Opera North has announced this year’s Resonance programme for minority ethnic music-makers, with four lead artists already selected to develop new work. Vocalist and composer Supriya Nagarajan, musician Azizi Cole, composer José Guillermo Puello and writer and performance artist Keisha Thompson will be performing in the event. The project is supported by PRS Foundation’s Talent Development Partnership.

Resonance is designed to support artists from minority ethnic backgrounds, who are traditionally under-represented in opera. Now entering its fifth year, the programme focuses on exploring new ideas and collaborating with others. Music-makers, based in the north of England and working in any genre, can apply to this eclectic musical event. This year the project will take in theatre, gospel, traditional South Asian music, poetry, and contemporary dance.

Last summer, Opera North adopted the programme as part of its drive to address the pandemic’s impact on music makers. ‘Resonance: The Lockdown Edition’ saw six innovative collaborations realised virtually. The company plans to a return to partnerships in person for 2021, depending on the Covid-19 restrictions.

Vocalist, composer Supriya Nagarajan will work with the distinctive and rich tradition of Tamil poetry and music. Supriya is the Artistic Director of the Dewsbury-based South Asian arts organisation Manasamitra. The project will see her share the heritage with Sri Lankan-born poet and translator Shash Trevett.

“COVID has disrupted our routine as artists and changing the way we work. Shash and I have had many discussions about going back to our cultural roots and exploring our identities through art”, says Supriya. “We will use the Resonance residency to create four new musical works based on the ancient South Indian Tamil poetic metre, the Yappu.”

Musician Azizi Cole has been Raised in Handsworth, Birmingham and is now based in Leeds. He is an accompanist at Northern School of Contemporary Dance. During his Resonance residency, he will develop his multidisciplinary piece, Body Clock. This employs the body as an instrument to compose and perform music and dance. He will use rhythmic techniques and technology in microphones. NSCD alumni Akeim Toussaint Buck and Chris Radford will accompany him. Chapeltown-based Jamaican seamstress Audrey Mae will design the performers’ costumes.

Musician Azizi Cole

“During these challenging and turbulent times for the arts, it’s vital for us to maintain our sense of creativity”, says Azizi. “I’m grateful for this opportunity to collaborate and share knowledge and skills with some incredibly talented artists. As a creative working at the intersection of music and dance, my research explores musicality through movement. Collaborations with ACE Youth and NSCD alumni have informed and helped to develop my artist practice and approach to composition.”

Manchester-based composer José Guillermo Puello is originally from the Dominican Republic. He will explore the process of constructing an identity through music, soundscapes and performance. Poet and playwright winner of Channel 4 Playwrights’ Scheme and former Artist in Residence at Leeds Playhouse, Zodwa Nyoni will work with him. Isobel Algar, who performs as a clown under the name ‘Miserabel’, will also join his team.

“With so much talent and so many great ideas, competition for any artistic opportunity is fierce”, says José. “I was surprised, and obviously delighted, to find out that I had been selected for Resonance 2021. Identity has always been a part of my compositional practice. The idea for Persona has been simmering for a couple of years. It’s great to have the time and space to explore different ideas and reflect how the concept of identity has evolved since we first conceived this project.”

Writer, performance artist and producer Keisha Thompson from Manchester will work with singer Yvonne Shelton, and musician, sound designer, and poet Xana. The team will develop Keisha’s new play’s musical component, commissioned by Eclipse Theatre, York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre.

Writer, performance artist and producer Keisha Thompson

“The Bell Curves looks at the ethics of DNA hacking technology”, Keisha explains. “It juggles big themes like religion, politics, scientific experimentation and how that interacts with the Afro-Caribbean, LGBTQ+ and disabled communities. I want to use sound and song to communicate the emotional elements of the story. I want to know what happens when you put gospel song, scientific language and field recordings into a petri-dish. How will it grow?”

The four lead artists will be provided with a week of free rehearsal space in central Leeds. They will also receive a grant of up to £3,500 to cover fees for those involved and other costs. There are also options to document each project as short films, and a work in progress performance or live stream.

Dominic Gray, Director of Projects, Opera North, comments, “We’re so excited to be announcing the next Resonance series. Every year the programme reveals unexpected collaborations, leading to amazing musical and artistic works. It is always important to support artists and their creativity, but right now, it feels more vital than ever. We can’t wait to see and hear the ideas and sounds brewing while musicians have been unable to create and perform.”