Opera North selects minority ethnic music artists for ‘Resonance’

Opera North has announced four lead artists selected to develop new work in this year’s Resonance programme for minority ethnic music-makers, supported by PRS Foundation’s Talent Development Partnership: musician Azizi Cole, vocalist and composer Supriya Nagarajan, composer José Guillermo Puello and writer and performance artist Keisha Thompson.

Now entering its fifth year, Resonance is designed to support artists from backgrounds which are traditionally under-represented in opera, in exploring new ideas and collaborating with others. Applications are sought from music-makers based in the north of England and working in any genre, and true to the scheme’s eclectic form, this year’s projects take in theatre, gospel, traditional South Asian music and poetry and contemporary dance.

Last summer, Opera North adapted the programme as part of its drive to address the impact of the pandemic on music makers. ‘Resonance: The Lockdown Edition’ saw six innovative collaborations realised remotely, but the Company plans to a return to collaborations in person for 2021, subject to COVID-19 restrictions.

Azizi Cole

Raised in Handsworth, Birmingham and now based in Leeds, Azizi Cole is an accompanist at Northern School of Contemporary Dance. During his Resonance residency he will develop his multidisciplinary piece, Body Clock, which employs the body as an instrument to compose and perform music as well as to dance, using rhythmic techniques and technology in the form of microphones placed around and underneath the performance space. He will collaborate with NSCD alumni Akeim Toussaint Buck and Chris Radford, with costumes by Jamaican-born, Chapeltown-based seamstress Audrey Mae.

“During these challenging and turbulent times for the arts, it’s vital for us to maintain our sense of creativity”, says Azizi. “I’m grateful for this opportunity to collaborate and share knowledge and skills with some truly talented artists. As a creative working at the intersection of music and dance, my research explores musicality through movement. Collaborations with ACE Youth and NSCD alumni have informed and helped to develop my artist practice and approach to composition.”

Supriya Nagarajan

Vocalist, composer and Artistic Director of the Dewsbury-based South Asian arts organisation Manasamitra, Supriya Nagarajan will work with the distinctive and rich tradition of Tamil poetry and music, a heritage that she shares with Sri Lankan-born poet and translator Shash Trevett. “With COVID disrupting our routine as artists and changing the way we work, Shash and I have had many discussions about going back to our cultural roots and exploring our identities through art”, says Supriya.

“We will use the Resonance residency to create four new musical works based on the ancient South Indian Tamil poetic metre, the Yappu.”

José Guillermo Puello

José Guillermo Puello, a composer from the Dominican Republic now based in Manchester, will explore the process of constructing an identity through music, soundscapes and performance. He will work with poet and playwright Zodwa Nyoni, winner of Channel 4 Playwrights’ Scheme and former Artist in Residence at Leeds Playhouse, and Isobel Algar, who performs as a clown under the name Miserabel.

“With so much talent and so many great ideas, competition for any artistic opportunity is fierce”,

says José.

“I was surprised, and obviously delighted, to find out that I had been selected for Resonance 2021. Identity has always been a part of my compositional practice and the idea for Persona has been simmering for a couple of years. It’s great to have the time and space to explore different ideas and reflect how the concept of identity has evolved since we first conceived this project.”

Keisha Thompson

Manchester-based writer, performance artist and producer Keisha Thompson will work with singer Yvonne Shelton and musician, sound designer and poet Xana to develop the musical component of her new play, which has been commissioned by Eclipse Theatre, York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre. “The Bell Curves looks at the ethics of DNA hacking technology”, Keisha explains. “It juggles big themes like religion, politics, scientific experimentation and how that interacts with the Afro-Caribbean, LGBTQ+ and disabled communities. I want to use sound and song to communicate the emotional elements of the story. I want to know what happens when you put gospel song, scientific language and field recordings into a petri-dish. How will it grow?”

The four lead artists will receive a week of free rehearsal space in central Leeds, a grant of up to £3,500 to cover fees for those involved and other costs, and support and advice from technicians, producers and other specialists. There are also options for a short film to document each project, and a work in progress performance or live stream.

Dominic Gray, Director of Projects, Opera North, comments:

“We’re so excited to be announcing the next Resonance series. Every year the programme reveals unexpected collaborations, leading to amazing musical and artistic works; all of them new, and all made here in Leeds during the residencies.”

“It’s always important to support artists and their creativity, but right now it feels more vital than ever. We can’t wait to see and hear the ideas and sounds that have been brewing while musicians have been unable to create and perform, and we look forward to sharing the results with other artists and audiences who share our passion.”

The Resonance scheme has been enabled by Opera North’s membership of the PRS Foundation’s network of Talent Development Partners. The UK’s leading funder of new music and talent development, PRS Foundation supports organisations working at the frontline of talent development with a broad range of individual music creators. This reflects PRS Foundation’s commitment to supporting composers and songwriters of all backgrounds and genres, through direct investment or by helping organisations which nurture artists and promote their music.

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