Denys Baptiste: Now Is The Time…Let Freedom Ring!

The Composer’s perspective

Denys Baptiste-SaxRaised-blueIn 2003, I was fortunate to receive the Jerwood Commission to compose and premiere a piece for the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. That year marked the 40th Anniversary of the historic ‘March For Jobs’ speech (or the I Have A Dream oration, as many people know it) of the Black civil rights leader, Dr Martin Luther King. With war breaking out and major unrest the world over, it seemed timely to compose a piece that referenced Dr King’s message in the context of the plight of people facing civil and human rights abuse. Combining my music with the poetry of Ben Okri and documentary film footage by Yeast, I created Let Freedom Ring! – a piece that posed the question ‘How far have we as human beings progressed in our fight against oppression, injustice, and discrimination in all its forms?’

As an artist and composer, I am humbly honoured to see that Let Freedom Ring! has endured, and I’m of course delighted to have an opportunity to reprise this work to mark the 50th Anniversary of Dr King’s Dream speech. As a human being, however, I’m saddened that, a decade after the premiere of this piece, and half a century after the speech that inspired it, achieving Freedom, Justice and Equality for all remains a dream, and the conversations around these issues remain fundamentally the same.

Time restrictions for the live set when I created the original commission obliged me to focus Let Freedom Ring! around the most memorable, second half of Dr King’s speech and I used the rhythmic patterns of his speech as the foundation for a suite in four parts – I Have A Dream, With This Faith, Let Freedom Ring!, and Free At Last!. Now, with an entire evening to share with audiences, I can expand and complete the circle.

In the opening set, with the help of my wonderful 14-piece band overlayed with a recording of original poetry written and narrated by Lemn Sissay, I aim to shine a light on the first half of the speech where Dr King sets the scene for the second part speaking of the evil of slavery, The Emancipation Proclamation, the importance of peaceful and dignified protest and, ultimately, his vision for the future. He is clear that there is no time to lose, waiting is simply not an option. Now Is The Time…  

Not only will I be leading a larger band than I had previously, but also I’ll be working for the first time with different vocal ensembles in the form of local community gospel choirs in each city of the tour, so this is both exciting and slightly scary for me! I’ve scored some parts specifically for their voices, and have invited them to insert a spiritual of their choice so they can each make a direct contribution to the work.

In the second set, we’ll reprise the original work with Ben Okri’s poetry and compelling live video projections. In all, I hope to create a multi-sensory experience for our audience that, by the end of the second set, will inspire and empower more people – ordinary people like me – to advocate for, and effect change. Let Freedom Ring! 

Denys Baptiste

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