Poetry Jazz: Wax and Gold

Poetry Jazz: Wax and Gold

Institut für Raumexperimente e.V.

Poetry Jazz: Solid Gold. Live concert in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2018. Photo: #romagger.

June 28, 2019
Poetry Jazz: Wax and Gold

Publication co-produced by the Institut für Raumexperimente, Berlin and Tobyia Poetic Jazz, Addis Ababa


“No word is said without a world around it, these networks of words—spoken, exchanged, received, and reconfigured—co-produce our collective reality. They constitute not only a saying but an action.”  –Olafur Eliasson

In the context of a long-term collaboration co-produced by the Institut für Raumexperimente, Berlin and Tobyia Poetic Jazz, Addis Ababa, the publication Poetry Jazz: Wax and Gold collects the voices of poets, wordsmiths, sound artists, musicians, composers and translators based in Ethiopia, Germany, the United States and South Africa.

The book is a collection of translation acts that chronicles six editions of live events alternating between Addis Ababa and Berlin. Fusing poetry in Amharic, English and German with live music, primed players from the international collective perform in critical and entertaining concert, drawing connections between diverse lyrical traditions, traditional Ethiopian pentatonic music, jazz influences, protest songs and contemporary electronic music. The practice of poetry jazz activates the invested audience through Wax and Gold, an Ethiopian form of artistic communication imbued with layered, clandestine meanings. The literal, superficial layer of “wax” conceals a core of “gold” that reveals itself through the intimate exchange between performers and public.

The Poetry Jazz artists act as popular ambassadors for the lively crowds and broadcast (hi)stories of destabilized communities from Addis Ababa to Berlin, Chicago or Cape Town. The story behind the scenes is just as compelling and suggests subversive methodologies to challenge threats to the freedom of expression.

The book both presents a selection of best practice examples that vibrated between stage and auditorium and offers insight into the working processes of the Poetry Jazz artists, their detours of uncertainty and the gaps in their translations acts and modes of shared knowledge-production. The texts derive from linguistic collisions that turn poetry into physical spaces where history is continually approached, negotiated, tuned and returned to. Poetry Jazz: Wax and Gold showcases poems, word experiments, acoustic mappings, visual renderings, essays and reflections in various states of translation and documentation.


Poetry Jazz: Wax and Gold
Published by Institut für Raumexperimente e.V., Berlin; in collaboration with Tobiya Poetic Jazz, Addis Ababa
Berlin, Germany, 2019

With contributions by Frezer Admasu Molaligne, Olafur Eliasson, Eric Ellingsen, Clara Jo, Mihret Kebede Alwabie, Erica Licht, Robert Lippok, Bekele Mekonnen, Nebiy Mekonnen, Abebaw Melaku, Jorga Mesfin, Ari Benjamin Meyers, Neo Muyanga, Nolly Nesbit, Cia Rinne, Solomon Sahle Tizazu, Rike Scheffler, Robel Temesgen, Misrak Terefe Ergetu, Rediet Terefe Wegayehu, Christina Werner, Uljana Wolf; edited by Christina Werner

Hardback; 256 pages; 22 cm x 33 cm; in Amharic, English and German; Graphic Design by BASICS09; ISBN: 978-3-86335-713-9

Available at Walther König, Cologne and online, as of October 2019


The Institut für Raumexperimente (Institute for Spatial Experiments) was affiliated with the Berlin University of the Arts from 2009 to 2014 as an experimental education and research project led by its founding director Olafur Eliasson. Since January 2015, the institute has operated as a non-profit registered organization (e.V.). It continues the work of the original five-year project and its goal of supporting artistic research and education.

Tobiya Poetic Jazz was founded by poets Abebaw Melaku, Mihret Kebede, Demissew Mersha, and Misrak Terefe in Addis Ababa in 2008. They established monthly poetry and jazz events that became increasingly popular and have grown to attract audiences of more than 1500 people each month. The Netsa Awechi Band, founded and led by Jorga Mesfin, has been the backbone of the events with open-ended experimental music compositions. The protagonists reach a national audience in Ethiopia through performances in cities across the country and through TV and radio broadcasts. Tobiya Poetic Jazz aims for critical independence to offer a creative platform to its audience.

This publication is part of the poetry series “Poetry Jazz: Wax and Honey, I’m Home” initiated by the Institut für Raumexperimente, Berlin in dialogue with Tobiya Poetic Jazz, Addis Ababa; in cooperation with the Akademie der Künste, Berlin; with support from Studio Olafur Eliasson, Berlin, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Chicago and the Co-financing Fund of the Senate Department for Culture and Europe, Berlin. It is funded by TURN Fund of the German Federal Cultural Foundation.

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