RE:BOOT: everything you need to know about African sound

African music has always been ahead of the rest of the world in terms of innovation and experimentation. Today, it has shifted into a mass trend with the help from many DJs, promoters, and labels like Awesome Tapes From Africa or Analog Africa. All of a sudden everyone has started talking about Afrobeat and Highlife, singing Letta Mbulu’s songs and dancing to Congolese funk.

RE:BOOT: everything you need to know about African sound

African music has always been ahead of the rest of the world in terms of innovation and experimentation. Today, it has shifted into a mass trend with the help from many DJs, promoters, and labels like Awesome Tapes From Africa or Analog Africa. All of a sudden everyone has started talking about Afrobeat and Highlife, singing Letta Mbulu’s songs and dancing to Congolese funk.

RE:BOOT: everything you need to know about African sound

African music has always been ahead of the rest of the world in terms of innovation and experimentation. Today, it has shifted into a mass trend with the help from many DJs, promoters, and labels like Awesome Tapes From Africa or Analog Africa. All of a sudden everyone has started talking about Afrobeat and Highlife, singing Letta Mbulu’s songs and dancing to Congolese funk.

RE:BOOT: everything you need to know about African sound

African music has always been ahead of the rest of the world in terms of innovation and experimentation. Today, it has shifted into a mass trend with the help from many DJs, promoters, and labels like Awesome Tapes From Africa or Analog Africa. All of a sudden everyone has started talking about Afrobeat and Highlife, singing Letta Mbulu’s songs and dancing to Congolese funk.

RE:BOOT: everything you need to know about African sound

African music has always been ahead of the rest of the world in terms of innovation and experimentation. Today, it has shifted into a mass trend with the help from many DJs, promoters, and labels like Awesome Tapes From Africa or Analog Africa. All of a sudden everyone has started talking about Afrobeat and Highlife, singing Letta Mbulu’s songs and dancing to Congolese funk.

RE:BOOT: everything you need to know about African sound

African music has always been ahead of the rest of the world in terms of innovation and experimentation. Today, it has shifted into a mass trend with the help from many DJs, promoters, and labels like Awesome Tapes From Africa or Analog Africa. All of a sudden everyone has started talking about Afrobeat and Highlife, singing Letta Mbulu’s songs and dancing to Congolese funk.

RE:BOOT: everything you need to know about African sound

African music has always been ahead of the rest of the world in terms of innovation and experimentation. Today, it has shifted into a mass trend with the help from many DJs, promoters, and labels like Awesome Tapes From Africa or Analog Africa. All of a sudden everyone has started talking about Afrobeat and Highlife, singing Letta Mbulu’s songs and dancing to Congolese funk.

          Despite the global interest in the musical heritage of the "cradle of civilization", we are still inclined to generalize all of its diversity, forgetting that every genre or style, be it soukous, Congolese rumba or electro chaabi, posses it’s unique historical, cultural and linguistic features.

          Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti once said: "99.9% of the information you get about Africa is wrong." It's really hard to argue with that. Our ideas about the continent are so saturated with various imposed tags and false images that it is getting more and more difficult to get out of the delusional trap we’ve put ourselves in.

‍Philou Louzolo

Moved by the common misconception what African music is about, Roman Steinmetz and Maximilian Kreis with collective of researchers, designers and musicians, Sebastian Zimmerhackl, Benedikt Luft, Malte von der Lancken, Gilberto Mascarenas, Benedikt Weißhaupt and Hauke Dorsch have made RE:BOOT Africa - a concept that covers both parties and lectures, and is meant to educate and inspire.

          Despite the global interest in the musical heritage of the "cradle of civilization", we are still inclined to generalize all of its diversity, forgetting that every genre or style, be it soukous, Congolese rumba or electro chaabi, posses it’s unique historical, cultural and linguistic features.

          Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti once said: "99.9% of the information you get about Africa is wrong." It's really hard to argue with that. Our ideas about the continent are so saturated with various imposed tags and false images that it is getting more and more difficult to get out of the delusional trap we’ve put ourselves in.

‍Philou Louzolo

Moved by the common misconception what African music is about, Roman Steinmetz and Maximilian Kreis with collective of researchers, designers and musicians, Sebastian Zimmerhackl, Benedikt Luft, Malte von der Lancken, Gilberto Mascarenas, Benedikt Weißhaupt and Hauke Dorsch have made RE:BOOT Africa - a concept that covers both parties and lectures, and is meant to educate and inspire.

In the beginning, there was Africa

          Roman and Max met in 2014. Sharing similar musical background, they’ve quickly found a common ground. At that time, the idea of making up workshops on African music first appeared which they called RE:BOOT CAMP. Initially, it wasn’t meant to grow that big, until Hauke Dorsch paid a visit to one of the first events. As ethnologist and the head of Europe's largest archive of African music, he was impressed by the fresh outlook of RE:BOOT and the fact that the guys had nothing to do with “dry” educational institutions. Hauke invited them to browse through the collection of rare records in the archive and provided an opportunity to work with all the material for their research with a scientific approach.

          “When we started the project I eventually went to work in South Africa for 8 months,” Roman recalls. “When I came back to Germany I was happy to have RE:BOOT as a place to express the experiences I made."

          The first festival was organized in 2015. “We got funding from the government, so we were able to make a proper booking. We booked Africaine 808 before they released a new album and after they did, they got booked by Dekmantel, Rush Hour parties, played for Boiler Room couple of times and so on. It was nice that we hung out with them and found with DJ Nomad, one of the most prolific diggers of African music in Europe, a collaborator who supported us throughout the whole Project and even provided us with artworks for our next Festival in 2016. It's great when people you work with become your friends.”

In the beginning, there was Africa

          Roman and Max met in 2014. Sharing similar musical background, they’ve quickly found a common ground. At that time, the idea of making up workshops on African music first appeared which they called RE:BOOT CAMP. Initially, it wasn’t meant to grow that big, until Hauke Dorsch paid a visit to one of the first events. As ethnologist and the head of Europe's largest archive of African music, he was impressed by the fresh outlook of RE:BOOT and the fact that the guys had nothing to do with “dry” educational institutions. Hauke invited them to browse through the collection of rare records in the archive and provided an opportunity to work with all the material for their research with a scientific approach.

          “When we started the project I eventually went to work in South Africa for 8 months,” Roman recalls. “When I came back to Germany I was happy to have RE:BOOT as a place to express the experiences I made."

          The first festival was organized in 2015. “We got funding from the government, so we were able to make a proper booking. We booked Africaine 808 before they released a new album and after they did, they got booked by Dekmantel, Rush Hour parties, played for Boiler Room couple of times and so on. It was nice that we hung out with them and found with DJ Nomad, one of the most prolific diggers of African music in Europe, a collaborator who supported us throughout the whole Project and even provided us with artworks for our next Festival in 2016. It's great when people you work with become your friends.”

‍Africaine 808 
‍Africaine 808 

Archive

          A year later, Roman got a position in the Archive of African Music and started the process of digitizing with shellac and tapes. The place holds more than 10 000 records: starting from the 1940s and covering the music of almost every country to the South of Sahara desert. “It was beautiful because for the first time in my life I could pay my bills by studying and listening music,” says Steinmetz.

          The broad collection of music included everything from old tapes, vinyl singles, and shellac recordings, to various video footage and raw field recordings. All of it has been carefully sorted in the organization for many years. Some of them, for instance, got into the archive straight from the hands of people who saved the materials during the civil war in Nigeria.

          “We started digitizing from shellac records. The material is older than vinyl, so when you drop them, they shatter to pieces - they are very sensitive. You only have about 5 minutes per side, and if you play them more than 100 times, they are gone. The tapes and the shellac is just a tiny part of the collection, the main part is vinyl and maxi LPs. There are maybe 40 minutes per side, so these records are longer to digitize and that makes it expensive. You have to switch the sides, be there and listen if there are any scratches, noises, dust or whatever. So if you love the music it’s very nice.”

          Despite the fact, that the archive might not be the most entertaining institution, Roman loved it and suggested the organization to finally come out of the shadows.

“We had a thought on how to make that archive more public and increase the reputation, so we threw a party for them. We played some rare music from the archive, but not only old recordings and traditional African music, we put South African house, European productions with African influences - some contemporary stuff.”

Archive

          A year later, Roman got a position in the Archive of African Music and started the process of digitizing with shellac and tapes. The place holds more than 10 000 records: starting from the 1940s and covering the music of almost every country to the South of Sahara desert. “It was beautiful because for the first time in my life I could pay my bills by studying and listening music,” says Steinmetz.

          The broad collection of music included everything from old tapes, vinyl singles, and shellac recordings, to various video footage and raw field recordings. All of it has been carefully sorted in the organization for many years. Some of them, for instance, got into the archive straight from the hands of people who saved the materials during the civil war in Nigeria.

          “We started digitizing from shellac records. The material is older than vinyl, so when you drop them, they shatter to pieces - they are very sensitive. You only have about 5 minutes per side, and if you play them more than 100 times, they are gone. The tapes and the shellac is just a tiny part of the collection, the main part is vinyl and maxi LPs. There are maybe 40 minutes per side, so these records are longer to digitize and that makes it expensive. You have to switch the sides, be there and listen if there are any scratches, noises, dust or whatever. So if you love the music it’s very nice.”

          Despite the fact, that the archive might not be the most entertaining institution, Roman loved it and suggested the organization to finally come out of the shadows.

“We had a thought on how to make that archive more public and increase the reputation, so we threw a party for them. We played some rare music from the archive, but not only old recordings and traditional African music, we put South African house, European productions with African influences - some contemporary stuff.”

‍Artwork By Benedikt Luft

‍Artwork By Benedikt Luft

The Reboot

          Having joined their efforts, the Archive of African Music and RE:BOOT Africa started organizing parties often together with "Hotel International", combining a compelling educational program with the performances of such artists as Dj Slyngshot, Dj Katapila & Brian Shimkovitz (from Awesome Tapes from Africa), Alma Negra, Analog Africa Soundsystem and Philou Louzolo.

          The mission of RE:BOOT is to show the true diversity of the continent. Despite the global demand and accelerated interest in the African music, most people still tend to stigmatize it as percussion and congas. “I don’t even want to use this word, because African music is like any kind of music, it has house music, techno or hip-hop and I don’t even want to use this phrase anymore.”

          "People in Europe often talk about Africa as one big country and completely overlook the fact that the continent is also inhabited by, for example, people of Arab nationality. And this is also African music. [With RE:BOOT] we want to educate people about the variety of African music. Also, the contemporary stuff which is produced in South Africa, Nigeria at the moment. It’s a massive hip-hop and house scene. The house scene in Africa is even bigger than in Detroit or Chicago, but no one knows about it.”

The Reboot

          Having joined their efforts, the Archive of African Music and RE:BOOT Africa started organizing parties often together with "Hotel International", combining a compelling educational program with the performances of such artists as Dj Slyngshot, Dj Katapila & Brian Shimkovitz (from Awesome Tapes from Africa), Alma Negra, Analog Africa Soundsystem and Philou Louzolo.

          The mission of RE:BOOT is to show the true diversity of the continent. Despite the global demand and accelerated interest in the African music, most people still tend to stigmatize it as percussion and congas. “I don’t even want to use this word, because African music is like any kind of music, it has house music, techno or hip-hop and I don’t even want to use this phrase anymore.”

          "People in Europe often talk about Africa as one big country and completely overlook the fact that the continent is also inhabited by, for example, people of Arab nationality. And this is also African music. [With RE:BOOT] we want to educate people about the variety of African music. Also, the contemporary stuff which is produced in South Africa, Nigeria at the moment. It’s a massive hip-hop and house scene. The house scene in Africa is even bigger than in Detroit or Chicago, but no one knows about it.”

The mission of RE:BOOT is to show the true diversity of the continent. Despite the global demand and accelerated interest in the African music, most people still tend to stigmatize it as percussion and congas.

The mission of RE:BOOT is to show the true diversity of the continent. Despite the global demand and accelerated interest in the African music, most people still tend to stigmatize it as percussion and congas.

          Roman and Maximilian decided to distance themselves from the drear university places as much as possible and moved the lecturers straight to the clubs. According to the scenario, RE:BOOT lectures smoothly transform into the party: the lights turn off, the DJ comes behind the decks and all the visitors of the educational part are encouraged to enter the night with a free pass.

          “The idea is to catch people who wouldn’t go there for the lecture. We do that by offering proper booking and attracting people who don’t have enough money to pay a 15 euro entrance fee or are happy if they can save it. That’s why we want to keep lectures completely free and if you come to the lecture you can stay for the party too. This is basically catching those people who only want to save money for the party, but I don’t care, you know. This is our way to invite people to get the knowledge.”

          Roman and Maximilian decided to distance themselves from the drear university places as much as possible and moved the lecturers straight to the clubs. According to the scenario, RE:BOOT lectures smoothly transform into the party: the lights turn off, the DJ comes behind the decks and all the visitors of the educational part are encouraged to enter the night with a free pass.

          “The idea is to catch people who wouldn’t go there for the lecture. We do that by offering proper booking and attracting people who don’t have enough money to pay a 15 euro entrance fee or are happy if they can save it. That’s why we want to keep lectures completely free and if you come to the lecture you can stay for the party too. This is basically catching those people who only want to save money for the party, but I don’t care, you know. This is our way to invite people to get the knowledge.”

          There is a special requirement for the RE:BOOT locations - lectures can only be held in places with a proper sound system, as the educational program involves listening to various music from the archive collection that are not easy to get hold of. You need to send a request for the use of audio for scientific purposes, then, sign the documents that determine the responsibility for the material. But it's worth it, Roman implies:

”It was amazing to listen to Nigerian music from the 70s on the Robert Johnson sound system.”

          The collective has assembled lecturers from all over Germany. The project has their own opinion regarding it: “We don’t mind if the lecturers are native or not as long as they are good researchers with a holistic perception of the topic. We would like to mix those different perceptions of how we as Europeans look at that kind of development in music, things that we like, our habits and our music styles. On the other hand, we want to know what is really pumped in other countries, what is really happening in South Africa, what kinds of music do they listen to or what do they listen to in Nigeria, because it's completely different from what is being played on some “African” parties.”

          The lecturers pick the most diverse topics. Roman told that recently, his friend Tom Simmert presented his scientific research about the influence of Nigerian music on the American disco, as a part of his RE:BOOT talk. The theme was: "Dance music across the Atlantic." Tom picked South Africa, the United States, and Nigeria to demonstrate the interference of styles and rhythm and how the music of two different continents intertwined and mutated to eventually gain the autonomy.

          Post-colonialism was also among other topic covered by the project. The next event, though, is going to be devoted to the problem of the reissues and all the good and bad guys behind the repeated releases of the forgotten musical treasures.

          There is a special requirement for the RE:BOOT locations - lectures can only be held in places with a proper sound system, as the educational program involves listening to various music from the archive collection that are not easy to get hold of. You need to send a request for the use of audio for scientific purposes, then, sign the documents that determine the responsibility for the material. But it's worth it, Roman implies:

”It was amazing to listen to Nigerian music from the 70s on the Robert Johnson sound system.”

          The collective has assembled lecturers from all over Germany. The project has their own opinion regarding it: “We don’t mind if the lecturers are native or not as long as they are good researchers with a holistic perception of the topic. We would like to mix those different perceptions of how we as Europeans look at that kind of development in music, things that we like, our habits and our music styles. On the other hand, we want to know what is really pumped in other countries, what is really happening in South Africa, what kinds of music do they listen to or what do they listen to in Nigeria, because it's completely different from what is being played on some “African” parties.”

          The lecturers pick the most diverse topics. Roman told that recently, his friend Tom Simmert presented his scientific research about the influence of Nigerian music on the American disco, as a part of his RE:BOOT talk. The theme was: "Dance music across the Atlantic." Tom picked South Africa, the United States, and Nigeria to demonstrate the interference of styles and rhythm and how the music of two different continents intertwined and mutated to eventually gain the autonomy.

          Post-colonialism was also among other topic covered by the project. The next event, though, is going to be devoted to the problem of the reissues and all the good and bad guys behind the repeated releases of the forgotten musical treasures.

‍OVERTHRUST (Death Metal Band from Botswana)
‍OVERTHRUST (Death Metal Band from Botswana)

The weight of post-colonialism

          There is no secret that working with the heritage of Africa is somewhat tricky, like sitting on a powder keg that is about to explode. Any person from the Western world, who finds the courage to talk aloud about Africa, risks being thrown into the fire by critics. It didn’t happen overnight, of course. There were headlines about the dishonesty of labels that exploit the music of the African people, copyright claims, various feuds between artists and promoters, etc. Roman Steinmetz agrees that for some people African music is a new gold vein, but at the same time, it is a bait for the shameless players of the music business.

The weight of post-colonialism

          There is no secret that working with the heritage of Africa is somewhat tricky, like sitting on a powder keg that is about to explode. Any person from the Western world, who finds the courage to talk aloud about Africa, risks being thrown into the fire by critics. It didn’t happen overnight, of course. There were headlines about the dishonesty of labels that exploit the music of the African people, copyright claims, various feuds between artists and promoters, etc. Roman Steinmetz agrees that for some people African music is a new gold vein, but at the same time, it is a bait for the shameless players of the music business.

“Our goal is to digitize everything and when it’s conserved, to have it last long, to have it on the server. Then, it’s safe forever and after that, the plan is to bring all the records to the countries we got them from. This is a very conscious approach.”Roman says.

“Our goal is to digitize everything and when it’s conserved, to have it last long, to have it on the server. Then, it’s safe forever and after that, the plan is to bring all the records to the countries we got them from. This is a very conscious approach.”Roman says.

          From the conversation, it becomes clear that the problem of post-colonialism is significant for him, so we did not miss the opportunity to ask how such a tense atmosphere inside the music community is reflected in the activity of RE:BOOT project.

          “This is a topic, that we’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Many bookers, when they request us, they ask if we can provide African deejays or musicians as well. Recently we talked with a musician from the Netherlands about this topic since we are white people organizing parties with African music, we are very sensitive concerning the topic of cultural appropriation. We had a long conversation at the party and he said: “Yes, it’s very nice, that kind of self-reflective attitude you bring with it.”

          From the conversation, it becomes clear that the problem of post-colonialism is significant for him, so we did not miss the opportunity to ask how such a tense atmosphere inside the music community is reflected in the activity of RE:BOOT project.

          “This is a topic, that we’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Many bookers, when they request us, they ask if we can provide African deejays or musicians as well. Recently we talked with a musician from the Netherlands about this topic since we are white people organizing parties with African music, we are very sensitive concerning the topic of cultural appropriation. We had a long conversation at the party and he said: “Yes, it’s very nice, that kind of self-reflective attitude you bring with it.”

          According to Roman, they see both sides of the deal, but regarding RE:BOOT their views are unshakable. Their main idea is to cooperate with real professionals in the field of African music research not looking at their nationality. This is what RE:BOOT is most intrigued about - listening to the opinions of people from all over the world on one particular topic. “We have a guy from Beijing talking about African music, a guy from Turkey, a German guy. We want to collaborate with people from different nations because views on specific topics, countries, and genres are very interesting for us. Of course, not only a white western viewpoint, definitely not. I don’t think that Hauke Dorsch, who is a dean of ethnology in African studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University has a common white western perception. He spent such a long time in African countries. He looks like an average western white guy, but he doesn’t have a perception of a regular western white guy.”

 

          In the context of the parties, RE:BOOT adhere to global views. Considering African music, Roman and Maximilian do not focus solely on, say, Afrobeat, but welcome diversity. “We booked a guy from Ghana and we thought: “OK, that’s interesting! What kind of music will he play?” During he played a different set as we expected and screwed up some transitions in his set he grabbed the microphone and said: “OK, sorry for that” and then he kept on mixing. That was my most inspiring RE:BOOT moment. He came all the way from Ghana and played 4 or 5 African tracks the rest was American and European chart music, "Alane from Wes" and "You got to show me love from Robin S" and that was so nice for us, it was very relieving, because he played whatever he wanted and the energy was great.”

          According to Roman, they see both sides of the deal, but regarding RE:BOOT their views are unshakable. Their main idea is to cooperate with real professionals in the field of African music research not looking at their nationality. This is what RE:BOOT is most intrigued about - listening to the opinions of people from all over the world on one particular topic. “We have a guy from Beijing talking about African music, a guy from Turkey, a German guy. We want to collaborate with people from different nations because views on specific topics, countries, and genres are very interesting for us. Of course, not only a white western viewpoint, definitely not. I don’t think that Hauke Dorsch, who is a dean of ethnology in African studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University has a common white western perception. He spent such a long time in African countries. He looks like an average western white guy, but he doesn’t have a perception of a regular western white guy.”

 

          In the context of the parties, RE:BOOT adhere to global views. Considering African music, Roman and Maximilian do not focus solely on, say, Afrobeat, but welcome diversity. “We booked a guy from Ghana and we thought: “OK, that’s interesting! What kind of music will he play?” During he played a different set as we expected and screwed up some transitions in his set he grabbed the microphone and said: “OK, sorry for that” and then he kept on mixing. That was my most inspiring RE:BOOT moment. He came all the way from Ghana and played 4 or 5 African tracks the rest was American and European chart music, "Alane from Wes" and "You got to show me love from Robin S" and that was so nice for us, it was very relieving, because he played whatever he wanted and the energy was great.”

What’s next?

          Despite the enlightenment mission, RE:BOOT openly declare the desire to be self-sustaining and more independent. Having extensive experience of working in non-profit organizations, Roman makes it clear: “I don’t want to sit under other people asses all the time.”

While many educational organizations depend on the grant programs, Roman and Maximilian have generated their own formula by using the commercial potential of clubs to popularize African music and knowledge about it.

          “My wish is that people book us not just because of the music but for our holistic view on the whole issue.”

          Today, RE:BOOT Africa is feeling confident. They’ve formed a network of lecturers, organizers, musicians and are not going to stop there: “I believe in the power of doing - do and connect. The rest will develop somehow. Just start!” adds Roman.

What’s next?

          Despite the enlightenment mission, RE:BOOT openly declare the desire to be self-sustaining and more independent. Having extensive experience of working in non-profit organizations, Roman makes it clear: “I don’t want to sit under other people asses all the time.”

While many educational organizations depend on the grant programs, Roman and Maximilian have generated their own formula by using the commercial potential of clubs to popularize African music and knowledge about it.

          “My wish is that people book us not just because of the music but for our holistic view on the whole issue.”

          Today, RE:BOOT Africa is feeling confident. They’ve formed a network of lecturers, organizers, musicians and are not going to stop there: “I believe in the power of doing - do and connect. The rest will develop somehow. Just start!” adds Roman.

______

Text: Tanya Voytko

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