Black Magic: Songs Unchained

Black Magic: Songs Unchained is an important piece of theatre, unfortunately hampered by an uneven acting performance. Recounting for her audience the history of oppression against black people in the United States of America, using songs traditionally sung by the black community, Katt Tait explores the way in which cultural heritage and music are inherently entwined.

It’s hard to criticise Tait, who gives an intimate, raw performance - at times heartbreaking, and at others, inspiring.

Taking us from an era where slavery was widely practiced, through the American civil war and civil rights movement of the 1960s, to America as it is today, Tait helps her audience navigate a complex and troubled era of world history. Concluding in modern day America, equally doling out desperation towards a nation divided by a bigotry, as well as hope that we may teach our children to rectify the mistakes of the past, the show serves in part as a contemplation on the recent cases of police brutality in cities like Ferguson, tracing their origin back to the use of slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries.

In terms of her singing ability, it’s hard to criticise Tait, who gives an intimate, raw performance - at times heartbreaking, and at others, inspiring. The repeated refrains that carry through the piece help to re-emphasise the notion of a lingering past, whose effects remain to this day. The play’s main issue comes in the brief respites from the use of a capella - vignettes that at times feel forced. During one such of these moments, the actress is meant to be chased down by dogs, yet the physicality of this harrowing moment isn’t conveyed with the necessary level of finesse. Such instances unfortunately take away from the intended power of these scenes, Tait’s acting lacking the immediacy and power of her singing voice.

If you are looking for an interesting and at times moving exploration of the history of oppression in America, then Black Magic: Songs Unchained may well be for you. Despite uneven acting, there is an undeniable power to this piece that ensures it sticks with you long after you leave. 

Reviews by Alexander Gillespie

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The Blurb

Black Magic: Songs Unchained, a physical drama, digs into the origins of the Negro spiritual and unveils the sorrow which created a powerful music. Take a multimedia journey from the shores of West Africa to North America, where a cappella melodies carrying secret codes transform pain into promise. Music is the magic!

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