Music review: Nina Simone: Soul Sessions | Nina Simone Black Diva Power | Black Magic: Songs Unchained
Nina Simone Black Diva Power

Edinburgh Festival Fringe music review: Nina Simone: Soul Sessions, Nina Simone Black Diva Power, Black Magic: Songs Unchained reviewed by The Scotsman’s Fiona Shepherd.

Nina Simone: Soul Sessions

★★

Nina Simone Black Diva Power

★★★

Black Magic: Songs Unchained

★★★

You would be forgiven for thinking that a show with Nina Simone in the title might have something to say about the imperious Ms Simone but Nina Simone: Soul Sessions is far more about singer Apphia Campbell’s life journey and the personal connections she has made with Simone’s songs along the way. Fair enough. Simone’s music endures because it resonates on so many levels – politically, racially, intellectually as well as emotionally.

What a pity then that Campbell treats the songs as supper club standards, with synthetic keyboard accompaniment and overly chirpy delivery, summoning none of the emotional power of which they are deserving.

Eventually, after a succession of cheesy associations and throwaway renditions, she digs deeper on the devastating Four Women, stripping away her own jewellery, evening gown and wig to reveal, one presumes, something closer to the real Campbell. For this, she gets the most enthusiastic round of applause of the night.

Nina Simone Black Diva Power puts Simone, as empathetically portrayed by Ruth Rogers-Wright, front and centre, though she shares the spotlight with the writer and activist Lorraine Hansberry, played as Simone’s political conscience by Zuleika Khan.

Neil Cole’s boutique musical homes in on the pair’s friendship. Hansberry’s courageous work inspired Simone’s song To Be Young, Gifted and Black and while their relatively rigorous dialogue here is never as engaging as the musical numbers, from Mack the Knife to Mississippi Goddam, it at least places Simone firmly in the context of the civil rights movement, for which she was a wonderfully irascible mouthpiece.

Although Simone is not directly referenced in Black Magic: Songs Unchained, her influence is felt. This simply staged one-woman show traces the dark side of race relations in the US from the advent of the slave trade right up to the shootings in Ferguson and Charleston, using only songs and images.

Katt Tait sings continuously and cathartically for about 40 minutes, starting with the negro spirituals which begged for divine deliverance from bondage, via gospel work songs and military mantras to the emergence of blues and jazz.

As if her vocals were not raw enough, they are accompanied by a slide show depicting scarred and mutilated slaves, lynchings, the daily reality of segregation in the South and various landmarks in the civil rights movement.
It makes for a difficult watch, as it should be, but a rewarding listen.

Nina Simone: Soul Sessions, Assembly Checkpoint (Venue 322) until 30 August / listings
Nina Simone Black Diva Power, New Town Theatre (Venue 7) until 30 August / listings
Black Magic: Songs Unchained, Spotlites (Venue 278) until 31 August / listings

Published in The Scotsman on 14 August 2015

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