Black Sonic Futures: Responding to Political, Racial and Gendered Motifs

“Celebrating one of hip-hop’s all-time classic releases – Fugees’ The Score – Still Nomads curated a formidable assembly of black artists to riff off its ideas and themes, across two inspiring nights of live performance and readings. Approaching The Score in its entirety – its lyrics, sounds and visuals – Black Sonic Futures passionately and rigorously reconsidered the album’s complex intersections of blackness, immigration and survival, alongside current themes of state borders and diasporic citizenship.

From projections, video and visual art to poetry, music and live performance, Black Sonic Futures showcased a rich, multi-art-form response to The Score’s political, racial, historical and gendered motifs – surging with the heart, thought and creative energy of this dynamic collective”

We caught up with curators Areej Nur and Samira Farah to discuss the inspiration and performers behind the events.

What is it about The Fugees’ classic album The Score that inspired Black Sonic Futures?

The album has been part of our playlists for many years and even though it’s been over twenty years since it came out, it still feels fresh and we are constantly finding a new line or a new subtext that comes with growing older with an album. Reflecting back on this album, there is a sense of it being a time capsule for a specific time in black immigrant politics. And its that specificity, of naming and placing the experiences of black immigrants that has always been so inspiring about that album.

So then this exhibition came out of this primary interest to use this album and the Fugees catalogue as a way to get us thinking about, ‘well what does the modern black refugee and immigrant experience look and sound like?’

In 2016, we also hosted a group exhibition titled ‘Blunted on Reality’ which is named after The Fugees first album and also contains the lead track ‘refugees on the mic’. So The Fugees have been an inspiration to us for a long time.

But also without any doubt, this was an exhibition to also recognise the influence that Lauryn Hill, Praswell and Wyclef Jean and generally hip-hop have had on us.

black sonic futures

How relevant are the themes explored in The Score to today’s society?

When you look at the stories of the score and the narrations, even though it’s set in the 1990s, very little seems like it has changed in refugee discourse. So in the album, you have reflections on police, incarceration, detention centres, gentrification, loss of identity and loneliness, western-led interventions, all themes and issues that are current and that many of us within the exhibition can relate too. It’s great that all the visual artists have taken a different approach and connected to the album in different ways.

black sonic futures

What lyrics from the album best describes the event?

There are so many and this is probably the most difficult question. But to just pick two, it would be the line ‘it hurts don’t it, a refugee come to your turf and take over the earth’ from the track ‘Zealots’ and also ‘I, refugee from Guantanamo Bay, dance around the border like I’m Cassius Clay’, from the track ‘Ready or Not’.

There is something about both lyrics that use a particular negative idea that refugees are everywhere and flips it back to say well yeah, we are, and so what? So with Black Sonic Futures, we are here, and we are dancing, and what?

black sonic futures

The lineup features an impressive range of talent. Can you tell us about some of the performers?

The exhibition features six visual artists Guled Abdulwasi, Aysha Tufa, Obsa Yousuf, Ruth Ruach, Beaziyt Worcou and Nakate Kakembo, who are all Melbourne based artists who have all taking up different entry points within the album and using a number of different styles to kind of express how they feel about the album. There was never any set instructions or imposed ideas, the album was the vessel and artists were free to re-imagine it as they feel fit.

In a place like Melbourne, where African exhibitions are not the norm, it is important to allow black artists the space to think outside of what is expected of them. We’ve also paired the visual artists with a group of amazing black women poets and musicians. From Abuk Galuak, Bigoa Chuol, Niasha, P-Unique, KYE, Pookie, to Sampa the Great. A whole host of amazing Melbourne based performers who through own work interpret the album and its themes differently too.

We’d also love to give extra acknowledgement to our DJ, DJ Abyss who has curated a Fugees inspired playlist that everyone can dance to all night.

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What are you hoping for audiences to take away from Black Sonic Futures?

This is an inward exhibition insofar that the considerations are about the visual artists and the music and not what message needs to be sent or whether audiences need to have their minds shifted about immigration or refugees. Refugees exist, they’re not going anywhere and we’re not offering an apology or a teaching moment.

Just as much as the politics of the album and the exhibition are important, we think it’s necessary also to understand that this is inherently a dedication to black music and the sounds of black movement.

black sonic futures

Interview and photos by Sara Nicolette.


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