Black Is The Color Of My Voice
* * * * and a 1/2!
by Hector Mackenzie
IN workplace terms, Apphia Campbell puts in a shift and a half - and a good dollop of overtime into the bargain - in this one-woman show based on the life and times of American singing legend, Nina Simone.
This is no mere karaoke tribute, though. Campbell cleverly re-imagines a portion of the Simone’s life, using a dreamt up ‘conversation’ between the singer and her late father as a device for telling the tale. A suitcase full of poignant props – old love letters; her father’s favourite shoes; a college rejection note – are used to drive the story forward with segments of songs seamlessly interspersed and sung live on stage.
If this was simply a tribute concert, Campbell would hold her audience in the palm of her hand anyway. She’s blessed with a knockout voice and a stage presence that ensures fresh life is breathed into old classics likeI Put a Spell On You, I Loves You, Porgy and Feeling Good, each of which reminds you of what those hairs on the back of your neck are for.
Campbell’s success is in taking this a stage further, digging into a remarkable backstory which has plenty of present-day resonances. The civil rights movement that inspired songs such as I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free and To Be Young, Gifted And Black is explored with the use of contemporary recorded speech inserts from figures such as Dr Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy.
Knocked back in her bid to study classical piano – despite a prodigious talent first manifest at the age of three – Simone reached a crossroads in her life which put her into conflict with her strictly religious mother. The way Campbell tells the story, she agreed to play “the devil’s music” in a bar in order to get the cash together to study independently. Life, as John Lennon observed, is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. Simone’s was to take plenty of twists and turns along the way.
Campbell digs deep for what is an intense 75-minute show. She runs the gamut of emotions along the way towards a thrilling finale resulting in a hard-earned and richly-deserved standing ovation.