Emeka Ogboh’s Song of the Germans, on now at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, harnesses sound to immerse viewers in an unexpectedly profound experience. The piece from a visual perspective is relatively unimpressive; ten black audio speakers are arranged in a semicircle, literally and figuratively enveloping the viewer in the work. However, when it comes to sound, it is quite powerful.
For Song of the Germans, Ogboh recruited a choir of African immigrants to sing the German national anthem. The lyrics were translated into the singer’s native languages (Igbo, Yoruba, Bamoun, More, Twi, Ewondo, Sango, Douala, Kikongo and Lingala) and then the group sang the anthem together.
The result is a cacophony that despite its complex construction ultimately becomes one unified sound. Arranged with the voices going in and out, and a mix of solo and group singing the amalgamation of languages becomes almost indistinguishable. This is perhaps a symbol of the way immigrants of various backgrounds can create blended cultures in their new homes.
The song being sung in different languages, points to the ways immigrants can shape their new countries. This blending of new and old points of view, a juxtaposition of tradition and modernity, creates something new and beautiful.
Much of the piece’s beauty is owed to the musical prowess of Joseph Hadyn’s composition, but that innate beauty is elevated by the range of voices and languages the singers bring to the song itself.
What makes this piece especially powerful is its use of sound as an artistic medium. Outside of the music industry sound can often be overlooked, but Song of the Germans puts it front and center, relying on its unprecedented ability to shape an experience, sometimes even unconsciously.
Sound is an undeniably powerful tool in our everyday lives, yet it is rarely given the respect it deserves. In this piece Ogboh uses sound and language to question our ideas of identity and self-hood in an increasingly globalized world, pushing us to explore how sounds, languages and accents can shape our interpretations of people, place and home.
Song of the Germans runs until May 13, 2018 at The Power Plant.