Elsa M’bala

Elsa M’bala aka AMET, Addis ’63, 2016, courtesy Elsa M'bala, photo: Joel Essindi

“As an artist i didn’t think much about what I was doing at that time. It was more of a survival strategy. I had to leave my comfort zone,” says Elsa M’bala aka AMeT, reflecting on her relocation to Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, in 2012. Elsa M’bala left her guitar and practice as a singer-songwriter in Münster, Germany, to move back to Cameroon—and shifted towards working with digital sonic tools and cyberspace. In Cameroon she began recording people in taxi buses without their knowledge, embarking on a process of disidentification: unlearning what she knew, tapping into unknown, unfamiliar spaces. She listened to these recordings in order to process memories: from her childhood in Cameroon, her coming of age in Germany, her research trips in various African contexts, and her presence back in Yaoundé.

This has been a continuous identity quest, a process of coming to grips with her sense of belonging, and alternative collective histories. In her practice M’bala works with her own recordings as well as archival materials to piece together historical facts, narratives, and their impact on today’s world, creating a living archive that is made tangible through the power of sound. These elements are also intrinsic to M’bala’s work for the 10th Berlin Biennale, Voices Unheard (2018). In this new project she investigates how sound and text are created and translated in our minds: what do we perceive and experience through imagined sound?

—Aïcha Diallo