Trance Namibia? Juxtapositions of music, dance and desire in a desert landscape

Abstract, Sian Sullivan

In early 2011 I came across the website This advertises a psychedelic trance (‘psytrance’) ‘eco music festival’ called ‘Crystal Nexus’ to take place in April 2011 (rescheduled to 2012) at Spitzkoppe Mountain, a striking inselberg in the southern reaches of the former Namibian homeland of ‘Damaraland’. The event ‘strives to bring the tribal energy of Africa’s Namibia together with the contemporary trance beats’ whilst ‘spreading the word on environmental awareness, love and unity’. It promises that the Spitzkoppe ‘Damara Community’ will benefit financially from the event with funds ‘used for the local school and various other projects’. Nevertheless, whilst appealing to a globally mobile community of trance dance partygoers and spiritual seekers – with ‘Crystal Nexus ambassadors’ in Brazil, Zurich and Cape Town, and a Spitzkoppe rock art site referred to as ‘Shaman’s Cave’ made much of on the website – the site is silent on the history and existence of communal trance dance healing practices engaged in by indigenous Damara / ǂNū Khoen inhabitants of the region. In this paper I juxtapose indigenous trance dance material, including arus or clapping songs recorded during fieldwork in 1995 and associated tropes, with contemporary commodifications and appropriations of the trance dance experiential genre. New ephemeral peoplings of remote landscapes, such as that proposed by Trance Namibia, arise to service desires for global consciousness-raising and environmental healing against a backdrop of global crisis. At the same time, they generate paradoxical socio-ecological effects, not least for the integrity and autonomy of the embodied soundscapes conjured in the communal healing dances of those with long histories of living there.

Key words: desert; dance; trance; indigeneity; embodied landscapes; globalisation; Damara / ǂNū Khoen; Namibia; Trance Namibia

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