Paul D. Miller on Wed, 9 Apr 2003 22:05:19 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Notes for a New Utopia: The Fela Project

This artists statement is for the catalog of a museum show coming up 
at The New Museum of Contemporary Art based on the Nigerian musician 
and artist, Fela Kuti. The show is called "Black President" and is an 
engagement with a wide variety of artists exploring Fela's work in a 
global context. My installation will be both, sound and internet 
oriented. The show is curated by Trevor Schoonmaker, author of the 
upcoming anthology "Fela: from West Africa to West Broadway"

more info on the show can be found at:

Artists Statement for "A Different Utopia:" Project for a New 
Kalakuta Republic 2003

Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid

In a world of constant upheaval and continuous transformation, 
sometimes we look to music as a way of escaping the problems of the 
world. Fela did the opposite: his music was about immersion in the 
ebb and flow of the conflicts that described and circumscribed the 
nation state he inhabited. His home was Nigeria, a place of so many 
contradictions and fictions that it might as well exist as a story, a 
fable spun from the fevered imagination of a very strange 
storyteller. The name "Nigeria" itself is an inheritance from a 
colonial past bequeathed to the confused and angry people who found 
themselves confined and defined within its borders after the colonial 
powers decided what would be the best route to economic balance 
between Europe and Africa. As a country, Nigeria and most of the 
Sub-Saharan continent were created on maps drawn on a palindrome of 
political and economic expedience - all of which did not involve 
those who were most relevant to the process: the people who actually 
lived there.

intervention 1:

"The Metropolis strives to reach a mythical point where the world is 
completely fabricated by man, so that it absolutely coincides with 
his desires. The Metropolis is an addictive machine, from which there 
is no escape, unless it offers that too...
Through this pervasiveness, its existence has become like the Nature 
it has replaced: taken for granted, almost invisible, certainly 
Rem Koolhaas, "Delirious New York"

In the world of post-colonial Africa, what Fela did was foster a 
unique circumstance - he created a utopia. His "Kalakuta Republic" 
was a way of producing a space that reflected his desires as an 
African to build an independent cultural zone, a place that 
literally, following the definition of the term "utopia" didn't 
exist. The "Kalakuta Republic" was essentially a space that reflected 
his values and needs - something all too rare in the post World War 
II African political and cultural landscape. It was an artificial 
place in the midst of an artifical situation - what could be a better 
metaphor for contemporary Africa? Place one mirage in front of 
another and you get a hall of mirrors, a place where reality comes 
only by design, and thati's a good starting point to look at the 
"Kalakuta Republic." By creating a social space bounded by and 
founded on African needs, he had to secede from the imaginary space 
of mass culture that was called "Nigeria" to create a new story, a 
new fiction founded on music, and culture indigenous to the people 
who lived there. Fictional spaces and imaginary cities - new forms 
demand new functions - that's what Fela told us with his Shrine 
Project. The logic of the "Kalakuta Republic" flows from a twisted 
cross-roads of modernity on the edge of the post-modern: where other 
young countries like Brazil would bring in someone like Oscar 
Niemeyer to construct a new capital like Brasilia, or Le Corbusier, 
at Chandigarh, India, in the 1950's or the United States with Pierre 
L'Enfant's 1791 design of Washington D.C., Nigeria, with Fela, was 
pressed by so many demands in so many different directions that his 
new city had to improvise on the spot in response to a scenario 
where, to say the least, the people running the government didn't 
want a new more dynamic architecture to represent their "new" nation 
state. Unlike the European notion of "Utopia" as a planned and 
designed place of Reason and Rationality bequeathed from Thomas 
Moore, Plato, and Francis Bacon - Fela's republic would be made 
invisible and modular - he created a mini-world on several city 
blocks. The city Fela found himself in was a "found-object" to be 
manipulated and remixed at will, and essentially, that's what 
provides the foundation for my investigation into his concepts of 

The "A Different Utopia" project imagines a remix of the architecture 
of Fela's "Kalakuta Republic" along lines imagined by proportion and 
ratio - it poses two different cultures in conflict, and like a dj, 
it asks them to understand the rhythms of the different cultures that 
inspired the structures that Fela engaged. Thesis, Anti-thesis - 
Synthesis. "A Different Utopia" is a dialectical triangulation 
between the forces of modernity and it's fixed forms, and the fluid 
dynamic needs of a critique of post-colonial reason and rationality. 
The original  "Kalakuta Republic" attempted to seceed from Nigeria 
several times, and in this day and age when artists like C.M. Von 
Hausswolf arbitrarily create nation states with their own passports, 
and artists collectives routinely create collective fictions of 
nation-states, like, well, all I can say is that 
art-history has caught up to peple like Fela. The philosopher 
Santayana said in his 1905, "The Life Of Reason" collection of essays 
and observations: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned 
to repeat it." "A Different Utopia" is meant to highlight the 
linkages between the urge to create your own space and the world 
context of living in a highly regulated contemporary information 
culture. What happens when you can access different versions of the 
past, and sample them? What happens when the culture you live in is 
dispersed throughout the globe and you are left to play with the 
fragments? That's what this project is about. Diaspora and 
convergence, reality in the 21st century as a nomadic flux based on 
the dynamic interaction of many cultures in the same space - living, 
working, and breathing at the same time. Different kinds of reason 
imply different modes of thinking about how to exist in an 
environment that denies you any and all aspects of "subjectivity." 
After all - that's what nation states are about: there are subjects, 
and there are rulers. What I propose in "A Different Utopia" is a 
landscape based on Plato's "Republic" - the text is remixed and 
reconfigured into a world where everything is not as it seems, and 
we're left to our own devices to actually engage the songs of freedom 
that Fela made room for in a post - and now - neo, colonial world.


\U*to"pi*a\, n. [NL., fr. Gr. not + ? a place.] 1. An imaginary 
island, represented by Sir Thomas More, in a work called Utopia, as 
enjoying the greatest perfection in politics, laws, and the like. See 
Utopia, in the Dictionary of Noted Names in Fiction.

2. Hence, any place or state of ideal perfection.

Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary,  1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

It was in 1985  that Fela created his "Kalakuta Republic" in which he 
essentially christened an autonous zone where the rule of law in 
Nigeria was left at it borders. In essence, what he did was take his 
idea of a nightclub and turn it upside down and inside out - there 
was no invocation of pleasure in his declaration of indepence. As 
always, Fela was a trickster, and even in the case of attempting to 
set up a new country that comprised only several city blocks, he 
thought of creating a new relationship between himself, language and 
the way he lived in a world governed by rules he felt did not apply 
to him. He needed a term to describe the thought process of living in 
a post-colonial mentality, and that's what the Shrine and the 
Republic were about:  "It was when I was in a police cell at the 
C.I.D. (Central Intelligence Division) headquarters in Lagos; the 
cell I was in was named "The Kalakuta Republic" by the prisoners. I 
found out when I went to East Africa that "Kalakuta" is a Swahili 
word that means "rascal." So, if rascality is going to get us what we 
want, we will use it; because we are dealing with corrupt people, we 
have to be rascally with them."
In Platos' Republic - all aspects of living in the Utopian City are 
governed by rules of proportion and ratio (ratio, of course, being 
the root word of "rationality"), and the psychological impact of the 
arts, and contemplation of forms that are both visible and 
intelligible - it's the same myth that drove the making of the film 
"The Matrix" - but its a story that was told several thousand years 
ago: shadaw and act, phantom and fiction - the future "Republic" in 
Plato's story would be governed by people who had seen past the 
shadows of an illusion and tried to bring light to people whose 
imaginations had been chained. Fela publicized in some of the flyers 
for the "New Afrika Shrine"  Republic something similar to the 
"Republic" that Plato had said so long ago in his "myth of the cave" 
(Book VII) of the "Republic" - "When ruling becomes a thing fought 
over, such a war - a domestic war, one within the family - destroys 
these men themselves and the rest of the family.pp199"

	It's this kind of intercine conflict that led to the 
destruction of Fela's compound, and in a way, the digital 
reconstruction of it that takes place in my project is a blue-print 
for a different rhythm, a different ratio - a different drummer. The 
"Kalakuta Republic" I imagine is one of pan-humanism based on a 
universal architecture of networks and corresondences, it is an 
environment based tranactions placed in a web of coded languages and 
vernacular systems. In our information based economy, we inhabit a 
world where the structures we inhabit reflect our desires in so many 
ways - they are flexible, modular, and above all else - transitory. 
Goethe and Schelling said so long ago "architecture is nothing but 
frozen music." "A Different Utopia" inverts the question and asks: 
what happens when you dethaw the process? It's a project based on 
Tony Allen's 1979 record "No Accomodation for Lagos" and incorporates 
the afro-rhythms he used for that project to create a map/blueprint 
of an "imaginary city" based on the proportions of beats and pulses 
that the artist Ghariokwu Osunlila (who designed many of the covers 
for Fela and Tony Allen's Afrika 70 collaborations) would imagine - a 
cartoon universe where sounds of an imaginary landscape built of 
ratio and proportion defined the record cover sleeves to reflect the 
same concerns George Clinton and Pedro Mayer (the artist who designed 
many of the Funkadelic record cover sleeves) - an Afro-Futurist 
landscape of sonic fiction made to be more real than the "real" that 
the musicians invoked with their sounds. As Fela wrote in an 
advirtisement in the magazine "Punch" in 1979, the Shrine was meant 
to be a place of new values: "After a long battle with the authority, 
we are staging a big comeback at the new Afrika Shrine... We want the 
authority, the news media, the public and everybody concerned to know 
that Afrika Shrine is NOT A NIGHTCLUB - it is a place where we can 
worship the gods of our ancestors."
He went on to blur the lines between Church and Shrine with a 7 point 

a) The Church is an ideological centre for the spreading of European 
and American cultural and political awareness
The Shrine is an ideological centre for the spreading of Afrikan 
cultural and political awareness.

b) The Church is a place where songs are rendered for worship.
             The Shrine is a place where songs are rendered for worship.

c) The Church is a place where they collect money.
The Shrine is a place where we collect money.

d) The Church is a place where they drink while worshipping ("holy communion").
The Shrine is a place where we drink while worshipping.

e) The Church is a place where they smoke during worship (burning of incense).
The Shrine is a place where we smoke during worship.

f) The Church is a place where they dress the way they like for worship.
The Shrine is a place where we dress the way we like for worship.

g) The Church is a place where they practice foreign religion.
The Shrine is a place where we practice Afrikan religion.

Another quotation:  "And finally, in the very last episode, the Tower 
of Babel suddenly appears and some strongmen actually finish it under 
a new song of hope, and as they complete the top, the Ruler (of the 
Olympus, probably) runs off making a fool of himself while Mankind, 
suddenly understanding everything, finally takes its rightful place 
and right away begins its new life with new insights into 
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Demons

In the here and now, "A Different Utopia" is a bridge between the 
visions of reason that held together Europe and Africa, the U.S. and 
Nigeria - and proposes a philosophy of rhythm. The text becomes 
shareware. The beats and pulses, bass-lines and sounds, they are 
threads of a sonic tapestry woven out of desire and dreams. They are 
vanishing points on the landscape of the imagination - that's to say 
that they're points alright, but they punctuate a different 
architectural syntax, a place that Rem Koolhas would call the 
"culture of congestion" or that Tony Allen would simply call "No 
Accomodation." Here, the soundslines and vectors of an invisible 
social sculpture become indexical - they're signifiers of meaning at 
the edge of understanding. Ratio and rationality, rhyme and reason - 
these get remixed again and again. In a "Different Utopia" the 
Santayana phrase becomes a new axiom: those who do not understand 
history remix it to create their own.

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe 
they are free...."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

wildstyle access:

Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid

Office Mailing Address:

Subliminal Kid Inc.
101 W. 23rd St. #2463
New York, NY 10011

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