Following sold out performances in Shanghai and New York, Apphia Campbell brings her Nina Simone inspired show to the Gilded Balloon. Pete Shaw grabbed a moment with Campbell to find out more.
Simone used her incredible talent to voice the injustices of her (and our) era, despite the potential repercussions of doing so during such a tumultuous time in America. She had such pride in her heritage and courage from her talent that it really empowered me as an artist.
Tell us about the Edinburgh show.
“Black Is The Color Of My Voice is inspired by the great Nina Simone and follows the fictional character Mena Bordeaux, a successful jazz singer seeking redemption after the untimely death of her father. During a three-day period of isolation without cigarettes, alcohol, or access to the outside world, Mena reflects on the journey that took her from a young piano prodigy destined for a life in the service of the church to a renowned jazz vocalist at the forefront of the civil rights movement.”
What is it about Nina Simone that lead you to create this piece?
“I chose to write a story inspired by such a great woman for two reasons, the first of which would have to be, of course, her voice. When I listen to Simone, her voice evokes such a sense of empathy towards the subject of her story, and this is what first made me want to know more about her as a person. The second reason was that she was such an inspirational and dynamic woman. As a piano prodigy, singer, civil rights activist, mother, and black woman, Simone used her incredible talent to voice the injustices of her (and our) era, despite the potential repercussions of doing so during such a tumultuous time in America. She had such pride in her heritage and courage from her talent that it really empowered me as an artist. The strength I got from her work inspired me to sit down and write a piece about her life – one that would hopefully show what an inspiration she was to me and the world.”
The show premiered in Shanghai. How did that audience receive it?
“Shanghai audiences were extremely supportive. When thinking about producing the show in Shanghai, I wasn’t sure how many people would be interested in a story inspired by the life of Nina Simone. I chose to do it because I was so passionate about her work, and mine, that I was willing to take the risk because in the end, the most important thing to me was just to make it happen. The first weekend of the show audiences came in surprisingly large numbers, and the following weekend we were overbooked and had to add chairs. After the show a few people came to me with tears in their eyes. It was really fulfilling.”
Can you tell us about your time with the West Coast Black Theatre Troupe?
“The West Coast Black Theatre Troupe was started 10 years ago by my mentor Nate Jacobs. I had worked with Nate since the age of four, and he started the group with the idea of giving black actors and actresses opportunities to perform. It struggled for the first 10 years, but just recently they had a complete turn around and were able to purchase their space. It’s been such a pleasure being able to work with the group again.”
Finally, what's your favourite Nina Simone song and why?
“Plain Gold Ring is my favourite song. I love the version when she starts a cappella, and you hear one instrument enter at a time, each evoking a different feeling. It took some time before I realised that she was talking about being the other woman. I was so engrossed in the music and melody that I didn’t realise that I was already feeling exactly what she wanted me to feel. It’s very sad and very powerful and you feel so affected by the end.”