This Project Is an Afrosurrealist Ode to Black British Music

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iwoyi: within the echo by Rohan Ayinde and Tayo Rapoport
iwoyi: within the echo(Film still). Courtesy of Tayo Rapoport and Rohan Ayinde

As their film and sound installation goes on show at the British Library, Rohan Ayinde and Tayo Rapoport talk about why Black British music inspires them

What would British music be without the sweet stirrings of lovers rock or the rapid-fire breakbeats found in jungle? In their five-channel film and sound installation iwoyi: within the echo, filmmakers Rohan Ayinde and Tayo Rapoport invite viewers to bask in the “lineage, legacy, and movement” of Black British music. Their homage is part of Beyond the Bassline: 500 Years of Black British Music, (the first major exhibition dedicated to the subject), currently on view at the British Library until August 26, while the film itself is supported by Nowness

Iwoyi explores the relationship between Black British music – cultivated through decades of reinvention, innovation, and diasporic exchange – and the potential to create a “radical and reparative future.” Ayinde and Rapoport collaborated with Errol and Alex Rita's south London-based musical movement Touching Bass and composer Melo-Zed to create the film

“There’s a myth about one of the Touching Bass dances becoming a spaceship,” says Ayinde. Ayinde and Rapoport were both in attendance that apocryphal night, at a “small Brixton restaurant-cum-dancefloor.” They both felt a powerful sense of collective transformation; it was as if the dancefloor “left the ground.”

Iwoyi, which means “the now” or “present moment” in Yoruba, emerged from that revelatory experience. “We’ve been dreaming together for a long time, discussing what a different world can look like and thinking about how Blackness and Black liberation are foundational ideas for imagining the world otherwise,” Rapoport elaborates. “Iwoyi became a way to pull these conversations into a shape.” For Ayinde and Rapoport, that meant situating the viewer “inside [a] ritual space” that reflected a commitment to “building new structures untethered from the violent logics of whiteness and capitalism.”

Rapoport sees the the film as a sound system, a visual and audio “pathway” that transports viewers to “the African continent, the Caribbean, and the UK.” This is achieved via the film’s score – composed by Melo-Zed – which incorporates a wide range of sounds, from “the spacey dub of Lee Scratch Perry” and “call and response of Abeng horns” to “the contemporary sounds of UK jazz.”

Ayinde’s master’s thesis explored “the metaphysics of the black hole” in relation to a Black radical tradition – research that informed the making of iwoyi. “The black hole became a pivot point that helped us to think about the layout of the five screens, the non-linearity of the narrative, the power and potential of the unknown, and the idea of a portal out of this world,” he explains.  

Ayinde and Rapoport cite a wide range of influences, including Octavia Butler, Torkwase Dyson, Ursula K Le Guin, and Arthur Jafa. One photograph in particular – Simon Wheatley’s Bedroom Studio, Isle of Dogs, East London, taken in 2005 – became a crucial visual anchor, in which a group of boys huddle over open notebooks, penning lyrics. One of them leans back in a chair with his eyes closed, a pair of headphones over his ears, lost in a reverie of sound. 

Iwoyi: within the echo by Rohan Ayinde and Tayo Rapoport was commissioned by The British Library as part of Beyond the Bassline: 500 Years of Black British Music at the British Library, on show until 26 August 2024.