Folonko

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The Folonko (crocodile) also known as Mama Folonko, is one of three sacred fresh water crocodile pools in The Gambia. It is located in the rural village of Kartong, where I spent two years on a self directed residency from 2012 - 2014, and subsequently visit every year.

The pool is surrounded by a sacred forest, which includes kobo figs and run palms; a habitat for many species of birds and biological diversity. The surface of the pool is covered by a layer of pakanui-water lettuce. The crocodiles are not always visible within the water, however they are there, still and silent. On a visit to the site I was fortunate to see two of the white Folonko, which locals consider to be extreemly sacred.

'Folonko' is a project which I have undertaken preliminary research and development for whilst visiting Kartong village in February 2018/19. It relates to an enquiry I am making into my relationship and experience with African tradition, ritual animism, and the healing qualities of sound. I am interested with the relationship between indigenous human culture and their engagement with natural ecosystems as a place where sprits, dreams and waking reality merge.

Mama Folonko is in spiritual union with the women elders of the six Kartong village tribes. As custodians they use the site to pray, chant and perform ritual blessings. This spirituality has grown from generations of pragmatic empiricism. It is a place of pilgrimage, where people visit the elders to receive blessings and prayers to help with fertility in exchange for traditional offering of white candles, salt and kola nuts.

Part of my research into 'Folonko' has involved taking part in the sacred ceremonies performed by the women elders, where I drank the sacred water and performed ablutions. Field recordings were collected of the ritual, the inside of the rain forest and within the Folonko Pool with the use of hydroponic mics.

The resonance to understanding this embodied relationship is perceived through my understanding of abstractions, and a personal enquiry into sound as energy and communication through animist beliefs. These are details I am exploring throughout my practice.

'Folonko' is a project I intend to develop as a sound art installation and exhibit in England, The Gambia and Internationally.

I offer special thanks and my deepest respect to the elders at the Folonko Pool for granting me permission to share their rituals.

© Tony Spencer

 

Foli

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In my experience rural West African people have a strong connection to sound, drawing inspiration form the natural environment and trusting that reality resides predominantly in what is heard and said.

Foli, a mandinka word describing speech or to produce music, is an ongoing project, which explores phonetic descriptive sounds of translated drum patterns. In West African culture, phonetic speech is still the traditional method of teaching, and their oral history, ritual and sacred rites of passage are passed onto generations through percussion and other forms of ancestral music. The vocabulary of music is described through the lips of the speaker, providing a description of how the sound would transfer when hands physical connect to a drum, which in turn creates sound to occupy space in the external world.

In my enquiry I am working with Mamadou Camara, a Guinean musician who I co-manage the group Kouma Kan Africa in Kartong, The Gambia. Mamadou has taught me traditional West African drum rhythms through phonetic speech since 2012. Through this method Mamadou has learnt and retained the instrument parts for hundreds of traditional Mandinka rhythms. The example orally presented by Mamadou is Soko, which is the opening rhythm that we perform at festivals.

Credits

Director - Tony Spencer
Concept - Tony Spencer
Performer - Mamadou Camara
Photography - Kye Wilson

© Tony Spencer

 

Spearman – Interviews with Kartonkas

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To offer an understanding of how local people feel about their friend and family taking the Back Way, we interviewed a number of local Kartong village men. Our feelings are that it presents a perspective of the situation from the view of West African's, rather than the bias view of UK tabloid newspapers, which portray Africans as tragic victims who drown off the island of Lampedusa. Here we present a sample of the interviews, including members of Kouma Kan.

Interview with Spearman’s Mother

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During the delivery of the Spearman project in Karting, The Gambia February 2017, myself and Kye Wilson with the help of Sami Teflon interviewed Spearman's Mother. The interview was conducted in the West African language of Mandinka, and was themed around the issues concerning people leaving the village to travel the Back Way into Europe. It was recorded to share with Spearman and the wider Gambian communities within the country and those who have traveled abroad to join the wider African Diaspora.

Preparing for Spearman in The Gambia

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Our preparation to deliver the Spearman project in The Gambia had been challenged by a military intervention from neighbouring West African countries to evict president Jammeh out of the presidential office. The process created chaos in the country as 26,000 Gambians, fearful that violence could erupt, sought refuge in Senegal and thousands of UK tourists were evacuated just days before we were scheduled to travel.

We discussed the potential danger of travel and the significance of supporting people in the country through the project. Fortunately my good friend and International photo journalist Jason Florio was in the country to provide a personal update on the situation through social media messaging, and we decided to go.

It was an eventful journey, but once in the country we started the process of preparation, including constructing a projection screen, promoting the project through flyers, stickers on taxis and on geli geli's (busses) and an interview on Big Sam's radio station in the Town of Brikama, with an active audience across The Gambia and South Senegal. Internet access in the small village of Kartong is not very reliable, and Kye worked extremely hard to share our progress with people back in England through social media such as twitter and facebook.

We visited the department of the Minister of Arts and Culture, however we could not arrange a personal meeting as the Presidential Office was in the process of re-structure.

Over the next ten days myself, Kye and the members of Kouma Kan worked extremely hard to incorporate the work into the rehearsals, making sure that Spearman through digital embodiment was reintegrated into the group.

We are extremely grateful to all the staff at Sandele Eco-lodge, Kouma Kan musicians and dancers, the Kartong Festival staff, Karting village community and people of The Gambia for their support.

Spearman Premier at Kartong Festival

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After a full week of preparation it was the day that we present Spearman at the Kartong International Festival 2017. When we arrived at the festival site we were informed that there was no electricity. We could only put our faith in a higher source and hope that things would work out, and with just one hour to go the electricity returned, with a flood of festival spotlights as the evening drew in.

The energy of Kouma Kan performing was lifted by the euphoric reaction from the audience as they chanted Spearman. It was truly an homecoming for him. The response we received after was of amazement and wonder, as in the photos the camera flash depicts the grey of the projection screen, however on the actual night in darkness you could only make out a life-size image of Spearman performing.

We were extremely relieved and proud to successfully deliver the project, after the challenges of the last few weeks. We are both extremely grateful for the opportunity to expand our international portfolio and now looking forward to planning for a presentation of Spearman in England.

Preparing for Spearman in the UK

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Following our return from künzelsau, Germany where we recorded Spearman performing the traditional West African costume, we have returned to England and have been undertaking post editing the film and sound and prepare the equipment for our trip to The Gambia. We are grateful for the support from project assistant Charlotte Bradley and to aspen Gallery for the one day use of their artist project space to test the equipment.

Searching for Spearman

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We have just returned from künzelsau, Germany, where we recorded Spearman performing the traditional West African costume. It was an emotional journey and reunion with Spearman. Our flight took us to Stuttgart, where we hired a car to drive to künzelsau. We met Spearman late in the evening of arrival at an address on würzburger straße künzelsau. It was an accommodation of flats where refugees were housed, and there was a security kiosk outside with a very unfriendly and suspicious guard. We took spear for a coffee and he explained that the accommodation was full of many West African's, often sleeping about 17 to a room. We discussed the plans for filming and Spearman explained the location he recommended, so we agreed to met him the following day.

The next day we met at the Christengemeinde Arche (Church), which ran a drop in centre for refugees. It was a place that had helped Spearman and he was now reciprocating their charity by volunteering support for less fortunate refugees.

We were offered a private room and we commenced with the filming of Spearman. Myself and Spearman were so grateful to reconnect through the language of the Djembe (drum), he had missed the brotherhood to our group Kouma Kan and the music was a connection too his home village of Kartong.