In Autumn 2007, the opera 'The Woman Who Refused To Dance' by composer and conductor Shirley J Thompson was performed at Westminster Palace, Houses of Parliament. The piece was based on a 1792 print by Isaac Cruickshank - entitled 'The abolition of the slave trade, or the inhumanity of dealers in human flesh exemplified in the cruel treatment of a young negro girl of 15 for her virgin modesty' - depicting a woman who refused to dance on board a slave ship, and who was hung from one leg as punishment. The opera has recently been re-premiered to mark the 210th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.
The dance-theatre production Heartbeat Riddim Chant was based on the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. The production premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds in July 2007, and mixed dance, live music and voice, including traditional Caribbean folk dancing blended with contemporary reggae. The show was choreographed by David Hamilton, and featured dancers from Regeyshun Dance and members of the community dance group Back Bone. There were also performances from youth dance groups and young voices from across Leeds, including LS7 Result, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Gee4orce and Leeds Young Authors.
The Sounds of Slavery was a project by the performance and visual arts group River Niger Arts to research, record and develop a performance-related programme around the musical heritage and legacy of slavery. The project took particular interest in these themes in relation to the City of Liverpool, but also addressed them in global terms. The project created a database of songs and narratives from the period of slavery. Members of the River Niger Orchestra also performed at a Sounds of Slavery performance at Liverpool Hope University. Some of the songs performed included 'The Chase', 'No More Auction Block' and the African American spiritual 'The Jubilee Song'. The project was accompanied by a series of performance and visual arts education workshops with schools.
Easton Lodge is a historic estate in Essex, with gardens open to the public. The Gardens of Easton Lodge Preservation Trust led two projects to mark the bicentenary. Liberation Song involved three local schools working with Grand Union Orchestra to explore the roots of musical instruments and styles, culminating in a community concert. A visual arts project involving seven local schools examined the history of Easton Lodge and trading links during the 18th century. Children decorated and displayed cotton reusable carrier bags and displayed them on yew hedges in the gardens. Connections were made with the story of the 18th century Ghanaian anti-slavery campaigner Ottobah Cugoano and the modern day Fair trade movement.
A bicentenary service in commemoration of William Wilberforce and the passing of the 200th anniversary of the Abolition Act took place in February 2007 at York Minster. The service featured Pocklington School Choir, Transglobal Drummers and the Riding Lights Theatre Company (performing extracts of the play African Snow). Organisations associated with the service included Churches Together in England and the Set All Free project, and the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull
An evening of presentations and music organised by Fife Workers' Educational Association, examining Fife and Scotland's role in the slave trade and abolition, and efforts to end contemporary slavery.
Remembering Slavery: A Musical Journey was a performance at Luton's summer festival in July 2007. Young people told the story of slavery through music from Africa to the Caribbean to South America.
The National Maritime Museum marked the bicentenary with a range of initiatives and events including a new exhibition, a film season, poetry, music, debates, and new publications. A new permanent gallery opened at the museum in winter 2007 exploring Britain's Atlantic empire. A catalogue of slavery-related images, artefacts and documents from the collections of the museum, 'Representing Slavery', was published. The museum also devised a transatlantic slavery trail around Greenwich.
The National Maritime Museum hosted a number of events throughout 2007. The theme of the weekend 23-25 March was 'And still I rise', marked with a series of activities, performances and discussion. On August 23, International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, the ‘Freedom Festival: Contemporary Commemoration’ event saw a programme of creative events and performances exploring themes around the heritage of enslavement. The museum also offered a range of learning experiences based on its collections. For example, in November, a study session, 'Roots of Resistance: Abolition 1807' examined the roots of resistance and the abolition movement through talks by curators and contemporary artists. Activities for families were based on themes of freedom and carnival. 'The Big Conversation 2007' was a programme of debate and showcasing of diverse projects undertaken by students around the country, organised by the Understanding Slavery Initiative and the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
Mass Carib is a choral performance piece written by Felix Cross. In 2007 it was performed outdoors at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich by Nitro Theatre Company, as a finale to the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. To accompany the performance, the festival collaborated with the National Maritime Museum and Nitro on a programme of workshops in schools in Greenwich exploring the themes of the production. Mass Carib was written as a Requiem to mourn the victims in Haiti using the liturgical form of the Catholic Mass. It draws on music from West Africa, eighteenth-century Europe and various Caribbean islands. Mass Carib is sung in English, French, Patois, Latin and Yoruba.
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.
In this website and Key Stage 3 Resource Pack, the City of London Festival examined the work of the Afro-European violinist George Bridgetower (1778-1860) and, in particular, his relationship with the composer Ludwig van Beethoven. The resource also explored the role of other artists, writers and musicians who were active at the same time as Bridgetower, with a special focus on their relationships to the anti-slavery movement. The website provided music, video clips and worksheets, alongside an interview with Julian Joseph, composer of the jazz opera Bridgetower - A Fable of 1807, toured by English Touring Opera. The resource was part of a broader education project developed by City of London Festival, which included the exhibition, 1807: The Life and Times of George Polgreen Bridgetower, held in the walkways of London's Tower Bridge. The education project also included storytelling, music and creative writing workshops in secondary schools.
A collaborative project between Arts Centre Washington's Youth Theatre and Washington Music Collective, providing development of live music activities for young people within Washington and the surrounding areas. The project involved improvisation, creative writing, music and drama workshops for young people during school holidays, and culminated in a thirty minute play around the themes of slavery. A DVD was produced featuring musical shorts and video diaries of the young actors' experiences. One theme covered was the limbo dance, originating in Trinidad and Tobago, and with symbolic links to enslaved people entering the galleys of a slave ship.
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.
The Greater London Authority produced an Events Guide for Londoners in 2007 detailing some of the initiatives taking place in the capital involving the Mayor. This included Africa Day on Trafalgar Square, celebrating the positive contributions of London's African communities, and 'Rise: London United', an anti-racist music festival. The conference 'Faith Symposium: In God's Name?' at City Hall examined the role of the Church in the transatlantic slave trade. There was also a seminar on the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade from a Caribbean perspective and a Caribbean Publishers Book Fair held at London Metropolitan University. The Dr Eric E. Williams Memorial Lecture Series at City Hall was made available as a webcast.
Redbridge Museum's exhibition to mark the bicentenary examined the London Borough of Redbridge's connections to the slave trade and abolition. These links included local resident Josiah Child, once Governor of the East India Company, an investor in the Royal African Company and owner of plantations in Jamaica. The Mellish family of Woodford had connections with the West India Docks in London, built for the sugar trade. Alexander Stewart of Woodford owned Jamaican plantations and acted on behalf of owners of enslaved Africans in compensation claims after abolition. The exhibition also examined church records detailing some of the Black residents of Redbridge in the 17th and 18th centuries. Music from the Caribbean island of Dominica was included, as was a series of personal responses to the bicentenary by local residents.
Abolition Truths was a panel-led talk and Q&A session at Harrow Civic Centre in October 2007, led by a creative arts community group Beyond the Will Smith Challenge (BTWSC). The event had a particular emphasis on the role of African freedom fighters and abolitionists, the Haitian Revolution, and the revolts, campaigns and boycotts leading to the passing of the 1807 Act. The event was interspersed with music and poetry, including a musical piece 'Then to Now' performed by Africanus Britanicus, and featuring HKB Finn & Co, which told the story of slavery and its legacy across the African diaspora. Teenage poet Stefan Testsola performed a poem on the theme of abolition. There was also a presentation of the Professor Allotey Science Prize, awarded to Harrow students of African descent.
Other BTWSC events in November 2007 included a discussion session with Ms Serwah, 'Putting the Abolition & Slavery Into Perspective' at Willesden Green Library, presented in association with Brent Black History Brent Library. 'From The Talking Drums to Rap & Grime' at Tavistock Hall in Harlesden commemorated the Abolition Act through narration and a musical concert.
In 2007 the Museum of London Docklands opened a new gallery - London, Sugar and Slavery – which remains a permanent exhibition. The museum, housed in an old sugar warehouse on London’s West India Dock, retold the narrative of the transatlantic slave trade from the perspective of London, once the fourth largest slaving port in the world. Through personal accounts, film, music, interactive exhibits and over 140 objects, the exhibition looked at London trade offices and warehouses, through the outward voyage and life in Africa, to the Middle Passage and life on the plantations. The final section of the gallery focused on the legacies of the slave trade, including multiculturalism and racism.
The museum also created a walking trail for the local area, highlighting key architectural features and buildings that had a role in the transatlantic slave trade. The Slave Map of London was developed in collaboration with three London museums: the Cuming Museum in Southwark, Bruce Castle Museum in Haringey and Fulham Palace Museum. Users navigated an online map to discover over 100 different locations throughout London involved in the transatlantic slave trade and the fight to end it. A schools programme that accompanied the exhibition included drama performances and workshops. Courses that ran alongside the exhibition included ‘Resistance and Achievement: the story of African and Caribbean people in Britain’, in partnership with Middlesex University.
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.
The industrialist Sir Henry Tate was the early benefactor of the Tate Collection, rooted in the art of the 18th and 19th centuries. Tate's fortune - much of which was spent on philanthropic initiatives in Britain - was founded on the importation and refining of sugar, a commodity inextricably linked to slave labour in the Caribbean. There were a number of initiatives across the Tate galleries to explore these connections. 'Tracks of Slavery' at Tate Britain displayed a selection of images from the Tate's collections which provided a commentary on the relationship of British society with slavery. Displays at Tate Modern included a selection of new acquisitions linked by their treatment of issues arising from slavery and oppression. Tate Liverpool exhibited paintings by Ellen Gallagher. Special events included Freedom Songs at Tate Britain (workshops to create poetry and music by exploring themes of slavery and freedom) and a discussion at Tate St Ives looking at the links between Cornish maritime traditions, the slave trade and the Caribbean.
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.