Black is the Color of My Voice @ Gilded Balloon Teviot
A powerfully conceptualised and realised one woman show about a woman who woke up the world with her music
Apphia Campbell’s voice is as magnificent in the way that she speaks as it is in the way that she sings. It welcomes the audience to the narrative immediately and holds us throughout her performance, in which she recounts the life of the remarkable Nina Simone. The play is set during a kind of exorcism in which Simone attempts to reach her recently deceased father. As she locks herself up in her room, she reminisces about her past, from childhood to present, from playing the piano at the age of three to performing what her mother called ‘the devil’s music’ at Carnegie Hall.
Campbell’s script is tight yet colourful, and her acting is emotive – she moves from narrative to song with ease, filling her space with movement and music. It is no easy task to attempt the vocals of someone as famously brilliant as Simone, and she does it well. She also does well to recount Simone’s life as she does. It's a full retelling, but with the details of small stories and moments that colour our imagination, like her religious mother condemning her jazz music, or her husband Andrew Stroud’s abusive attacks on her. These are terrible to witness, even more so due to the lack of his actual presence on stage as perpetrator, leaving us with only her terrified and distraught reaction.
Simone, who was denied as a child entrance to the Curtis Institute because she was black, wanted to be a concert pianist – she became not only that but a world-famous jazz musician, and a huge voice in the civil rights movement. Campbell’s ode to her work gives value to the meaning this movement gave to her music, so that it becomes implicitly personal as well as political. This, as Campbell rightfully demonstrates, is the nature of such injustice.
Black is the Colour of My Voice, Gilded Balloon Teviot (Wine Bar), until 26 Aug, 4pm, £13-14