Afrocentric Theatre, Music, Culture and Business

Carleen Anderson – Cage Street Memorial (Interview) Carleen Anderson – Cage Street Memorial (Interview)
Carleen Anderson – Cage Street Memorial (Interview)

Carleen Anderson describes her most recent work Cage Street Memorial as a ‘tribal opera’; a profound musing on identity and a deeply personal take on the last century. Ebonyonline.net caught up with the ageless singer-songwriter to talk about her grandfather’s legacy, the lasting horrors of slavery, her fight for creative freedom and more.


EO: The title of the concert ‘Cage Street Memorial’ relates to your ancestral home. Can you explain more especially about how your grandfather built your house, the local church etc?

CA: Cage Street is the dead end road where my grandfather, David Anderson Sr. built the family home in 1933. It is an area that was originally set aside for the newly freed slaves after their emancipation. Grandfather was a carpenter by trade and an Evangelist by calling. In addition to building churches, grandfather also built homes for his congregation who had been displaced.


When this church burned down in 1960, he built another church, his first brick structure, in 1962 and named it Cage Street Memorial.


So later I took to writing what I had longed to do since my early youth about my Grandparents’ life and the impact of cultural society and political government on a little girl who grew up on the sheltered lane of Cage Street.


EO: Your Auntie sung at Emmett Till’s funeral. Can you recount for those who don’t know the tragic circumstances surrounding his death and the seismic effect on the Black community and America in general?

CA: Emmett Till was a 14 year old black boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955. For the alleged action of whistling at a white woman, he was taken from his Uncle’s home in the dark hours before dawn, beaten, mutilated, shot in the head then sunk in the Tallahatchie River.


The viciousness against a child sparked a sense of responsibility from those outside the Black community as well which gave way to a unified front to challenge the civil rights abuses commonly accepted in the US.


It was this barbaric abandonment of humanity that steered Dr Martin Luther King Jr. to take on the Montgomery Bus Boycott.


EO: You’ve described the concert as a ‘tribal opera’; I’m intrigued by the very emotive word ‘tribal’. Why did you describe it so?

CA: For me to coin the phrase, ‘Tribal Opera’ meant signifying an ancestral lineage engulfed into adapting to the social and political landscape of a separate ruling society.


CSM’s narrative context is as old as Greek mythology but as an artistic expression it needed a format beyond the confines of traditional constructs.


Labelling CSM as a Tribal Opera means there’s a freedom of expression that extends outside the limitations of standard structures.


The term could apply to any tribe. As my tribe is slowly growing into extinction due to the eradication of stories like my Grandfather’s that are without a platform to give hope to their descendants that they can achieve more than a modern replication of history, this is the reason for giving the artistic expression of CSM the description of being a Tribal Opera.


EO: Give us a sense of what the audience can expect from the show?

CA: This live soundtrack album performance of CSM – The Pilgrimage is a combination of spoken word, lyrical music and digital imagery that links the human condition with the specifics of a family tree, demonstrating how much people are alike in spite of their experiences and cultural differences.


Every song and poem is based on a chapter from the unpublished (British Library registered) CAGE STREET MEMORIAL ~The Chapel of Mirrors book as a way of connecting the dots.


The desired effect is that the audience will experience Live Storytelling accompanied by music and visuals in a way that makes them feel included in the journey rather than only being a spectator of it.


EO: Why did you choose to work with jazz vibraphonist Orphy Robinson? What special ‘sauce’ did he bring?

CA: Multi-award winning Vibraphonist/Percussionist Orphy Robinson and I were brought together to work on the musical development of the CSM theatre production in response to my search for a more eclectic instrumentation for my CSM compositions.


When Orphy came on board to decipher as he put it, ‘the geography’ of my mind, this forged a splendid artistic partnership. Orphy’s gentle soul alongside his understanding of artistry enhanced the expansion of my musical arrangements with his sensitivity to the importance of an artist having their original ideas fully realised.


The sound of Orphy on Vibraphone instead of a hearing a rhythm and blues style guitar and Samy on violin rather than a Jazzy-soul genre saxophone for instance brings a distinctive sonic allowing a broader soundscape that what is usually marketed in our pigeon-holed music industry.


EO: This and your most recent projects have been self-funded, why was this?
CA: After I was dropped from a major recording label when my choice of musical direction proved unsuccessful in the commercial arena, this lead to my decision to fund my art myself.


Worn out from always being at odds with the creatively restrictive trade offs for conveyor belt produced music and wanting to fulfil a lifelong goal of being a writer and performing my work within the theatrical arena, self-funding was the only choice available to me.


EO: Finally, where does Carleen go from here? What are your musical and otherwise plans for 2018?

CA:  The Arts Council England and PRS (Performers Rights Society) has awarded the SoundUK organisation a grant for me to be the Musical Director of a Civil Rights Music Production that will include the award winning jazz pianist Nikki Yeoh in the line up with other UK luminaries in the mix as well for several concerts during Spring 2018 across UK music theatres.


Orphy Robinson, as the MD for the June 2018 Gibraltar World Music Festival has provided a slot for me to arrange some songs from CSM to be performed by the orchestra he’s conducting.


I hope to create a follow up of my CSM template, ‘book, soundtrack album, theatre production’ for my future works. This tri-dimensional creative platform provides for an expansive outlet for inspired expressions. That’s the aim, creating beyond borders.


2oth Jan Cage Street Memorial, Barbican Centre, £15-25  www.barbican.org.uk



















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