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Where sci-fi meets Afrobeats and funk

CREATIVE: Actress, dancer and musician Nwando Ebizie [Photo credit:Dimitri Djuric]

THIS MONTH, Certain Blacks, a new arts development organisation formed to support the growth of diverse artists, presents the inaugural Art Ensemble festival at east London’s Rich Mix.

Art Ensemble showcases a range of powerful and sometimes uncompromising work. Performances come courtesy of Lady Vendredi on July 8, Franko B on July 10 and Crying In The Wilderness on July 12.

On this innovative new organisation and their forthcoming festival, Certain Blacks founder Clive Lyttle tells The Voice: “Certain Blacks is named after the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s song of the same name. The tune has a refrain, ‘Certain Blacks, do what they want to’. This was the ethos I had when I started the organisation. I wanted a place where diverse creativity was not directed, or told, but free to express itself, very like the free Jazz created by Art Ensemble of Chicago.”

He continues: “As artistic director, and founder, of Certain Blacks I wanted to develop an organisation that looked beyond the usual definitions of diverse artistic work and presented the best in theatre, music and performance for audiences. By presenting a programme that includes immersive performance, live art and ‘theatre of the soul,’ Certain Blacks aims to present a range of challenging and engaging work that is both entertaining and thought provoking.”

Kick-starting Art Ensemble on July 8 at 9pm is The Passion of Lady Vendredi, following a successful run at London’s Soho Theatre.

An immersive and explosive work, the piece is described as a mythopoetic epic chronicling the misadventures, quest and ultimate revenge of a blaxploitation heroine.

Mixing sci-fi, Afrobeats, modern funk and a compelling story to move audiences from their current reality into an “afrofuturistic” world of words music and dance, The Passion of Lady Vendredi is the brainchild of Nigerian experimental performance artist, musician and dancer Nwando Ebizie.

“I’ve spent years DJ’ing at festivals, clubs, working in contemporary classical music, collaborating with orchestras,” she says. “I feel like my life has different phases where I need to collect knowledge and experience in order to move further on and further in.”

Explaining whom Lady Vendredi is exactly, Ebizie tells The Voice: “Lady Vendredi is my alter ego. She is from Nri, a fabled land under the sea. She looks forwards and backwards - she sees the present, the future and the past. She is an acolyte of science fiction heroine Barbarella. In the parallel dimension from whence she came, transatlantic slavery did not occur and so the old African religions and ways prospered, developed and proliferated.”

Starting out in the National Youth Theatre and a stint in Brazil, Ebizie also co-runs her own theatre company, MAS Productions, with her collaborator Jonathan Grieve – who created the framework for .

“Lady Vendredi comes from an experimental performance art/theatre framework created by Jonathan Grieve. Lady Vendredi is an articulation between these two forms. The Passion of Lady Vendredi is a clash of boundaries, a clash of identities. The show is an opportunity for performers and audience alike to explore identity in an uncompromising, unforgiving way. It is about transformation, about revenge and forgiveness, about letting go, about letting love in. It poses the question - What has to die in order to transform?”

Ebizie, a classically trained pianist, continues: “With MAS Productions, we bring together music, art and science in order to create transformative experiences.”
During the show, the audience members have to prepare to become participants – and so far Ebizie hasn’t received any complaints.

“The audiences have been amazing,” Ebizie enthuses. “They have remarked that they felt inspired, free, joyous, and incredibly sad. One woman said that she cried from start to finish. People have told us that they found the show fearless, that it was like a shared lucid dream, that they enjoyed dancing to the live music and that it was a rollercoaster ride.”

So what’s next for the multi-talented creative? “I’m going to work to bring together scientists and artists in a project exploring the rare neurological condition called Palinopsia. I grew up on a different planet from Lady Vendredi and realised that I had Palinopsia, which can cause images to persist after their corresponding stimulus has left. This caused an intense need to create music, story and movement.”

The Passion of Lady Vendredi plays at Rich Mix as part of Art Ensemble on July 8 at 9pm

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