What does it take to sing gospel songs and spirituals? “There is a lot of history that you have to consider and remember when you sing. Some of the songs are of the struggles and you don’t approach that with a happy tone. And there are others that speak of life after death – and in slavery people felt that a better life would be the life after death – those are the happier spirituals,” introduces the context of her art NaGuanda Nobles in an interview for Jazz FM and Classic FM. “Singing African American music is difficult from an emotional point of view. You have to have a lot of history of the struggle of the African Americans; the rhythm often depicts the struggles. That’s the challenging part – feeling the rhythm,” says Benjamin Polite, adding: “And the choir is doing a very, very good job!”
This is the Classic FM Choir that will accompany the two vocalists, together with the Classic FM Orchestra, in presenting under the baton of conductor André J. Thomas the concert The Soul of America. Tonight’s event at the Bulgaria Hall will be the final concert for this season’s programme of the The Music of America cycle, presented by the Cantus Firmus music agency and the America for Bulgaria foundation.
“We were welcomed with warmth,” NaGuanda Nobles is thankful of the reception. “The Choir and Orchestra are very professional,” says Benjamin Polite. He explains: “Oftentimes when we go, we meet choirs that are not clean and there is a lot of work that must be done. But we came in, and the choir and the orchestra were right on point! And they work well with Dr. Thomas!”
The musicians will present tonight spirituals, gospel songs, a concert version of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess as well as pieces by John Adams and Jerome Kern.
Describing Porgy and Bess, NaGuanda Nobles finds as most important that “Porgy and Bess is a black community and it takes place at a time when people were not rich, and so they rely on their community. And then we have the love relationship between Porgy and Bess. Bess struggles and Porgy loves her unconditionally, in spite of her faults.” The essence to Benjamin Polite: “Porgy and Bess emodies what most people should possess, parcticularly Porgy. He is crippled but is accepted by the community beacause of his spirit. So, when he runs into Bess who is led astray from the community, he receives her with open arms and love. Gershwin has done an excellent job of really getting the pulse, the beat of the community. It really is a love stroy.”
NaGuanda Nobles and Benjamin Polite, while spending much time away from home for practicing their art, keep the love for the family close to their hearts. “I am a wife and the mother of two – I love the family life in addition to my career,” NaGuanda Nobles said when asked about her most personal feelings. This is what Benjamin Polite also believes in: “The family is everything. I’ve learned that life is very short and so we must enjoy it. So I spend time with my three kids.”
When describing the soul of America, as is the title of the concert, NaGuanda Nobles outlines as their mission to perfectly represent the music of Black composers. Benjamin Polite believes that America as a melting pot is an outdated concept. “The soul of America is more like chicken soup, where every ingredient is recognized and each ingredient makes that soup taste good. So, all the different cultures, religions, beliefs and ethnicities make America great,” he said. And then made a parallel with jazz music: “Jazz is an incorporation of different elements – the European element mixes with African rhythm, mixes with the traditions of America. And that’s why jazz speaks to everyone.”