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NPR Arts & Life

Symphony Of The City: Nigerian Artist Draws Songs From The Bustling Market

"Market Symphony" is a new audio installation at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. The exhibition layers sound from a market in Lagos, Nigeria. The speakers are installed on enamelware trays which are often used in markets.
"Market Symphony" is a new audio installation at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. The exhibition layers sound from a market in Lagos, Nigeria. The speakers are installed on enamelware trays which are often used in markets.

To people who live in big cities, the sound of honking, the whir of traffic, the howl of street vendors and the clang of construction can just be background noise.

But for Nigerian sound and video artist Emeka Ogboh, the city is his palette — his symphony of sound. And his compositions can whisk the listener to another time and place.

Artist Emeka Ogboh was commissioned by the museum to create a site-specific audio installation.
Adolphus Opara / Smithsonian National Museum of African Art
Artist Emeka Ogboh was commissioned by the museum to create a site-specific audio installation.

"There are stories in the soundscape," he says. "There are stories from the city. You can tell more about the city from just listening to the soundscape. And that's what happened. I started finding it really interesting."

Ogboh recorded hours of sounds to pull a listener through the song of the bustling Balogun open-air market in the Nigerian megacity of Lagos.

NPR's Michel Martin spoke with Ogboh and took a tour of his new exhibition, "Market Symphony," at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. It's the first time the museum has featured a sound art exhibition, and it opens later this week.

Click the audio link above to hear some of Ogboh's soundscapes and his conversation with Martin.

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