The pandemic caused the Africa2020 Season, which was scheduled to showcase cultural projects all over France, to be postponed, but the Season did kick off in December 2020, and the plan is that it will unfold as planned until July 2021.

N’Goné Fall, the Senegalese General Commissioner of the Africa2020 Season, called the large scale gathering, which is presented under the banner of the Institut Français, “an invitation to look at and understand the world from an African perspective.”

She felt it was “necessary to avoid the trap of nationalisms, regionalisms, and the promotion of linguistic and ethnic groups.” In her worldview, Africa “is the repository of a collective memory, the receptacle of civilizations with moving boundaries whose gestures have crossed the centuries.”

Officially, the Africa2020 Season is presented as “an allegory of the cultural, spiritual, commercial, technological and political networks that have linked the nations of the African continent throughout history,” and innovation, creativity and resilience became some of the key words driving the curatorial project.

In justifying the support of the French state, French President Emmanuel Macron made the following statement: “I consider that Africa is simply the central, global, essential continent because it is here that all the contemporary challenges collide. It is in Africa that a part of the tipping of the world will be played.”

One of the most original creations presented is by the Congolese artist Sammy Baloji, who is showing two sculptures, named Johari – Brass Band, which were installed in the stairway of the Grand Palais, the historic exhibition site and exhibition hall on the Champs-Elysées, in Paris.

Artist Sammy Baloji standing in between his Johari - Brass Band creation at the entrance of the Grand Palais in Paris. Photographed by Didier Plowy
Sammy Baloji's collaboration with Mo Laudi is part of the Africa2020 Season in France, which will unfold until July 2021
Mo Laudi says this gumbo mix of a collaboration with Sammy Baloji creates “a trance atmosphere that captures collective spirituality.”

The Lubumbashi-born artist invited Mo Laudi, the South African DJ/producer/composer/artist, to delve into the preparatory research for Johari – Brass Band. This included hours of musical archives, which Laudi connected to his own archives in order to construct a soundscape that form parallels between the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa, with detours in New Orleans and France.

The idea, says Laudi, was to “question the shared pan-African experience of appropriation, of exploitation of natural resources and Black bodies.” Legend has it that, once a week on Sundays, the slaves in New Orleans were “allowed” to congregate and dance in Congo Square. When the occupying French military hurriedly headed for Haiti in the late 18th century, they left behind their brass instruments which were instantly taken up by the local communities who went on to develop innovative and now world-renowned music styles.

Mo Laudi composed Congo Square in D# Minor

Complex syncopated drum patterns, lung-based rhythmics, grooves and claps became some of the ingredients that led to the creation of jazz music. Laudi recalls that his first experiences of brass bands in South Africa were the local “Ga Molepo Church” as well as the ZCC, Zion Christian Church. “They performed with gusto and had such a groove about them,” he recalls.

His sonic composition references the hybrid spirituality that merged religious celebrations and African traditions such as dinaka/kiba (the traditional music of the Sotho people), the hip-hop and R&B samplings that are popular with Historical Black Colleges and Universities, and the brass bands that were recently highlighted by musician icons such as Beyoncé at her Coachella Homecoming performance.

Congo Square in D# Minor, as the composition is called, merges multiple influences in the instrumentation, including the reappropriation of Western wind instruments by slaves, and the sound of various trumpets, tubas, trombones, and French horns. Laudi says this gumbo mix creates “a trance atmosphere that captures collective spirituality.”

You can stream Congo Square in D# Minor in this Soundcloud link.