Decode noir

Decolonising heritage
decoding rhythmic lineage

Just as the rhythm of the drum and the dance are one, body and mind are one. The rhythm is a language, vocabulary encoded in body and mind. The knowledge is a continuum, riding the waves of space-time to return in new and exciting forms.

This code is muscle memory – how you learn to drive a car, play an instrument, braid hair, sing or rhyme. It takes longer to learn but is harder to lose. This knowledge is intertwined with emotions because they live in the body.

The knowledge has survived European invasions, colonialism, enslavement and centuries of abuse. When they burned your village, killed your parents, sold your children, stole and abused your body, this knowledge stayed with you.

The code is a technology of synchrony through rhythm and innovation through improvisation. Embodied rhythms transform sorrow to joy. The rhythm calls people together in unity, resistance, rebellion, ritual.

Rhythms connect peoples of the African Atlantic Diaspora through a rich tapestry of step and touch, roll and wind, stomp and drag, twist and shout. There is call and response, circle, community. There are values and belonging.

Learning happens in your body, in your experience. The language of rhythms embodies the present moment, the past, and the future... like Sankofa, like the Orisha, like the divine.

Centuries of innovation in dance and music, producing countless styles in a recognisable lineage, may be the greatest cultural achievement of the African diaspora.

A recurring word for culture, language and dance knowledge in the interviews was ‘code’. This aligns with DeFrantz’s Africanist dance as 'technology of transformation,' even as it recalls ‘Le Code Noir’ – the laws enslaving Afrodescendant people in the French colonial caste system. The imperative to decolonize, in collaboration with my sources and community – this is the meaning of

We decolonize by reconstructing our history, transmitting our culture, building global resources and networks of black solidarity and pride. This project aims to make rhythm heritage more globally visible to African Atlantic diaspora communities.

Many thanks to the culture-bearers featured here, for sharing their stories and embodied knowledge with us.

Would you like to collaborate or support?

This ethnography exhibition concept aims to seed coherent African Diaspora identity narrative, network and resources in hearts, minds and institutions worldwide. This online prototype is a work in progress. Collaborative, curatorial or media enquires welcome. 

Photos by the author: New Orleans street art (Header) | New York street artFooter: Kente Silk, Asante people – detail (photo: British Museum)