On our 2016 tour of The Old Woman, the Buffalo and the Lion of Manding, with Jan Blake, Raymond Sereba and Kouame Sereba, three incredibly inspirational artists, the first shoots of new ideas about the next instalment of the legendary Sundiata Keita story began to spring forth. Together with our partners, The Albany and mac birmingham, we jumped at the chance to commission a new show and following a successful application to Arts Council England, work began on the new piece earlier this month!
Despite the snows of winter grounding planes across Europe, the two musicians flew in from Norway and, with Jan and an Adverse Camber creative team, had a really productive creative residency week at The Albany in Deptford and their sister venue, Canada Water Theatre (3 – 9 March, 2018).
As many will vividly remember, the tour of The Old Woman, the Buffalo and the Lion of Manding featured call and response audience singing, adding something really special to the mix. For this new piece, working title Exile, Magic and Power, the artists wanted to bring even more voices into play and the idea of working with a gospel choir was hatched. To make this idea a reality, part of the R&D week was dedicated to working with the London International Gospel Choir as a pilot for how local choirs could be incorporated across a UK tour, as well as for the LIGC to perform in the performance to an audience at Canada Water Theatre as part of The Albany’s ‘Hatched’ series on Friday 9 March.
All three artists are expert workshop leaders, and the rehearsals were a combination of hard work, new experiences, great fun and inspiration. Feedback has been incredibly positive about both the learning and performing experience. And, like the audience, we thoroughly enjoyed the end results!
After a week of working with the choir, the designer Matt Edwards and director, Harmage Singh Kalirai – working on the songs, the story, the inclusion of the choir and the look and feel of the piece, plus a brief session in learning the rules of the game, oware, everyone was ready to perform an extract to an audience at Canada Water Theatre, followed by a Q&A with the artists.
Even though audiences only saw an extract of the new show, they were clearly impressed by and drawn into the world of this great, African epic, evidenced by the comments we received such as:
Transported to Africa
Epic, engaging and relevant
In an enlightening Q&A following the show, the musicians talked about their experiences growing up with this story, and how working with the choir brought back the feeling of villagers gathered and sharing together. Jan Blake talked about how important it is to tell great African epics as part of the “epic cannon” along with those more frequently heard, such as Gilgamesh, the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Beowolf, The Shahnameh… and the significance of historical heroes and legends within African-Caribbean culture.
More snippets from the residency week will be coming your way soon, as we plan towards touring this new show in the autumn of 2019, so watch this space!