JOJO ABOT Provocative

Jojo Abot brings her Afro-Hypno-Sonic rhythms to the Chevron Gardens on Saturday, March 3 alongside fellow Ghanian star Stay Jay, with last year’s EP Ngiwunkulunkulu and latest single Alime in tow. She chatted to NEIL SOLACE from her studio in Johannesburg about her music, her art and her philosophies of omnipresence and evolution.

You describe your sound as Afro-Hypno-Sonic, could you explain that for us?

It started out when people would ask “what’s your genre of music?”, and they’d write a string of genres. I got to the point, where the music sonically was evolving, and it’s still evolving, and Afro-Hypno-Sonic made sense. I was playing around with different words and how they sounded and tasted and made me feel. Afro-Hypno-Sonic obviously has afro aesthetics and inclinations. Which I would say are more indigenous, guttural, innate sounds. It’s hypno, in that is has hypnotic elements or resonance to it. It’s a submersive and immersive experience. Then sonic has its own, to me, register that matters to the song, which needs to be a thread. It was more so to describe the feeling no matter the genre, than it was any particular musical structure. I guess that itself is just an open space to create.

I mean ultimately, the music isn’t one genre, even within one song it can change. It’s not as important to describe the musicality of it as it is to describe the energy of it.

Your first EP was called Fyfya Woto, but that’s grown into something much larger now, could you explain what meaning that phrase has taken on?

Fyfya Woto started out inspired by my grandmother’s name, but spelt differently. I rewrote her name, I’m sort of a visual person when it comes to literature and wording. I like to feel things. So I rewrote Fyfya Woto and it was the title of the first EP, but over the course of that, in its understanding it means new growth, new discovery. It became more-so a philosophy for me as an artist. I find it reincarnated and embodied in my work in this constant evolutionary process of creation. But also in character play. I think of this character existing in multiple realms in multiple times.

You were working with New Museum in NYC, are you still working with them?

I was in a one year incubator with them, through their program called New INC. It wrapped up in August. Now I’m in a different residency program with an incredible group called National Sawdust. That’s supporting young artists, but looking at performance and composition in new forms. Whereas normally you look at composers in a very strict manner. Someone like me who composes using technology, even, bringing the analogue and the digital into one space is quite interesting for them to have me in the program. But really, just looking at new forms of composition and performing. It’s exciting! I’ll be developing a 16 minute multisensory, multimedia experience in that space.

You worked with East Africa Soul Train too, which involved a 24 hour train ride with 50 artists all collaborating. Could you describe that experience? It sounds amazing…

50 artists from the East African region and then 50 individuals who may or may not have been artists from all over the world. I was the program director for the year and came up with the theme and the programming. That was a five day experience actually, and part of it was on a train, a colonial train, travelling from Nairobi to Mombasa. Funnily enough, they’re planning on getting rid of it (the train) and introducing a new railway system.

Can you explain the journey and what went down?

(laughing) So much went down. I honestly was more-so in the ‘keep everyone focussed on creation’. A lot happened, it was interesting to first of all run workshops and discussions and sessions, beforehand. Two days of conversations and workshops, before getting everyone into this crammed space, that had a lot of triggers visually, but also in terms of movement. You were stuck in this space that was constantly moving. In a way that you have absolutely no control over, and it moved at a slow steady pace, and you were stuck in this space with multiple people who were from different places, had different perspectives, and you were being forced to create with them (laughs).

When it comes to curating residencies I’m particularly keen on jam packing things and keeping people really focussed. Because I feel like outside of that you can do whatever you want. So it was really about keeping people stimulated and mindful of who they were.

So the theme was exploring this idea of one being moulded over time by one’s experiences and one’s level of exposure to different forms of reality. It explored the idea that scars are formed over time, or we are molded over time through experience. So really looking at who we are, who we started out as, as far as we can remember, who we identify with now and then who we see ourselves being. That journey aspect contributed to that, expanding on that perspective of self and community.

I know you work in textiles…

I’m actually working on textiles as I’m on the phone to you, I’m reworking something. Cutting… I love to cut.

I really enjoy textiles. When you look at the origins of textiles in and of itself it’s very controversial, especially on this continent. Textile as it relates to identity, both chosen and imposed, it’s quite interesting to look at the loss of identity over time as it relates to one’s indulgences in textile. So I really enjoy taking western shapes and infusing, I guess re-appropriating, it back to the essence of one’s being. Textile, both in the form of drapery type art or as wearable art. I find that textile gives me so much to communicate and change the patterns and shapes and textures.

But even more than that, because the identity of certain textiles have been burdened so much, it’s interesting to provoke in that way.

You’re obviously deep into the textiles, and also, your fashion is very forward and unique. Are there any fashion designers you’d like to collaborate with?

My friend Jahnkoy does really incredible work, she looks at craft as revolution. I love a brand here called Marianne Fassler, they’re also inclined to be active in political and social spaces and art spaces. So those are two that I definitely love.

I mean I love rebellious brands, like Rihanna’s collaborations that she’s doing right now are quite cool, quite interesting, quite exciting. Then there’s this artist who does 3D sculptural work, I can’t remember her name at the moment, which is a shame, but she does really incredible work. I can’t remember all the names but I’m just interested in people who just use their gift as a tool to amplify their values in the world that they’re imagining.

You’ve been moving around a lot, spending your time between Brooklyn, Copenhagen and Accra. But right now you’re in Johannesburg…

This is my second time in Jo’burg and it could easily become home. I spent a lot of time in Kenya the last two years. Yeah I’m just moving with the rhythms of life.

Right, so what has brought you to Jo’burg this time?

I brought myself here on a personal trip, not making it sound too deep, but I’m here on a personal journey. But also a creative journey and a creative process of evolution.

What do you see the importance of travel is to your work?

It helps me build global entity. It expands the scope of my entity and awareness. I like that. I like that I can be active in that process and take responsibility for that process. I’m also into the idea of omnipresence.

Could you expand on that idea a bit more?

(laughing) Having one’s work and one’s energy exist in multiple spaces at once.

You’re in Perth next month for Perth Festival, are you planning on spending extra time in Australia?

It will be 20 days total, but it’s all going to be quite hectic with shows. I do want to take the time to explore as much of the space and people as possible.

Is there anything you’re excited about experiencing?

New things. A new version of myself. New people. New perspectives. New culture. I think you evolve, you see another aspect of yourself. You get to see another chapter of yourself. That does sound very selfish: “Oh, I’m on a journey to find myself” (laughing)

What can we expect from your show?

Just be present. And whatever you experience know that in the first five minutes it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with you. It’s the moment you should pay attention. My work is designed to be provocative, it is mostly designed to be provocative in an effort to allow you to draw closer to yourself. It’s less about me it’s more about you. Be present and you will have an experience. And everyone’s experience will be dynamic and unique. And I think you just need to emphasise the human condition. Collective time, collective space, collective identity, yet individual reflection and introspection.