Already the subject of a documentary aired in February 2016, on CBC’s The National, as well as a CBC Music live concert, FREEDOM SINGER is an original documentary theatre concert performed live by Vancouver-based musician Khari McClelland. Through a suite of songs and theatrical encounters, Khari retraces the steps of his great-great-great grandmother Kizzy and immerses himself in the music that may have accompanied her escape from US slavery. Dramatized interviews with choirmasters, archivists, other musicians, academics, historians, Khari’s great aunt, his mother and other community elders will steep audiences in a contemporary practice of the past, and a collective revisiting of one of our quintessential Canadian historic narratives (and mythologies): the Underground Railroad.
Co-created by Khari, journalist Jodie Martinson, and theatre-maker Andrew Kushnir, FREEDOM SINGER interweaves the personal with the political and historical: what motivated Canada’s welcoming of escaped slaves? What are the facts and fictions of this history? When Canadians espouse a moral superiority to our southern neighbours (around matters like gun control, institutionalized racism, the welcoming of refugees) how is this national identity-building both problematic and admirable? What does it mean for Khari to teach the songs of his ancestors to white musicians and singers (which Khari has done liberally in his career)? What does it mean to ultimately share these sacred and personal vibrations with audiences?
As Khari puts it: “Music is the great animator, it is, it's the holy ghost you know, it's in the church you know, often people refer to the holy ghost coming in, you can't necessarily logically understand or predict and for me, that's kinda the power of music. It certainly helps me to understand and communicate my feelings in a more powerful and deeper way…I work on myself in a way, through this music…it's a profound reckoning.” Using traditional and contemporary styles such as gospel, soul, folk, rock and hip hop, he will explore how the past can be felt in a spontaneous way through music, and how that can shift understandings of our present context and future possibilities. The piece also lays bare how unreachable some histories may seem, and the personal toll that comes with trying to connect with an elusive heritage.

 

 

Running time: Approximately 90 minutes

This performance is available for Northwestel Art Lovers subscription as of June 13.
Tickets available to the general public on July 4.