Artist Fallon Mayanja composes and assembles poetic texts and sound works linked to other bodies and other voices, which are deployed during performances and within installations. The idea is first to listen – but to really listen, actively – to be able to hear luminous interstices, multiple spaces, sensitive experiences, at all hours, in the heart of a night that we have chosen to bring down together.
Marie Bechetoille – What does the word “night” evoke for you?
Fallon Mayanja – People often think of night in opposition to day, and that bothers me. I prefer to ask: what does the night inspire in you? For me, it’s an interstice of possibilities and inventions, a locus of chaos and renewal, in which everything can collapse, in order to be reborn and restructured all the better. But also a site of dreams and metaphors, using the imaginary that I echo in my writing.
MB – Nighttime is often perceived as a moment favourable to creation; it is possible to focus without the flood of information, codes, and rules associated with the daytime. Is this the time that you write and create your sound compositions?
FM – Poetry and music possess me at night. At that time, masses of images come to me. It’s interesting to talk about this now with you, because I’ve been sleeping badly for about ten days! I get to sleep around five in the morning, so my nights are long. I’m out of phase, and even though December is a grey and dark month, there’s joy and wonder in it. It’s a symbolic time of reunions and celebrations. We got together as a family in the evening for parties and I loved strolling through Paris, whereas I never go for walks during the day. That allowed me to kind of catch my breath.
MB – When you perform in a place, you ask that the room be plunged into total darkness. What does this darkness provoke for the people present and for you?
FM – I really like this idea of “bringing down the night” from earlier. I work a lot with sensitive states, relationships between visible and invisible, listening and attention abilities. Night is propitious terrain; the body is more porous. “Bringing down the night”, means being able to accompany people that I invite, and myself, within a sensitive space connected to other states, energies, and people.
MB – Although night has fallen, you nevertheless often let a colourful and luminous atmosphere linger. How do you play with the artificial light in your performances and installations?
FM – I’m not so much interested in darkness for its shadowy aspect, I think of it as a sombre environment in which light still remains. I love mist for that reason. I’ve started reading Nos jours brûlés1 by Laura Nsafou. The story takes place in 2049. Since the Great Night, the sun has disappeared and the world is plunged into twilight. Elikia and her mother Diba want to bring day back. The little girl imagines the world with its plays of colour when she hears older people talk about it. This is perhaps what I’m trying to recreate in these night zones. I have so many poetic images that come to me when I think about the transition from nightfall to sunrise. And I’d like to share them. The night is made up of multiple tonalities that I recover and that give me breathing room.
MB – By working on visual, sound, and textual composition, you express a diversity of voices and bodies. You invite us to enter a poetic science-fiction world, through stories, struggles, and narratives that resonate with current events. How do you manage to bring different temporalities together?
FM – The composition is a metaphor for the world, given that it is individualities that make up the collective. My texts are assemblages, collages of worlds, times, and spaces. At the moment, I’m looking for actions and alternatives around what is happening in the present. I ask guests to enter some of the worlds and interstices that I want to make heard within society. The basis is experience: it’s social reality. With my collective Black(s) to the future,2 it’s very enriching to talk about the future, because I’m more a person of the present who likes to work with temporal glitches and performance. There’s a certain beauty in talking about the experience as you’re living it. Fictive speculation is necessary, it fuels the imagination and will be able to help in discourses that we want to share, but there are certain realities that must be told and that are present. I like these things to become entangled. In the new worlds that are opening up, for me, the goal is not to create a space that is not fictional, since I’m obliged to take into account present states relative to struggles. And people change the world precisely because they struggle.
MB – How do you choose the voices that you interrelate in your sound works? We can hear excerpts from texts, speeches, or music by Sara Ahmed, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Arianna Brown, Angela Davis, Frantz Fanon, Lauryn Hill, Audre Lorde, Martin Luther King, Nnedi Okorafor, Rasheedah Phillips, Sun Ra, Edward W. Saïd… What do these voices say about your own voice?
FM – Artistically, my path has been that of progressively finding my voice in the literal sense. I had a lot of trouble speaking, I lost my words, and it did me good to hear other voices and work on them through sound composition. All of these people are involved in struggles for better lives, both personal and collective. I effectively chose voices that resonate with me or with people around me. There are so many voices that exist and speeches that have been made, connected to so many stories and struggles, whether feminist, antiracist, or LGBTQIA+. I want to apply myself to these; it’s a form of respect for all these people and actions that have allowed me to be where I am now. In a situation where I might find myself without a voice, I know that someone is still speaking for me in the past, present, and future.
MB – When you perform, you are often alone on stage and a mask entirely conceals your face. What are the effects produced by this accessory? It seems to be a way of both protecting and projecting oneself.
FM – The question of representation is central to this. My performances are more like invitations than stagings. There is still this idea of seeing, and I suggest to audiences first to listen: a visual, auditive, and tangible kind of listening, and then to withdraw into contemplation or entertainment. The mask helped me with that, as it creates a degree of distance. But the research is ongoing. I have many other protective tools. Before, I recorded my voice and made sure that no one saw me, in total darkness. I was creating discrepancies between my body and voice. I now develop other techniques for accompanying through sound or video, and to evade the gaze. I keep the mask on only at the start, to launch the performances. By providing the least amount of physical elements, I want to be able to open up a space in which each individual can detach themselves from a series of codes and representations. The mask also represents the multiple and it is combined with the transformations of my voice. Thanks to the mask and to my plural voices, my body is like a channel. A face, a body, a discourse. It’s a time for listening. I want the right connection to be made.
MB – In some of your current projects, you pay homage to African-American composer, singer, pianist, dancer, and performer Julius Eastman. Your works femenine / masculine replay his original compositions, in conversation with the Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto3 books by Legacy Russell and The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love4 by bell hooks. For Sensing Satellite (2021), you were inspired by the track The Holy Presence Of Joan D’Arc which you bring into conversation with excerpts from the book Decolonial Ecology: Thinking from the Caribbean World5 by Malcom Ferdinand.
FM – We come back to interstitial spaces where things are intertwined. There would be the same things to say, the same social and structural problems as in the 1970s. “The archives struggle” is precious to me, and allows me to find voices. Julius Eastman’s archives were thrown out when he was forced to leave his apartment. Also, despite the fact that he was homeless, he was still invited onto radio shows to discuss his work. Structurally, that says a lot. His legacy is immense and it’s a perfect example of what I want to denounce and spaces of honesty and non-conformity that I aspire to develop. Julius Eastman was in the interstices. He’s been dubbed a minimalist composer, but he came from gospel, oscillating between the New York downtown scene and fashionable society gigs; he did free jazz, which we find in his classical works. I think it’s a magnificent idea, this collage of worlds, of navigation within time and space. Far beyond simply inspiring me, his life path gives me a lot of strength in both my work and in my private life.
MB – The power of speech and music is sometimes revealed thanks to silences, moments of pause and respirations. What is your relationship with silence?
FM – Silence is complex, because it is always linked to situated points of view. Sometimes there are too many words and I need moments of silence. Words are powerful. In my piece Black Narratives Composing Alternatives, at one point there is no more sound and it’s an image of the fact of being silenced. A friend told me that within the framework of an event, a silence had oppressed her, because the dominant individuals had kept quiet to ask the other people present to speak. That reframes the question of who takes the initiative to speak and who gives others the floor, of who remains silent and who keeps others silent.
MB – For two years now, all of your performances end with club style music, recently with other artists accompanying you with dance. What does this site of collective partying that is the night club represent for you?
FM – The night club has been important and enlightened me in terms of representations. I found daylight during the nighttime there. It opened so many doors for me and opened up encounters within groups that were more similar to me. The night can change the way you walk in everyday life. Unfortunately, we also push people into the night for a better control of this “day world” – social, structured, and institutionalised. A night that would be for the undesirable, the men and women who are marginalised or outcast. But, in terms of the night club, I love the idea of reconnecting with one’s body through music and dance, returning to oneself and to self-discovery. That is why I want to end with celebration and festivities in these other worlds that the performances create. It’s really the end point for me!
- Laura Nsafou, Nos jours brûlés – Tome 1 (Paris: Albin Michel jeunesse, 2021).
- Visit website : www.blackstothefuture.com
- Legacy Russell, Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (New York: Verso Books, 2020).
- bell hooks, La Volonté de changer – les hommes, la masculinité et l’amour (Paris: Divergences, 2021).
- Malcom Ferdinand, trans. Anthony Paul Smith, Decolonial Ecology: Thinking from the Caribbean World (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2022).