We spoke to Bristol artist Libita Clayton about her event 1,2,1,2, //// black - voices - opera which takes place at the RWA on Sunday 7 August, with members of the British Black Classical Foundation (BBCF) and as part of Jamaican Independence Day celebrations.
RWA: Tell us a bit about the piece in a nutshell… What can audiences expect?
LC: Black presence, stunning vocals, endurance, echoes, exoticism, Britishness, folklore, tides, joy.
I haven't been able to watch Anne and Ronald perform without smiling, a lot. You will get a huge sense of awe and energy from them and leave with the most contagious of song hooks in your head. Come with an open mind, and be up for experiencing something that you probably won't ever see again. We are limiting tickets so that it's an intimate performance with the hope that we can all bond, share and talk about the experience with a drink after. Graeme Evelyn, myself the singers and Vincent Osborne will be speaking and giving a bit of context to the work, then opening it up to a Q&A. Keep a look/listen out for some activity in the afternoon as well….there might be a little bit of vocalise here and there...
RWA: How did this collaboration with the BBCF come about?
LC: Well I had recently worked with Arnolfini and the Speakeasy Southwest forum on a piece called In the Absence of Ruins There Will be Innovation - spoken word, performance event in response to John Akomfrah's Vertigo Sea exhibition. It was a merging of two types of public speech environments; spoken word / poetry slam and an artists talk / presentation. The thing that made it work were the artists personal interpretation and their own stories of black British experience, migration, spirituality and heritage. I wanted to continue with the exploration of storytelling and pushing what the voice could do, how it could project, and simply communicate. Et voila, black British opera singers came to mind.
Luckily we have Google and there they were - the Black British Classical Foundation - everything I had hoped for and more! With a bit of coercion ("I'm an artist, this would be really cool") Vincent Osborne, the director of BBCF, found me two amazing singers to work with; Anne Fridal - wonderful Soprano and all round queen, and Ronald Samm - Tenor, wonderful in every way.
From our first meeting I realised this was a runaway thing, the work became a collaboration instantly. They've brought all of their ideas, heritage, and experiences to the table with this. I have been well and truly schooled!
RWA: What else are you up to at the moment?
LC: I am heading straight to a residency in Cornwall on Monday, then I'm working on an artists' publication commission; Beyond Words, with Freedom Festival Arts Trust and Hull Culture and Leisure Library Services, in association with Book Works. I've been playing with types of failure and attempts at pushing over these. I have been considering 'bloke(s) monuments' - the not so, illusive great white males that were involved in the transatlantic slave trade - old, boring, problematic. So I thought it would be amusing to imagine them having these really English dull chats with one another about the weather, and being grumpy and moaning about the new bus stops, drunk youths, being vandalised, and Willy Wilberforce and Eddie Colston slagging each other off in their posh accents...So yeah, that's on the second of September at Hull freedom Festival. Me as a freedom fighter super hero thing (laughs)
RWA: What do you think of Jamaican Pulse?
LC: It's full of life and alternatives. For me, it's about the back story, the process of making the show happen - the curators; Kat and Graeme's start and end point with this journey is really important to the whole thing. That's what makes it a landmark show. A lot of the Jamaican artists are young, emerging talent so I can identify with how amazing the process is. There are different things at play, familiar and unfamiliar, negotiating the space of the Diaspora is always a challenging thing - something I personally like to play with, kick around a bit.
I love performance, and the 'live' environment so the opening of Jamaican Pulse was a blast for me. It was the day of Brexit and coming out of the gloom into the wonderful colour, culture-clash, splendour, sound system, art, celebration, and black people! - all that good cultural stuff you want to see at an art show in the city, but often unfortunately don't. Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow and Lawrence Graeme Browns' performances were really highly charged, gutsy, relevant works that I'm still thinking about...I could go on!