An adventure in sound: Unyazi Electronic Music Festival kicks off tomorrow

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“I’m not interested in appealing only to rich, elite people,” explains Cameron Harris, curator of the fourth Unyazi Electronic Music Festival which kicks off in Johannesburg tomorrow, “I want everyone who has an interest in the arts to be there.”

We’re discussing how best to describe the kind of thing people can expect from the festival. To some, ‘electronic music’ could describe almost anything made in the last 20 years since the chances are high that it’s been at least edited in a digital workstation rather than mastered on a four-track using Revox tape. To others, it might be any one of a myriad sub-genres of house music, ambient, garage and so on, or the auto-tuned voice of a 21st century pop star.

But to Harris there’s a clear definition of the artists he’s assembled to perform and hold workshops with over the course of the next few days – albeit one that’s hard to pin down.

It’s ‘experimental’.

“[Unyazi] is for people who want to nourish themselves with more variety,” says Harris, “And be a bit more adventurous and out of the ordinary.”

To that end, tickets to the nine concerts over the course of the next five days are either free or a nominal fee from R30 for a single event to R50 for a double bill of performances at different venues on the same night. There’s also workshop sessions planned, including a meeting of musicians and gamers gathering nearby at the A MAZE event in Tshimologong precinct.

The first Unyazi was in 2005 and Harris says the idea is for it to be a biannual event although he has skipped a few years. For this event, however, he’s chosen to hold it under the Fak’ugesi Digital Africa Festival umbrella which is linking up several different happenings in central Joburg over the next few weeks. What Fak’ugezi means is that people can wander from a gaming workshop to a digital art installation to a “daxaphone” performance.

Joburg executive mayor Parks Tau opened the festival proper at the Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein on Friday night. He used it as an opportunity to talk about the fast, free wifi the area has for students.

“We don’t just want to imitate [when it comes to technology],” Tau said, “We want to contribute and be truly innovative.”

Harris, meanwhile, won’t be drawn on a recommendation to see one performance in Unyazi above all the others. What he does say, however, is that they’re all very different.

“Many of the acts we have come from the jazz tradition,” says Harris, “Alfred 23 Harth is a big name from 1970s jazz, he’s been doing more and more with electronic music in recent years. Ravish Momin uses a rhythmic structure that comes from India, where he was born.

“On Wednesday night there’s a performance of one single, long piece of music created by Japanese artist Tomoko Momiyama,” he continues, “It’s been created in the last two weeks from scratch and she’s been out to the mines and the Cradle of Humankind and been interviewing people to get a feel for the land.”

Unyazi is taking place all this week at venues around Wits University, Parkview and central Johannesburg. For more details see the official website here.

[Main pic: Lukas Ligeti electronic marimba and Mpho Molikeng at Fak’ugesi opening night]

Adam Oxford

Adam Oxford

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar,, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.