Mid-Week Intermission Artist Edition: Kamilah Long & Jono Gasparro on The Sound of (Black) Music

It’s finally fall here at the Long Center and that means we get to enjoy a very special presentation of The Sound of (Black) Music out on the lawn! To learn more about the show that has reimagined The Sound of Music, the classic musical that everyone knows, into an Afrofuturistic wonderland that everyone won’t be able to live without, we sat down with Electric Root’s Kamilah Long (Co-Director of the show) and Jono Gasparro (Producer) to hear all about it. So grab your lonely goatherd and prepare to add The Sound of (Black) Music to your list of favorite things.

The Sound of (Black) Music

Long Center: Firstly, a thing we like to do for fun — what song should people put on while they read this interview?

Kamilah Long, Co-Director: Social Call – Samara Joy

Jono Gasparro, Producer: Jump To It – Aretha Franklin

LC: We hear that the very beginning is a very good place to start. What’s the story behind how The Sound of (Black) Music came about? How does the instrumentation and reimagined score tell that story?

JG: It all began via creative “how-do-we-change-the-world-with-black-music” conversations between Michael Mwenso, myself, and Caleb Hammons who was the Artistic Producer of the Fisher Center at Bard College in 2020. Those conversations evolved into a revolutionary two-week artistic residency in the summer of 2021 with our organization, Electric Root, and the Fisher Center called “Black Roots Summer” where we brought 30 artists up the Hudson River (NY) to create three new shows. One of which was the “Sound of (Black) Music.”

We had asked the brilliant Mathis Picard to work on the music arrangements, but we needed the genius of theatremakers Kamilah Long and Shariffa Ali to put it all together, so they fortunately accepted our invitation and joined us at “Black Roots Summer” to direct this concept into a show.

KL: Shariffa and I had to house this new vision into a story that fit. We had to envision and create circumstances for the music to come alive in this imaginary world that doesn’t exist.

Ultimately, it was a new multidisciplinary approach that lends itself to the improvisational aspect of jazz — keeping it loose for the music to live — while at the same time serving the need to have cues so we could tell a story beyond a stagnant concert and address the two sets of characters involved (the musicians/and the players of characters).

LC: What elements of the original Sound of Music musical made it a great candidate for reinvention?

KL: In Electric Root we always talk about building community while centering love. It can feel like almost everyone knows and loves the Sound of Music so it becomes an easy avenue to communicate with people. Similar to when Shakespeare is presented — which is still taught in schools — the Sound of Music is one of those musicals that most have seen or come by throughout their childhood in some way. So it’s very familiar and easy to have a common understanding with the audience of what this music was.

Photo from Black Roots Summer
Photo from Black Roots Summer

LC:  We know that you take this show on the road. In your view, what’s the element that makes this show relatable to so many different types of people across the country?

JG: Continuing from what Kamilah mentioned in the last question, part of our mission at Electric Root is to unite and empower diverse communities across the US with love and radical hospitality, and we are really seeing that The Sound of Music transcends generational, socioeconomic, and racial borders — and is a source of joy for so many hearts. We have been blessed to see so many relive their youthful bliss while witnessing the look in young children’s eyes when they see themselves (for the first time) in this storied music.

KL: I believe it also resonates so deeply because the lyrics and melodies remain unchanged, but filled with newness. I still think of how Shakespeare is presented in this time, it’s rare to see the work with actors in an Elizabethan wardrobe. Shakespeare is often set in a modern setting to make it relatable and bring in new audiences. So The Sound of (Black) Music is a way to bridge what is now while also nodding to the past.

LC: What do you hope individuals take with them from the performance?

KL: I would say a fuller appreciation for Black music, jazz, afrobeats, etc., and the deep contribution that Black Roots music has and continues to have on our collective Joy, our life, love, and our entertainment. I hope everyone leaves with a sense of Joy and Healing in their hearts.

JG: Amen.

LC: Okay, lightning round. What’s everyone’s favorite song from the show?

KL: Oh, that’s going to cause problems! I can’t have a favorite out loud! Well, since there are two in one song — the Lonely Goatherd is special and so much fun — featuring great vocalists Chareene Wade and Brianna Thomas.

JG: Yeah, this one is hard, because the show continues to keep me on the edge of my seat for each song, and there are no favorites! But I will say I love the impact and depth of “Edelweiss” (as long as I have a tissue in my pocket).

LC: Any future projects on the horizon for The Sound of (Black) Music team?

KL: We are searching for a home to spend a good full two weeks (or more!) with The Sound of (Black) Music to take it to the next stage and experiment with getting it to a full musical adaptaion.

JG: Always so much moving at Electric Root! We are continuing to deepen and expand our partnership with performing arts organizations to envision new approaches to uniting, uplifting, and celebrating communities across the nation.

November 11
Hartman Lawn @ Long Center

This event is outdoors — blankets & lawn chairs encouraged.

Join us for the show on November 11 out on the lawn and the new 3d-printed pavilion stage. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets and prepare to be inspired! The Sound of (Black) Music kicks off at 7pm. 

Special thanks to Six Square and the rest of our community partners, Austin Area Urban League, Austin Justice Coalition, Austin NAACP, Black Leaders Collective, Origin Studio House, and Saffron Trust.

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