Invernomuto, BLACK MED, Chapter V (2020). Courtesy of the artists

Text by Felice Moramarco —

Black Med is a long term research project by the artist duo Invernomuto, focusing on music culture in the Mediterranean area, which takes the form of an online platform and a series of live events. The last iteration of Black Med features in the programme of DEMO Moving Image Festival.

Since its unification in 1861, Italy has been considered a member of the West, a macro geopolitical area constituted by Europe and North America, which is opposed to the East and Global South. However, in the peripheral zones of the western part of the world, such as Italy, this distinction blurs, and the cultural and geographical differences between West, South, and East become quite difficult to acknowledge. Yet walking through the streets of Naples, Bari or Palermo, one can hardly see any resemblance with Northern European cities, while the affinities with cities like Algeri, Beirut, or Tunisi are immediately evident. The urban architecture, the chaotic order that populates the streets, and the habits of the people living in those cities, which for the Western cultural paradigms are to be considered anomalies, constitute clear elements of continuity with those geographical areas from which the West intends to stand apart.

These aspects are more than just folkloric phenomena; they witness the arbitrarity with which this particular separation of the world has been made, as those similarities are the results of the intense cultural contamination occurred through centuries across the Mediterranean among Europe, Africa, and Asia. Favoured by its geographical collocation, Italy has always been the catalyst of this relationship among the three continents. Yet, despite the recent transformation of the Mediterranean into a militarised border, this past of coexistence still resonates in the underground music culture, which has been revitalised by recent migration flows that from Northern Africa reach the Italian peninsula.

With their long term project Black Med, the Italian artist duo Invernomuto (Simone Bertuzzi and Simone Trabucchi) gives voice to this counter-hegemonic music culture, by intercepting and highlighting the trajectories that sound has traced through centuries across the Mediterranean. Black Med – abbreviation of “Black Mediterranean”, an expression coined by the scholar Alessandra Di Maio – configures the Mediterranean as a single cultural and geographical entity, by showing, the multiple threads that connect Europe to Africa and the Middle East, through music culture, with the aim of revealing their dense network of mutual contamination.

Invernomuto, BLACK MED, Chapter V (2020). Courtesy of the artists

As an artistic project, Black Med takes the form of an online platform hosting music selections by guest DJs and music producers, as well as a series of live listening sessions divided into various chapters. Each chapter develops around specific themes, and along with the sound pieces’ selection, information about the played tracks is screened, in order to provide the audience with a historical and theoretical contextualisation of the works presented. The fifth chapter of Black Med (commissioned by DEMO, in partnership with Cripta747) has been realised during the peak of the Covid-19 emergency in Italy and therefore its format complies with the restrictions imposed by the lockdown, taking place on Zoom, the platform that during this unusual time has rapidly taken over a large part of our communication.

Black Med, Chapter V consists of a video piece based on a conversation with scholars and cultural practitioners Hamza Alioua (music researcher), Daniel Blanga Gubbay (Kunstenfestivaldesarts co-director), Ayesha Hameed (artist and researcher, Goldsmiths University of London) and Reem Shadid (curator and researcher) concerning the Mediterranean as a cultural and political space. The discussion is activated by a selection of songs and sound pieces from the Black Med archive, as well as audio tracks proposed by the four researchers in response to Invernomuto’s selection. It strikes immediately the wide scope of the debate that each piece generates and the variety of the issues that the nighty-minute conversation tackles: fetishization of Arab popular culture, Persian futurism, political agency of sound, Palestinian Intifadas, and science fiction, are just some of the topics that are discussed.

All the music projects presented bring up narratives concerning events happening in the Mediterranean area, which are too often overlooked by the European audience. Just to give few examples: the Moroccan collective NAAR, founded by Mohamed Sqalli and Ilyes Griyeb, which brings together and supports musicians from Morocco and Algeria, by giving them international exposure, as well as challenging the cultural appropriation of Arab aesthetics by European brands; the Palestinian hip hop collective BLTNM, which address issues related to the everyday life of the generation of Palestinians born in the Nighties in a condition of structural violence and constant discrimination; the Syrian musician Samer Saem El-Dahr. aka Hello Psychaleppo, whose Electro-Tarab merges themes related to the Syrian diaspora with science fiction.

These works, together with the debate developed by Ayesha, Daniel, Hamza, and Reem, featuring in Black Med, Chapter V, allow one to see through the bleak curtain of violence, war, and discrimination that for too long have afflicted the Mediterranean, glancing at the multiple alternative scenarios of peaceful coexistence that could emerge from this tormented area. “Music can be a portal – as Daniel Blanga Gubbay claims – through which one can access a parallel reality so articulated that can dismantle the stereotyped vision that is imposed on certain identities”. The temporal dimension of music is what allows one to speculate on the future “as a space where you rethink the present. – Ayesha Hameed says – By exploring time, you’re able to change the landscape, so that you have a region that because of these temporal jumps becomes something else. So the Mediterranean becomes something else by introducing a different tempo in this watery landscape”. Yet, seen the current situation, to reimagine the Mediterranean is thus not simply an interesting aesthetic exercise, but, more so, it is an ethical and political urgency, that Invernomuto is contributing to point out.

Invernomuto, BLACK MED, Chapter V (2020). Courtesy of the artists