This month we’re taking an in-depth look at the nexus of labor and art, and today from our friends at Guernica we bring you an excerpt from an essay by Simon Coates, who discusses a project completed with his collaborator Zahra Jewanjee: “Vipralambha didn’t start life as a paean to the Indo-Pak workforce in Dubai. The stated aim of the piece was to meld sounds from two countries that share a border.” This article was originally published on July 15, 2013.
There’s a continuous, all-pervading hum in Dubai. It’s a complex sound made up of industrial chundering, motor engines, water-pumps, and electric crackle. Dubai sounds restless, kind of like an unsleeping giant dogged by insomnia. On top of that, layer sporadic jangles of Hindi and Arabic pop, guffaws, and calls to prayer from minarets. Add engine-revving and mall muzak. Fireworks fizz. This is the sound of Ted Hughes’s Iron Man in a Lamborghini baseball cap, wearing a dishdasha, eyelids heavy, BlackBerry nearby. It’s under this mantle that Zahra Jewanjee and I made our first sound art piece, Vipralambha (Union Through Separation). Vipralambha is a soothing Sanskrit word (uncovered by Zahra) that conveys the sense of unrequited longing that is an exquisite pain. Zahra and I are artists living and working in Dubai. Zahra is from Lahore, I’m from London. Made from a collection of field sound recordings, Vipralambha is our antidote.
While in Lahore, Zahra had made some recordings at the tomb of Sufi Saint Baba Shah Jamal where, once a week, crowds come to watch devotees dance and drum themselves into trance-like states. She had also recorded a Lahore transvestite named Madam singing a popular song called “Shamma Pay Gaiya.” In its original form, “Shamma Pay Gaiya” is mere corny pop. However Madam’s own a capella version imbues the Punjabi lyrics with a true sense of the longing that is central toVipralambha. For myself, I had spent some time in Kerala in South India, returning to Dubai with recordings of the announcer at the Alappuzha railway station, the Kathakali dance school in Fort Kochi, and crows during the monsoon in Kovalam, among others.