Tales of Transatlantic Freedom is a powerful work of theatre, told through music, with only occasional contextual background provided.
An exploration of African diasporic narratives, the show celebrates voices of colour and musical traditions from around the world.
It does this through the use of various musical forms as it traces a story from the continent of Africa, through slavery, to the Caribbean and America, before travelling to Scotland.
The star of the show is Andrea Baker, whose voice is incredible. She also has intense stage presence. Baker knows how to draw an audience in.
Indeed, the opening number, performed almost entirely off-stage (and as Baker promenades behind the black drapes of the Emerald Theatre), creates an atmosphere of tension. The audience is unsure of what may happen next.
Accompanying Baker is Howard Moody, who uses the baby grand piano in ways I have never seen before. From plucking the instrument’s strings, to sweeping over them with a set of chains, his contribution is frequently mesmerising.
Baker also plays a range of other instruments, including the wooden box he sits on. He uses this as a drum to punctuate sorrowful moments in the songs performed.
The piece’s narrative traces a diasporic journey. It’s no surprise that some of these tunes are deeply embued with traumatic overtones, and a longing for freedom.
The production works through a range of musical genres, tracing the history of music created by people of colour. Opera, Blues, and Gospel all feature.
The Opera is particularly intriguing. Baker performs an extract from Shirley Graham Du Bois’ 1932 work Tom Tom – the first opera written by an African American woman.
It’s a beautiful moment. Hearing more, or being given context about the opera’s narrative, would have afforded a greater opportunity to appreciate what an achievement Du Bois’ work must have been.
The performance is mesmerising and enchanting, the singing and music combining to create an almost ethereal atmosphere.
It’s not clear if this show is intended to be developed any further. If it is, then an additional voice would be useful. It would provide some light and shade in the songs performed and also to protect Baker’s voice.
A 70-minute performance is a lot to ask of any solo performer, and especially when there is singing involved. An additional contribution would provide some respite within the performance, and allow for a wider range of music to be included.
This was a beautiful and intimate production, which brings an audience songs and music forms they may be unfamiliar with. This is a clever way to introduce stories an audience may not know, but which need to be given more prominence within popular culture.
Featured Image Credit: David Monteith-Hodge