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IMPRESSIONS: nora chipaumire at Harlem Stage with NYC Premiere of "ShebeenDub"

IMPRESSIONS: nora chipaumire at Harlem Stage with NYC Premiere of "ShebeenDub"
Kristen Hedberg/ IG @kristen.hedberg

By Kristen Hedberg/ IG @kristen.hedberg
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Published on May 29, 2024
nora chipaumire. Photo: Marc Millma

A Sonic and Visual Statement of Radical Black Indictment of Empire

Artistic Direction: nora chipaumire

afternow installation
Sound Design: Franz Schütte
soundshitsystem construction: Matt Jackson Studio
soundshitsystem design: Ari Marcopoulos and Kara Walker

Nehanda (2021)
Writing and Production by nora chipaumire at Callie’s Berlin, Germany
Audio Treatment: Franz Schütte, with Nadel Eins Studio Berlin

Performers: *nora chipaumire, Marguerite Hemmings, Shamar Wayne Watt
Live Dub Music: DJ Luz Mob

Date: May 18th, 2024

Harlem Stage celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Twenty-five of their years offered their signature dance series titled E-Moves, which invites phenomenal artists of color to Harlem Stage. On May 17th and 18th 2024, the internationally acclaimed New York /Zimbabwean artist nora chipaumire returned to Harlem Stage with her New York premiere of ShebeenDUB.

Split into three components, the immersive event included an installation of chipaumire’s radio opera Nehanda, the performance of ShebeenDUB, and a dance party. DJ Luz Mob filled the house with live dub music as the three experiences, a performance note reads, “transform the historic Harlem Stage Gatehouse into a sonic and visual statement of radical Black indictment of Empire…[it] interrogates Empire, its aesthetics, and ideas of human rights.”

nora chipaumire and attendees in ShebeenDUB at Harlem Stage. Photo: Marc Millma

The audio-visual-physical spectacle celebrates dub — an electronic musical style that emerged in the late 60s and early 70s with origins in Jamaican reggae instrumentals. chipaumire asserts that, “of the many African diasporic inventions, dub is the most provocative and questioning.”

Pulsing vibrations, projections of silhouetted faces on the walls, and smoky hues of purple beckon us into Harlem Stage’s wide, open dance floor. Benches wrap around the perimeter, but for the most part, we remain on our feet. chipaumire’s afternow installation engulfs the room – a multimedia structure housing twenty-five boxes (which people are invited to climb on and explore), a stage, chairs, sails, surround sound, amps, projections, light and fog. The afternow installation’s colossal speaker system, titled "soundshitsystem," encompasses the center.

Shamar Wayne Watt and Marguerite Hemmings at Harlem Stage. Photo: Marc Millma

Attendees experiment with ascending the speakers, enjoying the music and dancing on top. The rest of the floor remains dedicated to movement — of both the performers and attendees. Viewers, who shift away from the role of “viewer” and fully immersing themselves within the world, dance with friends old and new.

At the start of ShebeenDUB, an attention-grabbing whistle causes our heads to whip towards its source. nora chipaumire arrives, whistle and microphone on hand, electrifying us. chipaumire, joined by three performers situated aloft the soundshitsystem, offers movement and spoken word alongside DJ Luz Mob. She bellows, “Take the dance floor! I’m ready… LET’S GO!

”The space feels so energizing, we cannot help but move with the music. Each pulse reverberates through our bones. chipaumire demands for a heightened feeling, calling upon the sound technicians to, “turn it up, turn it higher…the dub!” As the sounds begin to crescendo, we feel a collective unity.

nora chipaumire on mic and audience members including (directly across from chipaumire) Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founder of Urban Bush Women. Photo: Marc Millma

chipaumire’s voice booms as she charges through pathways of the attendees, “Let me speak…This is for the Africans…Black nation, dub nation…we make no apology!” Her voice morphs through the microphone, reverberating and elongated, at times difficult to discern over the music and the crowd. When she does not speak, she dances, her quick moves powerfully capturing the reverberation of the music. “Don’t stop now!” she echoes. We cannot tear our eyes away.

The three performers shift, sway, and lean aloft the shitsoundsystem, their movement seemingly improvised, feeling each pulse of the music. They descend and weave through us, urging everyone to put their hands in the air. “It’s a party! Hands up!” they exclaim. The three at times move against the beats in exchanges with one another, physically conversing with us as well. Amid the crowd, they embody the dub’s timing and feeling with rigor.

Maguerite Hennings (seated) with the dancing audience. Photo: Marc Millma

ShebeenDUB carries a similar feeling throughout its hour runtime. The transition into the dance party was nearly indiscernible, and probably would have been had it not been for chipaumire’s whistle-blowing signaling that the “performance” was over. However, it did not feel “over,”  the energy through the room continued to grow as we were invited to dance until midnight.

Attendees with nora chipaumire in background at Harlem Stage. Photo: Marc Millma

What appears as simply an immersive show and monumental party speaks deeper. The event intentionally and excitingly rejects any semblance of traditional performance viewing, meant to be accessible and active rather than viewed from a distance. This accessibility, allowing space to connect and appreciate art as a community, creates a lasting memory.

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