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Johari – Brass Band is Baloji’s triumphant symbol of Africa’s reclamation of its own history. France, weakened by the revolt and the loss of Haiti, changed its colonial strategy and sold the French colony of Louisiana to the United States in 1903. When French troops departed Louisiana, they abandoned their musical instruments, which local slaves then adopted to create Brass Bands. This is the history Sammy Baloji references in his two sculptures that take the forms of a French horn and a sousaphone.
Baloji has incised the instruments’ surfaces with patterns derived from historical Congolese scarifications that were eradicated by colonial presence. The instruments are caged in metal structures derived from the forms of minerals from the Congolese province of Katanga, which international companies have exploited since 1885 for its rich mineral resources, including copper used to manufacture brass.
Johari – Brass Band will be installed through February 24, 2021 on two imposing stone plinths that adorn the facade of the Grand Palais, and later will be reinstalled there for the reopening of the restored Grand Palais.
To amplify the resonance of Johari – Brass Band, Sammy Baloji invited Mo Laudi—artist, DJ, and musician—to delve into the archives that inspired the work and to create a playlist and compose a musical work in conversation with the sculpture. Mo Laudi’s playlist of 100 tracks highlights cross-pollination between African, New-World, and European brass bands over time. His 9’31” composition for Johari – Brass Band, Congo Square in D # Minor (Congo Square in D minor, 2021), is like a gumbo dish, combining the Western wind instruments adopted by slaves—trumpets, tubas, trombones, French horns—with African and Afro-American roots. Sound samples of a New Orleans jazz funeral, recordings made along the Congo River, funeral processions in South Africa, scarification ceremonies in Congo, and horns sounding in call-and-response create a trance-like impression of collective spirituality, which is contrasted by snippets from a lecture about wealthy countries’ exploitation of poorer nations’ raw materials.