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Digital Shorts: Brown Sounds

Posted on: March 15, 2021

Premiering March 26th at 11:00 a.m. PST

Our new Digital Short is taking us back in time... much further back... all the way to the Garden of Eden.

Brown Sounds opens on Raehann Bryce-Davis and dancer Lateef Williams thriving in a lush paradise representing the Garden of Eden. The pair are suddenly uprooted and driven to the unknown: the original sin of slavery. In the end, they dig their roots into the soil and stretch their limbs to the sun, finding new identities, new truths and new power.

This film is the product of an all-Black creative team, masterminded by the extraordinary Raehann Bryce-Davis (aka the Big Stone in Eurydice or Sara in Roberto Devereux). Composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson creates a musical setting of poet Henry Dumas's verses, and tailored her score specifically for Raehann's ravishing mezzo-soprano. The visuals of this celebratory new work are brought to life by a group of inventive artists— filmmaker Jérémy Adonis, fashion designer Allan Virgo and dancer Lateef Williams— in a joyous celebration of Black art, Black bodies and Black consciousness.

Watch this evocative piece— presented in collaboration with the African American Art Song Alliance, Aural Compass Projects, Black Opera Alliance, National Association of Negro Musicians and Philadelphia Dance Company— below starting March 26th at 11:00 a.m. PST. 


Prefer to watch with captions?
Click on the white "cc" button on the bottom, right side of the video. 

A Note from Raehann Bryce-Davis and Story Background

Brown Sounds—The Story
Eden envelops us, all things are new, untouched, full of curiosity. Brown Sounds echo through the garden.

Violence tears us from our dwelling place; the original sin of slavery uprooting bodies and trees.

But the end is not yet. We dig our roots into the soil, we stretch our limbs to the sun, we find new truths, new loves, new power. Eden. Selah.

The Making of Brown Sounds
As a grad student living at International House in 2013, I was assigned a poem to recite for Black History Month. Every night, I had coachings with Columbia University playwright Lunga Radebe, who pushed me continually to find new colors and truths in the text. When the time came for me to give my recital later that semester, I realized the words were still singing in my being. I asked fellow Manhattan School of Music student Ayanna Witter-Johnson if she could set the words to music and she graciously said yes. At the premiere, I was joined onstage by dancer Dionne Simone Kamara from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. Thus was born Brown Sounds, a celebration of the unification of the Black arts in poetry, composition, song and dance.

For this 2021 reincarnation of Brown Sounds, I wanted to add visual vibrancy to the Black arts represented, and I found inspiration in Allan Virgo, a Jamaican American designer (who has designed for brands like Michael Kors), who provided narrative with his designs. Soon after, I saw Lateef Williams dance in a digital short for which I had provided vocals, and completely fell in love with his movement. This featured artist of the Opera Ballet Vlaanderen in turn introduced me to a very exciting French director with a fresh aesthetic named Jérémy Adonis, who is based in Brussels, and together with award-winning, UK singer/songwriter Ayanna Witter-Johnson, we created an all-star Black creative team representing the vast experiences of the African diaspora.

In addition to the creative team, we meet the artistry of pianist Jeanne-Minette Cilliers, Studienleiter at the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp, as well as Andrew Richards, a famed Wagnerian tenor and recording engineer, and AV Inspire's Geert De Deken, who help us craft the iconic sound you will hear. Significant contributions are also made by makeup artist Joke Berton, hair stylist Lilly Odion, lighting and video sssistants Adrien Leonard and James Barbosa, and line producers Octopods.

The Message
Young Black children are often taught that their history begins with slavery. Our purpose with this consummation of the Black Arts Movement is to portray a history that goes back to the beginning of time and stretches far into the untapped treasures of the future: a celebration of Black art, Black bodies, Black consciousness. 

Read Henry Dumas' poem "Brown Sounds" below.

"Brown Sounds"
by Henry Dumas (1934-1968)

brown sound chocolate
like the first time
you saw grapes
and tasted them
and learned the color

brown sound cream milk
like the first time
you saw bees
and tasted gold
and learned the honey

brown sound africa
like the first time
you exploded between legs
and heard drums
and learned the message
of rhythm love
brown sound america
like the first time
you saw that wild crazy horse
riding through painted desert
and you learned the grand canyon
red mother
brown sound
black outline
like the first time
like the first time
the first time
is the last time
like that

Watch TV strip

If you prefer to watch this digital short on your Smart TV just follow these suggestions:

  • Connect your device to your TV with an HDMI cable
  • Watch from your Smart TV web browser: just enter
  • On Roku and AppleTV download the Youtube app and search for “LA Opera Brown Sounds”
  • Mirror your smart device's screen to your TV by following these instructions: Apple or Android

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