ASAFO


Another machine learning experiment
2021






A dance and audio experience that uses ml to aide in metaphysical rituals



Using ML to aide in metaphysical rituals. 

Problem


How does one participate in communal practices when you are isolated from your community? 


Context 


Similar to thousands of students around the world, I found myself completely isolated during the pandemic. Social interactions were scarce but relevant cultural practices were even harder to come by.  Growing up Akan and Christian, there was always some kind of meeting where like minded individuals gathered and participated in rituals that connected them to a long line of people who also participated in such rituals. For me, these practices helped me realize my place in the world and reminded me that my ancestors fought wars so I should shut up about losing my metro card.

I looked into different cultural practices of Akan people, and settled on the act of Pouring Libations and War Dancing. 

Part 1: LIBATIONS 
Libations are drink offering poured to a diety. In Akan cultures, libations are offered to the gods and ancestors before any important event can commence. Elders must lead the congregation in the pouring of libations. The Elder performing the ritual calls out the name of the god or ancestor, then pours the drink to the ground and the people respond.

The Call and Response mechanic appeared to be the main catalyst for the feeling of togetherness. The structure of Libations are like conversations between humans and deities. When a leader calls out an ancestor or god, the congregation responds with their own phrase almost as if they were the deities responding to what the leader is saying, which serves as confirmation for the Elder’s offering.

Part 2: ASAFO
After Libations have been poured, the proceedings can begin, in this case, the performance is a war dance. ASAFO companies were warrior groups who fought campaigns with and against the British in the Fante empire during the 17th and 18th centuries. These military campanies were known for their flags and their signature music and dance that was performed before battles. 

Asafo dances often have poses that are recognizable by community members and help communicate messages which would hopefully inspire them to support war efforts.


How 


My challenge was to try and replicate key aspects of these routines without  having people present in the space.
Using  PoseNet, i trained my models to recognize certain poses which would then trigger sounds, simulating the call and response. 


INTERACTION CONTROL 




MODEL TRAININGS


Because the dance was a warrior dance I had poses that expressed conquering sentiments. “Benkum”= Left, “Nnifa” = Right”, “Me dea” = All mine. Signifying a warrior King claiming all lands to be his. Then I added some musket shots as well as some more general dance poses. At the beginning of the performance (apologies for the bad audio), I say some words that roughly translate to, “Traditions are what build a nation, without it, we would lose the stories of our father’s and mother’s bravery. Today we will be learning about the tradition or dance of the warriors. They say when you kill a thousand, a thousand will come, today, the thousand have arrived“.



Things Learnt/ Outcomes


-  Models need to be trained in diverse languages, tones, infections, accents.
- Combining traditional concepts with products like ML surprised Akans who saw/ experienced, it was very unique emotionally significant
       People associated tech or futuristic concepts with the west, or white culture, seeing their culture in futuristic applications was eye opening
- Older Akan people were not fans of the experience, since most of them were Christian, imagery and sounds of the metaphysical turned them off to the experience.
    - Most of their reasons for not liking the experience was based on what a good Christian was supposed to look like and this experience did not fit in their  expectation. 
    - This made me think of ml as a tool for decolonization. For future experiences, I want to add intentionality in my decisions to rid cultural artefacats of their percieved               evil connotations as a result of colonization.