A report by Irene Machetti for Fad Magazine.
The Showroom, a contemporary art space based in London, teamed up with Filmmaker Producer Reece Ewing to present IN·FLO·RES·CENCE – a major new project which sees 12 musicians from across the globe create new compositions in response to daily life during the pandemic. The project is curated by Katherine Finerty, in collaboration with The Showroom directed by Elvira Dyangani Ose.
Launching on Friday 7 August via The Showroom’s online platform, these pieces will be interpreted and performed by Cuban-born, New York-based jazz pianist Elio Villafranca. Each musical piece will be released over a staggered two month period, alongside a series of conversations between the musicians and invited guests. These include internationally renowned jazz musician Jason Moran, and multimedia artists like Phoebe Boswell, Andrew Pierre Hart, Evan Ifekoya and Laura Lima. Through the political agency of jazz, the project reflects upon the conditions of this unique historical moment, celebrating music as an enduring form of storytelling.
The platform’s aim is to encourage a rich exchange of sounds, memories, and ideas, eventually leading the public to rethink the extended meanings of music, art, and activism. Elio Villafranca is particularly interested in the socio-political implications of music. His album ‘CINQUE’ is, indeed, dedicated to Sengbe Pieh, later known as Joseph Cinqué. Cinqué, an African man from the Mende people, successfully headed the famous revolt aboard the slave ship ‘La Amistad’, saving his people from being sold as slaves through the illegal Atlantic slave trade. Upon escaping to the USA, Cinqué finally had the opportunity to go on trial, win it, regain his freedom, and return back to Africa.
Villafranca’s project showcases the cultural diversity of the five Caribbean islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, and Jamaica; while simultaneously high- lighting the Congolese musical heritage woven into the fabric of each of these diverse nations, and yet unified via the forced migration of Africans to the Americas.
Music, as well as visual arts shares the concepts of shape, colours, tone, balance, rhythm, and melody, which makes the idea of presenting music in an interdisciplinary art space very special and unique. I have a deep appreciation for visual arts and artists since painting was my earliest form of artistic expression. I’m very honoured to be part of IN.FLO.RES.CENCE and with the opportunity of performing new works at The Showroom.
– Elio Villafranca
The 10 international composers participating in IN·FLO·RES·CENCE were all commissioned by Reece Ewing to create pieces for solo piano around 1 minute in length responding to the changes in daily life during the global coronavirus outbreak. Throughout the duration of the project, Villafranca will interpret and perform all individual compositions. A detailed schedule is available through the Events page.
Championing the power of jazz, this project fosters freedom, experimentation, improvisation, polyrhythm, collaboration, and dialogue – hard work fuelled by epiphanies, a call and response. Social power. Sonic power. The interdisciplinary nature of the event will enhance a genuine exchange of ideas, reflections, empathy and dialogue, where art, music, and politics can cross-pollinate and regenerate. A true inflorescence of harmonies, bodies, ideas which, as in nature, will produce more blossoms — the process of flowering, a moment of unfolding, the creation of a community. The name of the project also refers to the eponymous avant-garde album by American Pianist and Poet Cecil Taylor from 1989. He had been championing the union of sound and art since the 1950s free jazz and New York loft scene through till this decade with his Open Plan exhibition at The Whitney Museum in 2016.
As reflected in the meaning of this word, Taylor’s experimental ethos, and the political agency of jazz, this project aims to activate the global history of creative cross-pollination between musical and visual art communities through a gathering of voices reflecting upon the conditions of this unique historical moment. Through these participatory and expansive modes of connection, IN·FLO·RES·CENCE will create a constellation – an inflorescent cluster – filled with multiple voices, active listening, a poetic source of knowledge, and a resonant echo of call and response. A space to breathe, listen, create, and connect.
The idea began as a way to support musicians and composers during the COVID-19 pandemic – to connect expressions of everyday life during the unique conditions of our time; highlighting the potential healing power of music amidst waves of disease, fear, and injustice. The project successfully transcends the topical focus on music as entertainment, celebrating, instead, sound as an enduring form of rhizomatic storytelling, IN·FLO·RES·CENCE offers an opportunity to musicians to take up space in the art cosmos, engendering novel creative practices where sound and art can collide.
Participating musician Siya Makuzeni
In its introductory digital stage, IN·FLO·RES·CENCE offered its audience a series of music compositions, interdisciplinary conversations, listening sessions, and behind-the-scenes creative inspirations, available across Instagram, Vimeo, and The Showroom website. Participating composers include: Thandi Ntuli (Singer, Pianist – South Africa), Bokani Dyer (Pianist, Producer – Botswana / South Africa), Siya Makuzeni (Singer, Trombonist – South Africa), Leyanis Valdes Reyes (Pianist – Cuba), JD Allen (Jazz Tenor, Saxophonist – United States), Elaine Mitchener (Vocalist, Movement Artist – United Kingdom), Corey Mwamba (Vibraphonist, Promoter, Researcher – United Kingdom, Sarathy Korwar (Drummer – India / UK), Luis Carlos Pérez (Saxophonist – Panama), Nduduzo Makhathini (Pianist, healier – South Africa).
About Elio Villafranca
Steinway Artist, Pianist, and Composer Elio Villafranca, born in the province of Pinar del Río, Cuba, is a two-time Grammy nominee, winner of the 2018 Downbeat Critics Poll Rising Stars (Keyboard), and a recipient of the first Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) Millennium Swing Award in 2014. Villafranca was classically trained in piano, percussion, and composition at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba. Since his arrival to the U.S. in 1995 he’s been at the forefront of today’s pianists and composers, fusing classical and jazz with music from the African diaspora. Based in New York City, Villafranca is a jazz faculty member at The Juilliard School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, New York University, and Temple University in Philadelphia.