Join us tonight, Tuesday, December 6 at 7:30pm (PST), for a live video stream from Town Hall Seattle featuring composer and violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain with spoken word artist and arts activist Marc Bamuthi Joseph in “Blackbird, Fly,” a concert for voice, body, and strings. Together these two American sons of Haitian immigrants explore themes of family history, folklore, politics, and race, all of it coursing with the rhythm and energy of hip hop.
If you’re in Seattle, we’d love to see you there! Get your tickets here and be sure to hello at the broadcast table in the lobby.
Program Notes by Aaron Grad c/o Town Hall Seattle
Blackbird, Fly is the co-creation of Daniel Bernard Roumain and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, two powerhouse performers who demolish boundaries in their respective art forms. Roumain, otherwise known as DBR, combines his classical training in violin and composition with the energy of hip hop and pop music, whether he is accompanying Lady Gaga on American Idol or presenting a new orchestral piece at Carnegie Hall. Joseph is best known as a spoken word artist and a National Poetry Slam champion, but his career has spanned from acting on Broadway to arts activism in Oakland.
These two men, both born in the United States to Haitian immigrants, have used their personal histories and artistic talents as springboards to examine larger questions about our society’s past, present and future, especially as it relates to Black life in America. After coming together for a number of projects across the country, from the Atlanta Ballet to San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Roumain and Joseph distilled their collaboration into what they describe as “a concert for voice, body and strings,” a label that hardly captures the enormous range and impact of this evening-length duet.
Roumain’s music for Blackbird, Fly is a kaleidoscopic mixture of classical, rock and hip-hop sounds that he creates on several electric violins as well as piano and laptop. When he sends aggressive bow strokes through a heavily saturated distortion pedal, or when he holds the violin across his chest and strums it like a guitar, his sound and technique comes closer to Jimi Hendrix than any concert violinist. Other times he extracts a pure, clean tone from his violin, using subtle sound effects to thicken and amplify his musical gestures into textures that give the impression of an entire string ensemble playing.
Joseph’s words and expressive body movements likewise transcend any one style or narrative thread. Part storytelling, part folklore and part politics, his libretto touches on everything from fatherhood and friendship to mass incarceration and police bias, all infused with the fluid rhythms of hip-hop and spoken word. He introduces an international perspective, with vignettes that recall visits to Haiti, Paris, Tokyo and Senegal. There is also a deep sense of history as he reflects back on figures such as Huey Newton and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Blackbird, Fly is awash in paradox: It is personal but universal; it is high art and pop culture; it is unflinchingly honest and still joyful and optimistic; it is tender and vulnerable and outrageously powerful and virtuosic all at the same time. This is a performance that might generate more questions than answers, but isn’t that exactly what we need today if we hope to understand each other and ourselves?
© 2016 Aaron Grad.