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Review: Black Is The Color Of My Voice

Review: Black Is The Color Of My Voice

Review: Black Is The Color Of My Voice cover photo on Stagedoor
Josette Bushell-Mingo’s 2016 show 'Nina: A Story About Me and Nina Simone' not only evoked the spirit of the great black singer, but also channelled her political radicalism and her rage.

It was a piece that neatly linked the past to the present day and Black Lives Matter, long before the death of George Floyd. Apphia Campbell, whose performance Woke I enjoyed at Battersea Arts Centre in 2019, offers something quieter in Black is the Color of My Voice, a one woman show inspired by the life and music of Nina Simone that was filmed at Wiltons last month and is now available to stream online.

For reasons—possibly legal; possibly to avoid the need to impersonate—that aren’t entirely clear, Campbell’s character isn’t called Nina Simone but rather Mina Bordeaux. That tends to rob it of immediate political context, but the advantage is that it releases the show from the straight-jacket of pure biography or the need to sound like Simone. Campbell has a great voice, but it is all her own.

Apphia Campbell. Photos by Geraint Lewis.

But Simone always hovers above the show as Campbell retells some of the stories associated with her career and life, from her rejection by a music college which instead accepted less talented white girls to her relationship with her violent husband who “put the fear inside of me.”

Set in a hotel room where Mina is engaged in a reckoning with her late father, the show charts her early talent, her religious upbringing and parents who unquestioningly accepted the racism that they experienced day after day. If God had wanted things different, he’d have made things different, they explain. But Mina wants things different for herself and sees music as a way to transform her life and via her political activism for others too. Even if that means giving up things, including her teenage beau who she loved, for music.

Incorporating tantalising snippets from some of Simone’s greatest hits, including 'I Love You Porgy' from Porgy and Bess, Campbell’s storytelling is a quiet affirmation of one women’s struggle against racism, and a woman who used her voice to sing out the truth about black female experience.

You can watch Black Is The Color Of My Voice online until Sun 18 Jul and again in-person from the 2-4 Aug. Details here.

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Written by

Lyn Gardner

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