‘Digital Immigrant’

The latest in the Perception Lecture series

On 29 November, Lula Mebrahtu, TEDx Speaker, Singer, Songwriter and Sound-designer, joined us to demonstrate her extraordinary modern approach to musical production and her interesting new technology focused instrument, the ‘Mi.Mu gloves’.

Review by pupil Iona Harrison, Head Girl and President of Perception Society

Lula Mebrahtu was the final speaker in this term’s Perception programme and it’s fair to say there was no one left disappointed in the audience once she had finished. Known for her emphatic TEDx speeches and extraordinary modern approach to musical production, Lula was a fresh and creative addition to the lecture series, which I am sure will not be forgotten in a hurry.

Photo: Lula Mebrahtu (TEDx speaker) with Dr Balasubramanian (Chairman, Perception)

Beginning with a short introduction from the Society’s Chairman Dr Balasubramanian, Lula effectively introduced herself to us by giving a demonstration of her musical abilities using her ‘Mi.Mu’ gloves. These devices are one of only five in the world, whereby the synthesised notes are controlled by the dextrous movements of her fingers. Gyroscopes inside the fingers of the gloves allow her to create up to nine unique positions that constitute to sound effects. Visually, the performance was equally mesmerising. The emotion that was conveyed in the performance was also astounding, especially considering she was not singing in English, yet somehow, she managed to create such meaning from what to the audience was just half-words and foreign tongues. Later, she explained that she uses a mixture of Scat singing and her native Eritrean language.

She then went on to describe the struggle she went through as a pioneer of this new technology, explaining that because there are so few people with the technology quite literally at their fingertips, there was no handbook or instruction manual. What could be seen as either an unsurmountable challenge or an opportunity for creativity, Lula spent two years developing her fine motor skills and figuring out how to tame the computer programme that controlled the gloves – with almost no experience in coding or technology. Having spent huge amounts of time (and all her savings) on honing her skills, the unthinkable happened: while at a conference in Scandinavia, her gloves and all her production equipment was stolen from her hotel room. This forced her to rebuild from scratch, including the gloves themselves – even soldering and stitching individual parts herself. She was keen to express that it is only when you push the boundaries of what is possible and ‘normal’ that you can push your creativity.

Returning to her heritage, Lula showed us a recent project she had been working on: an animated story of an illegal migrant, who was making her journey from East Africa to the UK. This was not her story, but she explained that it could have been her, or her cousin, or her neighbour from back home. It was clearly something that meant a great deal to her. Even more powerful was the fact the story was played twice, first with Lula singing in English and then in her native language ‘so that my grandma can understand the story too, you know?’ It definitely shed light on the human story behind migration, making the audience really question their preconceptions of illegal immigration.

Photo: Lula Mebrahtu during the live performance using Mi.Mu. Gloves, the most advanced technology using gesture control.

Lula promised a two-way conversation between her and the audience, meaning it isn’t entirely accurate to call this lecture a lecture. But Carthusians seemed to really respond to her modern approach by saying:

‘This week’s Perception was by far the best yet, involving multiple themes of culture, art and technology. The speaker, Lula, seemed much more down-to-earth and intriguing since she was much more relaxed and candid about her speech. Amazing!’

‘What a powerful and inspiring female voice. She is proud of where she comes from and not afraid of the unknown. Very different from most of the Perception lectures, but by far my favourite.’

We give our grateful thanks to Dr Balasubramanian for such a great term of extraordinary Perception lectures. He has just published the Perception programme for next term, which promises to bring many more insights and perspectives from beyond the walls of Charterhouse and inspire a whole new group of pupils.


Video Collection