Having started as an abstract project between Dr. Tegan Bristow and Jepchumba, the podcast series Future Lab Africa has emerged with a new direction. Initially set up as an online space to explore projects and discourse around digital art and technology around Africa, the new season, Future Archives, expands on the aim to unpack Africa’s unexplored legacy of technology. Storytelling, interviews, and sharing artworks that display Africa’s ‘cultures of technology’ – this season will document a moment in time evident by changing demographics, digital proliferation, internet revolution and the emergence of a digital pan-African new media. I interviewed Jepchumba to find out more about the new season.
How did you decide on the format for this season, including storytelling, interviews and artworks?
I knew from the beginning that I wanted to use a form of storytelling. I have always been captivated by audio storytelling. If you can imagine a few years ago digital audio storytelling wasn’t really much of a thing. There was of course music but on the digital side of things storytelling has yet to be explored. I have been so inspired by digital radio stations like Pan African Space Station, I used to listen to them when I was in college!!!!!! So, for me this medium is just so fascinating, experimental and weird. I do not [know] the rules and I am making them up as I go.
Could you please unpack how you define or frame ‘cultures of technology’? How do you think this term assists in shaping or representing the past, present and future of technology in Africa?
The term ‘cultures of technology’ actually comes from my esteemed friend Dr. Tegan Bristow. She wrote her PHD on African cultures of technology. This term, for me, so far has been the most accurate in describing where my professional curiosity lies. I am interested in technology, not in objects of technology but how Africa imports them, disassemble, redistribute, absorb it, hack it and re-implant into culture.
Please unpack how you define “digital pan-Africanism” and the form it is taking?
Wouldn’t touch this not even if you paid me. The honest truth, these terms are not definitions but more a convocation to explore new paradigms, concepts, language, methods of expression.
In the first episode, ‘The Parable of the Sower’ you create a kind of meditative atmosphere with the way you speak and the sounds in the background. How does this connect to what the episode is about? Is this the kind of mood that you will carry throughout the series?
I feel called to a higher purpose to provide healing in every project that I undertake. I did not intentionally set to create a ‘meditative atmosphere’, rather I wanted to convey a certain feeling, a vibration, one in which I would provide comfort to whomever may be listening. I cannot speak to the rest of the series because like I said in the Intro Episode, this is a multi-dimensional, multi-generational, multi-media journey.
You mention the romantic relationship we tend to foster between ourselves and the past. Why do you think this is important to mention in a conversation about technology, Africanness and the future?
I am glad you picked up on this. Because so many of us feel so lost, lost especially in terms of even having information we tend to create dreams about the past and call them memories. It is, of course, so natural for many of use to romanticize a past we have limited access to. I did not want this podcast to spend time only in the past, but running through past, present and future. I am interested in new possibilities.
Share more about the additional clips that you included in the episode, and why you chose to insert them when you did (eg: when talking about loss of knowledge or way of life through colonialism you fade into a recording of someone talking about African people as how we were painted in the colonial framework, etc. “the real Africa”).
I thought it was important to include Binyavanga’s piece, How Not to Write About Africa. In a way to archive it again through this episode. First of all, it is narrated by one of the sexiest men, and sexiest voices Djimon Hounsou, so that is a gem for those who are listening in the future ;). Secondly, it illustrates all of the blunders and mistakes I will inevitably make through this podcast while I am tackling this “African” future. Tackling past, present and future in Africa is already a mission impossible, so I hope to bring out voices of those who have given their lives to this impossible mission. We open with the real audio recording of Marcus Garvey in 1927. As much as this is a speculative project, remember I am an archivist also.
You mention that you hope the podcast can allow for “speculative fiction or speculative dreaming”. What do you mean by this? Why do you think this is a better or more interesting way to think about Africa’s past and where it is today?
The concept of speculative thinking synthesized for me when I read Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby. I had some experience as a User Experience Designer and I was blown away by their proposition, to apply user experience design principles right into culture. By designing cultural technology, you could not only imagine new possibilities, new futures, but you would also have a way to take part in a creative collaboration with the past, present and the future. It is very difficult to explain, but this practice is very present in many of our African traditional practices. Just think, the idea of meme generating is a very African thing.
Through the title of the episode, and the quote in the description as well as in the podcast itself you talk about planting seeds and the possibilities these bring for the future. Share more about the potency of this analogy when thinking about the aim(s) for Future Archive?
The analogy of planting seeds really came from a practice. I realized that I did not know how to grow my own food, something that alarmed me because I come from generations of farmers. Through the process of planting and sowing, you gain so much insight, understanding and wisdom. It is only natural to transpose this ritual of planting and sowing into every project that I take part in.
Anything else you would like to mention about evolution of Future Lab Africa, the first episode or to address something that was not mentioned in the questions above?
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