On Feb. 14 (Thursday), Sophie White, associate professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame, together with a group of musicians, activists and academics, including the composer Odaline de la Martinez, will participate in a panel discussion at the London Global Gateway titled “Voices of the Enslaved: Tales of Love and Longing.”
This gathering coincides with the world premiere of de la Martinez’s new opera, “Imoinda: A Story of Love and Slavery,” at the London Festival of American Music — a complex love story set against the backdrop of enslavement in the Americas. Drawing inspiration from “Oroonoko,” a 17th-century novel by Aphra Behn, “Imoinda” is the first modern opera to address slavery and the beginnings of Afro-Caribbean culture.
The panel will explore voices past and present, looking at the realities of Aphra Behn’s novel and how her characters’ stories were recorded, before considering how to perceive these chapters of history, how to represent them today and how to anticipate future depictions.
White’s forthcoming book, “Bound Bodies, Free Voices: Slave Testimony in French Louisiana,” uncovers the voices of enslaved Africans in colonial America through an exceptional set of source material: the court cases in which they testified.
White’s research and de la Martinez’s opera will be examined side by side, inviting engagement with lost voices.
“As an historian of colonial America, my contribution is to bring to light the actual voices of enslaved Africans, as they spoke them in court,” said White. “This is extremely rare evidence that allows us to know about these individuals by hearing their words, including the cadences of their speech, the snatches of Creole, the metaphors and the emotions that seep through their written testimony.”
“Both the opera and court records allow us to give voice to enslaved individuals,” said White. “And, perhaps surprisingly, what we uncover when we hear the testimony of these individuals is how often they chose to talk about intimacy, family and their often-tragic tales of love and longing.”
White will be joined by de la Martinez, political activist and writer Candace Allen, research fellow Kristy Warren, author and Vanity Fair travel editor Michelle Jana Chan and “Imoinda” librettist Joan Anim-Addo in a discussion moderated by BBC journalist Kevin Le Gendre.
Originally published by Joanna Byrne at london.nd.edu on Feb. 4.