“There are other worlds out here they never told you about.” An apt description of the Heliotronics‘ experiments in music, writing and city mapping. Okay, almost everything.
Founded in 2008, and held annually in Cape Town’s early spring months, the Pan African Space Station is a genre-busting 30-day musical intervention held in a variety of non-musical communal venues, churches and town halls included. The curatorial team of Ntone Edjabe and Neo Muyanga, known as “The Heliotronics” in partnership with the Africa Centre, spearheads it. The event, which encompasses a range of on/offline musical happenings, has showcased a range of artists, including the virtuoso guitarist Doctor Philip Tabane and his band Malombo, Cameroonian percussionist Brice Wassy, Ethiopian singer Endress Hassen and Kisangani-based dance collective Studio Kabako, to name but a few. PASS is distinguished not only by its duration but also its innovative approach to programming, which, in its own temporal fashion, reconfigured a fragmented, racially ghettoised city into a series of interconnected episodes. CityScapes‘ editor Tau Tavengwa met up with Edjabe and Muyanga to trace origins, achievements and future pathways of PASS.
Neo Muyanga: Yeoville in the 1990s is where the Pan African Space Station (PASS) really began. There were a lot of people in Yeoville at the time trying the change the world, a kind of Afro hippy community.
Tau Tavengwa: And that’s lost now?
Ntone Edjabe: No, no.
TT: Yeoville really built its identity as a place, I think, on that community, which has since been widely dispersed. You two ended up here in Cape Town, at the centre of a very similar community, you, Neo, as a composer and musician, and you, Ntone, as editor and publisher of Chimurenga. What prompted you to start thinking of creating PASS?
NM: We had been speaking about music a lot over the years. I used to go to the places where Ntone was DJing and we’d talk about where stuff comes from and how that relates to what people are doing. I think we listen to music in similar ways: we’re attracted to stuff that breaks out of itself, that isn’t bound by a narrow definition. Around 2006, maybe the year after, we started having this conversation about creating a space where we could have very simple and cheap food, a place that would have easy access and allow people to dance to music that you can’t necessarily dance to in Cape Town. Then Ntone was invited into the Africa Centre founding process. One of the questions that came about through that process was how to create a music festival that could be a pan-African platform, that didn’t shut things down as opposed to celebrate them—something that doesn’t freeze frame culture.
TT: Explain that some more.
NM: Well, the western idea of a museum cleans a square where a curio object will sit rarefied, untouched and preserved. The Africa Centre was interrogating how to make a museum of the living, an exhibition platform of the essential, the mundane, the everyday—you know, the usable. This conversation came out of the reference team set up to think about an arts intervention. We quickly realised we didn’t want to do a music festival; we wanted to have an intervention that lasted longer, that was much more about how to get in contact with what moves people as opposed to what hypes people to pay for the coolest shit in town. So we started thinking about how to make this thing, something that touches people, something that is philosophically and ideologically owned by a community, a greater community, as opposed to directed and marketed by a handful of clever and rich people with access.