HERE HISTORY BEGAN.
Tracing the Re/Verberations of Halim El-Dabh
research, performance, Radio and exhibition project
With Halim El-Dabh, and Leo Asemota, Black Quantum Futurism (Camae Ayewa aka Moor Mother & Rasheedah Phillips), Vivian Caccuri, Jessica Ekomane, Theo Eshetu, Satch Hoyt, Tegene Kunbi, Yara Mekawei, Magdi Mostafa, Camille Norment, Emeka Ogboh, Matana Roberts, Lorenzo Sandoval, Sunette L. Viljoen
Halim El-Dabh existed only as a mysterious footnote to almost every kind of music that I found myself drifting toward [...]: once I’d become fairly familiar with the canon of a particular genre of music, be it modern classical, traditional Arabic, or electronica, I’d grow curious about the fringe artists in that field — the outsiders, the artists who didn’t fit in — the perverts. Without exception, that’s where I’d find him, as the very occasional, odd footnote. He was [...] seemingly implicated in almost every modernist project of the 20th century, a maverick or “experimental” artist, who, for reasons rarely elucidated, wasn’t deemed worthy enough to be part of the official narrative of modernism.
HERE HISTORY BEGAN. TRACING THE RE/VERBERATIONS OF HALIM EL-DABH is the culmination of a four year long research, and is SAVVY Contemporary’s second homage to the oeuvre of Halim El-Dabh, the Egyptian-American composer, electronic musician, Pan-Africanist, creative ethnomusicologist and philosopher, who cross-pollinated sonic disciplines ranging from music for voice and electronic music to opera, symphony, ballet, orchestra while conducting significant research into the sonic traditions of Egypt, Ethiopia, Congo, Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Zaire, Brazil, Jamaica, and the United States.
This exhibition will lead into a series of concerts, lectures, performances, and workshops throughout 2020–21, expanding our prelude in the 2018 Dak’Art Biennial Canine Wisdom for the Barking Dog Sextet: Exploring the Sonic Cosmologies of Halim El-Dabh. With HERE HISTORY BEGAN, we propose listening to these “footnotes” into which El-Dabh has been pushed and the possibility of bending time, re-mixing history — fast-forwarding, pausing, rewinding, forwarding again, and stopping, almost as if physically spinning on a turntable through temporalities, sonic methods, sonic geographies, (un)timing time and “extending the same mix based on repetitions and recirculations of the same thing”. SAVVY Contemporary has commissioned contemporary artists, composers, and performers to produce sonic, visual, installative and extra-disciplinary works to pay tribute to, to reflect on, and to get inspired through Halim El-Dabh over seventy years of work.
With a SAVVY Contemporary team of researchers, curators, producers, and scenographers, this exhibition allows one to enter the life and work of Halim El-Dabh, not only as a means of documentation but also as a source of inspiration. We seek inspiration from and build upon El-Dabh’s phenomenal graphic scores, taking a cue from his writings on colour, movement, and improvisation.
At the same time, HERE HISTORY BEGAN becomes a re/verberation of history, complexifying here both temporally and geopolitically, and opening new possibilities of thinking, composing, and contemplating on African sonicity and its effects on historicity.
CONCEIVED BY Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung and Kamila Metwaly
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung
CURATOR, Researcher, Editor, Writer Kamila Metwaly
CO-CURATORS Olani Ewunnet, Lynhan Balatbat-Helbock
SCENOGRAPHY AND EXHIBITION DESIGN Ola Zielińska
CURATORIAL ASSISTANCE Onur Çimen
EXHIBITION PRODUCTION Mahnoor Zehra Lodhi
CURATORIAL AND PROJECT COORDINATION Lili Somogyi
EXHIBITION RESEARCH Monilola Ilupeju
COMMUNICATIONS Anna Jäger
DESIGN Juan Pablo García Sossa
GENERAL MANAGEMENT Lema Sikod
PROJECT MANAGEMENT Jörg-Peter Schulze
TECH Bert Günther
ART HANDLING Willy Mungai, António Pedro Mendes
Funding This project has been kindly supported by the German Federal Cultural Foundation, MaerzMusik – Festival for Time Issues and the Goethe Institut.
Project Partners MaerzMusik – Festival for Time Issues and Deutschlandfunk Kultur
Thanks Over the last four years, we have worked to build up an archive of El-Dabh, which was made possible only by the immense generosity and knowledge shared by Halim El-Dabh, with continued support by Deborah El-Dabh.
This archive has been built paper by paper, sound upon sound, through intensive research and collaboration with those who worked closely with Halim El-Dabh, his friends and family, and various institutions. We would like to extend our warm thanks to: Habeeb El-Dabh, Dawn Carson, Ron Slabe, Grant Marquit, Magda Saleh, Cara Gilgenbach (Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives), Jan Senn and Melissa Olson (Kent State Magazine), Nick Patterson (Music Librarian at Columbia University), Seth Cluett (Columbia Computer Music Center), Oliver Tobin, Ellen Graff, and Peggy Lyman (Martha Graham Company), Alice Shields, Thom Holmes, George E. Lewis, James Vaughan, Hasan Hajuri, Tommy McCutchon, Colette Lucas (The MacDowell Colony), Janet L. Stanley (Smithsonian Institution), Jeff Ingram (Standing Rock Cultural Arts), Robin the Fog (BBC Radio 4), Jeff St. Clair (WKSU), Nasri Zacharia and B. Lorenzo Roaché (Harlem International Film Festival (Hi)) and the archives of Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Archives, Smithsonian Institute and Howard University Archives.
A SPECIAL THANK YOU to Deborah El-Dabh and to everyone who has supported us in the making of this exhibition and keeping Halim El-Dabh’s legacy and memory alive.