By Oliver Walkden, June 30, 2021
When John Cage wrote 4’33”, the notorious composition that silently shook bourgeois America in the 1950s, did he imagine it to be received by an African audience, or performed by African musicians? The piece’s first few airings on the continent took place in South Africa. One was performed by a white man from the U.S. and other instances were privately executed within the country’s elite universities.
While imperialism may have been indirectly manifested in these recitals, some of Cage’s work had more blatant colonial overtones. As one of America’s most in-demand percussionists, he was commissioned to write “primitive” sounding music inspired by Asia and Africa for a performance in Seattle in the 1940s. Willful misappropriations and abuses of culture such as this continue to enrage indigenous communities and their allies.
The Indigenous Resistance collective and label are one such group. With members located around the globe, the collective’s most recent intervention is “When Silence Rises from Earth,” a short film of a unique performance of 4’33” shot at their Dub Museum in Kampala, Uganda (the center of their operations). Less a performance than a quiet ceremony to prepare the traditional djembe drum, it is significant in its autonomy from the institutional world of corporate funding, music festivals, academia, and avant-garde art scenes.