I’ve just had a kind of Damascus moment. I have been an admirer of Lefifi’s art for decades. But what he has just shown me (on the whattsap video phone call) has disrupted all my senses. He has invented a new technique of erasure drawing, creating “instant palimpsests” or “palimpsests of the future”.
This is his “late period” work. It is refined beyond anything I have seen of his. This technique incorporates all of his themes (the alphabets, the demand for abstraction) but with multivalent, hypernuanced lines that seem to come from another dimension. These works are portals.
And then there is a series of optic palindromes that sit comfortably next to Escher. A series that is titled o kana ka nako – a palindrome meaning “You are as large as time”. And then there is the matter of the 20m scores (there are lots of them now; a year ago it was only one).
In the Editorial of issue 1 of herri Neo Muyanga asks “how can we start our conversation on the research of music that lives inside people, without following the example and stringent rules firmly created by colonists, or western ideology? western ideology is still widely taught in our schools, from primary schools to high schools, even up to university, the current status is described by yolisa nompula thus:
(nompula, 2011, 369)
after doing research i realized that there are not enough examples, at all, that show african music in its beauty in an arts program. there are still a lot of words, and very strong ones, that talk of ominousness when looking at indigenous knowledge, they see it as dull and poor. western music is still the one that is taught with vigour in the arts programs here at home. but that is not how it should be, that we leave things as they are, not caring about african music but on the other hand we keep saying we want to undo the damage and cruelty that was caused by the discriminatory laws of the past years.
Muyanga continues, in the Editorial, to assess the words that we use when we speak about “music” –
“in south sotho, ‘ho bina’ (singing) means making a sound with your mouth. and in setswana, ‘ho bina’ means to dance, to move your body. additionally, ‘ho opela’, in setswana, means to sing ‘ho bina’, in sesotho; also, ‘ho opela’ in sesotho means to clap hands. now then, all these things, which are: making beautiful sounds with your mouth; shaking your body; clapping your hands or even playing instruments – we include all these when we talk about our indigenous music. but when we come to writing down this music, we have not yet found the correct way that belongs to us of differentiating our music. we have not found a way to turn our backs, and move away from the western ways, which are now deeply rooted, as nompula has already mentioned. i am not advising, i am just saying that maybe it is not necessary for us to forget the knowledge of our grandparents, of writing music by staff notation or even through tonic sol fa. but what we can do, to showcase our african-ness, is to create a way to write that music through actions and physical movements. this will need concerted cooperation between researchers of music, of dance and of history. that, to me, would be a progressive way of distinguishing our music research from merely opting for the decolonial option which always reifies that which it seeks to de– from.”
Lefifi Tladi’s enormous corpus of scores seem to have been created as if to answer Neo Muyanga’s prayers. For decades Tladi has been working on a visual system of glyph-like elements that provide the African indigenous instrument player with a visual language that enables improvisation to be read and composed in the moment.
A vast 50m long score is one of the most significant results of Tladi’s decades long investigation into the relationship between visual sign and audio note, between seeing and hearing, between code and playing. Literally hundreds of smaller graphic scores cover his studio where he works day in day out effortlessly taking in his tri-weekly dialysis trips in his stride. There’s no time to complain, Tladi has work to do.
The Score proposes that an inspired collective of Tladi’s admirers from different disciplines and fields, gets together to work on raising the funding and the logistics for an international performance and exhibition of this unique 50m long Score and a selection from the smaller works.
To do full justice to the massive scale of this work Tladi will need Museum sized spaces and access to top notch collectives from different music worlds – classical, jazz and African. The kind of multi-modal sound space he envisages effortlessly combines the sonic hubris of Stockhausen, the inter-galactic time travel of Sun Ra, the post-Wittgensteinian thought games of Anthony Braxton, with the meticulously conceived score wizardry of Xenakis: Tladi’s work defies definition or limitation.
Beyond “fine art” beyond “impovisation” there is a space where The Score will be performed. Tladi is looking for partners in this ambitious venture to exhibit and perform Lefifi Tladi – to put this immensely neglected South African arts Rennaissance man centre stage, where he belongs.
“The only way to decolonize is through self definition and any form of decolonisation without self definition is a neo-colonial decolonisation. Even our liberation struggle has been a neo-colonial struggle because the objectives were not defined by us.”Lefifi Tladi, whattsapp call, Friday 13 January 2023, 13:33PM