Equal parts travel diary, cultural investigation and music documentary, Peter Liechti’s latest feature “Namibia Crossings” follows the polyglot ensemble Hambana Sound Company as they tour their titular southwest African nation. Pleasing to the eye as well as the ear, item is a leisurely portrait suitable for programming by adventuresome broadcasters.
Helmer (who narrates) tags along as two Swiss musicians fly down to temporarily join the 10-member Hambana Co., whose Windhoek-based permanent players are already quite diverse. They include not just native Namibians, but personnel from Zimbabwe, Angola and even Siberia, with training (and sometimes separate careers) in opera, jazz, pop, folk, classical and traditional ethnic music. Elements add up to a heady sonic brew, by turns raucous and ethereal. Arrival of the Europeans creates new textures as well as some creative conflict. On the road, participants sample local sounds — and endure occasional disinterest toward their own — while visiting remote villages, schools, a German ghost town, and finally the capital’s National Theater. Legacy of colonization and the population’s sky-high AIDS statistics are noted, but primary emphasis is impressionistic, with striking landscape photography complementing the flavorful soundtrack.