Zak Ové

All of Us Have a Sense of Rhythm
David Roberts Art FoundationSymes Mews, London NW1 7JE

Artists include: Larry Achiampong, Younes Baba-Ali, Julien Bayle, John Cage, Ayoka Chenzira, Em’kal Eyongakpa, Jon Hopkins, Langston Hughes, Evan Ifekoya, Zak Ové, Michel Paysant, Anna Raimondo, Robin Rhode, David Shrigley, William Titley.

The exhibition presents Eyene’s original research into rhythmic sources in performative, material and immaterial productions within African traditional and contemporary cultures. This first exploration of this essential lineage encompasses dance, avant-garde composition, popular music and subcultures and rhythmic video editing through the twentieth century to the present day.

The project takes as a starting point Bikutsi, a fast paced percussive genre using balafons (African xylophones) that emerged in Cameroon in the 1940s. At the same time, Senegalese philosopher Léopold Sédar Senghor developed his ideas on the ontology of African rhythms and their correlation with sculpture in the essay ‘Ce que l’homme noir apporte’ (1939).

All Of Us Have A Sense Of Rhythm traces the integration of African rhythm into artistic practices in the twentieth century. Composer John Cage’s often-overlooked collaborations with African-American choreographers and dancers during the development of his iconic ‘prepared piano’ works include Bacchanale (1940), written for dancer Syvilla Fort (the subject of Ayoka Chenzira’s 1979 film Syvilla: They Dance to Her Drum). Cage composed Our Spring Will Come (1943) for Trinidad-born dancer Pearl Primus based on Harlem Renaissance legend Langston Hughes’ Our Spring (1933), whose rhythmic poetry voices the racial politics and discrimination underlying the era of American modernism.

The presence of black rhythms in the twentieth century also spanned popular music subcultures: William Titley’s sound works document the rise of Northern Soul dance culture in England. Evan Ifekoya looks at cross-cultural translation through drum ’n’ bass dance moves in her video performance Nature/Nurture Sketch (2013).  

Against this backdrop of cultural assimilation by the Western avant-garde, several recent works in the exhibition see a re-appropriation of African rhythmic heritage by contemporary diaspora artists. Larry Achiampong’s autobiographical collection of Highlife vinyl records are included alongside the hybrid turntable/mask sculptures by Zak Ové. Robin Rhode’s Wheel of Steel (2006) photographic sequence shows a vinyl record on a chalk player, with the shifts of the tone arm visually suggesting a rhythmic pattern. Video works by Younès Baba-Ali and Anna Raimondo explore non-musical rhythmic patterns using voice and gesture. David Shrigley’s tragicomic Headless Drummer blindly continues his lively beat. Julien Bayle’s visualisations of rhythmic compositions derive from methods of encoding and algorithm.

Commissions for the exhibition include Michel Paysant’s VOX SILENTII (Eye Composing), 2015, a series of scores composed using an eye tracker, a co-production with Nouveau Musée National de Monaco. A new sound work by Em’Kal Eyongakpa uses contemporary field recordings made in Cameroon, a complement to Eyene’s own research in the extraordinary sound archives of the nineteenth century Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford.

Supported by Arts Council England and The African Arts Trust.