Laventille Rhythm Section

Power, Community, Tech, Timeless

360° video 

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Virtual Reality Ethnography

Featuring the Laventille Rhythm Section, Laventille, Trinidad and Tobago 2017

Directed, Edited, and Produced by Marlon Fuentes
Videography by Hugh Hou

The Laventille Rhythm Section is a percussion ensemble from the Laventille community of Trinidad and Tobago. Also known as the steam engine, the group is known for their thunderous presence and poly-rhythms - their roots tell the story of an entire community. In the summer of 2017 I embarked on what would be the first virtual reality ethnographic documentary project made in the region. Working with VR has led me to apply this powerful technology to the work of cultural scholars and enthusiasts alike. Most notable is the unique capabilities of virtual reality to help viewers transport to a time and place like a time machine. As you sit back and experience the narrative, notice that the speakers are guiding you in their own words and inviting you into their homes and sacred spaces.

The Rhythm Section moves into the future bringing with it a knowledge of performance and music making passed down by the members over generations with a heritage that traces back to West Africa and the Afro-Carribean diaspora by way of the Atlantic slave trade. It was very important for the group to share about the Yoruba roots of the music. Knowing the past can help to build the future and promote understanding 50, 100, or even 10,000 years from now - but I leave it to them to tell you their story.

Over the years I’ve noticed the passionate discussions that take place in the comment section of this VR story on youtube. For many, this experience represents an opportunity to celebrate the spirit and resilience of an entire community. Like the Escolas de Samba in Brazil, or the sonidero culture in Mexico City, we know that some of the most creative people in the world come from some of the most culturally innovative, yet marginalized communities. Let this exhibit be a tribute to the warmth and generosity of the Laventille Community and the unwavering support we have for the continued growth and preservation of not only this culture, but all communities worldwide.

As a media maker known for pioneering uses of VR for ethnography, I believe in a future where communities are in charge of their narrative and able to communicate their reality virtually for the present and future of humanity. As Alvin Toffler wrote in his 1970 classic, Future Shock, we have moved into a future where media and power is decentralized. In 2021, we live in a world of viral memes and micro narratives from all corners of the globe instantly available to anyone with an internet connection with the potential to cause dance crazes as well as earthquakes in the stock market. The hope is now that with these advances in technology, immediacy of information, and disruption of cultural hegemony, we can learn from more voices that have been historically not heard or seen on their own terms. Let music lovers hundreds of years from now enjoy re-visiting these authentic VR narratives and having a unique experience through their own praxis.
Statement by Marlon Fuentes