Raehann Bryce-Davis' mezzo-soprano is as striking on screen as it is on stage. Specifically, as it is in our latest Digital Short, Brown Sounds. But Raehann lent more than just her voice to the work, she masterminded the entire project. Read on to learn more about the work and the extraordinary all-Black creative team behind it.
What does Brown Sounds mean to you?
Brown Sounds is a love song—to Black bodies, Black people, Black history, and a declaration of independence from colonial mindset. It’s especially meaningful now, because in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, when so many have been protesting police brutality, we lift up the poetry of someone who was killed by police violence, Henry Dumas. He was murdered by a transit cop on 135th Street in Manhattan, the details of which are still unknown. But before his violent death, he wrote some of the most moving, profound, and powerful poetry and short stories ever written. One of the most important movies of our lifetime was Black Panther. And in Black Panther, the comic book, they used Henry Dumas’ poetry to find this mysticism of Black beauty, to create Eden, this utopian Black existence—and this is where Brown Sounds lives.
Can you give us a glimpse into its story?
We begin the story in the Garden of Eden, before anything troubling had ever happened, just celebrating the beauty of Black bodies, Black joy. And then, in the midst of perfection, there is the original sin of slavery, that rips our beautiful characters from their utopia, and casts them into a land unknown, where they are forced to find again, their essence, their core, their truth, their identity. And so, in our video, we meld through these three distinct points and find the truth of Black empowerment.
What inspired you to sing this song?
Well, I remember a time when I was about 10 years old. And I grew up in a small town in Texas. I had this huge crush on this on this guy who was in my class, it was summer. I was ready for him to notice me and see how wonderful I was. And so, I asked my friend to ask him what he thought of me. When she came back to tell me what he had said, he had said, ‘Yeah, she's really cool. And she's okay. But she's Black.’
And so, in that moment, I felt a realization that there was there was a disconnect with being Black and being beautiful. It took me years to reunite those two things, that those were not different beings. I want so much to put in the minds and in the hearts of young women and young men, that they are beautiful, that Black is beautiful. That was one of the things that really made me fall in love with this poetry of Henry Dumas, this adoration of Black bodies, Black experiences.
Can you talk a bit about the creative team behind the work?
So when I was in graduate school at Manhattan School of Music, I had an opportunity to do a Black History Month project. And I was given this poem, Brown Sounds, to speak. I fell in love with the colors, with the rhythm that was imbued in the text. When it was time to do my recital, I was like, ‘I want to sing this. This is a song. This needs to be a song.’ So I spoke with my classmate Ayana Witter-Johnson, who is an incredible singer and songwriter based in the UK. And she was like, ‘Absolutely, I got you.’ She wrote down this incredible melody.
I just felt so strongly that we needed to see a visual realization of these Black bodies. And so, I fell in love with Lateef Williams, who is a dancer, a corps member at the Opera Ballet Vlaanderen in Antwerp, Belgium. I spoke to him having no idea if he would be willing to do it. He came on board very passionately, and so we’re gifted with his amazing movement.
Then he introduced me to the wonder that is Jérémy Adonis, an incredible Black director, born in France, and who just has an aesthetic that is unseen, and who I just feel so gifted to collaborate with. And finally, we're so blessed to have Allan Virgo, who is an incredible designer. He has a women's outerwear brand but is now delving into costume design. He created these very powerful, Afro-centric and yet elegant looks that play with dimensions, and really just bring to life the visual aspect of this music video.
Any last words for the audience?
I'm just so excited to share this with you. It's such an incredible team that I'm really blessed to work with. I want people to experience Black creativity and expressionism and art, and really just have an experience that is completely moving and enthralling and beautiful, but also bold and powerful. And I just hope you all love it as much as I do.
Brown Sounds premieres March 26th at 11:00 a.m. PDT.
Click here to tune in.