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GULLAH ROOTS

Telling the untold stories of the fascinating Gullah Culture through music.

Overview

My fascination with Gullah culture began in 2008 on my first trip to Charleston, SC.  It wasn’t the first time having that strange feeling of being in a Caribbean space while geographically being on the North American continent.  I had felt it  years before on my first trip to New Orleans.  After numerous trips to the low country of South Carolina and Georgia, interacting with Gullah musicians and researching their history, I was commissioned by Savannah Music Festival to compose and premiere ‘Gullah Roots’ at the 2018 Savannah Music Festival.  The piece is a one hour long suite that references key events and icons in their history.   The suite also draws cultural parallels to my homeland of Trinidad and Tobago.  There are Gullah farming traditions that were kept alive in Trinidad that are no longer  present in Georgia or South Carolina.  ‘Gullah Roots’ has been a way for me to learn new aspects of American History, and tie them into current issues affecting the current social landscape in this country. ‘Igbo Landing’ is a movement that re-accounts the story of an iconic event in 1803 where 75 African captives took control of a slave ship in American waters.  Refusing to submit to enslavement in the US, they all committed suicide.   ‘Bilali’ is a movement that highlights the heavy Islamic influence in Gullah Culture.  ‘Watch Night’ and ‘Freedom Day’ are musical accounts of a ritual that is still performed to this day.  It started on December 31st 1862, the night before the signing of the US Emancipation Proclamation.  To research this movement, I went to Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in McIntosh County, GA to participate in the Watch Night ritual where at 11:55pm the congregation kneels with heads bowed facing the pews.  At the strike of midnight the Freedom ring shout celebration begins.  This commemoration was moving to be a part of.  This is one of the most powerful movements of the piece.  One fascinating discovery in my research was the fact that Gullah people came to my homeland, Trinidad in 1813 after the war of 1812.  Having fought for the British against the US, they were awarded land in Trinidad, a British colony at the time. They became known in Trinidad as Merikins (short for Americans).’ Gullah Roots’ is an important piece as it tells the story of a lesser known yet crucial aspect of American history and culture. The piece has been performed once thus far. My goal is to do a studio recording (audio and video) of this piece with my sextet incorporating more Gullah musicians, spoken word artists and dancers into the work.  A commercially released album and video content of this the work will help to create more opportunities for live performance which will enable me to tell stories of one of the most fascinating Creole peoples of the Americas.

Start and End Dates

09/10/201909/15/2019

Location

NEW YORK, New York

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