Call and response

At African Interactive we are developing a proposal for a cyclic series of workshops and showcases involving both artists engaged in public performances and creative technologists, in Kenya (and other countries in Africa) and the UK.

Specifically, we aim to foster interactive performance, i.e. any form of theatre, dance, music or other type of experience in which the audience is engaged beyond observation. Interactivity exists in both places and is advanced both in parts of Africa and the UK. We are particularly interested in cases where it is technologically mediated: where technology is used to draw people in to the performance. Technologies such as the web and social media, SMS, RFID, smartphones and sensors of various kinds have been shown to achieve enhanced dramatic or aesthetic effects when integrated gracefully in these genres. Mayfest Bristol is a good example in the UK.

The focus on digitally integrated interactivity is because of its reach beyond the performance itself. First, through physical and virtual participation it tends to encourage creative input from the ‘audience’. Second, it expands the creative scope of technological appropriation and thus can act as a stimulus to technological and digital media development – in the UK and Kenya.

The overall aim is to increase mutual understanding of interactive performance as practised in the various countries of Africa and the UK, and to showcase and thus stimulate both artistic and technological development across these nations. At the same time, we aim to increase audience exposure to new performances and generate public debate about the topics they are concerned with. Commercial development is also an objective for both the technologists and arts groups involved.

The framework for these engagements is “call and response”: a fundamentally interactive form in which one group calls upon or asks questions of the other through performance, and the other answers or responds through performance. By its cyclic nature, call and response can be used for emphasis, for iterative development, and for turn-taking and complementarity between the groups involved. It can also operate at several levels: within performances themselves, within one project or engagement, and across engagements. Call and response is a cross-cultural form, found across the world from African religious ceremonies and music, to English sea shanties and the Blues.

“In Sub-Saharan African cultures, call and response is a pervasive pattern of democratic participation—in public gatherings in the discussion of civic affairs, in religious rituals, as well as in vocal and instrumental musical expression. It is this tradition that African bondsmen and women brought with them to the New World and which has been transmitted over the centuries in various forms of cultural expression—in religious observance; public gatherings; sporting events; even in children’s rhymes; and, most notably, in African-American music in its myriad forms and descendants including: gospel, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, jazz and jazz extensions.”

Call and response builds upon what typically takes place currently when artists visit another country. First, there is the case when a group takes existing work to a foreign audience or creates new work abroad. This expands the audience for and appreciation of the group’s work abroad. In our case, additionally, there is automatic reciprocation: effectively, the visited place responds with its own voice, through a group it has chosen.

Second, there is the creation of a new work by the combined participants in an exchange, as in the Playable City Sprint. This builds on and adds to what the participants from different countries share. In call and response, we enable a creative response to their differences – which can be equally valuable.

Although in any one cycle the roles are different with respect to who is the initiator, in all other respects the roles are equal and, on the next cycle, they are reversed. Call and response is, thus, a format for creative peers to engage with one another across continents in which each is expected to take into account the practices and the context of the other, and at the same time to stand their artistic and contextual ground as they see fit. This “perspective from a distance” has also been applied to international problem-solving initiatives such as Ghana Think Tank.

Get involved

Please contact us for further information.