P R E S S R E L E A S E S 2003
February 1, 2003
Sekou Sundiata Brings Deeply Personal Storytelling and Moving Music to MASS MoCA on March 1
(North Adams, Mass.) On Saturday, March 1, at 8:00 P.M. one of the pioneers of spoken word will take the stage at MASS MoCA with his new solo show entitled blessing the boats. Written and performed by Sekou Sundiata, blessing the boats is a sequence of poems, prose, and monologues derived from stand-up comedy, literary reading, and performance theater. blessing the boats is a journey with music and visual media through three years of the poet's life, bearing witness to his highest and lowest moments - a time when the scope of his achievements was matched only by a tumultuous and unexpected health crisis that ultimately ended in a kidney transplant and lengthy recovery. In Sundiata's own words, blessing the boats is "a poetic account of how I got from there to here, a chronicle of the remarkable transplant patients and organ donors I met. It is a personal look at the world from a forced withdrawal, an exile for the self I had come to know."
Sundiata has been critically acclaimed for decades. Bill Moyers, who featured Sundiata in his PBS series on poetry, says, ""His music comes from so many places it is impossible to name them all. But I will wager that if we could trace their common origin, we'd arrive at the headwaters of the soul. Listen carefully and he'll take you there." The Washington Post says he is "gifted with a rich, undulating voice that further heightens his bittersweet wordscapes." And The Austin Chronicle describes Sundiata as "an urban wordsmith par excellence," continuing "Sundiata shines like the bright African summer sun."
Sundiata's recent performance of blessing the boats in Ann Arbor, Michigan, resulted in this review in the Ann Arbor News. "In Sundiata's 75-minute narrative he recapitulates, irony always close at hand, his late-1990s affliction with Job-like torments - from chronic dizziness to abnormal hair growth - while waiting for a live-saving kidney transplant. Sometimes he emotes from a music stand, and at one point he mocks his indisposed self during hospital stays in which humorous helplessness confronts the horror of lost functions that were once second nature. He can call up lovely yet ominous drum-propelled musical blends, and can cast images and films on a stage-rear screen - one depicting the human heart as an angry-red fragment mutating through the cosmos. Sundiata never wallows in self-pity. Gifted with a commanding voice that scarcely needs the microphone he uses, he excels to mega-speed riffs, then slows to sweet, heart-tugging cadences underscoring his mastery of the written and spoken word -- a 3-year-old's post-operative sobbing is 'the kind of crying that implicates all of us.'"
Sekou Sundiata is a poet who writes for print and performance as well as music and theater. He has recorded and performed with a wide variety of artists, including Craig Harris, David Murray, Nona Hendryx and Vernon Reid. He co-produced a series of concerts at the American Center in Paris. Sundiata wrote and performed in the highly acclaimed performance theater work The Circle Unbroken Is A Hard Bop, and his music theater work, The Mystery of Love, was presented by New Voices/New Visions at Aaron Davis Hall and later produced by the American Music Theater Festival. UDU, a music theater work that he wrote (composed by Craig Harris), was produced by 651 Arts in Brooklyn and presented by the International Festival of Art and Ideas in New Haven, the Walker Art Center and Penumbra Theater in Minneapolis, Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, the Flynn Center in Vermont, and Miami Dade Community College. It had its New York premiere at the BAM Harvey Theater presented by 651 Arts in January 2001.
Sundiata received a BESSIE New York Dance and Performance Award and two AUDELCO Awards. He was a Sundance Institute Screenwriting Fellow, a Columbia University Revson Fellow, and the first writer-in-residence at the New School University. Sundiata was a Master Artist in Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and he is a professor at Eugene Lang College in New York City. He was featured in the Bill Moyers PBS series on poetry, The Language of Life, and as part of Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam on HBO. He has been featured several times on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Sundiata and his band toured nationally with Ani DiFranco in Summer 2001. Other recent concert performances include the Celebrate Brooklyn Festival, the Fringe Festival, the IAM Black Music Conference, the African American Museum Project at the Smithsonian Institution, the Crossing Borders and North Sea Jazz Festivals in Holland, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and Lehigh University. As a recording artist, Sundiata released his first CD, The Blue Oneness of Dreams, to critical acclaim on the Mouth Almighty/Mercury record label. His second album, longstoryshort, was released on Righteous Babe Records in 2000.
blessing the boats has been commissioned by Aaron Davis Hall's Fund for New Work in partnership with New Heritage Theatre Group; Miami Dade Community College in partnership with the Flynn Center for the Arts and the National Performance Network Creation Fund (sponsored by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation); Duke University Institute of the Arts, Durham, NC, and the University Musical Society, Ann Arbor, MI. The development of blessing the boats is made possible, in part; by New Works for a New WORLD play development laboratory at New WORLD Theater at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Sekou Sundiata's blessing the boats is co-presented with Williams College as part of the third annual Stalwart Originality: New Traditions in Black Performance. The theme of this year's conference is Seeing the Word/Hearing the Image and features telling and re-telling, the mix and re-mix of experiences from the voyage on this earth by two playwrights and a DJ/media artist. Other Stalwart Originality events include a work-in-progress showing of a new piece by DJ Spooky entitled Rebirth of a Nation on Friday, February 28, at MASS MoCA. Combining music and applied film footage, Miller traces the roots of America's quick-cut media-saturated popular culture to DW Griffith's profoundly racist 1915 movie Birth of a Nation. Blessing the boats is sponsored by Williams College and the W. Ford Schumann '50 Endowment for the Arts and by The Porches Inn. Tickets for blessing the boats are $16.50 adults, $12.50 students. Tickets are available through the MASS MoCA Box Office located on Marshall Street in North Adams from 11 A.M. until 5 P.M. every day but Tuesday. Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413.662.2111 during Box Office hours or online at www.massmoca.org at any time of day.
MASS MoCA, the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in the United States, is located off Marshall Street in North Adams on a 13-acre campus of renovated 19th-century factory buildings.
MASS MoCA 1040 MASS MoCA Way North Adams, MA 01247 413.MOCA.111 www.massmoca.org
For Immediate Release