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Sierra Leone Entertainment: An evening of awesome opera and brass

On Saturday night, 8 July 2017, distinguished singers and musicians took to the stage at the British Council hall, to host a full house of appreciative music lovers. The evening of opera and brass provided stunning performances and a taste of talent that lies shallow beneath the veneer of pop culture and pre-recorded electronics in Sierra Leone.
Dressed in a stunning, floor-length evening gown, mezzo-soprano, Dr. Joseryl Beckley performed operas from Verdi and Schubert. Beckley’s voice is like a cold, powerful river rushing down mountainsides. It surrounds audiences and engulfs them. Her depth of range slices through rainy clouds and overtakes ones ears sending tingles through the heart to the tips of toes. When her pace slows, the frozen drops of water linger in the soul.
Beckley is a treasure – a polished diamond pulsating in the light. The spotlight only serves to illuminate her myriad of colours, textures and talent. As her music fades into the night, Beckley gives a small, almost shy, smile and takes a deep, practiced bow. The audience erupts with appreciative applause – bearing witness to a beacon of virtuosity and song.
Dr. Beckley was accompanied on the grand piano by the piano maestro, Dr. Kitty Fatlu-Deen, who continues to astound audiences with her musical genius and dexterity. Her deft touch on the black and white keys of the piano provided a backdrop of solid support and pace. During the Schubert aria, “On the Stream”, Beckley and Fadlu-Deen were joined by Stephan Flore on the French horn. Flore, a visiting German conductor and musician, added shape and tone, to the delight of musicians in the audience. His French horn carried an undertow to a quieted stream, melding voice, piano and the silky, smooth flow of the curled, brass instrument.
At 7:30 p.m. sharp, the International Secondary School Choir, lead by Beresford Elliot, took to the stage to welcome guests. This collection of smiling 12-year old girls were obviously thrilled to be on stage and performed their school song, Viva L’Amour, with vigour and joy. When they streamed off-stage to the applause of the packed house, each of the girls wore a brilliant, enthusiastic glow. During the brief intermission, Fatmata, a tall, slender singer, noted, “We were so excited to do this. Thank you. We want to do more.”
Khadison Duwai is a young gospel singer. In his trademarked style and incredible vocal range, he performed “Hallelujah”, a song written by a Canadian, Leonard Cohen. Duwai displayed a unique skill when, half way through the song, he switched styles and injected a poppy, blues stanza reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright who performed the song for the film, “Shrek”.
And, speaking of movies, Pete Dalton Sesay performed two well-known musical productions from Broadway musicals adapted films. He demonstrated his operatic skills in “Evermore” from “Beauty and the Beast” and “Phantom of the Opera”. He was joined in “Phantom” by Sia Borbor, who added a feminine flourish to the famous scene between the ingenue and the disfigured Phantom. Sesay and Borbor are obviously talented but their opening verses lacked emotion. By the middle of Phantom, they turned on the drama and rose to the inherent tension in the moment and of the song, finishing in a grand, impressive style.
“Impressive,” said Mohamed Sesay, speaking about the Sierra Leone Military Band. “I’ve seen them march but seeing them as an orchestra was totally different.” The Military Band, conducted by Major Isaac Kamara, gave a most stirring performance. They played a medley of popular hits including something from Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees and the Village People. These audience favourites had children dancing in their seats and parents happily nodding to the pulsing beats and blasts of the brass.
The British Council hall, on Tower Hill, has become the venue of choice for artists, singers and musicians. When the full orchestra from the Military Band and the Milton Margai Performing Arts Department took to the stage, it was reminiscent of magnificent, musical auditoriums. The full band was conducted by guest musician, Stephan Flore, who flourished his direction over a rendition of “King of the Road”, as it’s never been heard before. The multi-layered arrangement was new, yet surprisingly familiar. Flore noted, “Music really opens your heart and it was a great experience to work with this band. They are eager to learn and very open.”
It’s said, “Music provides a universal connection; a common language.” Sitting in the audience was participatory and exhilarating. When Sam Baileyson Macauley and Beresford Elliot performed, the enrapt audience joined in. Macauley’s Krio folk song, “Moskita”, gave the audience another reason to smile – and sing along. It was rousing. Elliot’s attempts at “Santa Lucia” and the “Barber of Seville’s, Figaru”, conjured images of warm, friendly Italy.
SD/10/7/17
Friday July 14, 2017.

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