Freedom Suite I and II by Leila Adu-Gilmore

The London Sinfonietta began its Southbank Centre season with a concert of music by established and emerging black composers, co-curated by leading composer and new music thinker George Lewis and experimental vocalist, movement artist and composer Elaine Mitchener. As part of the programme, Freedom Suite I and II by Leila Adu-Gilmore was interpreted by Elaine Mitchener together with the London Sinfonietta conducted by Vimbayi Kaziboni.

This is an excerpt from YET UNHEARD and is part of London Sinfonietta’s 2020/21 season curated as a response to the times in which we live. Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 28 October 2020, the event brought new music not heard in the UK before to new audiences.

Leila Adu-Gilmore / Movements from Freedom Suite

I wrote this song cycle from songs I had written over seven years in the United States of America—in 2020, this piece feels more relevant as I continue to live in a country and in a world that seems less united. The subject matter of the two songs selected for today’s programme “Negative Space” and “Ghost Lullaby” are about police, environmental brutality through structural colonialism and racism, exacerbated by monolithic western culture and education. As the original (2014) programme note explains: “For over half of my life, I have written, performed and recorded songs and improvisations for piano and voice. At times the accompaniment is very simple. In Freedom Suite, I have arranged three songs in different ways, with a goal of capturing their initial simplicity in different ways for each song… The second, Ghost Lullaby, is a song I wrote when I came to the town of Princeton and realized that only a couple of people mentioned Native Americans and that no one spoke of the tribe of people who inhabited the actual space that we lived on while I was there. The third, Negative Space, is a song that I wrote upon hearing of the murder of Trayvon Martin and speaks to the vacuum created for many black people through continued effects of colonialism, slavery, prison and the justice system.” As a Ghanaian British New Zealander, the situation can feel extreme here in the USA, but the roots of these systemic problems of coloniality continue to cause problems for our world and our future. These themes in a classical music setting are powerful, as inclusive and collective voices continue to create, educate and positive change.

Negative Space

I exist in a negative space
I am not white and neither am I a guy
I am not nature, an object or your soul
I’m just a girl waiting to go home
Born on a fluffy cloud never had to think about what it was like to be left out of the history books
Explorers and sugar men, nothing but jumped up crooks
You can play at being strange, but strange ain’t stamped on your head
Send your kids to school in a hoodie they won’t wind up in a body bag
They can do drugs get arrested next day wind up a college grad
They can do drugs get arrested next day wind up at college
I’m no militant I’m a peaceful kinda girl
I don’t aim to stake out my claim
I just wanna do my thing about the place
But I exist in a negative space

Ghost Lullaby

I’m walking on ghosts
I’m walking on ghosts and no-one talks your name
I’m thinking about thought
I’m thinking about thought and no-one has mentioned your name
You don’t disappear so easily
They stole your silver they turned it to liquid
The liquid to paper and the paper to earth
And I say why
You don’t disappear so easily
It’s time to give up all your money and your pride
Do you really need money and another thing
You cannot keep this body when you are dead
You cannot keep this car/house when you are dead
Your kid’s education won’t matter when you’re dead if there’s no planet to live on
Take the time to think about what you are doing in each moment

Leila Adu-Gilmore

Leila Adu-Gilmore

Leila Adu travels the spaceways of music without limits. From tours of the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the Far East, London’s Time Out says, ‘Avante-garde pop that recalls Nina Simone and Tim Buckley,” and Italy’s popular music mag Blow Up describes her last album Ode to the Unknown Factory Worker as “splinters of folk and blues but also hypnotic and ghostly prog.” Steve Albini who produced her second album dubbed her “Spooky Adu.”