Emeka Ogboh is a photographer, video artist, and sound artist who lives in Lagos, Nigeria. Recently I spoke with Emeka about his work as a sound artist, Lagos Soundscape, the Creative Africa Network, his involvement with World Listening Day, and his other ongoing projects.
DG: How long have you been working with sound?
EO: For almost two years now, with a focus on field recordings and sound art.
DG: What is one early musical memory that you have?
EO: My dad’s collection of Boney M. LP’s. For me, hearing their music always meant it was time to imitate Bobby Farell’s moves.
DG: What do you like about Boney M?
EO: Boney M evokes memories of childhood birthday parties. Apart from Bobby Farrell’s dance moves, I also loved the fact that you could easily sing along to their songs. Their best record for me would probably be Nightflight to Venus. It had my favorite sing -along tracks as a kid — “Brown Girl in the Ring” and “Rivers of Babylon.”
DG: Who are some of your favorite Nigerian musicians? I love Fela Kuti’s music, and his sons Seun and Femi are great performers. Tony Allen performed in Chicago earlier this summer, that was a great show. There’s a huge audience in the States for Afrobeat, and a lot of contemporary groups have been influenced by Fela’s sound.
EO: Some of my favorite Nigerian musicians include Majek Fashek, Osita Osadebe, Nneka, Fela, Femi Kuti and Mode 9. I totally agree with you on Fela’s music influencing a lot of musicians globally. I’ve heard the Afrobeat influence with a lot of musicians, even as far away as Macedonia.
DG: What’s your favorite song by Majek Fashek? He does an interesting version of “Hotel California.”
EO: I am a big fan of Majek and all his songs, but I particularly like the song “Majek in a New York.” It’s about his first time in New York City and the shock of discovering that New York wasn’t what he’d imagined it would be. In his words, “the first time I came to New York, I used to think New York was like heaven on earth, and I was surprised to see beggars on the street of New York, homeless people on the streets of New York”. I can relate to that, not just New York, but the developed world as a whole and the utopian perception of these places. And then the disappointment of finding out that these places are not as perfect as imagined.
DG: Who are some of your favorite contemporary African artists? I’m really like the music of Ali & Vieux Farka Touré, Oumou Sangare, Angelique Kidjo, and Orchestra Baobab.
EO: My favorite African music playlist include artists like K’naan, Amadou and Mariam, Salif Keita, and Ali Farka Touré. I’m a big fan of Malian music.
DG: Are you a fan of African hip hop? Would you like to comment on how African hip hop artists are putting their own stamp on that genre?
EO: I particularly find it interesting how African hip hop artists are finally embracing their culture and identity, and showcasing it in their songs. This was not the case some years back when it was all about emulating the American culture as scene on hip hop videos and movies. I believe the continent has grown in confidence and this can be seen in these hip hop artists and songs.
DG: What kinds of work do you do in Lagos?
EO: As an artist i work with sound and video, and some photography. My sound work focuses mainly on the Lagos Soundscape project.
DG: How did you first get interested in phonography?
EO: As an audiophile living in Lagos, I had no choice but tune in and start listening to its soundscapes.
DG: Who are some sound artists who have influenced you?
EO: I particularly like the work of Chris Watson, Bill Fontana, Eric Leonardson, and Repeat’s Dimitar Dodovski. Chris Watson’s Weather Report is still one of my all time favorite compositions. This is just to mention a few of the many sound artists whose works I’m currently exploring. I’ll probably say I’m more influenced by Dimitar’s works.
DG: What do you like so much about his work?
EO: I have closely worked with him on a collaboration, and his composition style is appealing to me.
DG: What’s your favorite arts venue in Lagos?
EO: The Centre for Contemporary Arts is my favorite venue — it’s at the forefront of promoting experimental arts practice by providing a platform for its presentation and development. It is also the converging point for artists, especially those working in new media, thanks to its fully stocked library on contemporary art resources, as well as its professionally structured art related programs and events.
DG: What is Lagos Soundscape?
EO: It’s an acoustic inquiry into this mega city. I’ve been listening to and recording Lagos in a bid to understand how the city works, and I am also utilizing these sounds creatively in installations and sound art.
DG: How did you come up with the idea for the project?
EO: In 2008 I attended a media course in Egypt called “Audible Spectrums,” which was taught by the Austrian new media artist Harald Scherz.
DG: What did you find so interesting “Audible Spectrums”?
EO: The most interesting thing I learned in the course was to pay close attention to sound details. The course practically separated visuals and sounds, and treated them as separate entities. I hadn’t fully comprehended this idea before then
DG: were some things you learned in that course which you have applied to Lagos Soundscape?
EO: The experience opened up my ears to sounds. As soon as I got back to Lagos, I started listening to and recording the city’s soundscapes.
DG: Are you aware of other efforts for people to create soundmaps of cities, such as Chicago Favorite Sounds and the London Favorite Sounds? If so, what do you think of those other projects?
EO: Yes I am aware of these projects, especially the London soundmap. These projects do create an interesting medium to experience these cities, especially over the internet. Unlike other mediums, sound completely immerses you into these places and allows you build your own imagination of these cities. I also see this documentation of city sounds as an archival work, for posterity sake.
DG: What do you find so interesting about Lagos’ soundscape?
OE: Lagos is very much alive because of its eclectic and rich soundscape, and one of the first impressions of the city is the intensity and ubiquity of its soundscape. Lagos is a city defined by its soundscape. These observations led me to the decision to document and learn more about this city through its soundscape.
DG: What are some areas of Lagos that you find particular interesting, in terms of its soundscape?
OE: For me, the most interesting areas for mining sound in Lagos are the bus parks. Each bus park is a melting pot of Lagos sounds, and it is the only proof that your sound is 100% authentic Lagos. You hear the “verbal maps” here, loud and clear.
DG: Would you explain what those “verbal maps” are?
OE: They’re the acoustic cartographic mapping of Lagos by its bus routes and by bus conductors at the bus parks, and they are original proofs of authenticity. Lagos soundscape (without the verbal maps) could sound like any other place in the world. Lagos is not the only city in the world where there are loads of traffic, hawkers, generators, and loud street music going on ceaselessly. Yet, it is probably the only city in the world with these peculiar verbal maps, which abound plentifully in these bus parks, layered over the rest of the other sounds. It is really an orchestra out there.
DG: How are you developing the “Verbal Maps” into its own project?
OE: “Verbal Maps” draws directly from the Lagos Soundscape project. Instead of using conventional direction signs, the project maps Lagos’ city layout using its bus routes as echoed verbally by Lagos bus conductors whose buses travel along these routes. It is intended that the bus conductors’ voices, translated as sound installations, can help one to cartographically imagine and encounter Lagos in its immense complexity.
DG: What is Obalende, which is featured in the photo you have provided?
OE: Obalende (6°26’59.08” N, 3°24’34.37”E) is one of the most popular bus parks / routes in Lagos, and it’s my favorite recording turf. It is the main connecting hub for commercial buses plying between the mainland and the island. Anthropologically, a lot of history has been built around this bus park. The sound piece you mentioned is an excerpt from the Obalende series, which explores the dynamics of this bus park.
DG: What are some recent developments with Lagos Soundscape?
EO: It’s been presented in several exhibitions recently, the most recent being the Arte InVisible exhibition at the ARCO Madrid in February. These exhibitions opened more ears to the Lagos soundscapes, and also attracted a lot of exposure and collaborative enquires for the project. In May, I presented ‘Go Slow’, which is an offshoot of Lagos Soundscape, at the African Urbanism colloquium. There are still a few more exhibitions lined up this year that will feature the soundscapes.
DG: What is the African Urbanism colloquium?
EO: It’s a project presented by the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town that brings together a group of African urbanists whose works explore African cities. The first was held in Cape Town in 2009, and this year’s event was in Cairo. This year’s colloquium created an opportunity for an upcoming collaboration with a South African artist.
DG: How long have been involved with the Creative Africa Network?
EO: I’ve been on the network for about a year now.
DG: What do you like about it? What are its activities?
EO: It’s a ‘watering hole’ for people in the creative field within and outside of Africa. Its activities center around providing supports and partnerships, and creating networking opportunities for its members.
DG: You’ve also co-founded the Video Art Network Lagos. What kind of work does VANL do?
EO: Our main goal is to promote video art in Nigeria. It’s relatively new, and we’re still putting its structure together.
DG: What are you planning to do on World Listening Day?
OE: I will be organizing a listening party in my studio, where I’ll set up a Lagos Soundscape listening booth, and I’m also making plans to extend it to other venues across Lagos.The gathering will also discuss Lagos Soundscape in context of the World Listening Project. I’m interested in hearing feedback from the participants.
DG: You’re working on a project called “50.” How would you explain what that is?
OE: “50” explores the nation Nigeria in retrospect, with 50 words that will be randomly selected from a pool of words generated online by the Nigerian public over a period of time. I hope to project these words as texts on a national monument (if I’m able to get permission), for Nigeria’s 50th independence celebration.
DG: What other things are you working on?
EO: I’m planning on conducting workshops aimed at promoting sound practices in Nigerian art, and hopefully these workshops would generate more interests in sound and possibly lead to future collaborations.
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