In 2007 Ghanaian-Jamaican writer Kwame Dawes embarked on a research trip to Jamaica to explore the experience of people living with HIV/AIDS and to examine the ways in which the disease was shaping their lives.
Dawes responded to this experience through poems that capture the rich humanity of those he met and the complex emotions that come from contending so intimately with issues of mortality, stigma and grace. Dawes and his long-time collaborator, composer Kevin Simmonds, set the poems to music that showcases the spirit of Dawes's work.
Hope is an hour-long performance by an ensemble of thirteen musicians. The work reflects Kevin Simmonds' eclectic musical tastes that are grounded by a deep soulfulness and a tender economy of modes that shift effortlessly between the classics, Caribbean-inflected melodies, and the sublime possibilities of spirituals. The work is performed against the backdrop of photographs of Jamaica and many of the people whose lives have helped to inspire this work.
Kwame Dawes' readings of his work represent some of the most exciting poetry performances of today. In Hope we are never consumed by pity or unmitigated lament. We are engaged instead by a stark truth-telling that is tempered by the alchemy that poetry brings to difficult experience – turning the ordinary into the sublime, into art. This work channels the voices of many unique individuals, inviting us to traverse oceans, borders and the limits of language.
The Company: Kwame Dawes, poet; Kevin Simmonds, piano; Valetta Brinson, soprano; Alvoy Bryant, violin; Billy Coakley, tenor; Valerie Johnson, soprano; James Miller, flute; Christopher Neely, viola; Nicole Neely, viola; Cora Phillips, cello; Celia Teasdel, mezzo soprano; Guitarist; Percussionist
Hope: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica encompasses many parts: an extended essay by Kwame Dawes for The Virginia Quarterly Review (Spring 2008), additional print reports, two short documentaries for the public-television program Foreign Exchange, and an interactive web presentation that synthesizes audio and text versions of the poems, the Foreign Exchange videos, additional video interviews, musical adaptations of the poetry, and photography by Josh Cogan.
For more information on Kwame Dawes's writing, visit www.kwamedawes.com. For a taste of his work as a poet and performer, click here. The clips shown are from the critically-acclaimed piece "Wisteria: Twilight Songs from the Swamp Country," a musical and poetry collaboration by Dawes and Simmonds that is the model for the performance of "Hope."
Performances are being scheduled in the U.S. and Jamaica.
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