A Slice of Experience

Rafał Kołacki
Hjira. Noise From The Jungle

Rafał Kołacki has a few previous releases of field-recordings, plus a long-running (since circa 2003) collaboration with Rafal Iwański and Dariusz Wojtaś as Hati.

This is actually the second attempt at writing this review. The first version I wrote descended into overemotional hand-wringing about the politics of the situation, and then it occurred to me that people read music reviews to find out about music, not have politics (left or right) shoved down their throats. No-one wants to hear Boris Johnson’s Desert Island Discs, surely? But then, if you release an album of field recordings made in a refugee camp, then is that a political act? This one may well be. Hjira was recorded in The Jungle, the temporary refugee settlement, in Calais, France in December of 2015. The camp was cleared in October 2016. The whereabouts of the majority of its inhabitants is unclear; I hope they are nearer to living a settled life now. As it stands, Hjira is a slice of experience; a small window into the world of people who have been forced into making choices that for us, perhaps, are mostly unimaginable. Without a doubt, Kołacki has collected an aesthetically quite beautiful set of field recordings of human activity in difficult circumstances. Perhaps he has plans to develop this strategy and visit additional locations around the world; the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, or Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum, for example. According to Tom Peck, writing in The Guardian in November of last year, just after the Jungle was cleared, “The forces that have driven people to the Jungle are many and varied but one thing is clear. Not one among them has fled a liberal democracy with a functioning welfare state. There are no Germans, no French, no Swedes, no Americans, no Brits. There are none so lucky as the unluckiest of us.”

These are recordings of human activity; someone sings along to the radio, another prepares food, people chat and laugh. During one listen-through, there’s a great moment at approximately 15 minutes in; during a section of quiet, distant noises, someone very close to the microphone sneezes and both my seven-year-old son and I rather distractedly say “bless you”.

It is my opinion that both the UK and French authorities have behaved with shameful disregard over this matter. Immediately post the Brexit referendum, representatives from both governments engaged in a playground argument on television news programmes over whose responsibility the inhabitants of the Jungle would be – refugees from Darfur; these people are fleeing civil war, let’s not forget – rather than work together to formulate some kind of constructive help. At a time where the UK print media is demonising refugees and France and other parts of Europe seem to be moving further to the Right politically, the treatment of the issues associated with population displacement is less than encouraging. The sleeve features black and white photographs of the camp and some of its inhabitants, taken by Matiia Fiore – a poignant image on the back cover shows tents and detritus with a wall in the background bearing the graffiti slogan “London Calling”. It seems it is left up to artists and musicians to try to change people’s attitudes in a positive way. Written in the sleevenotes: “…It is not a city and its residents are not citizens, hovering somewhere in non-existence, torn between longing for home and dreaming of the Brave New World…”.

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