As promised in our newsletter (If you haven't signed up for that, you can sign up here and get a gift to boot!) I'm sharing a few photos from the remarkable event that was the Loophole of Retreat: Venice and some recommendations for unmissable presentations. Really the entire thing is worth your attention, but there were a few that moved me mightily that I highly recommend making time for.
Maestro Marco Cremaschini and me are off to Venice.
Marco and I left early on October 6th, so we'd be in time for our dress rehearsal. The nicest woman came to scan our tickets. She spoke to us in English, we laughed and then responded in Italian. It seemed she was as excited as I was by the movement of so many Americans to "the floating city" eager to attend the Loophole and the Biennale. We had a lovely little moment, and off she went down the aisle.
I wasn't even off the train before I made a new friend in Sherrilyn Ifill. I will own my ignorance.
I asked her, "What do you do?"
she replied, "I'm a civil rights attorney."
"Oh, so you're a badass then; thank you for the work you do."
I had no idea what a badass Sherrilyn is, but I did know that she was my kind of people. I was so happy to make her acquaintance that I left my purse on the train as we chattered about our excitement for the event. Once we found out we were booked at the same hotel, we arranged for a water taxi and paused to take in Venice from the steps of the station. Just after I took this selfie, I turned to Sherrilyn and said, "Oh no! Where's my backpack?"
I dashed back into the station. Marco rolled his eyes and a cigarette while telling Sherrilyn about all the other items I'd left behind in the past. When I got to the track, there was the wonderful ticket collector looking frantically through my bag for some contact information. She grinned as she saw me run up and said, "I knew this was yours! I was just looking for a contact number before bringing it to the polizia."
Phew! When I rejoined Sherrilyn and Marco, Sherrilyn said, "Well, good, we've gotten any bad mojo out of the way for the next few days!"
I marveled, "Making an effort to connect with each person one meets makes a difference in every way."
And off we went to the hotel and a quick lunch before our soundcheck, where I learned that Sherrilyn was on the Supreme Court Nominee Shortlist, and the penny dropped.
Soundcheck was quick and easy after our rush to get there in time.
More friends were made on the way back to the hotel to change for the welcoming reception!
Shalonda Ingram and Paloma McGregor were on returning from their dress rehearsal as well, and in that boat, boom! just as it had with Sherrilyn, there was an instant crackle of recognition between kindreds as we spoke about our presentations.
Producer Shalonda Ingram, me, and choreographer & artist Paloma McGregor
The cocktail reception was more of the same; I know that the conversations had, friendships made, revelatory lectures, and performances I attended will all continue to reverberate in my bones long into the future.
Raquel Lima and me at the welcome celebration
Then it was morning and time for our performance, where we presented some of the new work from our upcoming album NoteSpeak 12.
On our way to perform
Photo Credit Glorija Blazinsek
Photo Credit Angela Tucker
To say that it was an honor to be up on that stage would be a gross understatement. Honored and humbled almost captures the beauty of the moment.
We performed a new piece called "Last Supper". While I was researching the writing of that poem, I came across a series of photos called No Seconds by phenomenal photographer Henry Hargreaves which inspired me greatly. I reached out to him and asked if I might use them for our show. After listening to the full band version of the song, he generously agreed. He told me that the series had actually been in the Biennale already, so it was a full-circle moment to have it return. Isn't that just crazy serendipity?
How to describe the feeling of being up in front of that particular audience? We often perform for decidedly predominantly white audiences in Italy, and an extra effort often seems necessary to bring them into the music. Still, as the AfroItalians grow in number, that is changing, and it is spectacular to see. When we tour, we often have more diverse audiences than here in our home base of Italy. Performing at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India, with Brown people as the majority, I was also infused with the same sense of warmth, connection, and family. The sensation is - this audience gets where I'm coming from and what I'm getting at; they understand the subtext. Clearly, if the white Italian concertgoer has bought a ticket to see me, they are predisposed to and open to the music. But that only sometimes translates to having complete knowledge of our subject matter and, most significantly, the subtext. So yes, I felt cradled, seen, and heard while performing at the Loophole of Retreat.
Group photo in front of the American pavilion for the exhibition Simone Leigh: Sovereignty
Photo Credit Sherrilyn Ifil
Visiting Simone Leigh's exhibition was a revelatory experience. I was awed by the immensity of her talent...... as were these young students who I overheard talking about the fact that this was their fourth visit to Simone's show and how the sculptures were alive, the changes they saw in the materials with each visit.
The four days I spent in Venice were, as I mentioned in the newsletter, transformative. Being among such learned academics and artistic colossi ensured that there was not one dull conversation. That's not hyperbole. Everyone I spoke to seemed steeped in that sense of great potentiality. Italy is very much ensconced in its past as the custodian of its rich history. As I mentioned on stage, the Loophole of Retreat felt both ancient and visionary. Vibrant and with a strong sense of creating that limitless future that Tina Campt spoke of while honoring the past.
I’ve lived in Italy for 25 years, more or less. To occupy this space with all of our fierce intellect and with the unbounded generosity of Simone Leigh, lifting so many was a balm. It was liberating to just revel in the artistry and intellect of so many Black scholars and artists. It smelled like hope and joy.
There are so many more photos that cannot fit into this space (have you ever seen me grinning so hard in this many pics?), and more stories than I can recount here. So I'll end this already very long post of exultation.
What a magnificent and graced life I lead. How grateful I am. Thank you for joining me on this ride.
For Your Viewing Pleasure, I Highly Recommend :
Simone Leigh and me