SOAS University of London

SOAS’s Brunei Gallery exhibits Namibia’s unsung musical heroes

12 July 2019

The Brunei Gallery at SOAS University of London is celebrating unsung musical heroes of Namibia with a special exhibition curated by Namibian scholars in collaboration with SOAS’s Department of Music’s Dr Angela Impey.

The exhibition, Stolen Moments - Namibian Music History Untold, recovers Namibia’s popular music from the 1950s to the late 1980s - a period that marked some of the harshest years of racial discrimination under the South African apartheid regime, following German colonialism. Visitors can expect to see an extensive photographic collection, a 120-min video projection that revisits the dance styles of the period, 14-listening stations featuring Namibia’s music legends, a sound installation that explores a selection of over 100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses, and a large collection of record covers and music memorabilia.

Stolen Moments Title Poster

The exhibition makes known that music which was known to a small part of the population only, due to censorship and racial segregation. It recounts the story of those who, despite oppression, formed bands, followed global trends, experimented with traditional sounds, and danced their way through decades of racial injustice.

The Stolen Moments project started in 2010 as a treasure hunt for Namibia’s disregarded popular music. The exhibition, which is the result of this research, shines a spotlight on bands such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto, #Kharixurob, Otto Kampari, Strike Vilakazi, Warmgat and The Dakotas; all musicians who, under different circumstances, would have enjoyed celebrated pop careers.

Their music was contemporary, often fusing regional styles with locally passed-on traditions. Saxophonist Leyden Naftali’s band emulated the strident orchestration of old-fashioned ragtime. Ben Molatzi, a singer and guitarist from Tsumeb, wrote timeless, beautiful ballads drawing on the distinctive melodies and harmonies of his Damara and Sotho heritage. The Ugly Creatures' repertoire included psychedelic rock, soul and funk, but one would always recognize its roots in Damara punch. The Outjo Singers fused jazz with shrill female choruses long before Abbey Lincoln and Art Blakey’s Freedom Now Suite.

Dr. Angela Impey, Chair of SOAS Music, and host to the exhibition at SOAS said: “I am thrilled to be hosting this unique exhibition at SOAS. Its commitment to uncovering the songs and stories of a profoundly marginalised people speaks to SOAS Music's priority to better understand how music is used to define and defend peoples’ identities and interests. Namibia is little known to most people in Britain, and Stolen Moments offers unique insight into the politics and pleasures of a remarkable and resilient people.”

Find out more about the exhibition here.