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Jazz opera brings message of joy and unity to African Heritage Month

Unique genre steps into the spotlight, as local production takes the stage at Pier 21.

2 min read
caption Jeri Brown (far right) runs through a monologue as Natasha Thomas (centre left) and Linda Carvery (centre right) sing 'Amazing Grace' during rehearsal on Friday.
Benjamin Wilson

A local production is blending the old-school structure of opera with new-school elements of jazz to create a unique production for African Heritage Month.

Winter Solstice: Souls of Sirens is produced by the Jeri Brown Opera Company, in partnership with the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

Jazz opera combines the narrative structure of opera with the musical elements of jazz. The show features a fusion of dance, song, spirituals and spoken-word dialogue.

“The show is meant to introduce people who don’t know a lot about African heritage and culture to the tradition of worshipping through music,” said Jeri Brown, the company’s owner.

She said the story focuses on three siren sisters reflecting on past mistakes through song.

Brown is also a Juno award nominated jazz singer, songwriter and professor.

“Jazz opera uses harmonies from jazz and uses the structure and themes typically found in opera. We use jazz harmonies and rhythms mixed in with spoken-word and jazz. It’s refreshed, and meant to appeal to newer generations.”

Natasha Thomas, who is playing one of the three siren sisters, said the show’s spirituals are key in demonstrating resilience.

“Going back in history, African-Nova Scotians went to song to get through whatever they were facing. They use singing as a way to push themselves forward,” said Thomas who is from North Preston.

“So, for us, the spirituals included in the show are a way to connect to that past.”

Another of the siren sisters, Linda Carvery, said her African Nova-Scotian roots go back generations.

“The spirituals add a portion of hope. That there’s always hope for everyone. They’re not necessarily religious, but demonstrate the faith of a people,” said Carvery

Brown said she wants the audience to leave with a sense of peace, joy and empowerment.

“I want them to say that ‘I have it within me to change my ways.’ They can fix their mistakes and have a brighter position in life,” said Brown.

Winter Solstice: Souls of Sirens runs from Feb. 8 to 10 at Pier 21, and is included in the price of  general admission to the museum.

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