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Part gig, part dance performance, part social - Nora Chipaumire discusses ShebeenDUB at Dance Umbrella Festival

Nora Chipaumire is an award-winning Zimbabwean choreographer. As a prolific artist who has presented her work in an array of mediums and settings, Chipaumire has an exciting library of work that ranges from opera to live performance albums. As she now gears up to co-present her new work ShebeenDUB at this year’s Dance Umbrella Festival, Run Riot were delighted to talk to Chipaumire about this epic ‘part gig, part dance performance, part social’ debut.

Natifa White:  What things excite you about premiering ShebeenDUB in London specifically and as part of this year’s Dance Umbrella Festival?
Nora Chipaumire: Well, first of all London is really critical to the culture of sound systems and to dub culture and so we thought that we should come up with a unique salute or offering that tips itself to London. For me, it’s about this marginal and native proposition of dub that makes me so excited about showing it here and having Dance Umbrella help me put a frame on what the first provocation for London could be, has been great especially as London has been somewhere I’ve always wanted to present my work.

As I see it, it has allowed room to discuss and share with the population here what this frequency we call dub is, its connections to black culture, what the relationship between the Global North and the Global South is and what our ideas of decoloniality are as Artists.

Natifa: What is ShebeenDUB and who is a part of it?
Nora: Firstly, ShebeenDUB is a sound system (a very artsy-fartsy one) that’s been moving and hosting around the world. It’s a radical gathering and complicit in it are three artists who I am really excited to work with; tyroneisaacstuart and Yinka Esi Graves (who are both Londoners) and Marguerite Hemmings who is Jamaican-American. I proposed these artists to respond to the question and perhaps the theory and the practice of dub as a physical activity.

At the same time, we also have the ‘Trojan Sound System’ who are, of course, a massive London dub event along with Spider who is an important individual in dub and reggae culture.


Natifa: What, for you, makes dub culture special?
Nora: Dub is the blackest of the black. It’s black science. It’s a forward-thinking frequency. It’s a product of confrontation between black and white cultures. Particularly out of forced environments that could have only arrived through miserable and dark experiences which in a way assembled an identity from deficiency and people who did not have anything. So things like recycling, repurposing and having the knowledge to rewrite a frequency is Nobel prize genius! Honestly, I really have a deep respect for the pioneers and those who carry on these practices of building sound systems because it’s a science, an art, a political statement and also an aesthetic.

Natifa: From your standpoint, what knowledge(s) does dub culture acknowledge?
Nora: Well, the fact that music is a science and is something that can be man-made or calibrated to fit an individual’s articulation or hearing of sound is a knowledge for me. And the fact that in dub culture you have the sound engineer, or the person who builds the boxes, as the scientist is knowledge in itself.

Another knowledge that I think [dub] acknowledges is a person of corroboration and the way they work with others because it’s not an individual practice when we think about the people who make dub. For example, the scientist is working with the selector and the selector is working with the MC so in my opinion, it’s already a nod to what the politics of community- building are.

It also nods to the politics around the sonic versus the text and the way the bassline accompanies the text that is either made up or written in the moment. This makes me think about the culture of language and sound and the ways they are manipulated and articulated in these spaces. So, by acknowledging these knowledges we can open a space that acknowledges all of these things we call ‘music’ or ‘literature’ as a whole and this is what makes [dub culture] so powerful to me.


Natifa:  Looking back at the history of dub culture and its connection to bringing people together, how could this aspect continue informing our ways of being (inter)dependent?
Nora: Dub, for me, is kind of like constituency-building in a way. Everyone is allowed to thinkindependently from one another and still participate. I would even go as far to call it a democratic practice or a democratising practice because I would definitely use it as a tool to teach people about participation and ways individuality can actually expand the group instead of losing or compromising it.

Natifa: How does this aspect also connect to your artistic practice and thoughts?
Nora: For me, constituency-building and democracy are ideas that I think about deeply as an artist because I am interested in how sound, movement, space and the public allows us to be in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. I think that good work doesn’t necessarily have to be obtuse, cold and inaccessible and I really believe that artists - well I myself - are citizens of the world. So, coming from a culture where people matter and where people are first, I often ask why do we do this? Why do we make things? Why do we make music? Why do we dance? And for whom do we do this for?

Obviously, we do this for (and) as people, so why not create environments where people can be together and think together? This is where for me accessibility is important because I am committed to access and questions of access. I am committed to these kinds of philosophical practices that not only place people at the centre but also highlight the anti- colonial and anti-class aspects where everybody should have the right to access artistiC practices, art spaces and good art.

In my universe, I am trying to collapse (actually not trying) collapsing the space between the performer and the public as well remove the fear of difference. In this way, I am interested in how ‘difference’ can be negotiated and how experiencing art does not have to be so far detached that people need a PhD or thesaurus to actually understand what’s going on.

Natifa: Along with ShebeenDUB, your film #PUNK will also be shown as part of the film programme. Are there any parallels between the two works?

Nora: Yes totally! In fact, I actually built the work #PUNK to underscore the fact that punk and dub were emerging at the same time. And in this way, I was thinking of ways these two sonic cultures were not only disobeying ‘the state’ but they were also entry points into ways life could be enjoyed despite them fleeting. So I think that different frequencies like dub and punk were kind of doing the same political work despite them both having different aesthetics.


SheBeenDUB will run at this year’s Dance Umbrella Festival on Thursday 13th and Friday 14th October 2022. To book tickets head here. 

You can also watch Nora Chipaumire’s show on demand and access the entire Dance Umbrella digital programme with the Digital Pass here.

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