Samirah Evans, special guest soloist, joins the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus on May 12.
Courtesy photo
Samirah Evans, special guest soloist, joins the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus on May 12.

‘The importance of this music is to bring people from all walks of life together’

Soloist Samirah Evans on music from the African diaspora and the concept of sankofa

BRATTLEBORO-Samirah Evans of Brattleboro ( will be a special guest soloist joining the Brattleboro Women's Chorus for the group's May 12 concert.

The Commons caught up with her by phone recently to find out more. Here's an excerpt from the conversation.

* * *

Victoria Chertok: Hi, Samirah! What have you been up to musically?

Samirah Evans: I'm happy to be coming up on 10 years of teaching jazz vocals at Williams College. I just completed my last day presenting my students' incredible recital.

I'm looking forward to a great summer and fall season of making music that includes Samirah Evans and Her Handsome Devils returning to the Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival this summer, and a tribute to Billie Holiday at the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in the fall.

V.C.: I'm thrilled to hear that you are singing with the Brattleboro Women's Chorus. What has it been like to work with them and with Becky Graber?

S.E.: Becky has been incredible to work with! It's a great opportunity for me to get to know her more. It's really satisfying to work with someone who is so open and with such a big heart. She's really made me a partner in a lot of the work we're doing. She's so amenable to ideas that I have.

We are both very passionate about the music! All of the songs are heartwarming and encourage togetherness, and I'm very happy to be part of it.

V.C.: I hear you will sing one of your original songs which you wrote with your husband, Chris Lenois. Tell me about it.

S.E.: Well, a portion of the song ("Wireless Boy") is a sing-along, which is why I chose it, as I love engaging the audience that way.

It's a fun song that reminds us of the importance of relationships face-to-face with each other instead of depending on our devices to communicate. It's unbelievable how much energy we now put into relating to people through our devices - sometimes texting people in the same house or even across from you in the same restaurant.

V.C.: You mentioned the African song "Sankofa" and said you chose that song because you felt it was perfect for the theme of the concert.

S.E.: "Sankofa" is a song written by Cassandra Wilson, a jazz vocalist and composer. I chose this song because the repertoire Becky has chosen is music by African Americans and deeply rooted in the African diaspora. The word "sankofa" originated in the Twi language of Ghana that literally means "go back to get it."

Another take on it is "taking from the past what is good and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress through the benevolent use of knowledge."

Sankofa is important to African Americans because it represents the need to reflect on the past to build a successful future. Two symbols both represent Sankofa: the bird with a contorted neck looking back, and another which looks more like a heart.

For me this song is significant because I recently discovered my Ghanaian heritage. I'm very excited to be singing this for the first time.

V.C.: Becky said that "to do this concert justice, we need to take a whole year to embed both music and cultural context so we can go beyond simply learning notes." She mentioned the workshops that the chorus took to further understand music from the African diaspora.

S.E.: I think it's interesting that the music that Becky put together for this show was for that purpose. The importance of this music is to bring people from all walks of life together. This idea is really important to me.

The only way this world will thrive is if we all come to realize we are all part of the human race and we're all part of our habitat and our entire universe.

Presenting a concert like this together is a reminder of us recognizing that, yes, we come from different backgrounds but we don't need to be apart from each other - we can do so much better if we enable ourselves to open up to each other, to respect each other for who we are and what we have to offer.

Another reason why I love this repertoire is that the majority of the music is written by women - the nurturers of the world! It's a wonderful gift for women on Mother's Day.

Women are important in moving forward what is vital in our world, and many are often not recognized. To see how women can make a difference through music is awesome in this context, and I appreciate Becky for putting a program together that does that.

V.C.: Any closing thoughts?

S.E.: My ancestors are from Africa, and I like the idea of looking back to what I may have forgotten in my life - another expression of sankofa.

Without Africa, I wouldn't be; without Africa, there'd be no America. This is our country - we built it.

Because of how difficult it is to look back and see how our people were treated, we may not look back at the importance of what Africa is for us in America today.

Victoria Chertok covers arts and entertainment in Vermont for The Commons. She is a classically trained harpist and received a B.A. in music at Bucknell University.

This Arts item by Victoria Chertok was written for The Commons.

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