The world premiere of “Can You Hear God Crying,” the latest work by celebrated trumpeter and composer Hannibal Lokumbe, takes place on Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall.
The musical epic, accompanied by The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, conducted by Dirk Brosse, in tandem with Lokumbe’s jazz quintet, The Music Liberation Orchestra, is the story of Lokumbe’s great-great grandfather Silas’ journey aboard a slave ship two centuries ago on his way to the auction blocks of Potter’s Mart in Charlestown, S.C. The work also “relays the cycles of life and spiritual emancipation” he experienced thereafter.
A vocally challenging piece, according to the composer, “Can You Hear God Crying” features Janice Chandler-Eteme, soprano and Roderick Dixon, tenor, as The Germantown Concert Chorus, The Clayton White Singers, Arch Street Presbyterian Church Choir and Sounds of Joy Ministry, along with The Celebration Choir, comprised of members of the Enon Tabernacle Mass Choir and led by choirmaster J. Donald Dumpson.
Lokumbe recently revealed why he chose to tell his family’s personal story through music at this particular point in time.
“I never really choose, it’s given to me to do,” he said. “I was lying on my sofa in New Orleans around 1 [p.m.], finally relaxing a bit, and all of a sudden these bright flashes of light started going off in my head. I didn’t know what it was, but I had the sense that I was about to get my next assignment, and that’s how I look at these things.
“So as the weeks passed and months passed, I continued to have these flashes, but they lingered longer and longer, to the point where I could actually see what was going on, and there were people moving through this doorway. Each time one of them would cross the threshold of this doorway, this light would go off, and then I realized right away that it was the ‘Door of No Return,’ and it was our people being taken through this doorway.
Lokumbe said, “I also realized that each time someone moved through that door, this light would go off, as if to scan them — to record them, and then, when a mother passed through with her baby, it would go off twice. It was like each one that crossed the threshold was recorded, and then I began to realize what it was, and this is how things started to form.
“I started hearing the music, and I started laying things out, and I wrote down ‘veil’ because veils have more to do with us having a permanent understanding of things. Once the creator takes a veil from our face, we never go back. We’re never the same. So that’s how this piece is. It’s written in 10 veils.”
One of the important “veils” will be delivered by Dr. Alyn E. Waller, pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church.
“I am, specifically, reading the prayer of Silas, his great-great grandfather, as the people were brought over in slavery — lamenting the journey, but celebrating the grace of God, even in the midst of the trouble,” Waller said.
While there are those, both black and white, who prefer not to address or even acknowledge the existence of slavery in America, Waller maintains that the material presented in Lokumbe’s original work remains relevant.
“I think that it is our story,” he said. “It informs why we are the way we are, both good and bad. Certainly there is some pathology in the African-American community that stems out of our history of slavery, but also there is great strength and great understanding of God and ourselves that comes out of the survival of that journey. So to appreciate who we are in America and our contribution to the American landscape, you have to consider the slavery heritage.”
Tickets for “Can You Hear God Crying?” are available at $15–$45, and can be purchased by calling (215) 893-1999, online at kimmelcenter.org, or at the Kimmel Center box office located at Broad and Spruce streets.