There’s an exhibition on for a few weeks that’s surprisingly exciting to visit – about the lost pop music revival of Namibia.

I say surprising as I am totally tone deaf myself with minimal musical appreciation, and was only in SOAS to see the Japanese exhibition on the ground floor, which turned out to be not that interesting, but the other display downstairs is a marvel.

The Southern African country of Namibia was occupied by Germany from 1884, but was taken over by South Africa following WW1, and they slowing imposed Apartheid on the people – suppressing black culture and the heritage of the native peoples.

Namibia only formally became independent in 1990, but at the height of apartheid, people began to make their own music — in defiance of the occupying government, and that’s the topic of the exhibition.

“Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country. Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country’s former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country’s musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear.” Aino Moongo

The exhibition looks at the underground music scene in the 1950s to late 1980s, unheard by most Namibians, and only recovered following researchers attempts in 2010 to save the fading memories.

It’s a mix of big glossy photos of buildings that were home to the subversive music, and old small black and white photos of musicians and dancers that look old, but normal, but could have probably seen the people involved thrown into jail had they been discovered.

Throughout, there is the music being played – a joyous upbeat music of people striving to be happy in oppressive conditions.

There’s so much happiness in the photos of a time that we can barely remember, when to have been born black was all it took to be oppressed. And here are people defying the government, simply by wanting to enjoy themselves.

It’s a warm and enriching exhibition and utterly worth visiting.

The exhibition, Stolen Moments is open at the Brunei Gallery until 21st September. It’s open Tues-Sat 10:30am to 5pm, with late openings on Thurs to 8pm.

Entry is free.

It’s hoped that the exhibition will tour Namibia next year as part of the country’s 30th year Independence celebrations.


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