News / Arts & Entertainment

    Nigerian-American Turns Story of Harriet Tubman into Opera

    Soprano Sumayya Ali as Harriet Tubman in an early American Opera Projects workshop. (Photo by Danielle Rivera for AOP)
    Soprano Sumayya Ali as Harriet Tubman in an early American Opera Projects workshop. (Photo by Danielle Rivera for AOP)
    Richard Paul
    A new opera, written by a second-generation Nigerian-American, tells the story of Harriet Tubman, who, a century-and-a-half ago, escaped from slavery and led others to freedom.

    When Nkeiru Okoye was a little girl, she spent a lot of time shuttling between the United States - her mother’s home country - and her father’s homeland, Nigeria.  While she found the culture shock disorienting, there were some things that remained constant.  For one,

    “I don’t remember ever not knowing about Harriet Tubman," she said. "My mother used to love to read my sister and me stories, so my mother probably told me about her even before I learned about Harriet in school.”

    Those early stories turned into a fascination that Okoye has now turned into a work of art.

    Nigerian-American Turns Story of Harriet Tubman into Opera
    Nigerian-American Turns Story of Harriet Tubman into Operai
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    "Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line To Freedom," is presented by the American Opera Projects.  The group received an award from America's National Endowment for the Arts to present works commemorating Tubman in this, the 100th anniversary of her death.  

    x
    Tubman was born into slavery in the state of Maryland around 1820. In 1849, a dozen years before the U.S. Civil War would be fought between northern and southern states over the question of slavery, Tubman escaped to the north and freedom.

    “But she became famous because she went back down to rescue the rest of her family and anyone else that would go with her,” Okoye said.

    Tubman helped arrange a series of safe houses and hiding places called The Underground Railroad, that escaped slaves used to reach freedom.  The people who ran the Railroad were called “conductors.”

    “Harriet, who became known as ‘Moses,’ was the most famous conductor in the U.S,” said Okoye.

    There are many tall tales about Tubman’s life.  And Okoye says she originally set out to add to that tradition.

    “When I started this process, I wanted to pay tribute to Harriet Tubman by writing a highly fictionalized account of her,” she said.

    Instead, she was inspired to dig into the true story of Tubman, rather than the legend.

    “I spent three years getting to know Harriet's world,” she said.

    Nkeiru Okoye (Courtesy of American Opera Projects)Nkeiru Okoye (Courtesy of American Opera Projects)
    x
    Nkeiru Okoye (Courtesy of American Opera Projects)
    Nkeiru Okoye (Courtesy of American Opera Projects)
    ​Using that research, Okoye created what is called a “folk opera.”

    “Which is slightly different from regular opera.  Most of the music in Harriet Tubman is rooted in traditional African-American folk idioms," she said. "So there are elements of gospel, jazz, blues, and then you hear a “field holler,” you hear ragtime, work songs and there are things that sound like spirituals throughout the opera.
        
    Okoye’s attempt to be true to Tubman’s life is a key part of "When I Crossed That Line To Freedom."  

    “The First Act is called ‘In slavery’ and the Second Act of the opera is called ‘In Freedom.’  I did that because I thought it was very important for listeners to experience Harriet as a full person," Okoye said.  "I think most people like to think of Harriet as a born liberator and it robs them of an important part of the story.  It’s kind of hero worship.  We don’t get that there’s this vulnerable person who’s there.  We don’t get the full picture.

    "Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line To Freedom," is being performed in December, February and March in New York’s Fort Greene, the location of an actual Underground Railroad station.

    You May Like

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    Diplomats Hope to Revive Cradle of Civilization After Defeat of IS

    Diplomats from around globe gather at US State Department, discuss how to rebuild minority communities shattered by Islamic State group

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100% Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100% Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    New in Music Alley

    Take It From The Top: Stanley Jordani
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    May 17, 2016 5:01 PM
    Jazz fusion artist, Stanley Jordan is known for his touch technique which allows him to play melodies and chords simultaneously. He can also play two different guitars or a guitar and piano at the same time.

    Jazz fusion artist, Stanley Jordan is known for his touch technique which allows him to play melodies and chords simultaneously.  He can also play two different guitars or a guitar and piano at the same time.

     

     

     

     

    Blogs