TWO POSTHUMOUS REVIVALS OF MARGARET BONDS AND LANGSTON HUGHES: AFRICAN DANCE (Danse africaine)

By Greg Watkins and Members of the CAAPA Chorale, November 14, 2021; and Anton Nel and Members of Conspirare, February 15, 2022

(updated post)

Just over a month ago I blogged about the upcoming posthumous premiere of an important but still-unpublished Margaret Bonds / Langston Hughes collaboration: the African Dance, which was performed by members of the CAAPA (Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts) Chorale under the direction of Greg Watkins in the context of a concert titled The Souls of Black Folk: Rediscovering Black Classical Music on November 14, 2021. The concert was given by the PostClassical Ensemble and organized by Joseph Horowitz in tandem with the release of his important and provocative new book, Dvořák ’s Prophecy and the Vexed Fate of Black Classical Music .

The performance was a hit — electrifying, actually — and the audience (some 250 people) obviously loved the entire program, including the African Dance. The poem was penned in 1922 during Hughes’s work as a deckhand off the coast of western Africa and published in 1926 as part of his iconic collection The Weary Blues. Check out its strong rhythmic language, its irregular rhymes, and especially its celebration of the powerful and visceral effect of the beating of the tom-toms:

It’s an important piece, up for publication in 2022 by Hildegard Publishing Company as part of their Margaret Bonds Signature Series. I wanted to share it with you, so I asked Maestro Watkins for permission to share with you a rehearsal recording from a couple of days before the performance.

He graciously consented, so here it is: Margaret Bonds’s African Dance (1953), performed by Ayana Ogunsunlade & Jim Williams, with Chester Burke, Jr., piano. I hope you’ll enjoy!

And the African Dance has now been performed anew — this time by soprano Nicole Joseph, tenor David Kurtenbach Rivera, and pianist Anton Nel as part of an all-Bonds concert given by GRAMMY-winning chorus Conspirare under the direction of Craig Hella Johnson. Here’s the livestream video of that one!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQgVMxAoUr0

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John Michael Cooper

A musicologist with a passion for social justice, bringing unheard music to life for performers and listeners, and teaching.