Tag Archives: music

#4 ~ For Colored Girls: Dark Phrases

The first poem that opens FCG is entitled ‘Dark Phrases’. One of the last poems to be written, it begins as a lament, a lament for the (lost or stolen) womanhood of black women.


dark phrases of womanhood

of never gavin been a girl

half-notes scattered

without rhythm/no tune

distraught laughter fallin

over a black girls shoulder

As a director, an actress, and a former english student, before I can translate the above words into action and stage craft, I need to be conscious of both syntax and semantics. Shange’s style is characterised by its colloquialism.  It carries the ease of natural speech, and yet it has been altered and adulterated to incorporate a poetic rhythm, a lilt and melody. The most obvious conceit throughout the play is the use of colour. The first hint to the colour spectrum we get is a shade. Shadism is a problem within black culture and stems from the racial discrimination that has dogged non-white individuals for generations. It is a discrimination in which the darker you are the less attractive you are the less desirable, the less ‘good’ or wholesome. It feeds into the dichotomy of black : white, evil:good, that fuelled institutions and regimes such as the Slave Trade, Apartheid and pre-civil rights America.

‘dark phrases of womanhood’,  alludes to shadism and colour dichotomy, insinuating a pain, a darkness and danger that haunts the growth of a woman of colour. It generates the image  of an aborted or stolen childhood, a neglected or abused innocence which has created this coloured woman who has ‘never been a girl’.

When I set out to create my own production of this phenomenal and well-known piece, I had a deep urge and awareness to include music. Each of the poems are themselves scattered and infused with musical references. It isn’t just about speaking the word, song is presented as intrinsic to the liberation of the coloured woman. When her song, her lyrical voice is silenced, it is a sonic destruction of her physical, emotional, mental and spiritual being. It is the oppressive removal of a life. What is left is terror, anxiety and  a discordant life that has no melody, no tune, no future and no purpose or recognition.

Watch this space to see how we take these concepts and use music and light in our production.

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#3 ~ For Colored Girls: Beginning

How to start a play. Or perhaps, instead of a statement, a question – how do you start a play?

It’s a tricky question. Often I jump to the end, to the applause, the emotion, the adrenaline and the sleep that follows. But how to begin. How to harness the reeking anticipation of your audience and the nervous sweat of your cast as you dare to produce something spectacular.

The first stage is the atmosphere. Yesterday, crammed into London Underground i read through the first page of the script. The Stage Directions state:

The stage is in darkness. Harsh music is heard as dim blue lights come up. One after another, seven women run onto the stage from each of the exits. They all freeze in postures of distress. The follow spot picks up the lady in brown. She comes to life and looks at the other ladies. All of the others are still. 

I start scribbling furiously. In those precious few moments, the audience have to shift from excitement and curiosity to an uncomfortable awareness that something ominous is coming. Something painful. On one hand I start thinking about the lighting design. How the colour of that blue has to sear through the audience and automatically communicate an iciness, a pain, that mirrors the tortured freeze frames of the actresses. Moreover, music is flowing through my mind. What kind of music? How will that Am arpeggio modulate, or the use of the cymbals create a discord, a screeching sound, and perhaps the thrumming of the bass get people’s pulse rising like the hairs on their arms. It’s all about setting the scene before we move onto the first poem.

‘Dark Phrases’.

But that’s for later on today.

Join the journey.

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#1 ~ For Colored Girls London

Image by Rosa Johan Uddoh

Image by Rosa Johan Uddoh

November 2012. 11pm. Cambridge. An audience of 50 people, predominantly made up of student journalists and hard-core late night theatre-goers sat in the Fitzpatrick Hall of Queen’s College and waited as an arpeggio in A minor played out to setting blue lights. My production of Ntozake Shange’s ‘For Colored Girls [who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf]’, had landed. Directing, co-producing and acting in the show had many challenges. Yet, when the four and five-star reviews rained in, and the seats filled up to maximum capacity, I could only smile and get ready for three more nights of incredible action as we made theatrical history.

The first time an all black all female cast had ever graced a Cambridge stage, the play follows the lives of seven women identified solely by the colour of their clothing. A combination of spoken word poetry, physical theatre, music and dance ‘For Colored Girls’ is an evocative social critique that gives a piercingly authentic look at urban life through the brash lens of beautifully unrefined poetry. Tackling experiences of rape, domestic violence, infidelity and sisterhood ‘For Colored Girls’  takes its characters and audience on a liberating journey to the end of their rainbows, all the while coloured by a saucy wink of humour and sass, powerful music, dance and that ephemeral attribute referred to as ‘soul’.

So, with all that underway and with people asking for more, I crazily got the idea to take the show to London, my home city. Why not go for gold? Sadly, though I am a creative at heart, a production requires more than just an artistic eye – it requires financing and budgeting. Teaming up with one of the actress, Ifeyinwa Frederick, we sat up till 4am one  night in March and planned this next step in the story – For Colored Girls…London.

For over 6 months we have been planning, contacting, hustling, designing, straining our eyes at computer screens, sending rapid fire emails, lamenting over Nokia 100 phones that don’t have MultiMedia Messaging, all to bring us to this point: the promotional Launch date of For Colored Girls London.

I know I’ve been quiet for a few months since ending the 365 blog, but today, i’d like to invite you to journey with me once again as I direct, act and co-produce in Ntozake Shange’s phenomenal piece of theatre. It’s going to be raw, bloody, exhilarating, exhausting and inspiring – but we’ve done it before.

So welcome to the Death of the Writer, the Death of the Director, Co-Producer and Actress and the Birth of…For Colored Girls London 2013.

Get Excited.

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#345 ~ Laura Clemo

ClemoSultry and subtle, it isn’t often you hear modern music that reverberates with the tones of a bygone era of jazzy soul. Just turned 22 and a recent graduate of Cambridge University, Laura Clemo mightn’t look like your typical ‘voice,’ but when she sings your heart can’t help but weep in gratitude. There’s a haunting quality that hangs delicately around her acoustic sets. I had the privilege of watching her at a summer ball last year, and though she sat alone on a stool, guitar in hand, she was riveting. An honesty coloured with a depth only attained as the illusion of naiveté begins to fade, her lyrics are wry and penetrating.

Smooth, sultry and personal, there’s a hint of Melody Gardot, a lighter Adele with a bit of Eva Cassidy thrown in to the mix, but more importantly, a large dose of the phenomenal artist herself.  Laura Clemo is one of those musicians who could so easily be humming on the peripheries of music circles, but if you get a chance to listen to her music, you will most certainly find yourself soaring. New voice, young talent and a future of potential: watch this space.

Check out her Facebook page by clicking here and her newest release (which inspired this post) Save Me, below.

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#320 ~ Abimaro & The Free


Very rarely does one hear a piece of music that isn’t just a beautiful concoction of perfectly placed chords, mellifluous vocals with just enough air to make the notes sigh through your speakers, and a subtle but groovy bass line to make you smile, that, on top of all that, also has exquisitely worded and humorously constructed lyrics as Abimaro & the Free. Using conceits such as tea making, in the refreshingly honest and sincerely poignant track Ginger Tea, the three-piece band manage to take the Christian faith and present it in an accessible and stripped down recounting of the heart. The mundane is the simple basis of their lyrics. Tear drenched eyes are described as being like earl grey tea, the process of being refined and purified synonymous to frying lemon till it’s just the right gold to add a zesty flavour to the ultimate brewing of the human spirit. Abimaro & the Free have a solemnity in their compilation of four tracks, Books, which echoes within one’s heart long after the haunting trill of Matthew’s ‘Jerusalem’ hook has faded. The temptations of life are uncompromisingly placed as idols which decorate our rooms reflecting our faces, a reality which most of us can attest to, but can’t quite express. Words don’t quite capture the essence of their music which deserves to be aired on the air waves, or played in cafe’s. There is an intimacy in their music which the pop charts have reduced to sexual antics, and which religious music hasn’t quite been able to express. Instead of lifting lines from the Word, Abimaro & the Free have delicately reinterpreted and represented the Word as a living, breathing and evocative presence in the lives of very real, very normal humans and how they relate to the mystery of God in today’s world. Whether you believe in a benign creator, or just want to hear something fresh, humorous and which makes the grey tinge of the world, if only for a second, flicker into Technicolor, listen to Abimaro & the Free (check out the video below and follow the link to band camp for a free download of their album Books) and remind yourself that honesty and vulnerability can be beautifully captured in today’s music, and wait for the echo of the music speaking back to you.

Abimaro and the Free: Website


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#281 ~ Mixing Water with the Wine

When one becomes famous, journalists rarely like to ask them the well trodden questions. You should know your artiste’s biography down to the nursery school they went to, the city in which their parents met, the ward they were born in, and the name of the Doctor who brought them screaming and covered in blood into this harshly lit world.

Niche, inquisitive, ‘avant-garde’ questions are preferred. This desire to be innovative has spawned a new set of well trodden ‘quirky’ openers, such as the frequently asked: what was the first album you bought? My issue with a question such as exhibit A, is that it assumes when you were growing up you had money to buy an album. It assumes you personally, owned a CD player, or had the right to place a shiny disk into the Home System. I did not have these rights. I acquired a shared CD player on my 13th birthday, and all the acquired CD’s were birthday gifts and therefore predominantly consisted of P!nk (my sisters choice), or me borrowing (for extended periods of time, with no definite end) my mum’s albums.

These questions undermined my notion of what it meant to be a young teenage adult. I would hear young celebrities talking about the first concert they went to when they were 16, or the first music festivals they attended before they’d completed their GCSE’s. I saw friends flocking to watch Fall Out boy before their year9 SATS were over, whilst I sat home and watched Children in Need – the closest we came to a live concert.

So, when I imagined myself a Rising Star of tomorrow, being interviewed because I now had enough fame to not have to be the interviewer, I was nervous. I didn’t have a niche answer to give. I didn’t buy records or mix tapes, I didn’t even own my own MP3/CD player till I won a Public Speaking Competition at 15 (and even then didn’t use the free iPod for a whole year). What could I do? The Spice Girls tape that hinted my mum and had children had not been bought with my pocket-money – why pocket-money was almost a foreign word in our house!

However, tonight, tonight, i truly became a young, ‘hip’, adult. I took myself, on my jack jones, to watch the legendary Joan Armatrading in concert – and I felt grown! Yes, sitting with 2 empty seats next to me, in an audience predominantly swaying with white middle-aged people (the ethnic demographic more about location than artist), I suddenly knew what is was like to be ‘a la mode.’

Joan captured my heart at the ripe old age of 9. Having listened to Down to Zero one too many times, I decided if I couldn’t beat my mum’s musical tastes, I’d join them, and I’ve never looked back.

Approaching her mid-50’s and still a better guitarist than most, her licks were on fire, she had the mummy shake down pat, and her voice had barely changed, I screamed like a girl. No, I am a girl. I screamed like a boy when he screams like a girl and get’s embarrassed. I did a weird hyper-oh-my-days-she’s-singng-LIVE!- shake for the good part of Down to Zero, which turned into a dreamy smile of complicit love when All the Way from America oozed over the speakers. I could and couldn’t believe my eyes. Joan Armatrading. The first woman, before I’d even heard of Lauryn Hill, Angela Davis, Tracy Chapman or Ms E. Badu who wore a ‘fro and played a nasty guitar, with much funk and Paul Simonesque lyrics, was standing under 100m’s away from me – singing songs that have been looped so often my sister even, unfortunately, knows the lyrics.

I can only say in conclusion to this ecstatic experience that I’m so glad that now, I can tell the world, my first concert was a Joan Armatrading concert at the ripe ol’ age of 19. I went with just Me Myself and I, and it was darn good!

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#260 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 25

As i’m coming to the end of my time here at Ithemba, I figured it’s about time I start sharing with you some more of the my memories. Below are photos of the Jabulani Kids Club March through Sweetwaters. We walked throughout the community (up and down very steep hills), to raise the profile of JKC and to invite the local children. A challenging but exhilarating experience, we sang songs from Shosholoza to well-known isiZulu worship songs. With my guitar in tow, I was a bit like the Pied Piper of Sweetwaters. I hope you enjoy an excerpt of these images, and that they translate the joy, the music and the excitement of the day.

Prayer for Day 25: That JKC and Khula Club will continue to grow and be a light and source of inspiration in the community of Sweetwaters.

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