A few years can make so much of a difference. I haven’t actively chased work to sing roles in operas for a while, so I’m currently unaware of the group dynamics amongst the singers. I composed music for the opening scene of an opera libretto by a senior Black writer and I was simply able to pick up the phone to call singers of African descent to participate in a performance that we presented in the Observatory in the Horniman Museum.
The librettist is an academic who works at Goldsmiths, University of London, so we had access to rehearsal space on the campus. We had a great time doing character work and learning the music. I was also able to call on the support of a great friend and colleague of mine – Farouque Abdela, to lend us props and costumes, so we were able to create a mythical African world of our own, more than a decade before Black Panther.
The Observatory at the Horniman Museum is a glass house, perfect for summer performances. The gods smiled on us when we presented our opera excerpt – the sun shone and friends came from near and far to witness what we put together. Sadly, the librettist wasn’t patient enough to remain committed to the energy and goodwill of what I pulled together. She decided to work with another composer on developing the piece further. All these years later, I’m not sure the work has made the impact she was hoping for. Such is the way of life sometimes.
Now, I’m putting out a call for singers to join my colleagues – Moji Kareem of Utopia Theatre, Olusola Oyeleye and me, in mounting a performance of “The Pied Piper of Chibok” – a new opera that I started composing this year. We had an exhilarating experience presenting the excerpt we have so far at Opera North last March in a residency for new work. Now we’re aiming to present the same excerpt under the auspices of Mosaic Opera Collective at The Arcola Theatre’s Grimeborn Festival. I hope my fellow classical singers of African descent will seize the opportunity to participate in a process that can only serve as a showcase for all our skills and talents.
In an intriguing postscript, I will be also reuniting creatively with Farouque Abdela this summer. Some things are seemingly destined to happen.