Abeng

27.05.2021

Audio work in progress by Gazelle Mba.

I'm interested to explore the way music accompanies and shapes our experience of work.

Why do we cling to music as a way of getting through the working day?

What can work songs ranging from sea shanties to Negro spirituals teach us about the ways workers resist capitalist oppression?

The history of work songs is a rich and formidable area of research. My focus will be primarily on the abolitionist and race related works in the leftover archives, where I will search for instances where music is mentioned be it in the form of protest songs, work songs, or even descriptions of parties and other events in order to situate them in a wider global history where Africans and Carribeans have used sound as potent political weapon. I intend to link the content of the archives to other manifestations of the show’s theme, by for instance speaking about the significance of the African word ‘Abeng’, which means conch shell and was used simultaneously for calling slaves to the canefields in the West Indies and as an instrument by the Maroon armies to pass their messages and reach one another. I will also discuss Walter Rodney’s analysis in his book The Groundings with my Brothers where he praises Count Ossie’s Rastafarian chants and songs as a key moment in the history of black liberation. I also plan to feature the Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer who alongside her tireless work also made field recordings and songs which were brought together in the album Songs My Mother Taught me, recorded in 1963. I’m also interested in work songs in South Africa and anti-apartheid protest music, which I will use as means of staging the deeply internationalist black politics expressed in magazines such as Race Today.

I envision the work as being oral interwoven with musical accompaniments. I would also like to gesture towards the use of sound in more contemporary protests such as the abolitionist Black Lives Matter demonstrations that took place last summer.

Abeng is part of MayDay Radio's 2021 Commission Series, part supported by MayDay Rooms