For this combination reading and musical performance, author Nicole Mitchell makes her return to Pittsburgh to share her new book, The Mandorla Letters: for the hopeful. Nicole is joined by the Black Earth SWAY ensemble, with whom she will perform musical compositions that tie into her latest literary work, for this uniquely structured program. Part memoir, part manifesto, part Black speculative novella, The Mandorla Letters blurs boundaries between this world and an imagined future whose overlapping wisdoms make cooperation with our natural environment a central concern for collective thriving. Extending her ongoing musical project Mandorla Awakening, Nicole explores inequity, the musical legacies of jazz, creative music, and intercultural collaboration to guide readers toward an alternative society that disrupts binaries, hierarchies, and western ideas of progress. Paying homage to artists, musicians, and writers who have inspired her, Nicole opens channels for artistic proliferation that are integral to the collective survival of our planet.
You can purchase your own copy of Nicole’s book, The Mandorla Letters: for the hopeful, at City of Asylum Bookstore.
Nicole Mitchell: flute, electronics, vocals
Coco Elysses: diddley bow, percussion, vocals
Alexis Lombre: keyboards, vocals
JoVia Armstrong: percussion, electronics, vocals
About the Ensemble:
Nicole MItchell’s Black Earth SWAY sings liberation through Afro-Folk-Futurism, in the celebration of open spirits and Black sisterhood. Black Earth SWAY is a platform for new mythologies in Black American storytelling which traverses raw languages of the AACM blues. SWAY traverses the endless possibilities of Black music and expresses Black consciousness and emotion multi-dimensionally. Black Earth SWAY traverses the endless possibilities of Black music. Putting the “fun” back in music, each member brings compositions that seek the realness in free expression.
About the Artists:
Nicole Mitchell is an award-winning creative flutist, composer, conceptualist, bandleader and educator. Nicole emerged from Chicago’s innovative music scene in the late 90s, as a co-founder of the all-woman group Samana, a member of the David Boykin Expanse and a member of Hamid Drake’s Soundscapes with Glenda Zahra Baker. Her music celebrates contemporary and experimental African American culture. Mitchell’s critically acclaimed Chicago-based Black Earth Ensemble (BEE) has been her primary compositional laboratory with which she has performed at festivals and art venues throughout Europe, Canada, and the US. The former first woman president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Mitchell composes for contemporary ensembles of varied instrumentation and size while incorporating improvisation and a wide aesthetic expression. Nicole is the recipient of the Herb Alpert Award, Chicago’s 3Arts Award, and the Doris Duke Award. She is a United States Artist Fellow. As a composer, she has been commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Music NOW, Bang on a Can, French Ministry of Culture, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Newport Jazz Festival, the Art Institute of Chicago, the French American Jazz Exchange, Chamber Music America, the Chicago Jazz Festival, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and the Chicago Sinfonietta. Nicole is a professor of music at the University of Virginia.
JoVia Armstrong, a daringly innovative percussionist, producer, composer, and educator, is a well-traveled musician, a Sabian endorsee, and the founder of Eunoia Society. Detroit-bred, JoVia developed her early career after moving to Chicago, and eventually joined the legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) as an important new member. JoVia self-released her debut album, Fuzzy Blue Robe Chronicles, in 2009, of which she was the composer, producer, and percussionist. From Fuzzy Blue, her song “Gullah Geechee” received notable attention and was reproduced by renowned Chicago House/Detroit Techno DJ Theo Parrish. As a winner of the Black Women in Jazz Awards for 2015, JoVia has performed throughout Europe, Canada and the U.S. She served as the producer and composer of JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound’s latest EP Red Black and Blue, (April 2018) and is often the composer for Musique Noir. An award-winning educator, she received the 3Arts Siragusa Foundation Artist Award in 2011, having worked as a mentor and teaching artist teaching theory, music production, and instrumental lessons for aspiring beatmakers and songwriters. JoVia is completing her Ph.D. at the University of California Irvine’s Integrated Composition Improvisation and Technology program.
Coco Elysses is a renaissance woman: a multi-instrumentalist, producer, conductor, composer, beat maker, musician, actress, voice-over artist, screenwriter, doula and poet. Currently the Chairwoman of the AACM, she works to uplift the legacy of African American culture and folklore through her storytelling and performance on the didley bow, a one stringed guitar, a Black folk instrument invented during the times of early America. She has performed internationally in numerous festivals including The San Francisco Jazz Festival, The Havana Jazz Festival, Hyde Park Jazz Festival, the Frankfurt Jazz Festival, Made in Chicago Jazz Festival in Poznan, Poland and the Insolent Noise Festival in Pisa, Italy. Coco was also featured in the book, Black Women and Music: More than The Blues. Her discography includes The Best of the Miyumi Project, Skylanding- The Music of Yoko Ono, Nicole Mitchell’s Africa Rising and Resurrection Suite with Ben LaMar Gaye & Carlos Pride. As an actress, she has won the ALTA Award and Jeff Award for Best Original Music in a Play, and was a featured musician in the critically acclaimed FOX TV drama Empire.
Alexis Lombre is a Chicago jazz musician born and raised. From a young age, the pianist channeled her fair share of jazz greats — from McCoy Tyner to Herbie Hancock. Her musical mission is to keep the ‘Soul’ in music alive. As JazzTimes puts it “Lombre realized early on that by refusing to be constrained by convention— whether so-called “jazz” or otherwise—she’d be honoring, rather than defiling, the rich heritage she’d come to embrace.” She has also played with internationally known musicians such as: Nicole Mitchell, Jamila Woods, the AACM Great Black Music Ensemble, Laurin Talese, Junius Paul, Makaya McCraven, Donald Harrison, Bobby Watson, Buster Williams, Wadada Leo Smith, Dee Alexander, J Moss, Cece Peniston, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Nona Hendrix.
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