Bridgetower - A Fable of 1807 is a jazz opera composed by jazz pianist Julian Joseph, with libretto by author Mike Phillips. It was commissioned for the City of London Festival's bicentennial commemoration of the Abolition Act. The opera recreates the story of the Afro-European violinist George Polgreen Bridgetower (1778-1860), who was born into slavery, became a friend of Beethoven and was acclaimed throughout Europe for the standard of his playing. The opera was directed by Helen Eastman and toured by English Touring Opera. It opened during the 2007 City of London Festival at London Symphony Orchestra St Luke's, and later toured venues around the UK. Each performance featured a local community choir, with members drawn from local amateur choirs.
2007 saw a number of different projects taking place at Harewood House in West Yorkshire, home of the Lascelles family. The bicentenary was used as an opportunity to explore the family connections with the transatlantic slave trade and the sugar plantations of the West Indies.
To spotlight Harewood House's historic links with the Caribbean and carnival, in September 2007 a production of Carnival Messiah was held in a Big Top in the grounds. Carnival Messiah is a reinvention of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Messiah as carnival theatre and heritage experience. The West Indian celebration features dancers, singers, masqueraders, musicians and actors. Stories from the Caribbean folk tradition, medieval mystery plays and African ritual combine with contemporary popular music and dance styles, including gospel, calypso, reggae, jazz, hop hop, bhangra and steel band. Geraldine Connor was Creator and Artistic Director and David Lascelles of Harewood House was Executive Producer. A community education and outreach programme ran alongside the project.
A programme of events and activities for Black History Month 2007 from Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre had a particular focus on the bicentenary. The programme included theatre, youth projects and family days. Calypso Fuh So performed special Calypsos to mark the bicentenary, and YAA/Carnival Village organised a commemorative walk to remember ancestors who died in slavery, and the Black presence in Britain. Ritual Theatre Arts created a film celebrating thirty years of African dance in Britain and International Word Power featured performances of poetry, storytelling and song.
London Shakespeare Workout presented a new 21-song musical, celebrating the life of the African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar's parents were freed slaves and he used some of their tales of plantation life in his work. Set backstage in a British theatre in 1897, the play explored themes such as love and loneliness, racial interactions, and the abolition of the slave trade. With an original score by Tim Williams, the play opened in Westcliffe, and toured 26 venues around the UK. Each performance was followed by a ‘talk-back’, allowing audience members to share their views on the issues raised by the production. Special interactive workshops were also created for schools and community groups to bring the concepts of slavery and abolition to life through history and literature.
A collaborative project to explore the links between Southampton and the slave trade led by Southampton City Council, the University of Southampton and The Confederation of African Caribbean Communities. One highlight of the programme was a concert at the Turner Sims Concert Hall at the University of Southampton to celebrate the impact of black music and black musicians. The concert, part of Black History Month 2007, featured the works of black composers such as Joseph Bologna and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, performed by the Southampton Youth Orchestra, Southampton Youth Choir and the Southampton Youth Jazz Orchestra.
Leicester's Black History Season in October-November 2007 marked the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. Its aim was to redress the balance from a 'Eurocentric point of view' of abolition, and focus on the Afrikan perspective with the theme of 'Souls of Black Folk'. Musical performances included gospel, Motown, reggae and jazz. Other events in venues across Leicester and Loughborough included traditional South African dance, contemporary dance, performance poetry, comedy, multimedia performances, storytelling, theatre and an exhibition, 'Africa's Gift', focusing on the economic and cultural contributions of the slaves and their descendants.
Wilberforce 2007 was a year-long programme of events from Hull City Council, commemorating the bicentenary and celebrating the city's diverse communities. The programme, named after 'son of Hull' William Wilberforce MP, was based around the themes of Pride, Freedom, Belief and Change. In partnership with Anti-Slavery International, Hull promoted the Fight for Freedom Petition against modern day slavery. The Wilberforce Lecture Trust held five specially commissioned lectures. The Wilberforce Weekender in July 2007 was a weekend of public events, including the Wilberforce Clipper Challenge Cup, Sankofa Sunsplash (celebrating African and Caribbean culture, food and music), Zapcat Racing, and the annual Jazz Festival. Throughout the year there were concerts and specially commissioned pieces from the Hull Choral Union, Hull Philharmonic, Hull Sinfonietta and the East Yorkshire Motor Services Brass Band. Other initiatives raised awareness of Fair Trade, and there was a variety of educational programmes and events. Funding was also made available for smaller community projects.
Hebden Bridge Arts Festival commemorated the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 2007 in performances and exhibitions, and extending out from that, to a celebration of the idea of freedom. Events linked to the consideration of freedom had a broken chain as an identifying symbol in the festival brochure. Highlights included the world premiere of 'Can't Chain Up Me Mind' by the Grand Union Orchestra, a celebration of jazz and emancipation.
Sugar & Spice was Gateshead's festival celebrating African and Caribbean culture. Held in October 2007, highlights of the programme included 'Mama Africa', South African singer Miriam Makeba; the opera 'Mary Seacole'; a massed performance of 'On Liberation Street' featuring local performers and singers alongside the Grand Union Orchestra; and 'Roll Jordan Roll' featuring jazz trumpeter Abram Wilson performing with the London Community Gospel Choir. The festival weekend also featured street theatre; jazz,blues and gospel music; a light show; and children's arts activities.
COSTA stood for 'Commemoration of Slave Trade Abolition' and was a project of Sul'Art, a community art organisation in Bristol. Sul'Art delivered a programme of music, drama, art and dance to a number of schools and community groups to explore meanings of the bicentenary, working around themes such as migration, identity, celebration of difference, critiques of consumerism and intergenerational dialogue. Sul'Art also presented a number of performances of the professional jazz show ‘King Cotton’, dramatising the story of the cotton industry in music, song and film.
'Freedom and Culture' was a year-long nationwide programme to mark the bicentenary, conceived by Baroness Lola Young of Cultural Brokers (London) and Dr Nima Poowaya-Smith of Alchemy (based in Leeds). In partnership with artists, activists and cultural commentators, the programme explored the dimensions of oppression and freedom around the bicentenary, culminating in a weekend 'celebrating creativity and the African Diaspora' at the Southbank Centre in November 2007. One of several exhibitions that took place as part of the initiative was ‘Crossing the Waters’ at Cartwright Hall in Bradford, which took its central metaphor from the transatlantic slave trade. Almost all the works shown – from Sonia Boyce, Yinka Shonibare and others – were drawn from the permanent collections of Bradford Museums, Galleries and Heritage. The exhibition later toured to the City Gallery, Leicester in 2008.