Prince Claus Awards 2022

Greetings from Amsterdam! I’ve been back in my old hometown for the 2022 Prince Claus Awards for arts, culture and social progress, as I had the honour of being one of the advisors for the awards jury this year again.

It’s such a privilege to be able to encounter so much talent, creativity and passion from all over the world within such limited time and space. The awards ceremony with its surrounding networking events is one of those cultural incubators where new possible geographies and becomings are being formed: “the dawn of the world” (after Deleuze) created by people coming together, and through listening, curiosity and care, attempting to find a common ground, a novel space, between each other as well as between existing borders, territories and divisions. There’s a sense of new hopeful futurality in the air. Yet it’s not all plain-sailing toward some utopia, more like a chaotic and colourful navigation through the present.

The awards ceremony itself at the Royal Palace was gorgeous, with King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima as well as Princess Beatrix, Princess Laurentien and Prince Constantijn in the audience. Also witnessed a heartwarming vocal performance by South African singer Amarafleur (chills running down my spine), futuristically primitive/indigenously futuristic hip-hop by Senegalese duo DEFMAA MAADEF (Mamy Victory and Defa), and one of the most exhilarating dance performances ever by Nigerian dancer and choreographer Sunday Obiajulu Ozegbe and his dance group Ennovate Dance House: their insanely inventive and energising choreography, inspired by the city of Lagos, was accompanied by a soundtrack fusing Lagos soundscapes with electronic music, and I literally had to hold back my tears and idiotic smile as it took me back to Emeka Ogboh and my wide-eyed experiments (LOS-HEL: Possible Cities) all those years ago. Inspiring conversations and encounters at the reception, dinner and the afterparty afterwards (met also this lovely opera singer from Fiji, into Finnish classical music and married to the French ambassador to Italy – turns out we are neighbours in Paris! I told him that as a kid I wrote a fictional adventure story based entirely on my imagined idea of Fiji; he’s yet to ruin that image). A tender, colourful, wonderful evening.

You can read more about the recipients and the awards at www.princeclausfund.org.

A couple of notes from the event:

“Untranslatable.” French-Senegalese film director and screenwriter Alain Gomis, one of the recipients of this year’s Prince Claus Impact Awards, kept referring to the untranslatable qualities as those that make you ‘you’, and the reason why we need diversity of voices, narratives and perspectives to make that untranslatable somewhat understandable. When Gomis received the main prize for best film at the 23rd pan-African film festival (Fespaco) in Burkina Faso in 2013, I was in the audience listening to him but he spoke in French, with an overdubbed and shortened English translation echoing around the Stade du 4 Août stadium, and many things became untranslatable in that hot Ouagadougou night. I love the idea very much.

“A banker is originally a catalyst who enables ideas to come into being, and who ensures that wealth is distributed equally among the society.” Carlo Rizzo, the director of the Dubai Collection and an ex-banker, sitting next to me at the dinner table. He left his job as a banker, because he couldn’t help the society the way he’d imagined – imagine a world where the banks still served their original purpose?

Deep Bass / Interspaces

Next to my favorite table and intersection in Paris there’s a recording and rehearsal space called Studio Bleu. Yesterday we had a recording session there with bassist Omar Harb, for my albums Earth Variations and Interspaces.

I was blown away. I had reserved the studio for eight hours because I thought we’d need all that time to finish at least some of the tracks. Not had we just finished everything in four hours but Omar had made everything so much better than what I’d imagined.

Omar understands your music like a fish understands water when it meets it for the first time. He can play as figuratively and elaborately as you want (or couldn’t possibly imagine) or beat a machine in precision, duration and slight liveliness. There were moments when I had to hold back my tears because his melodic basslines made me simply recall how unbeatably lovely the world is – or hold back my idiotic grin of joy because of the ecstatic funkiness and a human-overcoming-the-machine of a kind of bliss of his playing.

Omar is originally from Damascus, Syria, where, since 2005, he used to run a very successful music production studio and company (“factory”) of his own, becoming a mainstay of a thriving new Syrian music scene, producing work that went on to win praise and awards across the Arab world as well as Europe. That all came to an end in 2011 when the war broke out, and eventually he and his wife had to abandon everything they had and flee to Lebanon. Since then he has lived and worked globally, collaborating with artists around the world. (He’s also one of the nicest human beings I’ve met.)

Since my Earth Variations started as an interdisciplinary sonic art project about migration and the refugee crisis but which got subsequently cancelled, I was struck: here I was with a guy who actually comes from the origin of all that, who has experienced it firsthand, personally having witnessed the bombing and killing and the destruction of his home and those of his family and friends, and having had to plan a daring escape through everything all these (art) projects try to grasp but can only intellectualise. Yet here he is in front of me, playing the most beautiful and life-affirming music that seems to know no crises, conflicts, borders, ideologies, territories, let alone any art projects, curatorioral practices and their momentary trends. This is life. This is why music exists.

Flash of the Spirit

My new album Flash of the Spirit is finally reaching completion, ready to be mastered and released soon. Only one piece is still on the cusp of becoming either funky pop electro disco (LCD Soundsystem) or funky avantgarde disco experiment (Kraftwerk), always a tough choice. The album is based on my experiences in West Africa and on the adventures and conversations with my dear friends scattered around the globe, and it incorporates my field recordings from West Africa into the music. I’m immensely happy about this album and its emotional landscape I often ponder why I spend months in the studio joyously perfecting something that has absolutely no practical function in the world (I wish it had but it doesn’t). Am I wasting my passion, skills and dedication? Currently I think that I am since my music has no broader cultural resonance. But I can’t help it: when making music I feel like I’m participating in the whole scientific, social and cultural conversations in levels that go beyond ideologies, mindsets, borders, identities, beliefs…I feel free, inhabiting a culturally diverse, playful, socially and economically equal green world. Art becomes a tool to imagine and pull oneself towards a preferable future.

Yet this possible future keeps remaining just a ‘hope’ for most people on this planet, for totally unnecessary, outdated societal and financial designs. Why? On the planet where there are more resources – food, water, shelter, money – to cater for everybody than what’s needed, then why come there’s scarcity of everything: food, water, shelter, money?

I’m currently working also on new pieces by Emeka Ogboh for his exhibition in Paris, revisiting Lagos soundscapes and our LOS-HEL: Possible Cities, but this time from a whole different angle. It’s a refreshing departure from my album work, and Lagos has never sounded more contemporary and futuristic, thanks to Emeka’s musical vision. More info on this soon too.

Please redesign the world. All the problems in the world are utterly ridiculous, childish.