis. The capacity to be heard, or to have a voice, forms the hinge between politics and aesthetics: politics is crucially located in the act of breaking silence. The radical act of speech, of sounding a voice that is not (usually) heard, can be understood to disrupt, question, suspend, or even invert the usual structures that regulate speech. The sociopolitical significance Rancière ascribes to the capacity to speak recalls George Lewis’s view of free improvisation as the assertion or recovery of the black voice, mentioned earlier. Even before the power of speech can be exerted, there is the question of who has the right to speak. As Daniel Fischlin, Ajay Heble and George Lipsitz has argued in relation to recent thought on the relationship between improvisation and human rights discourses, improvisation presents a “symbolic staging of the right to speak freely, the capacity to take action” and, as such, “embodies publicly a basic human right—to make music, to be creative.”Fischlin, Heble, and Lipsitz, Fierce Urgency of Now, 100.
How might this understanding of politics be illuminated through The Exhibition of Vandalizim? Ngqawana recognizes the source of the vandalism inflicted on the institute as rooted in social inequalities brought about by “the system of education, religion, and political system” that disregards poor people. This disregard corresponds with Rancière’s notion of the originary wrong of the sociopolitical status quo that renders certain social strata effectively mute. The way that both Rancière and Ngqawana envisage a solution is through breaking the silence. Here, I would like to argue that through its exposure of the sociopolitical issues at the heart of the vandalism—as the word exhibition implies in the title Ngqawana devised for the performance—The Exhibition of Vandalizim serves as an example of the disruption of the status quo. The act of performing the vandalism inflicted on the Zimology Institute shifts the distribution of the sensible and makes perceptible the metonymic presence of those who were mute and the social disregard that this represents.
As significant as the act that breaks the silence is the means employed in the performance—improvisation. As I have argued, improvisation itself also enacts the radical suspension of conventional structures, and the practice in itself could be understood as performing communitas in Turner’s sense of the word. If Rancière is read along with discourses on improvisation and ritual as egalitarian spaces, it further textures an understanding of how the disruption of the sensible could be conceived in music practice in particular. The suspension of musical hierarchy that Bailey describes in his theorization of free improvisation creates the sonic mechanisms and means through which the imperceptible might become perceptible. Rancière’s notion of politics thus articulates the political significance of the moment when the domain of the sensory is radically opened. Improvisation might therefore also be understood in terms of this political framework that explains how music could be conceived as an articulation of politics.
We could think about the disruption of structure—that which sets crisis in motion—in the performance of The Exhibition of Vandalizim as the linchpin between the conceptual frameworks I have introduced. As argued in the previous section, free improvisation as a suspension or disruption of structure makes it particularly compatible with Turner’s notion of the liminal as a context within which Vandalizim’s performance can be explored. These are also the conditions that are at play in Rancière’s speech act, in which the disruption of silence transforms the prevailing order, if only momentarily. For Rancière, the speech act is connected with the recognition of a fundamental humanity, defined as the capacity to speak and be heard—that which South African society’s poor are not afforded in being overlooked in the provision of basic means to obtain a livelihood and opportunities for betterment. Interlinked with the disruption of structure in the liminal space or the speech act, is the radical democratization of sound. One way of thinking of this in The Exhibition of Vandalizim is in Bailey’s assignment of central importance to the musical instrument in free improvisation—in this case the material produced by the vandalism. The metonymic invocation of those who are not heard is musically enacted through musical dialogue with the distorted sounds of the vandalized instruments or the harnessing of building rubble as sound sources; it is veritably democratized by using these in conjunction with intact instruments used in similarly novel, sound-effecting ways. This musical act is a symbolic performance of the radical equality that Rancière advocates.
The appeal of Rancière’s definition and conception of politics in relation to improvisation lies in its understanding of politics as action, as performance, something that occurs in a particular moment rather than being latent and omnipresent. Improvisation, too, appears in a bounded moment (in a wider or narrower sense). It is performed and enacted—it encapsulates a moment of intervention in the order of things. Understood this way, improvisation is an apt expression of Rancière’s notion of politics. The performative aspect of Rancière’s politics and improvisation furthermore maps onto an understanding of community not as a stable referent, but rather as emerging through performances of relational contingencies. I am suggesting the interaction of these conceptual frameworks not by means of equating them, nor to suggest that they mutually substantiate or substitute for each other, but rather to show how they converge and overlap, as demonstrated in The Exhibition of Vandalizim. Moreover, this convergence helps us to think in more nuanced ways about the liminal or threshold moment that inheres in the notion of crisis.
Improvising at the Threshold: The Exhibition of Vandalizim as a Response to Crisis
Crisis is at the core of The Exhibition of Vandalizim. Crisis, in the form of the vandalism of the Zimology Institute, gave rise to the performance, and the same crisis inheres in the performance through the improvisation as an interaction with the destruction—both on a metaphorical level (as a response to the vandalism) and on a literal level (the instrumental impulse provided by the debris left by the vandalism that enters into the sound of the improvisation). The crisis is, however, broader than the act of vandalism and the literal damage it wrought on the buildings. In Ngqawana’s interpretation (an interpretation elaborated in this chapter), the vandalism is symbolic of a broader vandalism perpetrated by systemic failures that negate a basic recognition of humanity. This is the true crisis to which The Exhibition of Vandalizim responds. Film, in the Exhibition of Vandalizim as a performance, draws out this broader symbolism and amplifies it through the visual imagery and its resistance to complacent viewing.The film of Vandalizim alsoperforms another important function: it creates another impulse that reinfuses the improvisation, that makes subsequent performances in different locations possible. In other words, it creates a series of ephemeral moments that perform the healing again and again, each time in a new iteration.
Ngqawana’s response is a reinfusion of humanity in its fullest sense. This response is contextualized through two paradigms in which I discussed Ngqawana and The Exhibition of Vandalizim. The first is the spiritual paradigm invoked through the notion of ritual, which interprets crisis in holistic terms. This notion of spirituality is at once local, and may be traced to the Xhosa background of Ngqawana’s upbringing, and also connected to a transnational network of improvisers who regard their practice in spiritual terms, notably Coltrane and Lateef. Crucially, this notion of spirituality forms part of a counterhegemonic discourse and may therefore be interpreted as a critique of modernity that led to the present order of things.
The second context is the reinfusion of humanity embraced in Ngqawana’s response, namely, that of free improvisation. Improvisation entails the same suspension of structure as ritual does: whereas in ritual this might be narrated in terms of social hierarchy and structure, improvisation gives musical content to the same suspension through sonic means. The liminality of ritual—the name given to the space-time in which this suspension and radical reordering take place—is at once a characterization of crisis as the moment of change, of transformation, and a description of the performance space in which improvisation is located. In activating the dialogue or interaction, improvisation refuses systemic muting (the relegation into imperceptibility) and reinfuses a sense of human voice and agency.
Crisis is a threshold moment; it is the cusp where the antecedent and the consequent meet. It is a turning point where causes are divined, and possible remedies are considered. It requires all the critical faculties of analysis and interpretation of that which brought one to the threshold, and the imagination and creativity to envision what will take one over, past, through, and further. The threshold suggests both the barrier (the limit crisis brought one to) and its traversal (enlisting creativity to find the means to go beyond). Yet the surpassing of the limit promises no certain outcome: crossing the threshold is stepping into the unknown. In the medical origin of the word crisis, the turning point of the disease bodes either recovery or death. This quality of uncertainty is also an attribute of improvisation: it involves the risk of the turning point—the surpassing of the threshold of the known into the unknown. As such, improvisation is an apposite form as a response to crisis, and Rzewski’s notion of the recovery involved in improvisation is an evocative pivot between the paradigms of healing and improvisation.
I resist an affirmative reading of Vandalizim that poses it as a complete resolution or healing in the aftermath of crisis, for it is debatable whether Ngqawana’s extraordinary response effected any lasting, material change. Some obituaries of Ngqawana, who passed away in 2011, suggest that he never fully recovered from the blow of the vandalism to his highly personal, aesthetically expressed project (the Zimology Institute was, after all, a manifestation of a personal philosophy and practice). Yet I do not discount the power of symbolic intervention, for it is a powerful means of analysis and creates the capacity (and means) to shift perspective and envision a different future. I therefore argue that The Exhibition of Vandalizim demonstrates the confrontation of crisis, although the outcome remains in play.
In this sense, The Exhibition of Vandalizim is congruent with improvisation, which always plays at the edge of the unknown and embraces that risk, as well as the ephemerality of the moment of its performance. Following the interactive model of improvisation, in a certain sense Vandalizim presents a recovery, yet, as in improvisation, it is ephemeral and merely serves as the prompt for another response. The “recovery” in Vandalizim outlines the possibility of an alternative reality or order. Yet its power lies in its ability to disrupt the present order of things for the ephemeral moment of its performance, during which it allows the glimmer of an alternative order to shine through. This is indeed an enactment of politics in the Rancièrian sense.
Perhaps this is the role of improvisation (or the aesthetic) in the aftermath of crisis: that it is the torch that illuminates the crisis and divines the way forward, but it is not the hands nor the feet. This moment of acuity shows the promise of an alternative order, and therein lies its alchemy: that in its response to crisis it turns destruction into a generative force, which creates the impulse for the next response.
This article was first published in Playing For Keeps Improvisation in the Aftermath edited by Daniel Fischlin and Eric Porter, Duke University Press, 2020. Published in herri with kind permission of the Author, Editors and Publisher.
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|Ngqawana passed away on May 9, 2011, at the untimely age of fifty-two. The Zimology Institute was not rebuilt before his passing.
|Kakaza, “Healing with music.”
|See Kakaza, “Healing with Music”; and Van Wyk, “Zim Ngqawana.”
|Ngqawana, quoted in Kakaza, “Healing with Music”; and Mabandu, “Zimbol of Free Sound.” The inscription of his name in the titles of his projects is one of the ways in which Ngqawana inscribes himself in his artistic endeavors.
|In 2011, 72,533 incidents of metal theft were reported to the police, amounting to an estimated seven billion rand in losses to the economy. See Pretorius, “Criminological Analysis,” 31, 48.
|See Kaganof, “Exhibition of Vandalizim.” The description “musical ritual” was used on the website of Stellenbosch University’s Documentation Centre for Music (domus), which hosted a live performance of The Exhibition of Vandalizim; and “healing ceremony” appears in Philip Kakaza’s “Healing with Music” in the Mail and Guardian, which served as publicity for the live performance of Vandalizim at Gallery momo in Johannesburg. These are apt descriptors, as will become clear in the following discussion.
|With six albums and several music awards to his name, Kyle Shepherd has gained prominence in South Africa as well as abroad. As a musician and cultural activist, he is concerned with the reclamation of Khoisan cultural heritage, as evident in an album like South African History X! or the Afrikaaps hip-hopera, for which he was musical director, which foregrounded the creole history of Afrikaans. Kaganof is an independent filmmaker, poet, and visual artist best known for his award-winning films that explore politically charged and provocative subject matter. A number of his films focus on music, including Blue Notes for Bra’Geoff (on one of the father figures of jazz in Pretoria, Geoff Mphakati), An Inconsolable Memory (on the history of South Africa’s first opera group), and Death and the Archive (on the South African veteran pianist Tete Mbambisa).
|See Mail and Guardian, “Healing Ceremony,” 17.
|The film is available on Vimeo.
|Jost, Free Jazz, 9 (emphasis in the original).
|Born, “Music, Modernism and Signification,” 166.
|The Gini coefficient is a widely used indicator that measures the spread of wealth and access to resources, with 0 representing perfectly equal distribution. In 2011 South Africa’s Gini coefficient was pegged at 65, compared to India’s 38 for the same year. See World Bank, “Gini Index.” Comparing the sets of data used across different studies, Jeremy Seekings concludes that South Africa’s levels of inequality are increasing. Seekings, “Poverty and Inequality,” 28–30.
|Seekings, “Poverty and Inequality,” 30.
|See Ashforth, Witchcraft, 20–62; also see Comaroff and Comaroff, “Occult Economies,” 292. The unemployment statistic is from Reuters; see Times Live,“South Africa’s Unemployment Rate.”
|Desai’s We Are the Poors, based on his own involvement and fieldwork in grassroots movements, provides a moving account of the tactics communities employ in the struggle for daily survival. For a brief summary, see Desai, We Are the Poors, locs. 130–52 of 2560.
|Silver, “Incremental Infrastructures,” 799.
|Fischlin and Nandorfy, Community of Rights, 87.
|Pretorius, “Criminological Analysis,” 24.
|Pretorius, “Criminological Analysis,” 127–29.
|Texts expounding this model, such as Ingrid Monson’s Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction (especially chapter 3) and Paul Berliner’s Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation (especially chapters 6, 7, and 13), have become standards in jazz literature, so to speak. Daniel Fischlin and Ajay Heble’s edited volume The Other Side of Nowhere: Improvisation, Jazz, and Communities in Dialogue also advances the premise of improvisation as dialogue.
|Hodson, Interaction, 117.
|Rzewski, “Little Bangs,” 379.
|Bailey, Improvisation, 115.
|On unpredictability in improvisation with normal instruments, see, for instance, Corbett, “Ephemera Underscored,”222–23.
|Ngqawana in Kaganof, Exhibition of Vandalizim (film), 7:09–7:38.
|Jarrett, “Cutting Sides,” 321.
|Corbett, “Ephemera Underscored,” 219.
|Phelan, Unmarked, 148.
|Corbett, “Ephemera Underscored,” 219.
|Ngũgĩ, “Enactments of Power,” 12–13.
|Titlestad, Making the Changes, 205–6.
|Following the definition in Tshabe, Shoba, and van der Westhuizen, Greater Dictionary of isiXhosa; also see Friedson, Dancing Prophets.
|Ngqawana, “Zim Ngqawana.”
|Ngqawana, “Zim Ngqawana.”
|Comaroff and Comaroff, “Occult Economies,” 284.
|It is difficult to establish the extent of Ngqawana’s studies at the University of Massachusetts, as the biographies available on Ngqawana, written mostly for concert publicity or journalistic purposes, are vague on the details. Piecing together snippets of information from various websites, it appears that Ngqawana attended the International Association of Jazz Educators Convention in the United States as a member of the South African group the Jazzanians and was subsequently offered scholarships to attend the Max Roach/Wynton Marsalis Jazz Workshop hosted by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Following the workshop, he received a Max Roach Scholarship to attend the University of Massachusetts, where he studied with Shepp and Lateef.
|Ngqawana, “Zim Ngqawana.” While the focus on ritual as a conceptual framework in this section does not permit me to go into greater detail, it is clear that the circulation of ideas about jazz, spirituality, and ritual between the African continent and diaspora in Ngqawana’s musical practices and thought merits further discussion. In many ways his statement can be read in parallel with Steven Feld’s accounts of jazz musicians’ relationship with Coltrane’s music and thought in Accra. See Feld, Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra. Ngqawana’s perspective on African notions of spirituality and ritual as a direct influence on his jazz practices, enhanced by ideas on African spirituality that circulate in the African diaspora and are brought back to the African context, would provide a fascinating complement to American texts situating ritual through its diasporic ties to American blues and jazz, like Samuel A. Floyd Jr.’s The Power of Black Music: Interpreting Its History from Africa to the United States and Travis A. Jackson’s “Jazz Performance as Ritual: The Blues Aesthetic and the African Diaspora.”
|Lateef, quoted in Porter, What Is This Thing Called Jazz?, 242.
|Porter offers an extended discussion of Lateef’s thought on music in chapter 6 of What Is This Thing Called Jazz? See especially pp. 242–46.
|Lateef, quoted in Porter, What Is This Thing Called Jazz?,244.
|Porter, What Is This Thing Called Jazz?,245.
|Titlestad, Making the Changes, 213.
|J. Lewis, Anthropology of Cultural Performance, 56.
|Turner, Anthropology of Performance, 74.
|Turner, Ritual Process, 94. In Turner’s discussion, liminality typically involves the inversion, or suspension, of typical social, political, and economic rungs, which are reinstalled with greater wisdom and sensitivity to the welfare of the whole community after the rite of passage is completed.
|Turner, Ritual Process, 96–97.
|Turner, Ritual Process, 126.
|Bailey, Improvisation, 110.
|G. Lewis, Power Stronger than Itself, 41–42.
|Turner, Ritual Process, 109–10, 116.
|Turner, Ritual Process, 117.
|Ngqawana in Kaganof, Exhibition of Vandalizim (film), 40:30–42:30.
|J. Lewis, Anthropology of Cultural Performance, 44.
|Rancière’s volume Aesthetics and Its Discontents deals extensively with the relationship between aesthetics and politics. The scope of this chapter and the particular focus of my inquiry mean that the discussion is limited to one aspect of a much wider theorization that most resonated with my reading of Exhibition of Vandalizim.
|Rancière, Aesthetics and Its Discontents, 24–25.
|Davis, Key Contemporary Thinkers, 91.
|Fischlin, Heble, and Lipsitz, Fierce Urgency of Now, 100.
|The film of Vandalizim alsoperforms another important function: it creates another impulse that reinfuses the improvisation, that makes subsequent performances in different locations possible. In other words, it creates a series of ephemeral moments that perform the healing again and again, each time in a new iteration.