Opera and African drumming make an unlikely pair — but composer and flautist Leslie Savoy Burrs has merged both music forms into a compellingly original opera, Vanqui.
Burrs blended African rhythms with classical motifs to create the opera's music and partnered with renowned author John A. Williams, who wrote the libretto. The result is both a musical love story and a tragic polemic on slavery, as the spirits of two murdered Africans enslaved in America seek each other in the afterlife.
Williams won the National Book Award for his collection of poems, Safari West, and some of the passages from that book find their way into Vanqui.
Burrs and Williams spoke with NPR's Tavis Smiley about their opera and its signature blend of jazz, classical and African music cues — a sound Burrs calls "urban classical."
Burrs collaborates with other musicians to explore that unique sound further in his latest CD, Blue Harlem, Black Knight.
To get a copy of Blue Harlem, Black Knight and to learn more about Vanqui, e-mail Burrs at LeslieBurrs@aol.com.