The Virtual Revolution has arrived in Africa and it’s here to stay. Last year I was in Johannesburg where I attended the African Futures festival to participate in a panel  as well as the VR Africa workshop, in collaboration with Big World Cinema. Pandora was also featured in the New Dimensions VR exhibition, which took place during the festival, and was curated by Ingrid Kopp, Creative Director at the Tribeca Film Institute. More from the organizers about the workshop:

The aim of this project is to introduce African storytellers and artists to VR, provide support and mentorship to them in the development and production of their ideas, and to start introducing African and audiences to African-­‐produced VR. We also intend to expose our African-­‐produced VR to the rest of the world through partnerships and relationships with existing festivals and exhibition spaces.

The workshop brought together six teams of participants from  South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Uganda. I attended with Kabiru Seidu, who is the co-founder of Nubian VR to represent Ghana/Nigeria.  It was truly inspiring to work alongside some of the most creative minds in Africa to explore the conceptual possibilities of virtual reality as an entirely new medium of expression. We even made a feature on a CNN article about the workshop.

I was very much impressed by the ambition and efforts of the organizers in bringing these event together, and I’m really excited about the VR projects we will be collaborating on in the near future. This entire trip was a great opportunity for Nubian VR, and we didn’t waste the opportunity to do some live action VR recording while we were out on the trail. You can view a 360 video of the final concert with Gato Preto live at the Alexander Theater in Braamfontein.

 
This year, I collaborated on a project for the Dakar Biennale, called Elsewhen, organized by the Dakar based fashion designer Selly Raby Kane. The Elsewhen project was a creative exploration of a fictional African city in an alternate universe, brought to life through the imaginations of seven different artists from across the continent. My own intervention was in creating the storyworld in the form of short fiction, as well as a mixed reality installation which used elements of virtual and augmented reality to transport viewers into a reconstruction of this alternate universe. The virtual experience was designed for Gear VR, using the Vuforia SDK for the augmented reality interface.

The installation featured a hexagonal podium inside a geodesic dome that represented the portal into Elsewhen. A portrait of an Akan mask was used as the trigger image for an augmented reality interface which initiated the transition to the virtual world. The audio was split between a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and a subwoofer installed beneath the podium, which added a tactile dimension (subsonic vibrations!) to the experience.

 

After witnessing the reactions of about 300 people who tried the experience, I’m utterly convinced that virtual reality has a future in Africa. Mobile technology will be critical to adoption because of the accessibility it offers. Millions of people in Africa already have one half of a VR device in their hands, and that number will only keep rising. I really look forward to the day when African kids casually boot up virtual environments and use their imaginations to shape the architecture of the metaverse. These are early days still, but the future is looking brighter by the minute.

I’m very excited to finally announce the release of PANDORA – an experimental 360-degree virtual reality short film made in Accra, Ghana. The film is an experimental attempt to create a uniquely African VR experience while re-imagining the myth of Pandora, ultimately to provoke critical thought about the unforeseen consequences of technological progress.  The film was directed by myself and produced with Kabiru Seidu, a colleague with whom I also teamed up to organize a VR exhibition at the 2015 CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival, where this film was first presented.

The PANDORA project was sponsored by Accra [dot] Alt, organizers of CHALE WOTE and crusaders of the underground art scene in Accra. The part of “Pandora” was played by Doris Mamley Djangmah. Angelantonio Grossi was instrumental in providing technical assistance during post-production. The film features the soundtrack Second Class Citizen by Dexter Britain.

For the full 360-degree experience of PANDORA, use the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, or the YouTube mobile app:

 

Working with virtual reality has been one of my lifelong dreams which is finally metamorphosing into reality. I’ve been designing VR headsets since I was a kid, but I only started building real (as in working) models in November last year when I first discovered the joys of Google Cardboard. This year Kabiru and I joined forces to organize the PANDORA VR exhibition at the 2015 Chale Wote Street Arts festival, and to create NubianVR, an Accra-based VR content production company dedicated to creating immersive, interactive multimedia experiences for a diverse range of applications. The PANDORA project was our first attempt at producing a 360-degree video, but we’re building our capacity to produce high-quality VR content in the near future.

This short film was screened on custom-built headsets featuring several additions to the Google Cardboard design, including a flexible plastic case, 2” lenses (90+ FOV), independently adjustable IPD, passive ventilation, integrated audio and USB power/data interfaces. The footage was recorded with a dual Kodak SP360 camera rig in one weekend and stitched together during the editing stage. Everyone who took part in the exhibition (kids and adults) got a chance to try out the 3-minute VR experience for free, most of them for the very first time.

I’ll be revealing more about NubianVR in the weeks and months ahead as we continue to establish ourselves and define our focus. I’ll also talk about some exciting projects and events lined up on the calendar. From my viewpoint, 2016 looks set to become the turning point for virtual reality as an entirely new medium of expression, one which has the potential to completely transform the way in which we create and share experiences. VR is already laying its foundations in Africa, and you can be sure it’s here to stay. I’m thrilled to be playing a part in all this, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

I recently stumbled across this beautiful mix and interview by King Britt which explores the diverse expressions of Afrofuturism in African American music. Cosmic Culture is a classic compilation that highlights some of the most influential and progressive artists in African American musical history. King Britt weaves a magical thread from an eclectic variety of genres and takes the listener on a journey into a world of psychedelic jazz, funk, and dub. This world is a higher dimension teeming with the gods and mythical beings of African American music — Sun Ra, Parliament Funkadelic, Miles Davis and others — with each sonic experience transitioning seamlessly across a dreamlike soundscape. In the interviews King Britt and others discuss how these sounds played a pivotal role in shaping the development of contemporary Afrofuturism.

King Britt explains the background to this mix on Okayfuture:

I was asked a few months ago to curate a show on Afrofuturism and its influences on me and my compositional work. Afrofuturism is a term originated by Mark Dery who did an essay in the New York Times in 1995 called “Black To The Future.” It became a very famous term among Afro American musicians who embrace Science Fiction, realities of space and time, and who tend to look at other worlds, comic books, and that sort of thing, as a way of escape. You have authors like Octavia Butler who wrote Kindred and other amazing books, Kodwo Eshun who wrote More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction, which really go into breaking down what Afrofuturism is. But basically it is the African American sound that embraces Science Fiction pioneered by artists Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Sun-Ra, Parliament Funkadelic, DJ Spooky, just to name a few.

You can listen to the Cosmic Culture mix here or on King Britt’s Soundcloud.

Track List

Part 1: Yesterday

  • “Kawaida” -Kawaida
  • “Gamla Stan” – Don Cherry
    plus: an interview with Alondra Nelson
  • “Ostinato” – Herbie Hancock (as Mwandishi)
  • “John McLaughlin” – Miles Davis
  • “Space Is the Place (Live)”- Sun Ra
    plus: an interview with Pearl Britt
  • “Feel”- George Duke
  • “Rien Neva Plus” – Funk Factory
  • “Cabral” – Mtume feat. Dee Dee Bridgewater
  • “Radhe Shyam” – Alice Coltrane
    plus: an interview with Sun Ra

Part 2: Today (Megamix)

  • “African Roots”- King Tubby
  • “Eyjafjallajokul” – Mad Professor
  • “Zodiac Shit” – Flying Lotus
  • “Ahoulaghuine Akaline (King Britt Remix)” – Bombino
  • “Teleport” – Headless Headhunters
  • “Nights Over Nantes” – Jneiro Jarel
  • “Castles” – HouseShoes feat. Jimetta Rose
  • “Brgundy” – MndDsgn
  • “Connect” – Some Other Ship
  • “All in Forms (Leatherette Remix)” – Bonobo
  • “Light Odyssey” – Union
  • “Planetary Analysis” – King Britt feat. Rich Media
  • “Discipline 3” – Ras G
    plus: an interview with Sun Ra
  • “Heritage Ship” – Madlib
  • “Emotional Quotient Deringer of Chiek Anta Diop” -King Britt feat. Rilners Jouegck
  • “New Wave” -Common feat. Stereolab
  • “The Stars Are Singing Too” – Build an Ark
  • “Bug in the Bassbin” – Innerzone Orchestra
  • “Raven” – Actress
  • “Voodoo Ray” – A Guy Called Gerald
  • “Dem Young Scones” – Moodymann
  • “Flower (King Britt’s Underwater Garden Dub Remix)” – Soul Dhamma
  • “Planet Rock” – Afrika Bambaataa
  • “Mozaik” – Zomby
  • “Endgame” – Antipop Consortium
  • “Loveless” – 4Hero feat. Ursula

Part 3: Tomorrow

  • “Beyond the Sun (Live)” – Fhloston Paradigm
  • “Endeavors for Never (The Last Time We Spoke You Said You Were Not Here. I Saw You Though.)” – Shabazz Palaces

Via: Visual Melt and Okayfuture

This weekend I hit the streets of Accra to immerse myself in the explosion of creativity that is the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival. The festival has been held every year since 2011 and is essentially an arts workshop that turns an entire street in Jamestown, Accra into an open-ended canvas for artists of all types to leave their mark on the city. And for a couple of days each year, that winding stretch of urban terrain truly feels as if it’s been reclaimed by “the people.”

This time I took the opportunity to do a bit of photojournalism and tried to capture some of the most interesting scenes I encountered. The quality and diversity of the art seems to keep getting better each year, and the vibe is always spontaneous and chilled out. It’s definitely one of the best ways to spend a Saturday afternoon in Accra. The Chale Wote Street Art Festival is organized by Accra [dot] Alt. You can find a lot more photos on their site, or simply by googling ‘Chale Wote.’

All of these photos were taken on a Nokia Lumia 520, which isn’t spectacular but still manages a decent job.

I’ve followed the Accra Theatre Workshop group via social media since it first began two years ago but had yet to attend any of their programs, like the annual “Summer Shakespeare” or their more recent “An African Walks into a Psychiatrists Office” which actually featured an adapted performance of my Virus short story. And so last Wednesday I arrived at the Alliance Francaise institute in Accra to witness the preview of their new experimental dance performance with reasonably high expectations. I was simply blown away.

This description of the performance is taken from the Accra Theatre Workshop blog:

In the piece, Little Warrior, our protagonist, has to navigate four worlds that hang in the balance between sleep and waking. The preview taking place on Wednesday 25th June 2014 will take the audience through two of those worlds, exploring concepts of afrofuturism and identity through movement, sound, and spectacle.

The first world, Dreamscape, is an expression of modern escapism and a criticism of the established order which accepts wholesale the social constructs impressed on us. This world is anchored in dance, and in ritualized movement.

The second world, Monsters, is a visceral study in the human reaction to fear, and a deconstruction of the term “fight or flight”. This world employs puppets and stage combat.

Overall, these two worlds serve as a commentary on how we as human beings can allow situations, internal or external, to hold us back from our full potential.

Dreamscape was an energetic, mesmerizing rollercoaster ride across an imaginary soundscape, with a score encompassing genres from trip hop to house and even hardcore dubstep. The narrative was ingeniously worked into the dancer’s movements, and although some aspects were not entirely comprehensible (at least, to a layman like myself), the overarching theme of the story was well presented and powerfully conveyed.

This performance boldly pushes the boundaries of the Ghanaian theatre scene and speaks volumes about the talent and vision of the creator Elisabeth Efua Sutherland and director Emelia Asiedu. If you happen to find yourself in Accra during the month of November, you might want to get yourself a ticket to the full performance of Dreamscape, which will undoubtedly be an incredible experience. And you can be sure to find me there (in the back row, bobbing my head when the bassline drops).