Sound is Emeka Ogboh’s primary medium of expression, from which he departs to engage other mediums in his efforts to explore the complexities of being in our world. Ogboh (born in 1977, Nigeria) employs sound for its material as well as its audible qualities. He is interested in what Richard Leppert, in his essay “Reading the Sonoric Landscape,” calls the “ubiquity of sonority.” In the context of Lagos, for example, sound is not only heard and seen but also felt, determining the pace and texture of the city. The collage of car klaxons and engine moans, electric generators and machine noises; the music from gigantic speakers spread out over the city; the wailing, screaming, and squawking of street hawkers, babies, passersby and bus conductors, all led Ogboh to produce pieces like Lagos-Oshodi (2011) and Lagos State of Mind (2012).
In The Song of the Germans (2015), he uses sound to bring to the table issues of entitlement, nationalism, xenophobia, and racism. In a Germany where one in five people is of migrant origin, in the era of refuge and of radical shifts to the right with the emergence of organizations like the National Socialist Underground and Pegida, Ogboh questions whether the “Unity, Justice and Liberty” in August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben’s 1841 lyrics for “Das Lied der Deutschen” applies to all or just a few. By appropriating the German national anthem, translating it into ten different African languages and then letting it be sung by members of a Berlin-based African-gospel choir in their mother tongues, Ogboh complicates concepts of fatherland, citizenship, and nationality.
Ogboh explores how private, public, and collective memories and historiographies are translated, transformed, transcribed, and engraved in sound and sonority. Such is the case when he rummages through the archives for documents about financial crises from 1929 to the present day. These data are transformed into musical scores by a Greek and an Igbo composer, creating short narrative histories of how capitalism backfires for The Way Earthly Things Are Going (2017). This is also the case with Ogboh’s research on migration, which asks what we leave behind or take with us. In interviews with Africans in Germany, Ogboh tickled the taste buds to map a landscape of sonority. By collating their gustatory experiences, he created a recipe from which the dark Sufferhead original (2016) is brewed. The name is taken from Fela Kuti’s political hymn, which Ogboh uses to catalyze discourse on the politics of race, concepts of nation, and migration.
—Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung