Salem’s first accused ‘witch’ was an enslaved West Indian woman. This opera tells her story

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Nicole Brooks combined slavery, witchcraft and opera to make literal Black girl magic. A review by Lucius Dechausay for the CBC.

You may have seen Obeah Opera’s world premiere at Luminato a few weeks ago, but if you know about its decade long journey to get to that stage, you may think creator and composer Nicole Brooks conjured up some Black girl magic.

“It’s taken ten years to really get the vision and the complete version up on its feet,” says Brooks. “My soul is not going to rest until this piece becomes what it is supposed to be.” It began with a ten-minute performance workshopped at bcurrent, expanding on the story of Tituba — a West Indian slave woman referenced in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, during the time of the Salem witch trials. Invoking a number of musical styles from spirituals to ska, and after many reincarnations — including one at the Pan Am Games in 2015 — it’s blossomed into a nearly three-hour show with an all-female cast, sung entirely in accapella.

This video takes you into the trenches with Nicole Brooks and her incredible cast of witchy women vocalists a week before their world premiere at Luminato. We were with the cast and its Grammy-nominated musical director Melanie DeMore as the performers worked through the melodies and the meanings — including the painful questions around slavery, colonialism and female empowerment embedded throughout the script.

It’s not your average opera, using beautiful music as a way of re-writing Tituba’s lost perspective back into history. As Brooks’ puts it: “We have to demystify who we are and break these stereotypes and really step into our power.”

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