Popular Memories

These three short pieces are based on recordings from the archives of the Centre for Popular Memory in Cape Town.

The centre builds on the strong sense of oral history often found in Africa by recording people’s stories about the past and researching the ways in which these memories play a part in shaping individual and group identities.

Listen to the original recordings from the CPM archive

Besides the content of the stories I became increasingly fascinated with their musical aspects - the pacing, rhythms and inflections that communicate a great deal even if the meaning of the words is obscured. They provided the basis for 3 short pieces composed for Ensemble Insomnio.

Small interludes pieced together from the background sounds found between the words on the recordings provide transitions between the instrumental pieces.

The performance is rounded off with a video in which the melodic and rhythmic shapes extracted from the stories trigger fragments of photographs from the centre’s archives. There is no sound accompanying the video, only the audience’s memory of what they have just heard.

Photographs courtesy of the Centre for Popular Memory, University of Cape Town