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From The African Messiah to The Griot’s Tale

Last summer smack in the middle of the Paralympics – in fact is was part of Deloitte’s contribution to the Cultural Olympiad – while the whole of London was wearing a big smile, I returned to working with Tunde Jegede on an oratario commissioned by Yinka Shonibare for the Royal Opera House. African Messiah is an adaptation of Handel’s Messiah by Tunde for orchestra (with European and African instrumentation), choir and spoken word. My commission involved mapping projections onto a set I designed and lit for some quite nice conceal & reveal work with images created by myself and filmmaker Sunara Begum and then programming a show control system for the whole thing. It’s notoriously difficult to capture the full effect of conceal & reveal projection and lighting on film, but hopefully the video above provides some impression of what happened.

The great thing about Tunde’s work, which was always evident in his music, is he goes beyond archetypes in extemporising the provenance and value of the culture of the African Diaspora. Ever since I researched and made the Permanent Revolution series of works, the semantic distinction between culture and tradition has been important to me. The former describing a dynamic process, the latter something fixed in time (history) and space (geography) but feeding the dynamics of culture. In Tunde’s rich work you can always see where you are between the two. We understand the value and influence on the world of the African tradition in all of its rich diversity and the powerful impact the Diaspora’s movement and syncretic evolution has had and continues to have on global culture.

Now I’m back with Tunde the Griot on his current theatre tip working on a piece that this time he’s written and directed – The Griot’s Tale. A bit less clear cut this one. It seems I’m pretty much here to plug a number of holes in the production doing sound, lighting and production management! Then at night – very late at night – making video for projections. Meanwhile outside people are having an actual summer in London!

But it will be a beautifully absorbing show again. So come see it at the Africa Centre on one of the nights between the 27th August and the 2nd September. If I can still stand you can buy me a much needed drink!

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