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Handel and Haydn Society and Castle of Our Skins celebrate black musicians

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Handel and Haydn Society and Castle of Our Skins celebrate black musicians
Reggie Mobley. PHOTO: LIZ LINDER

On Saturday afternoon, April 27, the Handel and Haydn Society and Castle of Our Skins will present a free concert, “Nigra Sum Sed Formosa: I am Black But Beautiful,” at Roxbury Community College Media Arts Center. The ArtWeek collaboration will celebrate black musicians and the prejudices and challenges they face. The show is co-directed by Reginald L. Mobley, Ashleigh Gordon and Dr. Jennifer Kane and features musicians from both organizations as well as a literary performance by Marlon Carey.

“Celebration is not the common narrative for blackness. As the ‘Nigra Sum Sed Formosa’ piece talks about, there are stereotypes around blackness and black musicians, so we’re wanting to portray a different narrative that is incredibly rich and beautiful and varied,” says Gordon, violist and artistic and executive director for Castle of our Skins. She says the project has been about a year-and-a-half in the making since Handel and Haydn and Castle of Our Skins were matched through a network of arts administrators of color.

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The performance is named for the musical piece “Nigra Sum Sed Formosa: I am Black But Beautiful” by Jonathan Woody. The Saturday concert is the world premiere of Woody’s fantasia on micro-aggressions. Gordon says she is most looking forward to this piece, having experienced many of these micro-aggressions herself. “Often people will ask if I’m a singer, or if I have a saxophone on my back,” she says. There are no viola parts in Woody’s piece, so she’ll be able to enjoy the performance as an audience member.

The rest of the musical program highlights the rich history of black music. “Reggie and I put together a program that shows a different narrative of blackness, one that is beautiful, one that is provocative, one that is extending over many countries,” says Gordon. This includes Daniel Bernard Roumain’s “I Made Up My Mind Not to Move,” Jessica May’s “Bear” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” among others.

Education is an important component of the Castle of Our Skins mission, and this concert is no exception. Prior to the musical performance, L’Merchie Frazier, director of education and interpretation at the Museum of African American History, will give a lecture contextualizing the program’s Latin name in terms of art, music and the contemporary world. The lecture and concert are free and open to the public but require prior registration.

Gordon says she hopes the audience walks away with “greater appreciation for black culture and for the accomplishments and artistry of black musicians.”

Learn more about Castle of Our Skins at: www.castleskins.org

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