The Interdisciplinary Forum for Popular Music – ifPOP– is the working title of a project that explores music in popular cultures in Southern Africa. It is a platform where academic and public domains meet; it’s a provocation for conversation and artistic response.

The ‘if’ of ifPOP puts a question mark next to the notion of the “popular”: not all the music the project takes in its purview may be populist, commercialised, or mainstream. Yet “pop” captures the ethos of a vernacular – that which develops independent of institutions and formal training – and provides a starting point to unravel the histories and debates for which “popular” serves as a placeholder.

ifPOP’s intellectual project is to develop critical frameworks from an African context to trace the creative strategies and social dynamics of popular musics in South Africa. Through a series of public talks, symposia, performances, and conversations, it interrogates the ways that the notion of the popular finds expression and is challenged in Africa.


Why a Forum? 

A forum is a platform for debate and exchange, and captures the public dimension of the project.

ifPOP embraces a spirit of collaboration, notably between

  • different disciplines
  • academic and the public domains, bringing together scholars, performers, artists, collectors, recording studios, producers, and music journalists.
  • popular music and the archive. While the idea of popular music is often connected with current music (current hits, the latest releases), it also has a historical aspect. DOMUS houses one of the most extensive archives of popular music, the Hidden Years Music Archive, as well as important collections such as the Kaganof, Anton Goosen, Nico Carstens collections. IfPop not only engages with these archives, but also creates and contributes an archive of contemporary South African practices.

Jazz Conversation: Carlo Mombelli

26 July 2018 | Gallery University Stellenbosch (GUS)

Carlo Mombelli speaks about his creative process, about jazz learning inside/outside institutions, and teaching as a way of uncovering (or recovering) the artist within.

By his own admission, Carlo Mombelli is not a jazz musician. Yet it’s the margins that compel us to think about how we might perceive characterise a notional centre. And in Carlo’s music, it’s the form of it’s looping heads over which the ensemble take turns to solo that identifies his music’s connection with jazz. The Johannesburg-based bassist and composer, Carlo Mombelli, presented his Angels and Demons project in this events of the ifPOP Conversations series. Along with fellow musicians Kyle Shepherd (piano), Keenan Ahrends (guitar) and Jonno Sweetman (bass), the ensemble performed music from the album they had just finished recording.

In the interview with Stephanie Vos, Carlo spoke about his musical background and education, his creative process and his views on teaching and learning creative practices. Besides being an acclaimed composer, improvisor and performer, Carlo is also a consummate pedagogue and a mentor-figure to a number of acclaimed South African musicians. He further spoke about his use of looping techniques in his compositions, and the interaction between improvisation and composition in the creation of his works. The interview was followed by a truly remarkable performance by the ensemble.

At this point in the ifPOP Conversations, jazz had emerged as a theme linking several events in this series. The Jazz Conversations, as we came to refer to them, form part of a project to document current South African jazz practices, including jazz education inside and outside institutions, the artistic processes behind the music, and the people and ideas that influence the current generation of jazz musicians. On a broader level, the Conversations aim to create more inclusive social spaces in Stellenbosch. Because the events are free, everyone has the opportunity to listen to some of the foremost South African jazz musicians.

Conversation traces:

Photographs below by Liam Lynch.

Film below by Rob Ruhrmund.

A Conversation with Carlo Mombelli (film by Rob Ruhrmund)

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