#1158: Searching for Post-Colonial Identity in an Experimental Oral Knowledge & Multi-Media Project “Ghana Airways”

Ghana Airways by Hakeem Adam was shown at IDFA DocLab 2022 as an experimental, non-linear audio installation with accompanying visuals, but it is also available online on Bandcamp as a linear, one-hour, 3-part audio series. The piece is Adam’s search for his post-colonial Ghanaian identity, and he’s interested in exploring unique modes of sound design to capture what he refers to as “oral knowledge.”

There was a lot that I did not quite understand when I first listened to this piece, and I got a lot more context and information from the interview that I did with Adam in Amsterdam. So I’d recommend either listening to the episodic series either before and/or after this interview since the narrative is deliberately sparse and self-described as “incoherent” (see below).

Adam says, “I refrain from describing Ghana Airways as a single entity (audio piece, website, installation, research work) [links added].” I also found it helpful to read the associated show notes and research, which wasn’t shown in the context of the IDFA DocLab installation, but perhaps could have been in some fashion as it did provide a lot of additional context for the piece.

I wanted to highlight a couple of quotes from Adam’s writing about Ghana Airways to provide a bit more context:

In trying to understand Ghana, I look to the kind of history Nketia describes as narrative that is neither elementary in form nor presented as coherent. The sonic event in the Ghanaian context, be it through song and ceremony, work or healing, can be translated as one mode of transcribing experience into material, in this case, song. Through the conceptual machine that is Ghana Airways, I give myself the artistic licence to unravel the threads present in some of these songs, the principles and methods of their design and performance, and the social settings of their consumption and reflection… In my study of Ghanaian oral tradition, I am therefore looking to abstract sonic elements as evidence for or against my idea of what Ghana is. The narrative is never intended to be coherent. Rather it offers a mode of thinking, through writing and through sound, that allows the oral tradition to be explored as practice and theory, operating as a material that operates sculpturally in my non-linear and incoherent narrative.

Hakeem Adam – Oral Knowledge System > The Nation-State as a Sonic Artefact

Here’s another quote from Adam that describes his quest in understanding his identity:

Indeed, like Bopape and the other sources cited above, Ghana Airways is intended to unfold as a dialogue on a few axes but oscillating around identity politics in the national sense. Identities, no matter how concrete they may be, on a visa or a grant application, are dynamic and fluid, evolving with the concept of their birth… I am therefore interested in dialoguing with the fluid facets of my Ghanaian Identity. By probing the concrete fragments present, for example, in Ghanaian sonic or music traditions. I hope to reach some consensus or cathartic understanding of the principles that organize and characterize this Identity as an ameliorative creative act.

Hakeem Adam – Oral Knowledge System > Dialogue in Ghana Airways – Oral Tradition

So in the spirit of the multi-modal nature of this piece, then I’d recommend checking out the original 3-part episodic audio piece, website, research work either before and/or after listening to the interview.

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that's looking at the structures and forms of immersive storytelling, as well as the future of spatial computing. And you can support me on Patreon at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So continuing on in my series of looking at the number of different experiences at Ifadak Lab, today's experience is an immersive audio experience by Hakeem Adam. It's called Ghana Airways. And so this is actually an episodic piece that's broken up into three 20-minute segments. At DocLab, it was kind of in a running loop and you would jump into the middle of it and then see it in a nonlinear way. But what I would actually recommend is that there's a Bandcamp version where you can listen to the linear version that has a little bit more of a structure where it has a beginning, middle, and end for each of those segments. And so you can either listen to this hour-long piece before this conversation or get a little bit more context where you can listen to the conversation and then go back and listen to the entire experience. Because there was a certain aspects where the narrative is a little loose. It's a bit of experimental and it's very symbolic and it kind of washes over you in a certain way. And then that was sort of the intention. If you're actually from Ghana, then there may be certain sounds that are evoking these aspects of cultural nostalgia. But not being from Ghana, not having any reference, then it helped me to have the conversation and then go back and listen to it again. But it is available if you do want to have an actual experience of this piece. I'll have a link in the description. to a band camp link where you can listen to the entire experience. And there's also a bunch of writing that Hakeem has done about this piece. And so one of the things that I did when I was listening to it, since I had listened to it before, was I was reading through some of the other deeper thoughts that he had about this piece. And so you can mash up the many different modalities. There's this oral history conversation that'll set a broader context, or you can kind of dive into this piece in many different modalities if you want to. read the show notes and the research paper that he did along with it, because this was his thesis project, or just kind of listen to it raw, and then get more context afterwards. So that's what we're coming on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Hakeem happened on Sunday, November 13, 2022, at Ifadak Lab on the streets of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:28.742] Hakeem Adam: So I'm Hakeem Adam. I work as like a media artist. I'm interested in storytelling generally. And like, I just like to use digital media as my means of expression. I have a background in writing. I studied English and psychology for my like undergraduates degree. And I felt limited by like poetry or like writing as like a form of like not enough people reading versus listening or watching. So I wanted to explore different, you know, ways of telling stories. got into video, got into sound, got into programming. So eventually I'm like here, like, you know, making these kind of like, I call them storytelling projects, but they do like involve a lot of like new media, whether it's like 3D visuals or like spatial sound or like, you know, scripted sound or even VR or web design. Those are like my like storytelling modes. I do a number of different things, but for Edfat, those are the main things I do.

[00:03:18.789] Kent Bye: So maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into making this type of storytelling with digital media.

[00:03:25.292] Hakeem Adam: Yeah, it started with, like I said, I have this, like, you know, university training in, like, English. I learned how to, like, do what we call creative writing for, like, two years as my university program out of four years. So very, like, very much interested in, like, how we tell stories. But it was especially through text, you know, and I... I was involved with like the local arts scene in Accra. I was working as like a festival producer, media guy for like this street art festival in Ghana called the Chalote Street Art Festival. So I had this exposure to international artists, kind of like it for traveling to tell these new stories, like all these media stuff. I was like, I could also do this, you know, it doesn't look so hard. And for me, it was also like a way of like meeting or like connecting with audiences like myself who are not like so worried about, you know, writing or like, or film, but like, you know, this kind of like, kind of like this media ground between all these technologies that we have access to and there's a lot of stuff that's happening. So yeah, I had a chance to do some residencies. One was in Maputo, Maputo fast forward and I met Will Herita, a UK artist who introduced me to Max MSP and that's when I started getting into like programming and like being able to like you know make my own tools to like tell the stories I wanted. So I started doing sound experiments building like little instruments in Max MSP And then I was also learning about video art on my own, but I wanted to learn how to program and be able to build systems to tell these stories. So I applied for this degree program at the University of the Arts in Bremen to do digital media, which is kind of like an intersection of practice, media theory, and just making artwork, I guess. Sounds so good. So I came to this program as a way of developing or being able to tell more complex stories, maybe. It was mainly theory-based, I have to be honest. In Germany, they don't really teach you how to make stuff. It's more about thinking about what you're making and then you decide what works for you. So being in that school, I tried physical installation, I tried sculpture, I tried a lot of things, but there's always something about sound to me. I don't know, it's just easier to think about things through sound than it is to think through a lot of other media. So yeah, so I decided to take that passion into making this project which I'm showing at Ifagana Airways, which is originally a sound project looking at post-colonial identities and instances of hyper-nationalism. For me, it's a way to use Ghanaian oral storytelling or oral literary forms as a base to tell my story of my identity and reflecting on things about national power, collective identities, and storytelling in general. I started my own platform called Dan Danu to archive African film and music. I've been doing it for quite some years now, but I haven't been active. There was also a lot of training on what was happening on the continent related to new media. filmmakers trying. I remember one really important piece was Black Presidents by Kujanai Churai who is a Zimbabwean fine artist and it's like you know it's again it straddles this line between like documentary and what we are now calling new media very well you know it's not a really coherent story but it makes really good use of like the screen as this kind of space to tell stories you know and I've been trying to do that like I take Like, for example, another project I did called One Fifth of the Earth's Surface with a friend, Maxwell Mutanda, we looked at extending the bounds of the rectangle that you have on your PC or on your phone as this digital space for storytelling. But I wanted it to be an ocean, so I wanted to extend the screen to feel like an ocean and be able to tell the story. So yeah, I'm still figuring it out, to be honest, but that's kind of like... you know, working in festivals, meeting artists, working as like a journalist or like, I don't know what I was doing, but reviewing other people's work and thinking about like my own processes, how I've come to like, you know, this stage where I can like think about things and then design my own tools and design my own process for showing it. It's a roundabout.

[00:07:13.175] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's a lot of helpful context for this piece of Ghana Airways that you're showing here at IFA doc lab because it's a 60 minute audio piece split into three parts and you have three suitcases with a video component, but then it's kind of playing in a loop. So my experience of this piece was that I would go up into the suitcase and often it would be in the middle of the piece and it'd be kind of like, okay, what's happening? What's the context in it? Sometimes it would be music, sometimes it would be like little oral history nuggets. And then I would find myself wanting to find where the beginning was to see, okay, where does this start? Okay, what's the original context? So I found that like by doing each of those pieces that I would kind of have to repeat that process. I almost wanted to have a button to say, okay, can I start from the beginning? to make sure where I'm sort of starting from the beginning so that I'm not sort of jumping in the middle. But I'd love to hear your process, because the narrative structure of this piece is a little bit fragmented in the way that you can kind of drop into it. But then at the same time, I found if I'm jumping in the middle and hearing something, there was something before that that would have provided more context to understand something. So I'd love to hear that decision-making process of how you structured the piece.

[00:08:16.090] Hakeem Adam: I think this is amazing that you brought up like the button, you know. So originally, like this piece, it was fully based on sound. I started with like one episode, then the next episode, then the next episode. And at the same time, I was writing about it. That's like kind of a complementary process of like, you know, I have these ideas in text. I think about how do I express them in sound and then write about it again, like as a feedbacking process, you know. So the sound pieces are like really tight. You know, we're dealing with like online audiences. We were like 20 minutes, like perfect. for like most kind of like online content that's supposed to be long form you know if some people can do three hours but you have to have like a really big name for people to listen for three hours but for the kind of experience i wanted like 20 minutes was perfect so that was kind of the structure you know we have like i have three parts within each episode or three or four parts like there's a distinct intro which is you know i try to make sure each piece had a similar feeling beginning of like some kind of like ambience kind of like settle you into the story and like some there's like a lot of like repeating or um these kind of like um narrative devices like the airport's tone which is like repeated across all the episodes as a way of like alerting you like anytime you hear the airport tone you know like something important is about to be set so it's a way of also building that continuity through the audio so in just the audio there are those links and also designed for you to return to you know it's because it's a dense subject first of all and also just part of the way I wanted to construct this my reimagination of oral literature. I wanted it to be something that you can return to because of the convenience of digital devices or digital media. You can always go back, you can pause, you can slow it down, you can play it at half speed, just have a different experience. So there's that form. But for ITFA specifically, I sent them the work as just audio, but they were like, yeah, they like it and they want to find a way to bring focus to it, which is really important in the context of a group exhibition where you have a lot of other works. They were like, what do we do? And I was like, yeah, you know, I'm always working visuals. We can make something. So I decided to program this kind of like alternate layout of conversation, you know, so that I didn't want the visuals to kind of complement too much or distract too much, but just be like kind of enough that there are hints to what's happening, but you don't, I don't want you to stare at it the whole time. Like once you figure out that, ah, you know for some sections there isn't so much happening you just focus on the listening that was like my way of like you know doing it and we had also had ideas like you said with a button of like you know having the audience being able to go back to the beginning or being able to structure their performance it's actually a version which it will have which has the buttons on the screen but we just couldn't figure out like an interesting interaction mechanic like For me the one thing I didn't want was for like someone to have to interact with the work for something to happen because I felt that that was too much of a like a barrier between the work and the audience. I just wanted them to be able to okay come into it and then I think they didn't do this but we had this idea of like oh there's also a way to like show that oh you can listen to the work or download the episodes so you can have that kind of like personal experience and like being able to like go back and For me, this has been an experiment. I haven't done a lot of trying to situate work that originally was for... I mean, I've done it twice but I don't have an understanding of it so much. How people interact with it or will it be boring? Will they be confused by it? But I just wanted to try it and see what will happen because And I think it was probably helpful to not have so much interaction because seeing the numbers and like it might have been a very difficult for people to always be going back or going forward. But yeah, you've given me a lot to think about. It's like your experience of it too. Thank you.

[00:11:48.248] Kent Bye: Yeah, I feel like there's a bit of spaciousness in the piece, where there's little audio pieces where they're speaking and talking, and then there's some music and the soundscape. And so it feels like it's very rich in its sound design. And for me, I would like to go back and watch each of the sections from the beginning, just kind of watch it straight through. Because I think I may have even watched the first episode, third episode, and second episode. I went around in a certain direction, but I went around this way to the first one, and then the second one, and the third. So I went to the, so even I like, I don't even know if I saw it in the right order. So it was, yeah. So I guess it's like taking a piece and making it more like you can drop in, but there's enough spaciousness in a way that you almost have to kind of be seeping in and there's a soundscape and you're getting a vibe and then you're getting little nuggets about what the deeper meaning is around the identity. But maybe you could take a step back and describe a bit of what the Ghana Airlines means to you and why this is the focus of this location and all the soundscapes around Ghana Airlines.

[00:12:49.269] Hakeem Adam: Yeah, you brought up a really interesting point about the audience experience. A friend of mine, Joko Wayland, is an American artist, street artist, and he said this thing about the piece to me, that sound is immediate and it demands immediacy. And I think that was kind of the thing I was chasing in doing this work and being intent with sound. I wanted you to have these feelings of some immediacy, inserting parts of it. I didn't want it to be overwhelming, that's why there's a lot of space, but I wanted you to just, I don't know, just be able to feel what I was feeling as well, you know, in a weird way. Why it's relevant? So it's modeled after the story of Ghana Airways, which was this airline started by the Ghana government after independence from the British as a way of kind of like, you know, establishing the nation, you know. I talk about kind of like the post-colonial African nation building exercises. They are like things that were promised, like electricity as becoming modern. airlines becoming modern, roads, infrastructure. There were all these projects or promises that came with defining this new identity. Maybe historical context, so like Ghana as a place did not exist until 1957. I mean the people were already there but the nation itself was put together and like my dad and myself are from this ethnic group which were kind of like collateral damage of this exercise you know we are split between both Ghana and Togo and it kind of like splits your culture and your identity between these like French and British nations in the end because I can't speak to my relatives in in Togo and they can't speak to me in Ghana although we just like a thin line between both places you know So yeah, in a way it was a search for like my own place within this kind of like, you know, this identity that we all decided to adopt after independence. We all decided to become Ghanaian. But I was like, it was a bit inadequate for me because, you know, there's always a majority sentiment and like coming from a bit of a minority group, you don't always get represented and like, you know, what people call the Ghanian sound or the Ghanian art. It's never about your people. So I'm like, I'm also Ghanian as well. And also then being in Europe and trying to make work and people will be like, but this is not the Ghana we know. Because they have, again, a specific identity. And for me, it wasn't about is this right or wrong? I just wanted to like okay there are dimensions and it could be cool that we could explore this you know and it was also in a nice way this political theme was also related to kind of like the the cultural phenomenon of oral storytelling you know which is that like There isn't like one fixed story. Nobody owns a story. There's not like a correct way, you know. Things come together, you know, to create the meaning, you know. That's one of the emphasis that a lot of the ethnomusicologists place in studying these kind of like oral literatures. It's not really about like complete meaning. It's more about experience, you know. So I wanted to like, yeah, talk about the airline, the nostalgia, the nation building, put myself into it. It also reflects on oral storytelling, I guess. But I decided to use the airline and the airport as like a framing device because I think it worked with audio, you know, like airports sound amazing. I don't know why. I think the acoustics, some are questionable, like smaller ones, but, you know, there's always this thing of like sound in airports is just a lot different from everywhere else. A really interesting acoustic environment for me, like, everything that's happening and also like in terms of like identity it's also a really interesting place where you have this like so many identities in one space and it's also really important to differentiate you know like there are different lines for europeans versus non-europeans so like you know it brings these issues to your um your face essentially um and maybe another thing was also like um thinking about like air travel more abstractly you know it's like this thing of like surrendering control you know like that's why i use the voice of the pilot a lot it's like i'm taking charge now this is my story now you're listening to me it's like okay you know you you give up your control to this guy like he takes you to wherever you are supposed to be going so in a bit of way of also reflecting that by the way There were a number of tiny things that came together But I just settled on the idea of like if I frame this around the airport and the airline I can tell a good story versus if it's like more spread out because there's always a focal point and they're like the airport tune or the different voices or the different scenarios can all Anchor the story and I can like depart from the airport to other places or different stories. So Yeah, I work in this kind of like roundabouts way

[00:17:05.683] Kent Bye: I'd love to hear a little bit more about the different layers of sound, because you have the ambient sound design, and then you have the music, and then you have the audio pieces that you're putting in there. And maybe you could elaborate on what type of music and how that music is connected to different aspects of both your identity and culture, and if there's different types of fragmentations within the expression of music. And yeah, just talk about the different layers as you're listening to this piece. It is a multilayered piece where there's all these different sounds that are happening within the context of this piece.

[00:17:35.750] Hakeem Adam: I mean, for me, it goes back to what some academics would call sonic thinking. For me, it's this way of thinking about meaning as it exists purely through sound, not in other media. And there were very deliberate attempts. Some of the sounds were designed to evoke specific nostalgia among very specific people. There are adverbs that, unless you grew up in Ghana with me, you probably never have the reference. But there's also this excitement of air travel, which a lot of people around the world can relate to. thinking about that sensibility you know there's also kind of like what we class as like warning signs or like alert sign alert sound sorry you know like like what we're hearing right now these very you know like as soon as you hear it it alerts you to something which is a form of meaning or a form of communication but we take it for granted because it just happens all the time you know and there's also like evoking place and nostalgia which is like you know trying to like translate the feeling of maybe being in Ghana or being a specific place into like what's what it sounds like to me and hoping that the connection exists so there were all these like I didn't have a list but I had a clear idea of like kind of the different sounds I wanted to use and then it became this question of like how do I create like this through line between them you know do I use my voice do I use sound effects how do I like transition you know to move to the spaces but for me it was very clear of like kind of like the different layers of sound I would need to like create something believable. That was also a big thing for me. I wanted it to feel real because Ghana always was real till 2006. It wasn't like a straight process, it was just more of like thinking and reflecting. I think for the very first sound I recorded, I wrote a poem this is the sound of whom, this is the sound of the sound like the things I recited in the beginning of the first episode I wrote that down I was like oh what is the sound of whom you know it was such a difficult question to answer like just giving myself that challenge of like okay if you have one minute to design this thing what is it going to be and then thinking about how does this fit into the story you want to tell so um yeah for me it was very clear like the kind of sounds I needed to create but then it became the major challenge was like making it all coherent making it all stick together and kind of like not necessarily always believable, but just enjoyable. You don't have to care about the things I'm saying, but I just want you to evoke something in you that you can, ah, this is calming. Why is it calming? Or this is jarring. Why is it jarring? That's kind of what I love about working in sound. I mean, there is cognition, but there's a lot of these precognitive things that just happen, and it puts people in certain spaces, so they kind of think about what they are listening to. Yeah.

[00:20:09.824] Kent Bye: Yeah, I get this sort of impression of, like, with that nostalgia or this looping nature because you are jumping into the middle of the piece sometimes. And I remember in the second episode, which is the third one that I saw in my order, I think it jumped into maybe halfway or three quarters. And there's this moment where there is, like, this announcement saying, OK, now we're going to either talk about either a national anthem or apology or something. And then there is a big space. And I think there was some chanting that was maybe in the Ghanaian language that I didn't quite understand. Yeah. Well, and then it was like, OK, this is what this. And then I was like, wait, did I miss it? And then when I listened to the second time, then I realized that you said, OK, now we're going to go into this. Then there was a big pause, and there wasn't anything there. I think my mind kind of wandered off at that moment the first time I listened to it. And then the second time, I was like, OK, I was like really intently, OK, what? I want to understand what this section is. And then it was like in a language that I didn't necessarily understand. And so then it was like, oh, OK, that's what it was. So maybe you could sort of describe that moment, because my memory of it is kind of fragmented.

[00:21:08.568] Hakeem Adam: I have to talk about this because you're doing a podcast that was also like one huge source of inspiration for making this kind of audio work you know like this kind of again second resurgence of podcasting there's this podcast called a podcast studies podcast i don't know if you know it's by professor Dario Linneo and Professor Laurie Beck. They are these academics who talk about what's happening in this world of knowledge in a purely audio sense. Can it be applied to an academic context? They have written books about this. But for me, what's interesting about podcasting is this dedication to long-form storytelling in some sense. People want to listen but you also have to design it in a way in which they can listen, you know So I was thinking a lot of inspiration from like that kind of like realm of like creating knowledge, you know of like, okay How do I hold on to the listener but still allow them to feel what they want to because essentially I wasn't trying to construct meaning was more about I have these pockets of Feelings that I want to transmit but they have to kind of work together again the limitations of the audio media was film you just make a transition you How do you call it? Fade in and out, right? But in audio, you can't fade in and out between every single section. Then it's just like an album or something, you know. I wanted to like push it beyond that. I can't remember your question now.

[00:22:24.184] Kent Bye: Oh, just there was the moment in the second episode where, like, this is something from either a national anthem or a national apology or something that they were saying. And then it was a chant in a language that I didn't quite understand.

[00:22:34.513] Hakeem Adam: So I didn't know what... Yeah, there's a section where I was referencing this South African composer, Neil Muyanga, who is talking about this song. And it's one of these kind of, like, oral things that a lot of Africans... So it's originally, like, a South African song, but it became a resistance song for a lot of African nations, you know. and then after that there is kind of like this traditional prayer because the song in afro i think it's in zulu but it's translated in a lot of languages it's talking about like you know we should give everything to god which is kind of like another classic post-colonial african sentiment of like god solves all your problems you know And then, you know, so we transition from that into this traditional prayer, where he's also like, you know, talking to the gods, not the Christian gods, you know, so again, it's like, we all have the same intentions, but they're expressed in, in kind of like in different capacities. But again, what was interesting is like this use of sound of like, you know, putting your problems, because literally the priests, it doesn't come across to the peace, but the priests do the things by water. They talk to the water, which is the God that they worship and like pray to that God, you know, but it's still like putting your problems into the realm of sound and then just letting them reverberate and seeing what hits you back. but the reason i was talking about podcasting so they're kind of like parallels because i think in episode two there's also something like that in episode three there's something but i can't remember the exact moments of what's happening but i try to make all the episodes similar so it always starts with this kind of like ambience for like two to three minutes and then there's like a bit of like my voice and then the main theme appears and then it goes into a second conversation then there's a transition and then there's some kind of like overview-ish and then a bit of music again. So it's very formulaic. If you listen a lot of times, you start to see, ah, OK, it's not so.

[00:24:17.004] Kent Bye: I had trouble knowing when the beginning and end was. I think that's part of the challenge of, like, if it is a formula, it was sort of like I was jumping in the middle and trying to know, OK, now I can sort of really pay attention and get more full context. Because it's like almost putting a puzzle together in terms of trying to understand that when you're kind of jumping in the middle in that way.

[00:24:34.775] Hakeem Adam: Yeah, that was, I mean, it was something I really did think about a lot, you know, I wanted to figure out a way to like, what I was thinking, was it relevant to like, let people know at what point they were in the audio. But I was worried of people again, like, just listen to a certain section because they'll figure out, ah, 20 minutes is such a long time to be standing, you know, and then they'll be like, you know, so in part, that's the reason for not like, not clearly defining the start and end points and making it like all gel together. But yeah, it's, And thinking about it too, it's also hard to reflect on it because this was very specific for this kind of audience, you know, and the work has already been out for like a few months now, which is just purely on the websites with the text, which was a very different experience. So this was, it was an experiment for me. I, I don't know, moving forward, like if I would do it different, I think I enjoyed this kind of like drop in version just because of like, you know, the clunkiness of interaction with screens and physical spaces and people being uncomfortable or people doing too much. yeah but like for me that maybe i told you like the ideal kind of listening scenario is always it's more personal i guess it works more when you have time with it but for this we have to like try

[00:25:46.489] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'll have to check out the original version of that. I guess, is it on your website, or is it on YouTube?

[00:25:51.632] Hakeem Adam: It has a separate website, but it's also linked through my website. I'll send it to you. The website for the audio is a generic thesis.vexel.opal, so I can't remember exactly what it is. But my website is hakimadam.info. I think Ghana Air was one of the first, in the drop-down menu, one of the first items. And then you can go to the project website, which has all the text, all the references, all the sources I used, which is also like, That's the thing, here I can't show you all the references but if you go to the website and you see the sources, it will make more sense because you see what I was like, the kind of concept albums I was listening to, making the work and maybe it will create some connection. So I didn't want everything to be dispersed purely to the audio. There are all these new media we can

[00:26:33.975] Kent Bye: Yeah, the metadata, the sources, yeah.

[00:26:36.858] Hakeem Adam: Exactly, which is like a big thing of podcasting, I guess, which is something I borrowed from thinking about that from like having the show notes or like, you know, this description, which, you know, reveals more about the audio piece, which I think in the research where they describe this as paratext. you know, this other body of knowledge that helps give the podcast some grounding, you know. So I was like, oh okay, then I can, this can be part of my storytelling process, not just an afterthought of like citing sources, you know. So it was, yeah, this thing of, you know, creating a narrative but not always making it coherent, you know, trying to spread it out as much as possible, yeah.

[00:27:13.366] Kent Bye: Yeah, it reminds me of this conversation I had. He was really into the fandom communities and he was talking about the differences between polychronic and monochronic cultures. And now in the United States, it's very monochronic. It's sort of very linear in its way of thinking. And the polychronic cultures, like I'd say Africa has a lot of, you know, I've heard from some of my South African friends, the Africa time where things happen when they are, there's like sort of a moment when things emerge or happen, but it's less, yeah, it's a natural rhythm. Yeah, right. But having the structure in a way that you kind of drop in, I feel like is more leaning towards that polychronic structure rather than more of a linear monochronic. I don't know if that was also an intentional or a side effect.

[00:27:51.313] Hakeem Adam: I think it's interesting because like you know like again you work in audio so you know like everything has to follow time you know you can't like you can warp time in audio but it doesn't like always happen like in a way in which you think about warping time you know you can't just like leave 10 minutes of a gap between something you know in the same podcast episode it just doesn't work like that you have to be very kind of like intentional about every single second of audio you know so in a way that's that's an interesting limitation of trying to tell like a disjointed story because like in a way you have to you know, at least even just for like the health of the ear, you can't just like, you know, come from a really loud environment to like a silent environment or like have these like sudden spikes, right? You have to like kind of also think about the listening experience, which is fundamental to storytelling. So for me, what's interesting to straddle the line between like, okay, thinking in this like linear, I'll always see the Ableton timeline, you know, like how the doors are in just, everything is linear and like the straight form, but you're like, okay, maybe this is above, this is below, you know, you can build these like, how do they call them rhizomes or these kind of like hierarchies or these kind of like circles again when you don't think about the audio purely as this kind of like linear thing so that was one thing i was really really trying um you know of like a bit of secularity a bit of stacking but as a way of escaping the first linearity of like working with digital audio in a door or something you know

[00:29:12.827] Kent Bye: Yeah, I can definitely see that. You mentioned that there's some oral history parts and what was the process of either were you capturing those interviews or conversations or was there existing archives that you were drawing from?

[00:29:24.173] Hakeem Adam: A lot of research, mainly from books to be honest and also the internet and a lot of like stuff other people had done because I wasn't able to travel to Ghana. At the time I started the work was like height of pandemic so even travel wasn't like quite an option, you know, and I couldn't I just couldn't trust anybody to go and be recording random stuff for me to like sift through you know. So I did a lot of like research through books like an interesting exercise of like trying to write myself into the oral history. So I'll take like you know traditional songs like the national anthem and like you know do my cover version of it you know. Anthems are supposed to be like you know like rousing you know these very like kind of like alive pieces of music but I wanted to make it like more distorted and like you know add these kind of like extra harmonics like you know fractured the niceness of the anthemic feeling, or some of the what I call the Ghanian standard songs, songs that every Ghanian knows from singing it in school through your life. They are just in the reality of things. How can I also write myself to them? Some of that was like MIDI sampling, taking the MIDI, transforming it, taking the audio, transforming it. But for me that was a way of interacting with the oral knowledge because there wasn't a lot of sources I knew I had to create more than I could sample and I also wanted I wanted a challenge of like you know again like making things that I felt were Ghanian but didn't necessarily conform to like the sonic standards but yeah a lot of sampling like from youtube heavily but also from like textbooks you know taking the sheet music turn it into midi and doing something with it was a lot more um convenient for me yeah and i did also try like to use my my voice to like you know but it didn't feel authentic and for me there was no point in like you know duplicating things that people maybe like 50 years did right there was like one instance i'm talking about i think it's one of the first recorded ganian songs oh why can't i remember the name oh my god But it was recorded in London, it's like a guitar solo, it's high life music, which is like a really important kind of like Ghanian sound of like this kind of like guitar music. When I found the recording, it was like, you know, from, I don't know, 1930s, it was a lot of dust. The vinyl was warped and it was really difficult to listen to, but I still wanted to do something with that. Rather than just sampling the audio, I was talking over it and expressing the anger I felt. I found this record disrespectful because it was such an important piece of Ghanaian history, but the circumstances in which I found it were very annoying. I found this vinyl record and like you know it the sound is so hypnotizing but like the description and like who owns the copyrights or like you know there was like an image of a dog and I was like why is there a dog on there why not the artist you know why is there a dog on so rather than like you know sampling the audio I was like sampling my emotions just like getting my emotions out into the piece you know that was another way of I guess like dealing with the oral knowledge I wanted to like make my own more than but also reflecting on what other people did and building my world from that.

[00:32:21.948] Kent Bye: So I was at a philosophical conference in 2019 talking to a Latin American philosopher talking about colonialism. And they were talking about this mestizos word of the mixture, where there is a mixture of the colonial identity and then the sort of original culture's identity. And there's a fusion of that where you're negotiating between how do you take on this colonizing culture versus your more native indigenous cultures. And so maybe talk about your own process of trying to negotiate those mixtures and those boundaries of identity in this piece here.

[00:32:51.975] Hakeem Adam: yeah that's a really good reflection for me i think there's even three you know i i think about it as like kind of like the pre-colonial culture which we would never be able to experience because it was no writing purely you know but there are still remnants of it and there's also like the kind of the colonial culture you know like In Ghana Airways, one of the themes is like, from this ethnomusicologist, Professor Kofi Agau, who talks about tonality as a colonizing force in Africa, you know, how the churches and missionaries came and, like, talked about Western Tonal Harmony, and, like, you know, you have to sing in this scale, you know, composed, you know, to, you know, two, five, one, whatever, to, like, create these kind of, like, emotional reactions. And it's so communication. I value that a lot, you know. knowledge of tonal harmony is still very valuable but it was like you know it kind of erases all forms of like african melody and like we think about african music purely about rhythm now because like you know that's what survived the drumming is what survived and not like you know what people are doing in terms of melody you know so um So there's that layer of the colonial influence. And then there's the modern influence, like listen to Jimi Hendrix or Kendrick Lamar or 50 Cent or Kanye West or whoever. And it's also influencing your understanding of yourself now, because Ghana, again, is a new idea, a new nation with a new culture, this amalgam of all these different cultures into one thing to create an identity. So for me, it's all these three layers. And making Ghana for me was just about where do I fit in, essentially. I so much wanted to contribute to kind of like oral storytelling because I felt like it was part of my cultural heritage. It's something that Ghanaians have been doing for thousands and thousands of years of just using sound purely to construct knowledge. And then here I am like only writing, you know, in a different language, you know. So for me that was, that's essentially Ghanaios. It's a way of like, okay, researching and learning more about this thing that is part of me, but also finding a way to make it my own. Like, what do we do with it? What do I do if I know that Ghanians were, some people were making songs in the 30s with guitars, or how certain rhythms are traveling across. the West African coast on slave ships. What do I do with that? Essentially, I don't want to... I mean, we all know that bad things happen but beyond that, what else do I do with that? I have a creative mind and I can only make things. So I just wanted to find a way that's okay What can I add to this? And how can I exist within it? For me, the project was never about making sense. I knew I wasn't going to be able to make sense of all these different layers of identity and influence and politics, but I just wanted to express myself, essentially.

[00:35:27.995] Kent Bye: Yeah, definitely, as I go through it, I'm infused with all these different things. And I noticed that there was somewhere that you had said that this was a part of your thesis project. So submitting this project, are you done? Or then do you have to write up a whole paper, breaking down all the theory of it and defend it?

[00:35:43.863] Hakeem Adam: They tried to get me to do that, but I didn't. Yeah, so I had to defend my thesis, but I'm lucky I'm studying in Germany and we don't have like, I mean, they value kind of like academic outputs, but that's not the goal of my university. They are more about practice. They're really like practice-focused school. So we had to work around that. Like my professor was like, yeah, this is important and you need to catalog it. And I also agree that like, yeah, it was important to kind of like make something that can exist in the academic realm as like something people can also sample or reference. So there is an essay on my website which doesn't explain Ghana Airways but talks about the five different things that Ghana Airways is like. I talk about this being like a research process, a way of staying in touch with my heritage, of thinking about or researching oral knowledge. I talk about like digital audiences, basically all the things I'm telling you in all these different sections. So I did that but it's not like a pure, I didn't It wasn't like a typical academic defense. It was more of a very kind of informal focus. But there is that kind of text because I value that knowledge space still. I think it's so relevant, you know, in getting stuff out. Yeah.

[00:36:47.434] Kent Bye: Okay, so people can go to your website to listen to it and then read more about it there.

[00:36:51.790] Hakeem Adam: Yeah, they can go to my website and then they can, the first thing you see is the essay, but you can also, right next to it, there's like a red button that says visit website and then you can go listen to the Ghana Airways. It takes you to a different project website where you have to find where the audio is, where you can also find the text or you can find the sources. I mean, the audio is the main thing, but honestly, for me, it was more about just putting all the research out there and then you can decide if you just want to read a text, fine. Like, the point is still made. If you want to listen to the audio, it's still fine, yeah.

[00:37:22.006] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of using all these new media immersive technologies are to tell stories, and what that might be able to enable?

[00:37:32.394] Hakeem Adam: For me, I think audio is extremely powerful, especially now. We can have a recording like this of decent quality outdoors with very minimal equipment. I think it's a really powerful tool, because in places like Ghana, a lot of people still do not know how to write, and they're really academic sense of like writing you know there's still a lot of knowledge that's produced as purely audio and like now we have the bandwidth on our phones or like with these apps to you know upload high quality audio we have like the free software or like you know all these amazing tools to like do things with audio and for me i wanted to like show that yeah we can still the same thing that the people about podcasting were like trying to talk about us like it's still a valid knowledge space you know We don't have to always translate things from sound into text for it to be valid. It can still exist validly on its own. So for me, that's what I think the potential is. I really hope I'm trying to do more work like this to kind of still drive home the point of like, yeah, you can still contract meaning purely through sound with the support of text, of course. Yeah, that's really it. I hope that, you know, there is still, because I think there is audiences, you know, you might maybe have more experience of publishing podcasts, but I think there are still like a lot of people interested in like listening to something for three hours, whether they are working or jogging or like, you know, there's There's a lot of chances for people to experience audio and I don't know why it's just Joe Rogan or like some, you know, the kind of generic taking things that worked on TV into radio. For me, it doesn't harness the potentials of the technology or the media and I wanted it to be as weird as possible to just show that, yeah, there's stuff we can do. Yeah, that could be interesting.

[00:39:13.014] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:39:17.296] Hakeem Adam: Well, just thank you for taking your time and also sharing your reflections with me. I don't know. It's always interesting, because I make this work with a really narrow focus. A lot of the times, I'm thinking purely about myself. But it's still amazing to meet people like yourself who are able to, I don't know, relate to it in some sense. So yeah, I'm really grateful to you for taking your time to talk to me. And yeah, looking forward to interacting with your audience as well.

[00:39:42.897] Kent Bye: What's the best way for folks to keep in touch with you?

[00:39:45.680] Hakeem Adam: My website. Unfortunately, I'm a bit old school. Because Instagram tires me. But on my website, I think all my latest work is... Yeah, I don't do Twitter. It's too noisy. I don't post a lot on Bandcamp, also YouTube. But yeah, I will share the links with you and you can share.

[00:40:02.552] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, I very much enjoyed diving into the experience of Ghana Airways here and look forward to listening to the other iterations and reading through what else you've written. And yeah, I'm really happy to have a chance to catch up with you and get a lot more context. So thanks for helping unpack it all. So thank you.

[00:40:16.198] Hakeem Adam: Thank you so much. It was amazing talking to you. Yeah, really looking forward to hearing the episode. It will sound exciting with the sound of Amsterdam in the background.

[00:40:26.844] Kent Bye: So that was Hakeem Adam and his piece was called Ghana Airways that was showing at IFA DockLab and it was actually recorded on the streets of Amsterdam in an area where you hear a lot of ambient sounds which I thought was very appropriate for this piece that is all about trying to bring in all these nostalgic elements of the Ghanian history and culture and exploration of identity. So I have a number of takeaways about this interview is that first of all Well, I think I would have preferred to experience this piece in a linear fashion, having a reset button where I could see the beginning, middle, and end of each of the different episodes, and to see the episodes in order. And even if I did that, there may have still been things that I might have not been able to fully pick up on. really took me to have this conversation with Hakim or it would have been beneficial to have available some of this written text. I haven't seen as much of that when the context of an exhibition where you have a bunch of texts that you can read along with it, but there's a lot of visuals that were along with this piece. And I thought that I almost would have rather listened to the piece and be able to read a section by section. You know, a lot of the writing that Hakeem has done is kind of like this thesis level quality of unpacking a lot of these different aspects of what this piece is about. And in absence of that, I'm left with this symbolic communication of a cultural reference of something that is understandable from someone who might be from Ghana, but not having those cultural references, then I have to have those symbols unpacked and the meaning described to me a little bit. Maybe there's certain aspects of a piece like this where it's an exploration of identity where it is always going to be these personal, nostalgic, or cultural references that are trying to capture this. There were actually a couple of different segments in the writing that Hakeem did that I wanted to read here just to further elaborate some of the different elements. There were a couple of sections that did jump out to me that helped me understand different aspects of what he was doing with this piece. So from some of his writings from his website, there's a website that's called thesis-opal.versal.app. If you go to his hakeemadam.info, there's a link that says visit website. So it takes you to this other website, and there's the notes. And within the notes, there's a fluidity of national identities, oral knowledge system, and the narrative media and sound. So there's like these three different sections that are all in the same URL, but you can click on and dive into. So in the oral knowledge systems, there's a couple of quotes I just wanted to read here. Hakeem says, in trying to understand Ghana, I look to the kind of history Nketiah describes as narrative that is neither elementary in form nor presented as coherent. The sonic event in the Ghanaian context, be it through song and ceremony, work or healing, can be translated as a mode of transcribing experience into material, in this case song. Through the conceptual machine that is Ghana Airways, I give myself the artistic license to unravel the threads present in some of these songs, the principles and methods of their design and performance, and the social settings of their consumption and reflection. In my study of Ghanaian oral tradition, I am therefore looking at abstract sonic elements as evidence for or against my idea of what Ghana is. The narrative is never intended to be coherent. Rather, it offers a mode of thinking, through writing and through sound, that allows the oral tradition to be explored as practice and theory, operating as a material that operates sculpturally in my nonlinear and incoherent narrative. So that was kind of like describing my experience of it in the sense that it was something that was kind of washing over me and I was having trouble understanding it because it is this narrative structure that is very sparse. There's not a lot of context to understand it. You know, in his writing, he's giving a little bit more context. But even if that writing was there, I think having this conversation with him helped to give a broader context for me to kind of understand what he was doing and his intention with it. And he is saying that it's operating in a way that is a nonlinear mode of storytelling, and the way that they were displaying it was in a nonlinear mode. However, after seeing and experiencing this piece in the way that has kind of the beginning, middle, and end, there's certain cues that he has where you're building up and setting the context where you kind of feel like you're in this airport with all the different sounds, and then you kind of go on a journey, and there's something to kind of wrap it up. But having this in a running loop where you're kind of jumping in the middle, It's sort of hard to, already in something that's a bit of an incoherent narrative, deliberately so, kind of thrown in the middle, there's even less parts to kind of hook onto what the overall structure is. And listening to each of those three sections, there's a way that there's a repeating structure to those three elements. And so that was able to help me process and understand how things are structurally fitting into what he's doing with this piece. So that's feedback in terms of like having a reset button to be able to actually listen to it from the beginning, because I do think that there's certain contextual elements that help you understand. And because it is like this 20 minute feels kind of like diffuse, sparse, dreamlike quality that is hard to get oriented when you're thrown in the middle and you don't know where it's beginning and ending and you have three of those sections, then it ends up being a bit of a blur of a memory. But yeah, just to understand those structures. Also, having access to the writing also helped me start to process and understand the deeper theory of what he was doing with it, because there is this kind of symbolic translation that he's doing that I'm not understanding those symbols or those memories, and so it helps to get that deeper context. There's one other quote that I just wanted to read. It's a section from Dialogue in Ghana Urwei's Oral Tradition. He says, Indeed, like Popape and the other sources cited above, Ghana Airways is intended to unfold as a dialogue on a few axes, but oscillating around identity, politics, and the national sense. Identities, no matter how concrete they may be, on a visa or a grant application, are dynamic and fluid, evolving with the concept of their birth. I'm therefore interested in dialoguing with the fluid facets of my Ghanian identity. By probing the concrete fragments present, for example, in Ghanian sonic or music traditions, I hope to reach the same consensus or cathartic understanding of the principles that organize and characterize this identity as a cumulative creative act. So there's already different aspects of this post-colonial identity of all these different influences and these different strands of trying to unpack. And so he's got modern music on top of this Ghanaian culture and these different elements of the colonizing culture that are also fusing in there. And so there's trying to wrestle with all these different influences on top of this. And so there's a way in which the the incoherent or jumbled nature of it is also representative of the confusing nature of the identity as he's searching for. And so Yeah, just as a reflection of how that structure and form is also reflecting these other dimensions of this searching for identity, which I think is a key theme that he's exploring, both in this discussion that I had with him, but in reading the writings that he did, that there's these themes of that as well. So again, I haven't typically seen a way of showing a piece that like has this dreamlike subsymbolic quality that has a lot of symbolism, but it's something that's even pretty verbal and it kind of gives you a mood or a vibe and having access to this deeper writing about something. So anyway, I found that there was a lot of ways to further dive into this piece after having this conversation and. getting a lot more context and understanding and seeing how all these different sonic influences were coming together and how to use this kind of ambient sound design as a way of exploring different aspects of oral culture that may not fit into a traditional narrative structure. So Anyway, that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a list-supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue bringing this coverage. So you could become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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