There’s a concept in black music of “singing the pain” and this show from performer Katt Tait is a perfect example of this idea. Without narrative or commentary and using only song, she covers black American experience from the plantations through the civil rights movement to the present day.
Performed a capella, the only accompaniment is a series of slides underscoring the songs with images of the cotton fields and chains of slavery, marches and demonstrations on the streets of Ferguson.
This is a brave and bold idea, but it doesn’t quite come off. Partly the problem is technical, the slides are too small and there are too many of them to effectively do what they should do, which is contextualise the songs. The second issue is the choice of songs. Tait, possibly for copyright reasons, leans heavily on spirituals. These are songs of salvation and release looking to an outside figure to end their bondage. This leaves the show very heavily slanted towards the idea of victimhood and ignores conscience-raising tunes of the sixties and seventies or the power challenging hip hop of more modern times.
Katt Tait is a powerful presence and totally committed to what she’s doing and a few tweaks might make this a more impressive show than it currently is, but for now this account of black lives lacks a little magic.