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Berklee’s Rihanna Ensemble debuts tribute to namesake

Three videos focus on current issues, social movements

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO

In three separate online performances on July 22, 29 and Aug. 5, Berklee College of Music’s Rihanna Ensemble pays tribute to the barrier-breaking artist through music, dance and spoken word. Directed by Grammy-nominated saxophonist and professor Tia Fuller, the three tribute videos showcase how Rihanna has inspired and emboldened the Berklee ensemble.

“It is a tremendous honor to reflect on Rihanna’s barrier-breaking work throughout the years and how it has served as a platform to empower the students of the Rihanna Ensemble and the Berklee community,” said Fuller. “It is also extremely imperative that we continue to create opportunities to align students with their big picture and purpose. With this performance, we have done just that!”

Each video explores a different component of Rihanna’s career: first, women’s empowerment in the July 22 video; then diversity and cultural celebration in the July 29 video; and finally, the themes of unity in Rihanna’s catalogue in the Aug. 5 video. The final performance uses that theme as the launching point to explore how the pandemic and the racial violence of 2020 impacted Berklee students and faculty.

The videos air on their respective dates at 7:30 p.m. and are accessible on the Berklee College of Music YouTube page. The production process was multilayered. Berklee musicians performed arrangements of Rihanna’s music from their own individual spaces to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols, and singers recorded the complementing vocals. The ensemble then executed the music-video style dance performances to accompany the audio, and each piece was compiled into the completed video.

In addition to Fuller’s direction, Berklee students guided the ensemble, with Lyara Antoine as creative director, Sarai Miracle as manager and producer, and Christian Sessoms as musical director. The Rihanna Ensemble includes Lyara, Sarai Miracle, Lea Grace, Nia Ashleigh, ViVi, Bri Joi, Toria, Christian Sessoms, Gavin Rushing, Solomon Smith, Josh Porter, Bobby Hall III, Brandon Volel, Mary Ogbonné Orji, Chris Powe, Yamanutchy and Jasmine Forrest.

The video series showcases a broad range of talent at Berklee through the lens of Rihanna’s catalogue. Vocalists, musicians, choreographers, dancers, producers and editors came together to create the tribute.

“The production of this three-part video has transformed challenges of the pandemic and manifested them into the individual and collective success of the students,” says Fuller. “The entire ensemble has used this time as an opportunity to access their abundance, to access their greatness and to shine bright like a diamond during this time of limitation.”