“I want to be nothing in the world be except what I am. A musician.”
This passing sentiment, felt by Afro-English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor whilst on his deathbed in 1912 and remembered by Song, a Black composer working in present-day London almost a century later, is the quintessential throughline of the new audio drama ‘Recognition’ by 45North and Ellie Keel Productions under the Written On The Waves series that features 8 audio dramas created in partnership with Atticist, HOTTER Project, and The North Wall.
Co-created by Amanda Wilkin and Rachael Nanyonjo with writing by the former and original Music from Cassie Kinoshi, this hour-long audio experience introduces us to the artistic journeys of two Black musicians – Samuel (voiced by Obioma Ugoala) and Song (voiced by Shiloh Coke) – and the tempestuous relationship their art shares with their identity and positionality in the communities they live in. Their day to day lives, along with questions and deliberations that occupy their thoughts, are juxtaposed beautifully, reinforcing the presence of similar issues of race, accessibility and inclusion even if the circumstances are separated hundred years apart.
Both performers delivery a strong, consistent and focused vocal performance. Obioma shines in communicating the underscored insecurity of creating work for audiences that may only see his work as just that of an artist of colour and not afford it the same critical lens as applied to other composers of the time. Shiloh manages to capture the subtle anxieties faced by a modern-day student in music school, who flits between being confident about where they are and being unsure whether they even deserve to be there in the first place. What works for the piece is how these similar emotions are captured, translated and shared between the two characters which is the biggest strength of the text.
The text manages to traverse many different settings, events, moments and incidents with ease, painting a vivid picture of the lives of its two titular characters that keeps the listener hooked in despite the shows hour-long running time. The linear storylines of the two lives is interspersed with quick, sharp jumps in the narrative that are successful in highlighting the similarities (and by extension, the continued existence) of problems faced by artists of colour in predominantly white creative arts industries. The sound design by Tom Foskett- Barnes, featuring original music by Olly Shelton (piano), Fra Rustumji (violin) and Zara Hudson-Kozdog (cello) which is mixed by Olly Shelton, adds many rich layers to the text – allowing it to breathe on its own whilst managing to communicate the rhythm of our characters’ thoughts. Whilst I’d have enjoyed more silences (as a way to recollect my thoughts after some particularly hard-hitting lines), it doesn’t get in the way of the listening experience.
To summarize, Recognition is a gripping experience that explores the intersection of art, identity and race that remain just as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago.
You can listen to Recognition for free along with other audio dramas under the Written On The Waves series here: https://www.forty-fivenorth.com/recognition
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 1st March 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★