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Cosmology: forging pan-African, socially inclusive festivals under Covid-19

Cosmology was conceived as an action research project and artists' residency featuring leading anthropologist of sound, Steven Feld and colleagues from Ghana, The Anyaa Arts Quartet, comprising sculptor, community arts archivist, and activist, musician and instrument inventor Nii Noi Nortey, master percussionist and bass player Nii Otoo Annan, and Amsterdam-based flutist Alex Coke. The musical focus of the residency was to establish a proverbial pan-African call and response between Johannesburg and Accra by exploring how jazz has articulated notions of cosmopolitanism in the two African cities and beyond. The intention was then to develop collaborative performances over the succeeding days of the residency, with further performances on campus and both public and community-based venues elsewhere in Johannesburg, Mamelodi and Soweto.  The pandemic has led to the residency being re-imagined, with its first iteration taking place online and at the Wits Theatre at the end of October, supported by Arts Research Africa, a project of the Wits School of Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand, and Concerts SA.

At the end of October, the Wits School of Arts will be hosting a two-day exploration of African jazz cosmopolitanisms in and beyond Johannesburg, in response to Steven Feld’s book Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra, and the associated albums and films recorded with the Anyaa Arts Kollektif. Alongside study group sessions for students and lecturers and workshops with social partners from the jazz appreciation community, the programme will include a colloquium (Thursday 29 October from 16:00) and a concert (Friday 30 October at 19:00). The colloquium (free, socially distanced and online access) and concert are open to the public, for a limited live audience (tickets @ R150) as well as online (R100). Partnerships are also being explored with satellite venues presenting the streamed online performance further afield to increase access. Prof. Feld and other members of The Anyaa Arts Quartet will be in the audience, tuning in from their current global locations. All proceeds from ticket sales will support student and social partner initiatives.

The project is a learning opportunity for Wits students, who will be participating under the guidance of lecturers as musicians, as the broadcast crew streaming the concert and documenting the research process, and as the organising team reimagining festival formats in socially inclusive ways under current pandemic conditions. The latter process is also supported by other African and international alumni of The Festival Academy, who are also members of the Wits Festival Study Group.

 More information at: https://www.facebook.com/artsresearchafrica/ | https://www.wits.ac.za/witstheatre/whats-on/

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