Monday, August 25, 2008

AfroSolo 15 concludes with Black Voices

This weekend was the conclusion of AfroSolo's 15th season. The Black Voices series featured: Laura Elaine Ellis' "i that is we;" Marvin K. White's "Our Name Be Witness," Angela Dean-Baham's "Unsung Diva: The Life and Times of Sissiretta Jones" a.k.a. Black Patti, and Idris Ackamoor's "Music fr One Hand Clapping." Rhodessa Jones directed the last two, and said, at the shows' conclusion that she liked directing.

These are photos from the closing performances, which were wonderful, from Laura Elaine's work which was a collaboration between a choreographer, poet, musician and artist based on their individual take on Nina Simone's "Four Women," to Marvin's poetic reflections on his Big Mama and little Mamas who shaped his world, to Angela's use of her lovely voice to tell a story most of us do not know, and that is of a black opera singer whose voice graced many concert halls and gathering throughout the world. The multi-talented Idris Ackamoor's shared a side of his life many of us were not aware of...however, the way he approached his story was through the stories of other artists, like Django Reinhardt and Peg L Bates who survived personal tragedy which could have taken away their ability to play or dance, yet, they learned to compensate and emerged even greater artists for the challenge.

Idris' story began in Chicago where he started out playing the piano with his mother, but took up violin until he was teased out of it by neighborhood kids. He then began to play piano, until a mean teacher brutalized him and he lost interest...besides that, basketball called and while in high school he was a jock, went to college on a sports scholarship and he bought a alto saxophone and took it along.

He said the music was calling, but he wasn't ready to answer yet.

Now, I'm telling the story linearly, but you know, if you know anything about Idris...he was dancing and playing the guitar and the sax and dancing along with Peg Leg as we watched a video clip...saw a young Idris sitting at the piano, in interviews, on the basketball team, in surgery.

He began with the surgery, but it didn't make sense, the doctor's voice and his asking if he'd be able to play again, until the story caught up with itself and Idris had transferred to Antioch College and was into African music and culture and was making an instrument and the saw slipped and he almost cut his wrist off. As it was his little finger was severed and he lost the use of his middle finger. Yet, he learned to compensate for the missing fingers and wow, if he hadn't told us, most of us would never have known.

It was stories like this...that makes AfroSolo such a wonderful event each year, and Thomas Simpson, founder and artist director, such a treasure.


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