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

    Ugandan Opposition Candidate: Only Intimidation, Vote Buying Can Prevent Victory

    Kizza Besigye says he has been drawing large crowds and claims he has widespred support ahead of Feb. 18 vote

    HRW: Both Sides in Ukraine Conflict Targeted, Used Schools

    Rights group documents how both sides in Ukraine conflict carried out attacks on schools and used them for military purposes

    Sanctions Just Got Real for Over 54,000 North Koreans

    Shuttering of Kaesong complex ends virtually any hope of peaceful settlement to long-standing tensions on Korean peninsula in near future

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.

    New in Music Alley

    Soul Lounge: Sweet Honey in the Rocki
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    February 10, 2016 1:48 PM
    For over 40 years Sweet Honey In The Rock has entertained audiences around the globe with their signature blend of Blues, African, Gospel and R&B. The Grammy award winning group stopped by The Soul Lounge to perform and share their story as well as how they plan to keep African American musical traditions alive.

    For over 40 years Sweet Honey In The Rock has entertained audiences around the globe with their signature blend of Blues, African, Gospel and R&B.   The Grammy award winning group stopped by The Soul Lounge to perform and share their story as well as how they plan to keep African American musical traditions alive.