A few months into the Trump presidency, resistance finds itself at a performative peak. Given the recent surge in public protest, social media continuously blurs the lines between virtual and actual policy. However, there’s a fine line between activism and smugness. While resisting white supremacy might seem like the noble choice to caucasian liberals, complacency was never an option for those marked as “other”. To garner a minimum level of security, both physically and mentally, opposition is a mandatory act of self preservation for people of color, and there’s no amount of safety pins, woke memes or good intentions, that could protect the marginalised.
In the wake of a dark inauguration this year’s CTM festival took place under the heading “Fear, Anger, Love”, with a programme more politically charged, and a line-up more diverse than ever before. In this context, “The Great Disappointment,” conceived by NON Worldwide, marked one of the outstanding highlights of the event series. The three-night performance premiered on January 29 at Berlin’s Hebbel am Ufer and owes its title to a song by Chino Amobi’s, one of the founding members of the Afro-diasporic collective, among Angel-Ho and Nkisi.
As a non-hierarchical music collective, NON opposes distinguished canons. Instead, they want to redistribute power and provide a virtual space for thoseperceived as the global periphery. While defying both colonialist history and binary thinking, they present a counterweight to the myriads of white male middle class producers that have swamped today’s underground music scene.
More than anything, their hour long stage piece at HAU presents a work of Black resistance. Here, sound is not merely the other to vision. Like fraternal twins, the two are inseparably linked. Against the backdrop of a big screen displaying their flag-like logo the show opened with a droning bass line. The stage is a prime example of postmodern image cultivation. A trio of dancers, headed by choreographer Ligia Lewis, takes the stage, their forceful bodies in motion drenched in red lights. They are grimacing, and wearing sclera lenses, to the pounding sounds. Two DJs on opposite ends of the stage, render a multi-layered polyrhythms, both jarring and fleeting. Episodically key protagonists loom from the infinity of the black box theatre, like apparitions, presenting the pleasure of Angel-Ho’s cosplay rendition of Mariah Carey mannerisms or the beauty of Embaci’s melancholy vocal solos.
Then again, interludes of distorted sounds: part sonic assault, part elegy. A laser pointer beams through the audience, piercing each row with a pan-optical glance, as if to redirect the white gaze. Time and again the audience is engulfed by clouds of vapour, cast out by a fog machine. A riot concludes the performance: black bodies in commotion, while whistling noises and the penetrating sound of a flatlining bass fill the room. By the end of the show the theatre reeks of glycerin and despair.
“The history of blackness is testament to the fact that objects can and do resist,”1 theorist and poet Fred Moten writes in the opening paragraph of In the Break – his disquisition on the history of Black radical aesthetics. Like blackness itself, NON’s practice, too, is a work of rebellion. Their performance is deeply embedded in the continuous trauma, that clings to Black subjecthood like pitch drops. But rather than giving in to the pain, NON delegates scrutiny inflicted upon black lives onto their audience. By subverting hegemonial and neoliberalist signifiers, they manage to abstract a historic lineage of violence, while harnessing a certain brand-like kind of militancy themselves. “The Great Disappointment” is a performative encounter of emotional discomfort. It alludes to the sense of utter disorientation, that has been inscribed in Black collective memory for centuries. War, the performance tells us, is in the air: “NON today, NON tomorrow, NON forever.”
1 Fred Moten, “In the Break – The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition,” (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2003), p. 1.