Hear Be Dragons: Merging universal narratives through sound and motion

If you could traverse the soundscapes of your daily life, what would they sound like? Would it be a chaotic mash-up of genres and spiking wavelengths or a more metered and tranquil journey? What would the uncharted terrains look like? Would you go there? Hear Be Dragons, a unique experiential education project, aims to answer these questions. 

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For the past year, former FreshlyGround violinist Kyla-Rose Smith, and Cape Town based dancer and choreographer Hannah Loewenthal have been leading the sound mapping and cultural exchange project.

Simply put, Hear Be Dragons aims to awaken its participants’ auditory senses and give them the tools and language to capture and document the unexplored territory of sound through teaching them a basic understanding of sound recording and editing technology.

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Throughout the course of 2015, the project brought together two groups of young, aspirant musicians, producers, poets, actors and dancers from the township of Nyanga and the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Williamsburg through a partnership with the New York-based Found Sound Nation. Over time the project investigated the ways in which sound and the urban environment influence quality of life, perceptions of history and memory, and notions of identity, place and time.

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“As a musician I have witnessed the ability of music to bring people together and to transcend certain cultural and societal barriers,” explains Kyla-Rose. “I think that sound goes one step further—it is, for most of us, an integral part of our everyday lives, and in ways we don’t even consider. It is a signifier of many things – where we live, the people around us, the type of neighbourhood, the safe and also the dangerous zones. In fact, the deeper we go in this investigation of sound and neighbourhood, the more ways we discover that we can use sound to tell stories related to place.”

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Earlier this year, a trip to the National Sawdust music venue in New York saw the project’s various collaborators meet up and exchange words, sounds and movements, culminating in one unified narrative-led performance. The team have now brought out a documentary short detailing their journey, anchored through the narrative of young performer and rapper Mzukisi ‘Parraddox’ Ndabeni who Hear Be Dragons met by way of a youth programme in Nyanga, Cape Town. 

“Parra was a regular performer at the open mic sessions initiated by Nyanga Yethu – a youth program run out of the Zolani Centre in Nyanga. When we were looking for a group of young artists to work with in Cape Town we met with Nyanga Yethu directors, Nathanial Roloff and Earl Abrahams,” says Kyla-Rose. “We could tell from the beginning that Parra was an extremely intuitive and artistic young man. He was immediately engaged with the concepts that we introduced during the Hear Be Dragons workshops, and he was hungry to put them into practice.”

After their hugely successful first exchange in New York, Hear Be Dragons are now hoping for a second exchange in 2017, potentially connecting Caribbean youth in New York City with youth in Barbados.

“We also have our sights set on an exchange within the African continent,” Kyla-Rose enthuses. “Our vision is to host these kinds of experiential workshops in cities all over the world, growing a web of connection through the investigation of sound and neighbourhood, and developing an interactive online portal which would host all of the sounds and sound pieces produced through the project.”

Find out more about Hear Be Dragons on their website and contact them on info@hearbedragons.org if you’re interested in collaborating. 

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All photos by Kevin Bay.

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