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Will Fredo and LoMaasBello: From Berghain to San Basilio de Palenque
In partnership with Goethe-Institut & Contemporary And

In Conversation with
Luisa Ungar
Bogotá, 7 August 2020

Will Fredo and LoMaasBello. Courtesy © the artists.

Will Fredo and LoMaasBello. Courtesy © the artists.

Spanning musical genres from techno to cumbia, A Skip of the Beat A Change of the Heart is a lecture-dance performance by Will Fredo and LoMaasBello.

Born in Portugal and of Guatemalan and Cape Verdean origin, Fredo is a non-binary artist, writer, and editor who explores the dynamics of power, cultural dislocation, and the intersection of pop culture, decolonial thought, Blackness, and technology. LoMaasBello is an Afro-marica artivist based in Chapinero, Bogotá, who uses music and rhymes from the resistance to express the experiences—mostly violent—of bodies that escape the norm.

In their collaboration for A Skip of the Beat A Change of the Heart, Fredo and LoMaasBello narrate and interpret the liberatory potential of music and dance cultures originating from the African diasporas and the Global South. Three songs by LoMaasBello ('Queer Black Bitch Killa', 'Shut Up', and 'Pose') about the experiences of Afro queers propose readings that connect stories of Afro dances with sexual, social, political, gender, and metaphysical liberation, inspired by the cultures of the Maroons in the Americas.

Will Fredo and LoMaasBello, A Skip of the Beat A Change of the Heart (2020) (still). Courtesy the artists.

A Skip of the Beat A Change of the Heart begins with an episode in Berghain, a techno club in Berlin. Throughout, it analyses the taxonomies applied to the arts of Afro origin in relation to state policies in Latin America, that serve the cultural appropriation and capitalism of the white-mestizo paradigm. Linking movements from dances such as kuduro and house-ballroom culture with the theories of Argelia Laya, Hortense Spillers, Fred Moten, among others, A Skip of the Beat A Change of the Heart reconstructs an Afro musical world reconnected with its liberatory history.

The performance is a Goethe-Institut production first streamed on 11 July 2020 via Zoom in an event co-hosted with Contemporary And, which was followed by a talk with Colombian artist and researcher Luisa Ungar, who works with language as a tool for dislocation and distortion of colonial circuits and uses various means to review mechanisms with which history is constructed. The transcription below is an edited translation of that talk from the original Spanish.

Will Fredo and LoMaasBello, A Skip of the Beat A Change of the Heart (2020) (still). Courtesy the artists.

LUHow did your collaboration start?

WFI wanted to do a performance on the stories of dance in Latin America and its connection to the world. I saw Jenn Nkiru's Black To Techno (2019) on the black roots of techno and Jeremy Deller's Everybody in the Place: An Incomplete History of Britain 1984–1992 (2018) on house music and its relation to social freedom in England. These two great video works talk about the socio-political context of techno and house and raised many questions that I wanted to work with in A Skip of the Beat A Change of the Heart. There are so many links between techno and Latin America, and the idea was to do a lecture-dance performance because I didn't want to talk about dance and not be moving. I also wanted to do it as a collaboration to connect my ideas with those of people in Colombia, where I was doing a residency for five months in 2020. When I found LoMaasBello on Instagram and saw their work I had no doubts—it was a gift from God!

To put all these systems into question is what's interesting—to open the field for all of us to build these new conceptualisations.

LMBIt was also a way to connect with the ways and experiences that we live. What Will explained to me seemed fantastic because many of the questions that are posed here—such as gender, appropriation, and racialisation—are very common themes in my artistic expression. I sent him a selection of my songs and what I thought could fit was what fit! We designed the costumes inspired by what we wanted to talk about, such as the use of the body in dance, but also the body as territory.

Will Fredo and LoMaasBello, A Skip of the Beat A Change of the Heart (2020) (still). Courtesy the artists.

WFFor the talk, I was looking for an artist in Colombia who worked with themes of colonialism, language, historical narratives, performance, and curatorship, and Luisa, you had the ideal profile. In addition, I wanted to discuss some of the institutional dynamics in this country, in relation to the representation and participation of Afro-Colombians.

LUI also work with the body and its relocation and the notion of the postcolonial, although from different angles, and there are a number of elements in common that we could discuss, including the differences. We're both interested in forms of revision of institutional frameworks, which I explore in my work in relation to porosity, for example, and the ideological frameworks that give rise to certain manifestations. I work around these topics through the format of performative talks.

That is related to the title. 'A skip of the beat', or syncopation: what happens when you wait for the beat and it doesn't come? What happens atthat moment?

LUIn light of this, I wanted to ask two questions: how can I, through forms of discourse that are used within institutional frameworks, break or generate other forms of access? And secondly, how were these topics combined with musical elements to form the video?

WFLoMaasBello's songs made many connections to what I was writing, as well as the theory. For example, there is a very direct connection between the verse in 'Shut Up': 'this undefined fag makes you question yourself', and Fred Moten's quote, 'constant escape is an ode to impurity, an obliteration of the last word'. In this context, we worked with images related to freedom, including the use of technology and how we use VR to symbolically access Berghain, the techno club in Berlin notorious for its strict door policy.

Will Fredo and LoMaasBello. Courtesy © the artists.

LUYou point out an element here that is key: escape. Throughout the video, the notions of party, fiesta, and flight are interlinked. Party seems to represent resistance, while flight represents the possibility of freedom. At one point, you make a connection between Berghain and San Basilio de Palenque—the first officially free slave town in the Americas, located in Colombia. To me, that connection raised several questions regarding liberation, escape, and bodies. While it is true, as you point out in the video, that the party can be, and has been, reviewed as an 'emancipation scenario'—a synonym of freedom—it can also be a very specific 'control scenario' that serves the interests of the system of power which is in control.

This relates to a question that has been posed by an attendant of this online conversation, addressed to LoMaasBello: how is evasion a form of emancipation of the body, and how can that refuge be brought to political debate?

LMBI think that's a really interesting question. What we were looking to do when we put those things together was to see what their validation points are, and what could be considered as an option of escape. In 'Pose', there are references to ballroom culture, which was created as a safe space for diverse and racialised bodies in the U.S. When this culture was appropriated by the hegemony, other rules began to operate it, which were not disguised.

For example, we see certain aesthetic parameters that must be met in order for them to be valid within these spaces, when they were initially created so that all dissident aesthetics could be valid—I believe this is very connected to the fact that Palenque is considered to be the cultural heritage of humanity. Why is that declaration necessary, in order for Palenque to have that connotation? This makes us question how these types of spaces are created. We talk about Berghain, but we could compare with the experiences of many transracialised people in Bogotá's Theatron [the largest gay club in Latin America], where it is known that people have problems entering and socialising because these are spaces that have been permeated by hegemony.

Will Fredo and LoMaasBello, A Skip of the Beat A Change of the Heart (2020) (still). Courtesy the artists.

LUAs you say in relation to clubs, LoMaasBello, even the iconic gay club Theatron from Bogotá, which has historically been a local space of resistance, can also be a space of exclusion.

I believe we need to ask ourselves first about the ways in which the colonial subject inhabits our bodies here and now. The specific question that comes to my mind is something that we spoke about with Brazilian artist Jota Mombaça, whom I invited to Bogota in 2019 to take part in Lenguajes de la Injuria, or Slanderous Languages, the performance and education programme for the Colombian Biennial 45SNA. The way we posed this question was: How do we dismantle places of resistance that become places of exclusion? And how do we practice escape?

If we see the bigger picture, systems of exclusion connect with the global narco-capitalist-extractivist industry, whose heart is here, in Colombia. Will has asked me about the ways in which Afro-Colombian culture is or is not represented in the Colombian artistic field and institutional framework. We need to first remember the struggle of local social leaders who defend the territory from extractivist wars that feed global capital, and their systematic murders. As of May 2020, 109 leaders were murdered this year alone in Colombia. Many of these leaders are Afro-Colombians, and their resistance connects with historical resistance from Afro communities. It is a matter of survival.

There are various forms of collective practices, artistic resistances, and survival tactics used by artists who—whether communally or individually—work with these realities. It's a wide spectrum. We can mention Liliana Angulo, who has worked for years around ways in which Afro culture is represented.

Will, did you want to add something in relation to how Afro-Colombian culture is or is not represented in the Colombian institutional framework?

WFI just wanted to stress that one of the ideas with the performance is to create relationships between, for example, the murders of social leaders with the murders of trans women on the street. There is a connection between the exploitation of the territory and the exploitation of marginalised bodies. In other words, if you're at the trans march, you have to be aware that if you don't fight for the land rights of indigenous and ethnic groups too, you will not go very far.

Will Fredo and LoMaasBello,A Skip of the Beat A Change of the Heart (2020) (still). Courtesy the artists.

LMBIn the performance, the body is used as territory, and that links to the normalisation of extractivism in the territories, which is central to the armed conflict in Colombia. From the perspective of conquest, for example.

LUYes, and from there—from bodies and the earth—there are a number of relationships that make these questions have other resonances. For example, as you say LoMaasBello, the normalisation of extractivism in the territories, and representing these as bodies. There is a question from the public that returns to our dynamic of escape resistances: Berghain is known as a place of liberation, but that is only after going through a very controlled entry, and the public is also still very white. What do you think of that contradiction?

WFWe wanted to reveal that this idea of sexual freedom of minority people in a party context where community forms, is a black concept from San Basilio de Palenque—the first territory in America that gained independence from Europe. We also talk about appropriation. And although minority groups created Berghain, they are still white and European, and are therefore part of an oppressor group too. Plus, it's also a business. In the performance, we try to maintain some ambivalence and perhaps some contradiction. Ambivalence is important if we're not to fall into binarisms again. I also wanted to open a space for doubts, questions, and new subjectivities.

Ambivalence is important if we're not to fall into binarisms again. I also wanted to open a space for doubts, questions, and new subjectivities.

LUThis answer connects to something that your performance offers, which is irony. I find it interesting how you manage to not fall into the binary, to generate a certain opacity. At some moments, for example, I wondered if you were laughing at yourselves, especially in certain lyrics in which I perceive an ironic approach. I wanted to know if you played with this? Did that come up in the process more naturally or was it a previous decision?

LMBI think that one of the most beautiful aspects of the project is that there are a lot of intersections between Will's theoretical approach and my artistic approach. We almost didn't change any of our own ideas, and it was not necessary to write new lines in order to make the project work. That seemed very interesting to me, because we have very different backgrounds. I am from Buenaventura and have had very different life experiences to Will, who was born in Portugal. It goes to show that the African diaspora has many intersections, regardless of where in the world we are.

Will Fredo and LoMaasBello. Courtesy © the artists.

LUI agree. What we need to address in this sense are the ways in which we perpetuate systems of exclusion and exoticisation, or how we break them. In this line of contemporary artistic practice, I am always struck by the number of works and practices that speak about this type of thing, but whose ways of operating maintain hierarchical or oppressive systems.

I am very interested with the relationship between form and content, and how artistic practices have managed not to break or to break these ways of doing. This has to do with what we were talking about in relation to the club: there are resistance activities there, but how do we access them? How does the club operate?

I want to mention something we discussed earlier in relation to the representation of Afro-Colombian culture and the institutionalisation of artistic practice in Colombia. Since the 1960s in Colombia, there has been a strong tradition of experimentation in Afro dance, such as the Palenque by Delia Zapata Olivella, or later the Sankofa Danzafro group in Medellín.

Afro dance is of course a very broad field, but I wanted to point at categorisations that we use in artistic field relating to forms inherited from classification systems, such as the musical practice of LoMaasBello: where could we situate it? This problem exists everywhere, and is relevant because of the way in which systems of categorisation are applied, and whether they continue to exercise exclusions or not.

LMBA point our project raises is questioning itself. What we propose is too complex to pick one side. To put all these systems into question is what's interesting—to open the field for all of us to build these new conceptualisations.

Will Fredo and LoMaasBello, A Skip of the Beat A Change of the Heart (2020) (still). Courtesy the artists.

LUThis is particularly complicated in a territory as rich and diverse as Colombia. The Afro-Caribbean theme alone is a universe in itself.

LMBIt's also important to consider the validations that we give these concepts, and how I perceive myself and create other perceptions. Something very cool that Luisa mentioned is the terminology used to refer to certain practices in Colombia. For example, in the Pacific, we call a singer 'cantadora' instead of 'cantante'. Which one am I as a dissident fag? Or which artistic discipline would I be put into?

WFThere is a line in the song 'Shut Up' that says 'undefined and modern', which I love because it questions that need to define things and people, which relates to the European tradition of taxonomy, in which everything is catalogued, and everything has its value. That's almost the complete opposite to indigenous knowledge. For example, in the philosophy of Mayan cosmovision, there are no hierarchies between the elements of this world, that is, a person has no more value than a stone and therefore everything must be respected equally.

Will Fredo and LoMaasBello, A Skip of the Beat A Change of the Heart (2020) (still). Courtesy the artists.

LUIt seems almost a duty to me to constantly review the categories that we use, and I always ask, how can I decolonise myself? I think about the example LoMaasBello gave of whether they are 'cantadora' or 'cantante' and the interesting game here is transformation—for example, the marimberos of the Pacific tune their marimbas by the sound of the river and not by the categories of the western tradition.

I do not want to fall into exaggerations in some way, but thinking about the categorisation of what is diverse and whether we can cross those categorisations or not, how do we think about decolonising such forms of expression?

WFWhat is also interesting is how we can relate that to capitalism, the art market, and the museum.

LUAnd also how resistance develops outside of institutional representation, which can be the case with carnivals.

LMBI would also like to name the concept of control, because if something can be categorised, it can be controlled, right? Also, who creates those categorisations, and who gives meaning to them? In this sense, I believe diverse bodies enter to pose those kinds of questions. That's what I put forward in 'Shut Up', because it is about taking power away from those who observe to control what they see. The West has taught that the one who observes is the one who gives value to the things that they see, which has generated so much violence. Of course, it's also important to mention that there are personal constructions that play a role in this interaction.

We wanted to question the posture and body language that is suitable for talking about certain topics.

LUIn the video I found the jests interesting and I wanted to ask you a little bit about them.

WFThat is related to the title. 'A skip of the beat', or syncopation: what happens when you wait for the beat and it doesn't come? What happens at that moment? What does it make you question? It's a little like what is happening now with the pandemic—this moment of 'abnormality', what reflections does it bring?

LUAlthough you are reading out loud in the video, there is a freshness in the material, which creates room for play and improvisation. That contrasts with the act of reciting, which is interesting.

LMBWe wanted to question the posture and body language that is suitable for talking about certain topics. We usually discuss decolonisation between ourselves, so why is it that often a certain 'respectability' is expected to discuss certain academic topics? So, in the performance I look like I'm reading from a cell phone, but actually I'm not—I'm texting someone who I will meet at the party later.

Will Fredo and LoMaasBello, A Skip of the Beat A Change of the Heart (2020) (still). Courtesy the artists.

LUIt is a space that feels crossed—even the way you use virtual reality, it's clearly broken a little bit, it appears and disappears, and is not a perfect or pristine thing. There is one more question from the public, relating to categorisation as another form of control, and the verse in the video, 'I was not born, I invented myself' from 'Shut Up'. Would inventing and reinventing yourself be another break with categorisation?

WFTotally. When you find out that you have the right to reinvent yourself, you will be at war. You'll find a lot of resistance and it will not be easy, but it's worth the fight.

LMBI think it speaks volumes to the line we quote by the theorist Neil Roberts, that no one is born free and that freedom consists in seeking freedom. I think we could also talk about temporality, and that categorisation is not fixed—it moves as we move as social beings.

We usually discuss decolonisation between ourselves, so why is it that often a certain 'respectability' is expected to discuss certain academictopics?

LUI have a final question from the public: what risk is there that these expressions and ways of naming the world and bodies fall into places that end up being privileged? I think that connects with what LoMaasBello has said about the gaze, and how it also categorises. For example, Jerrika Rivas Ruíz, an Afro-trans goddess woman, who experienced this.

LMBIt fills me with emotion to hear the name Jerrika within this space. Jerrika was a trans woman who lived on the streets and was a drug user. She was a performer, too, and it's important that she existed in realms other than just the streets. It could also be interpreted that she was an artist and made art from other ways of existing. It's touching to me that her name is mentioned in this space. It means her life meant a lot to many people.

WFIn relation to the point about terminology not being accessible, I think it is key to remain self-critical and open to questions and doubts, such as whether the terms we use are fair or not.—[O]

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