It has been almost 44 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream of a world without segregation, racism or poverty from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. He spoke of a day when people of all races would join together and sing of freedom. For the past five years, Eastern Front Theatre and the Nova Scotia Mass Choir has given the people of HRM an opportunity to do just that with the annual Share the Dream concert.
The show, January 20 at the Rebecca Cohn, includes performances by New York-turned-Nova Scotian singer Dutch Robinson, local actor, singer and composer Jeremiah Sparks and the Mass Choir, led by Shauntay Grant.
Scott Burke, artistic producer of Eastern Front Theatre, describes the evening as “a really great night for a really great cause.” He says the current incarnation of Share the Dream came about as a fundraiser to help Eastern Front mount its production of Lance Woolaver’s Portia White: First You Dream. Since then, the evening has become a must-see event, playing to consistently sold-out audiences.
This year’s event will also honour the a cappella singing group Four the Moment. Created in 1981 and disbanded in 2000, the group gained international acclaim with songs about the struggles of women and African-Canadians, as well as the problems of the Third World. Their musical style has been described as a unique fusion of folk, blues, gospel, jazz, soul and rhythm and blues.
“I think music is a good way to effect change,” says Delvina Bernard, one of the group’s founding members. “I wouldn’t have spent 20 years of my life writing and performing it if it wasn’t. It’s a universal tool that speaks to the soul. It was certainly the best vehicle for us to communicate with. People don’t like a soapbox, but people have a more open response to music.”
Her sister and fellow founding member Kim Bernard-Morris agrees. “Our music spoke clearly about social justice and social change,” she says. “I think that music can send a message that helps people see things differently.”
Anne-Marie Woods, who joined the group in 1988, also speaks of the transformative power of music. “Music is a universal language,” she says over the phone from Toronto. “I’ve seen that it can touch people in a medium where they’re comfortable, where their backs aren’t up.”
Still, all four members passionately agree that the fight against racism has a long way to go. “The world changed during our time together,” says Andrea Currie, calling from Cape Breton. “For instance, we saw the end of apartheid in South Africa and the beginning of reconciliation there. But there are still a lot of misunderstandings and stereotypes in the world. There are still barriers that need to come down, like the fear of differences. There is still a lot of work to be done.”
Woods feels that the face of racism has changed; it is less blatant, but there nevertheless. Yet she’s optimistic. “There is still a lot of systemic racism,” she says. “There’s racism in the school system—things that still aren’t equal. But I would hope that there will be a time when work and education and outreach and communication will overcome that.”
The group members are clearly delighted to have their work recognized. “It’s humbling and an honour to be celebrated by our peers,” says Bernard. “The music we did was about communities, so it’s really nice to be celebrated by our community.”
“It’s really wonderful that the group’s legacy hasn’t died,” adds Bernard-Morris, “that people remember us and tell us how important our music was.”
Currie says that one of the nicest benefits of the concert is the chance to sing together again. “The Mass Choir is really giving us a gift. I miss the experience of singing together—-it’s like an ache. It was a precious 16 years…it will be such a treat to sing again with Kim, Anne-Marie and Vina.”
Share the Dream, January 20 at the Rebecca Cohn, 6101 University, 8pm, $29, 494-3820.