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Atlanta Music Project: Music of the African Diaspora
Aisha Moody, Cofounder and Chief Program Officer, Atlanta Music Project, GA
In February of this year, the Atlanta Music Project presented a monthlong concert series celebrating music of the African Diaspora. The Music of the African Diaspora Concert Series garnered much attention and welcomed larger audiences than most AMP events. Its success led us to make the series an annual event, not only due to our supporters’ positive response but also because of its impact on our young musicians during and leading up to the concerts.
In launching Music of the African Diaspora, we were simply doing what made sense for us; AMP’s mission to empower underserved youth to realize their possibilities through music is why the organization intentionally provides programming in Atlanta neighborhoods that are primarily African-American. This, coupled with the fact that AMP is led by two persons of African descent, helps shape AMP into an organization that naturally understands, respects, and affirms Black culture at its core. Representation matters—and this series allowed our young musicians to see the beauty and diversity of their own culture represented in a way that inspired them. The connection they formed with the composers and their music was the biggest benefit of introducing this series.
The series consisted of seven performances: The AMP Youth Choirs Music of the African Diaspora Concert, the AMP Youth Orchestras Music of the African Diaspora Concert, and an afternoon of five recitals presented by students of the AMP Academy (AMP’s private lessons program). As is the case in any worthwhile musical journey, the true impact of this concert series on our young musicians can be measured by the lessons learned well before they ever reached the stage.
What made this series so impactful was not just our musical approach but also our intention behind it. An ensemble’s repertoire forms its identity. With that in mind, we gave extreme care and attention to affirming AMP’s “identity” through this concert series. It is important to consider this in context: every February, Black History month concerts are held across the nation. They are revered for their historical significance and artistic excellence but are sometimes limited with respect to repertoire. Pieces are often selected from a relatively small pool of composers, especially in choral concerts, where songs tend to reflect the music of the Slavery or Segregation Eras—basically, the harrowing tales of the Black experience in this country. Of course, these works are stunningly beautiful, timeless, and rightfully considered staples in the arts world. But for this concert series, AMP’s intent was to take a broader view, celebrating both the beauty and the diversity of experiences and cultures of all people of African descent—those in Africa and throughout the diaspora. After all, Black people are not monolithic, so neither should be concerts in their honor.
Each work performed as part of AMP’s Music of the African Diaspora concert series was either composed by a person of African descent or considered to be a piece highlighting the lived experience of persons of African descent. We aimed to make it fun and enlightening. We challenged ourselves to think outside of the box and perform new music—or to at least find music that was new to us or perform familiar music in a new way.
For example, the AMP Academy Winds recital included a bassoonist performing “Shosholoza,” the unofficial anthem of South Africa. This unique arrangement stretched not only the performer but the audience as well. The AMP Youth Choirs concert (Part II here) was themed “American Hero” as a nod to African Americans who made major contributions to our nation but are still identified as a “Black leader” or “Black hero,” rather than simply an American hero. Four different AMP choirs performed for that concert, and each ensemble set included at least one direct tribute to a specific individual. The music ranged from traditional spirituals like Moses Hogan’s “Battle of Jericho” to “Alegre” by Cuban composer Tania León to music of Joseph Boulogne, also known as The Black Mozart. While sight-reading through the Boulogne composition, one student remarked that she liked the piece but didn’t understand what it had to do with Black History Month. Once we explained the composer was Black, that student’s eyes grew wide and a smile spread across her face as she went back to rehearse, this time with more purpose and determination.
All in all, the series did what it was envisioned to do: celebrate the beauty and diversity of Africans and the descendants of enslaved Africans around the world, bringing together tradition and history with its modern-day influence and cultural relevance. Next year, we’ll come back with more fun themes and rarely performed works, and our students, staff, and community will continue evolving together.