Thanks to a chance encounter, the artist Emeka Ogboh is releasing an album with the storied music label from Germany’s most famous night club, Berghain.
The five-track LP called Beyond the Yellow Haze will be out on January 15, 2021. It includes recordings that sample and blend soundscapes from his home city of Lagos, Nigeria. The tracks were formerly integrated into an installation the artist made for his first solo exhibition, “No Condition Is Permanent,” which took place in Paris at Iman Fares in 2018.
The Berlin-based artist says that staff from the label, Ostgut, came across his work by chance while visiting the group exhibition “Studio Berlin,” which occupies the otherwise empty dance floors below their offices in the former power plant. The club has been under lockdown since March, and Ogboh is showing a new sound installation, Ayilara, that explores the sounds of the red-light district in the Nigerian city.
“It was a complete fluke,” the artist tells Artnet News. “They were surprised that I had never realized an album before, though I don’t think of myself as a musician or a producer.”
Artist Emeka Ogboh’s “Beyond The Yellow Haze.” Courtesy A-TON.
Ogboh has gained critical acclaim in the art world, despite the fact that his work resists the easy categorization of the art market. He is best known for his poignant sound-based installation art, but he also brews beer, has a professional background as a graphic designer, and has long been making music while building out his personal sound archive gathered from cityscapes like Lagos.
In Beyond the Yellow Haze, snippets of street conversations, public service announcements, busy markets, and traffic from the West African metropolis are delicately woven into ambient music, and the hustle and bustle of commerce and travel blends in seamlessly with Ogboh’s introspective electronic beats. The track “Danfo Mellow” references the yellow passenger share-taxis, called Danfos, which are a signature of metropolitan life there, and frequently appear in Ogbohs’s work.
The record will be released on A-TON, a more experimental sub-label to the legendary Ostgut Ton. In general, the star-powered music label is held in high regard, forming the creative backbone of the nightclub. In 2018, A-TON dipped into the art world, releasing an album co-written by conceptual artist Julian Charrière. His work, as it happens, is also on view at the club’s current group show.
The sounds of Lagos have long-informed Ogboh’s practice, but the album has an even more timely relevance given the EndSARS movement that resurged this October in Nigeria—a youth-driven revolution against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad police unit, who are known for abuses against citizens. The protests, which were violently suppressed, reached a fever pitch on October 20 when police massacred scores of unarmed demonstrators at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos.
The turmoil has been heart-wrenching for Ogboh to watch from afar, as the pandemic has grounded him in Berlin though he normally splits his time between Nigeria and Germany. “The shootings were one of the most depressing points in my life,” Ogboh says. “I have been supporting and following closely, and I will definitely be addressing this movement through my upcoming music—music is a way to heal.” He says he is already working on a new album for 2021.
Ogboh explains that the brutality of SARS is so widespread that nearly everyone in Lagos has experienced it. “As a young Nigerian with a car, you frequently experience being pulled over and harassed for nothing. When I tell them I am an artist, they don’t believe me.”
But the artist is hopeful that the EndSARS movement will triumph given the youthful energy of an internet-aware cohort of protestors. “They messed with the wrong generation,” he says.
A-TON will release Beyond The Yellow Haze on January 15th, 2021.
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