The stunning, young, American-born mezzo-soprano opera singer Andrea Baker was joined for the first time on stage recently by her uncle Newman Taylor Baker, the percussionist and composer.
This family pairing saw Newman's Singin' Drums solo project pitched alongside Baker's renditions of some of the great African-American artists of all time. Together they told the story of US African history, stemming from the culture of Africans who were enslaved in the USA to their descendants.
This world premiere has been a long time in the making. Newman has watched on over the years as Andrea has developed her stage presence and her 2011 Fringe project Sistah Sing alongside pianist Richard Lewis has since been combined with Singin' Drums to form this latest project. As a duo, backed up by Lewis on piano again, they are able to explore the roots of the drum and voice in African-American music and how this influenced classical, jazz, blues and instrumental genres.
This deeply moving show begins tenderly with Newman using his own body as a 'washboard' drum kit. He invokes the powerful imagery of slavery and its early roots: this is where the story begins, but as we go on his drum kit takes over and the pieces become more and more modern.
Andrea told us which singers were her inspiration, adding meaning and depth to the whole experience. This was not just a collection of her favourite songs but an enigmatic storytelling experience. Songs from the greats Leontyne Price, Marian Anderson, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone were among the highlights.
Andrea's voice thundered through the space and made the audience’s hairs stand on end. The rhythm flows through her body as she commands the space in a powerful but inviting manner. Every song, every drum piece is steeped in meaning and history.
The pairing could not be better. Her voice is delicious while his percussion is well measured. Personally, I was blown away by Singin' Drums. In fact, I was in tears as we gave two standing ovations. The most mesmerising moment was when Andrea sang ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’. It was so beautiful that it was as if angels were lifting me out of the pews. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, the performance came to a soulful conclusion with a rendition of ‘He's Got The Whole World In His Hands’.