London exhibition showcases music apartheid regime tried to suppress in Namibia

An exhibition in London is serving as a revival of Namibian musical traditions that South Africa's apartheid regime attempted to erase when the country then called South West Africa fell under its rule.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold" - on at the SOAS University of London's Brunei Museum - is the culmination of years of work sparked by a chance encounter in Namibia's capital, Windhoek.

Founding member of the Stolen Moments project, Thorsten Schuette, recalls how it all started when he was recording a radio promo for a film production at the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation in 2010.

He happened to hear someone in another studio playing an old vinyl and following up on the artist in the archives, discovered a treasure trove of field recordings.

I listened to some of these recordings and ran into one by an artist/singer/songwriter, Ben Molatsi. The moment the needle hit the vinyl I was sold to the beauty of this performance. I found it really unique and wanted to find out more but nobody could really tell me anything.

Thorsten Schuette, Founding member - Stolen Moments project

Schuette says he couldn't forget these sounds and eventually, continuing his queries, he met a translator who was familiar with Molatsi's music.

A year later he met the musician, who was then working as a bus driver.

This sparked Schuette's research into the suppression of local popular music during apartheid which led to a collaboration with two Namibians to start the Stolen Moments project.

Initially their aim was to safeguard what they were able to find but this mushroomed into a "massive" project when they decided this unique musical history warranted an exhibition if it wasn't to land up in the archives and be forgotten once again.

Schuette talks about some of the hurdles Namibian musicians came up against, which included the splintering of communities as forced removals were implemented, just like in South Africa.

There were a great many artists all over the country from different ethnic groups that were playing and performing, but under circumstances that were very, very difficult.

Thorsten Schuette, Founding member - Stolen Moments project

The first big hurdle was that the music of the locals was never considered as anything meaningful that was meant to be preserved.

Thorsten Schuette, Founding member - Stolen Moments project

One must also remember that radio came to Namibia very late. The South West African Broadcasting Corporation I think only opened in 1970 or 1971.

Thorsten Schuette, Founding member - Stolen Moments project

He notes that the existing early recordings of bands reflect an "old-fashioned" style already outdated in the Western world.

Sometimes it has a ragtime jazzy feel that people would still dance to in the sixties and seventies while in the US or in Europe the pop revolution was going on... It also starts to blend with local sounds and colours which makes it musically very interesting.

Thorsten Schuette, Founding member - Stolen Moments project

He says that some "outside" music made it into the country via sailors landing in the port of Walvis Bay.

Often the local musicians were worshipping musicians like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Uriah Heep in the seventies, thinking that these are black American bands, not plain white rock bands.

Thorsten Schuette, Founding member - Stolen Moments project

Stolen Moments. Namibian Music History Untold - Exhibition from SOAS on Vimeo.

Listen to the fascinating conversation in the audio below:

Thumbnail image: Stolen Moments Namibia on Facebook


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