Since the birth of Cases Rebelles, we have cultivated discretion and the disappearance of our individualities behind the collective that brings us together. Where does our taste for anonymity come from? Where has it led us? Where is it taking us? We try to say more here.
There is, in the film Warriors (1979), an underground radio station that communicates with gangs through coded messages, through allusions backed by songs whose titles can then be interpreted on multiple levels. All we see is the character's mouth: a Black woman. We have no information about the place from where her voice is broadcast or about the real identity of the host. She is the voice of a community: the underground world of New York gangs. It’s fictional, but this powerful image influenced our imagination. Young Soul Rebels, released in 1991 by the English filmmaker Isaac Julien, also expresses, in its own way, the utopia of pirate radio:
The pirate radio station where Chris and Caz broadcast their show ‘Soul Patrol’ has many meanings. While explicitly inscribing itself in the legacy of British pirate radio stations of the 1960s, it also summons the colonial and oppositional imagination of piracy. The two soulboys appropriate these stories and tools and write their own score, their mythology. The recurring music of Parliament and Funkadelic and the references to the Mothership summon Afro-futurism and its fantasies of alien places. The place we come from. The place we're going. At night, the pirate radio is a non-place; an out of control 'tout-monde' (whole world) detached from the greasy garage where it hides.1
Situated but anonymous Black voices: that's what we wanted Cases Rebelles to be. Voices that would escape a single place, since we wanted to appeal transnationally to our sisters and brothers in a utopic projection that seeks to disregard the national borders inherited from colonization and dispersion. Of course, right from the beginning we wanted to dismiss nationality and citizenship, since we had never felt, and refused to become, French.
And finally, we were radically from the periphery: our voices came not from Paris, nor from Île-de-France, but from the provinces. Our belonging to this other margin—experienced in the flesh but that we do not claim as our own—has been, and remains, very difficult for many to absorb. As if our initiative could only come from Paris—a city where we have never lived, a city that we do not like, that we do not long for.
Anonymity was an obvious choice for us. We wanted a collective voice; a collective in which each could take on the other’s words. Our individualities mattered, of course, but what had to be seen was the collective odyssey on which we were embarking: we wanted not individual recognition, but for what we produced to matter more than us. Though we were not ‘afraid’ of showing ourselves, we were keenly aware of the noxious effects of exposure, leadership thinking, electing representatives. It was also out of question for us to encourage the repugnant practices of devotion to those ‘leaders’ that pollute the internet in particular.
We wanted to preserve the love between us by limiting the effects of competition. Anonymity has also often served to discourage people who wanted to join us without fully embracing our love of the collective. We made the choice to use initials when certain texts were written in the first person: it was logical and coherent to make clear that this "I" really existed. And if today nicknames appear, nothing has changed. As much as possible, we will not attach faces to those names. We don't want to be filmed or photographed. We are convinced that the image is often a poison. Any individuality, even in a collective framework, is too precious to be promoted, sold, consumed. Not only are we against the pursuit of fame at all costs; we are against fame itself. It is not healthy to be admired or adored, still less if the admirers are numerous and do not share with you everyday relationships that are in the flesh and in contact with reality. Many people have not chosen “fame” and are forced into it by unexpected events: with them we stand in solidarity, helping them carry their burden. But for the rest, visibility maintains colorism, the obsession with beauty, the staging of oneself, the culture of lying and posturing, the culture of power. Fame is a drug, a lure, a bottomless pit, an endless quest. It has roasted and devoured many artists whose music we loved without needing to know their faces or their private lives beyond what was reflected in their music. We would have liked these artists to have given us less, so they could live better, and longer. Fragile or terribly tenacious, fame is, in our eyes, an uncontrollable monster. A monster that controls those it cajoles.
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Cases Rebelles has never been a transit stop or somewhere with major internal tensions. The induction process is long, formalized and methodical.
We have been active for ten years now.
It is both comical and depressing that our anonymity led some people to think that our collective was actually a group of Black internet celebrities. Of course this is entirely false—and it shows how hard it is to envisage collective and anonymous work, undertaken without symbolic personal reward. It also shows how star activism leads to the symbolic construction of intellectual elites as exclusive holders of analytical skills, despite the fact that all ideas emanate from collective energies.
When we started doing interviews, we made our voices disappear, even though the reflections expressed in them and the strength that sprung out clearly originated in a back-and-forth, in intellectual and emotional sharing, in an exchange. But staying absent was important to us. To reiterate, this was not out of fear. Rather, it was a refusal—of the idea that we could liberate ourselves by maintaining ways of working that, we believe, are part of what imprisons us.
At the beginning of Cases Rebelles, we wanted everything we did to be reclaimed and freely appropriated. We believed in the power of what is free. Little by little we had to give that up, without, however, accepting copyright. But it was too hurtful, disheartening and draining
to see our work taken up by people and groups opposed to our political views. It was too painful to be regularly, incessantly looted and rendered invisible. All this has weighed heavily on us. It will never be resolved because some people only live off looting.
There isn’t much we can do about that. Our relative self-effacement often allows people to forget that there are individuals behind this work—and that our discretion is not a call to loot, trample on or erase us. Anonymity does not necessarily lead to respect. Especially if you operate in the provinces, far from the carnivorous center of Paris / Île de France. Many want icons, figures to admire and revere, providential leaders to carry the chimerical torch of the avant-garde.
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From the very beginning we were Afroanarchists. We never felt the need to proclaim this; instead, we wanted to act on it as best we could. Nor did we want this self-definition to attract a certain milieu from which we make sure to stay away.
Ten years later, we have not changed. We still hate political parties, prisons, the police, money, capitalism, entrepreneurship, borders, publicity, tourism, excellence and meritocracy.
We don’t dream of being on their TVs and radios, in their media, universities, magazines. That’s a diversion. We don't believe in changes from within. We believe in creating spaces of our own where we can heal and organize ourselves. We believe in a power struggle against dominant groups. And we believe in love, in a collective journey with others.
Cases Rebelles_April 2021