xana | sounds of a black future

July 05, 2017

words by: Ifeanyi Awachie

In a recent performance, Xana (pronounced “zah-nah”), invited the audience to read their most recent tweets into a microphone, looping the previously digital words into tangible, consumable, musical jams. It was so modern, so relevant, so socially aware. 

The nonbinary, London-based live loop musician, sound designer for film and theatre, web designer, and organizer is passionate about data - one of their projects translates statistics into audio, questioning whether black people are included in those numbers.

In their words: "I focus on interrogating the next evolution of queerness within futurism, movement in tech, narratives of migration, trauma/depression and archives as the basis for redefining the voice of the other'd. I compose music using live-looping with beatboxing, vocal harmonising, instrumentation, archived recordings and using field recordings from Peckham High Street to sounds of space (electromagnetic vibrations) collected by NASA. I intertwine all of this with poetry and improvisational interactive stories. I started live-looping as a way to understand the feeling of being fractured, anxious and challenged and how you find ways to piece yourself together, worried about what fits."

Globetrotter’s Ifeanyi Awachie spoke with the multi-hyphenate artist about their childhood in South London (which they describe as a “country in itself"), and about gentrification, their community projects (which center black women and queer and nonbinary people) and their hopes for the black future. Read on for highlights of their chat, and click through at the end for the full, mind-bending interview. 

On gentrification in South London

You have this larger influx of larger businesses that do not cater to the community. That’s clear from the demographic that sits in their coffee shops - it’s very much wood with white, chrome with black. And [it’s] seen as progression in a neighborhood when white middle class people can come and sit there and have their three-, four-pound coffee or something like this, and be and feel close to the neighborhood, feel close to the otherness - or the othering-ness - but not so close that they feel it’s an affront to who they are.

On the unbearable whiteness of tech

If you look at a lot of tech company’s websites, there’s a few POC, there’s loads of white people, and they’ll post pictures of their teams, and even post a picture of a dog, and they won’t have a black staff member at all. And the thing that’s drawn me to tech is, where am I in technology? Where am I in discussions of tomorrow? Why is it that I can only imagine myself in the context of being magic or alien or being something out of this world - what about the present that I’m in right now? Why can’t I form the languages that are going to shape what I’m going to think about, what I’m going to think of myself, what future people are going to think about?

On data and blackness

Think of big data as a massive pile of information - it might look useless to you or me, but to someone else who’s interested in that collection of data, there’s a pattern within it, you know? The pattern could be to serve a capitalist agenda to sell people more stuff - this is what people are searching for, so this is what we’re going to send them to get them to our websites, products, et cetera. Now, what about other data that nobody’s using? Like the amount of people who die in police custody, the percentage of people that have committed suicide or died as a result of policy changes [by the] government - where is the data on that? We end up collecting it ourselves by reporting these things that have happened, by saying another person has died. So we’re actually archiving ourselves, on a wider scale, and I’m interested in, when these patterns emerge, how can they actually help us?

On starting their community event, “Hair Today, Here Tomorrow”

I am tired of having to work my whole identity around this one concept that I’ve actually started not to believe in - the concept of whiteness - and so basically, I just was like, okay, I want a space where it’s all black everything, the food, the people selling stuff, the people doing workshops, like everything. And I think so many of us are doing these amazing initiatives, and I was like, I would really love if there was one space where I could go and everything was black-led, black black black, everything. It was just this need to find my people, and find out what they’re doing, and for them to find each other.

I specifically wanted it to be focused on the work that black women and black nonbinary people, queer people, people who are female-identified and stuff, trans women, because I feel like they, out of our community, they are the ones that are holding our community up, that are putting the work in, and who are the silent, kind of - not silent in nature, but silent in terms of recognizing the work that they’ve done. And I wanted to put them at the center and focus on the stuff that they’re doing - that we’re doing - ’cause it’s important, it’s relevant, and we need to give credit where credit is due. I wanted to celebrate them.

On their hopes for the black future

I didn’t know I would live in a time, as a queer black person, that on a Friday or Saturday night, I would have options. That I would have a multitude of places to go to that all welcomed my body, that welcomed my way of thinking, that had a community. And I do.

I had one of the best conversations with a 15-year-old on the bus yesterday - she was talking to her friend, and her friend said something like, “Racism isn’t as bad here as racism is in America,” and she was like, “No no no - racism isn’t about quantifying experiences of it, it’s about your not having to feel like you’re entitled to racism.” I was like, “Oh my God!” None of these young people [is] having a passive experience of the world, they are seeing, engaging, challenging each other in their circles as well. And I was hoping - as I’m growing closer to 30 - that I could live in a time where I could hear conversations like this, and I’m hearing it, and it’s so wonderful.

I hope that we can form a new vision of the black family that isn’t always dependent on the matriarch. I hope there is more caring for this person, and [more of the idea] that we’re sharing, not helping, sharing in this work, because we’re all accountable - it’s all of our responsibilities.

For more from Xana, spend a little time with the full interview, which you can find here.

Follow Xana on Facebook. For more, visit her website

All photos c/o Eric Gyamfi and Xana