Composed, written and performed by Joe Sealy
Featuring Jackie Richardson as vocalist and narrator
Based on the Juno award-winning CD, Africville Suite
At the Rose Theatre (Brampton) on February 2 and FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre (St Catharines) on February 9th.
When Joe Sealy was inducted into the Order of Canada several years ago, it was in recognition of his life long career as a jazz pianist, composer and performer. He is truly one of this country’s outstanding musical composers in a wide variety of forms including jazz, blues, pop fusion and all forms of popular composition. His discography is also distinguished by his Juno winning Africville Suite, released in 1996.
Several years ago, Sealy began performing a concertized version of Africville Suite with the equally distinguished queen of Canadian jazz, soul and gospel, Jackie Richardson. Sealy fashioned a libretto based on his liner notes written for the CD and combined some of the narrative and poetry that is included on the recording. He also wrote lyrics to several songs that were performed instrumentally on the original CD as well as adding in one new song. This rich combination of original composing, poetry and story narrative is now being performed in an 80 minute concert version under the rubric, “Africville Stories.”
The result is a lively and uplifting true story of the history of Africville, Canada’s oldest Black community whose descendants come from a proud line of Nova Scotians who were born and raised in the village bordering the city of Halifax until the city council brutally razed the community in 1961 because they considered it to be a slum. This included the destruction of the Seaview African United Baptist Church which was torn down by bulldozers at three o’clock in the morning because the city didn’t want to be caught out in their shoddy work in the light of day.
Today the SAUBC has been restored and rebuilt on its original site which is now a museum and public park area outside of Halifax.
Joe Sealy’s father was born in Africville and for years the community served as the cultural centre and artistic hub of Black life in Halifax. Duke Ellington, Joe Louis, Willie Dixon and many notable local folks passed through Africville over the years. Now these stories are brought to the stage in moving fashion by a talented quintet of musicians led by Sealy and Richardson.
The concert I saw at the beautiful Rose Theatre in Brampton included (in addition to Sealy and Richardson) Paul Novotny on string bass, Daniel Barnes on drums and John Johnson tripling on tenor, alto and soprano sax. In St. Catharines this weekend the band will welcome back Alison Young on sax while Mark Kelso will hold forth on percussion.
Don’t miss this concert if you are in the St. Catharines area this weekend, it is truly inspiring. It is also a pity that in a city like Toronto, with empty performing venues all over the place (are you listening TO Live?) that someone has not programmed this great concert version of an iconic and seminal Canadian recording.