AS YOU ARE: ABEL SELAOCOE’S SOUNDWALK FOR OPERA NORTH OPENS FOR LEEDS 2023 YEAR OF CULTURE
25th March 2023
As You Are, a soundwalk for Leeds written for Opera North by South African-born composer and cellist Abel Selaocoe will open on Thursday 30 March as part of LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture.
Written and recorded as the country emerged from lockdown, As You Are invites audiences to experience Leeds in new and transformative ways, with an emphasis on healing, ritual and community. Its first scheduled run was foiled by further Covid restrictions, but it can finally be experienced as part of ‘Awakening’, the programme theme for Part One of LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture.
Audiences will collect their audio sets from the Victoria Gate shopping centre, then begin their 30-minute journey passing through the opulent County Arcade. A series of transmitters will trigger each chapter of the composition, which takes its inspiration from the architecture seen along the route, and from Abel’s African heritage. The Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North are joined at various points by Zimbabwean mbira player Anna Mudeka, Moroccan guimbri player Simo Lagnawi, djembe virtuoso Sidiki Dembélé from the Ivory Coast, and Abel himself on cello and vocals.
Leeds Bridge – another of the city’s Victorian treasures, and the subject of Louis Le Prince’s pioneering 1888 film – marks the final stage of the walk.
The return leg includes a circuit of the Corn Exchange, where Cuthbert Brodrick’s spectacular oval dome and the cavernous, resonant space beneath inspired Abel to write a passage based on South African church music:
“South African ‘Postola’ music is really pre-colonial music, which influenced the missionaries when they arrived”, he explains. “It’s the music of prayer, and with prayer comes repetition. I used this aspect of our music to write circular parts for the Orchestra and percussion. As classical musicians, we’re used to the change: the progression; the harmony, but in African music we connect the ends, and you never know where the beginning is.”
Abel’s mastery of both western classical music and traditions from across Africa has seen him feted in both spheres, with Womad appearances, a Songlines magazine cover, repeat collaborations with Manchester Collective and his own BBC Prom. Earlier this month he received the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist Award, and was hailed in its citation as ‘ a musical prophet’ who ‘lays bare all the joys and wonders that come from making music’. His debut album, Where Is Home (Hae Ke Kae) was released on Warner Classics last year, and like As You Are is a miraculous coming together of classical music and African sounds.
“As You Are is about walking and exploring what is around us while we listen”, says Abel. “What I find really interesting is that you can find so many cultures in this space: it’s about celebrating that, asking people to come as they are, but also to look beyond themselves, to be curious and to find comfort and healing in other people and their cultures and philosophies.
“It was exciting for me to be writing during a time of great personal and collective change, and to have this opportunity to work with the Opera North ensembles, who came to the project with open minds and a willingness to experiment. Together we’ve been discovering how African-influenced music and rhythms can be played on classical instruments, and we’ve created some incredible music for people to listen to.”
A further Opera North collaboration with roots in South Africa opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on Friday 26 May as part of the second phase of LEEDS 2023. Mozart’s Requiem will be reimagined as a powerful act of remembrance for those lost to the pandemic, and complemented in a double-bill with a new piece by Cape Town-based composer Neo Muyanga. Both works will be choreographed by Dane Hurst for Leeds’ Phoenix Dance Theatre and South Africa’s oldest contemporary dance theatre company, Jazzart Dance Theatre.
As You Are runs from Thursday 30 March – Saturday 29 April, with walks at 10am, 11.30am, 1pm and 2.30pm. In line with Opera North’s commitment to make its work as accessible as possible, tickets are ‘Pay as you feel’, and can be booked at operanorth.co.uk.
As You Are is supported by Victoria Leeds.