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Electric Root brings "The Sound of (Black) Music" to Yellow Springs


At 7:00pm on October 10th and 11th, Electric Root will perform The Sound of (Black) Music, an Afro-futurist reimagining of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, at the Foundry Theater in Yellow Springs. Evan Miller spoke with two members of Electric Root ahead of the performances: Shariffa Ali, Director of Artistic Projects, and Kamilah L. Long, Director of Performance. In the interview, Shariffa and Kamilah spoke about Electric Root’s mission of uniting communities through joyful experiences of Black music and performance, and explained why they wanted to retell Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical .

Electric Root was founded in 2020 by Jono Gasparro and Michael Mwenso in response to the murder of George Floyd. According to the Electric Root website, the company was established to “revolutionize how Black music is presented, expose lesser-known artists, decolonize music curriculum, provide artist-led anti-racism training, and heal people—with their signature joy and hospitality.” To date, electric root has collaborated with over 30 universities, companies and institutions, curating performances and providing consultations about how institutions can support Black artists.

In the interview, Shariffa Ali and Kamilah Long spoke with Evan about Electric Root’s upcoming performance of The Sound of (Black) Music in Yellow Springs. The play was originally composed in 2021. Both Shariffa and Kamilah said that their retelling came out of an appreciation of the original Sound of Music, a 1959 stage musical adapted into a blockbuster 1965 film. “It was definitely a childhood favorite musical that you watch over and over again on the VHS tape,” Kamilah told Evan. Shariffa said she also has powerful personal associations with the musical.

“That musical has a lot of real estate on my heart too. Getting to witness the idea of a family that is brought together with the love of music, and that same notion as music as a conduit for healing and change, that is so present in the original, seems to be part of our work as well.”

The Sound of (Black) Music recasts Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s original songs, like “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” and “Edelweiss,” with the sounds of Black roots music, incorporating jazz, gospel, blues, soul, funk and Afro-beat influences. It also shifts the context of the 1959 play, which is set in Austria on the eve of the Second World War. The Sound of (Black) Music instead takes an Afro-futurist lens, centering the experience of Black people and looking forward to a utopian future free of oppression. Shariffa explained the notion of Afro-futurism expressed in the film:

“We have to define for ourselves what we mean when we say ‘Afro-futurism.’ For us, it is about imagining a future for the Black body, free from its current state of oppression. Imagine that. A future for the Black body, free. With the understanding that the Black body will not be free until we are all free, our proposal to humanity is quite simple: What will it take for us to center the themes of radical joy, radical hospitality, community, and convening.”

Electric Root’s performances of The Sound of (Black) Music at the Foundry Theater mark the start of the company’s first national tour. Kamilah and Shariffa said they hope to draw a strong audience to the show— including people who are skeptical of any adaptation of the beloved 1959 musical. “The overwhelming feeling is that people have been incredibly positive,” Shariffa said, “Particularly those who come in guarded, thinking, ‘This is a classic. Why fudge with a classic?’ Those are people who are the first to get on their feet.”

More information about Electric Root’s performances at the Foundry is available through the Foundry Theater's website. To learn more about Electric Root, including information about their upcoming performances and consulting services, visit electricroot.co.

Text by Peter Day, adapted from an interview by Evan Miller.

Evan Miller is a percussionist, lover of sound, and is probably buying too many cassette tapes online right now. Evan got his start in radio in 2012 at WWSU at Wright State University, where he was studying percussion performance. He followed through with both endeavors and eventually landed a lucrative dual career playing experimental music at home and abroad, and broadcasting those sounds to unsuspecting listeners Sunday nights on The Outside. Maintaining a connection to normal music, Evan also plays drums in bands around the area, and hosts WYSO's Midday Music show. When not doing something music-related, Evan is most likely listening to podcasts or watching food videos at home with his cat.
Peter Day writes and produces stories for WYSO’s music department. His works include a feature about Dayton's premiere Silent Disco and a profile of British rapper Little Simz. He also assists with station operations and serves as fill-in host for Behind the Groove. Peter began interning at WYSO in 2019 and, in his spare time while earning his anthropology degree, he served as program director for Yale University’s student radio station, WYBC.