I was invited to develop a set of interactions that contrasted and compared aspects of the East, West and African cultures. Considering the audience / players were 50 youth and adults from music collective CAFCA in Mamelodi, Pretoria, I devised a sensory ‘gameshow’, with two rounds focused on food and music, within each were three challenges: to ‘Connect’, explore ‘Instruments’ and ‘Play’. My aim was to use these collaborative, creative challenges for participants to explore cultural symbols and expressions.
Being of Chinese ethnicity and heritage, raised in a Cantonese-speaking family, yet within a wider British community, culture and schooling system, I have been aware of the differences and similarities between these groups. The ways in which they perceive, position and prioritise, leading to ideologies, patterns and values that influence how and what we practice, the customs and rituals, the language we use. I have experienced or witnessed the difficulty of incorporating a foreign idea into one’s own, how the existence of one school of thought can override and shape the understanding and interpretation of others that we engage with. How these different approaches to understanding and knowledge pose interesting epistemological questions about our process of thinking, believing, relating and rationalising. With my added experience within the African context I was led to also consider the origins and state of their philosophical and knowledge production systems.
Within CAFCA’s objectives: “We aim to implement culture of learning, in particular appreciation of Music as an art form. We also seek to create an awareness for art, both as a joyous activity and as an alternative career among youth from previously disadvantaged communities. CAFCA also ensures that understanding of Musical concepts or theory should match with the practicum, that is integrating theory with musical instruments like, piano, clarinet, violin, bass guitar or woodwind instruments- recorder, saxophones, trumpet or trombone) in real time.” and during my initial visits. I noticed that the musical concepts, theory and instruments that they practiced were from Western sources, finding parallels in this adoption with experiences of my own, learning the piano and violin in my youth. As I grew up in a Western environment, I never did question the type of music or instruments I practiced. I was conscious of, but did not deeply reflect on the Chinese or Eastern musical sources or forms, they were framed as the ‘alternative’, an unofficial style, categorised as ‘world music’, and I accepted it.
The group of musicians at CAFCA were mainly black South African artists, practicing Western music, they like I had not challenged the superior position of that form in the musical world – even within their continent. I felt that from my context, it would be insightful to expose some of the history and links between thinking and the musical and culinary arts that would highlight the depth and interrelatedness of Chinese culture and thought, that would pose as a way to legitimise and broaden understanding of what lay outside the Western canon. This included how instruments were designed and measured, to relate to the elements and Chinese philosophy, the approaches to writing music and the musical score and the role of music within cultural practices (excerpts from the projections above).