uth = By Marina Cameron
People who see Sweet Honey in the Rock live dont forget the experience. The mixture of voices and mastery of musical styles, the strength and passion of the performance are spine tingling. Each Sweet Honey performance is driven by spontaneity. Only one person, rotated amongst the group, knows which songs will be sung and in what order. Each concert is a composition in itself.
Sweet Honey is now touring Australia for the fifth time.
Since Sweet Honey began, 22 women have participated in the ensemble. Founder Bernice Johnson Reagan sang with the Freedom Singers in the 1960s, touring to promote the civil rights movement. Sweet Honey was formed in 1972 out of a theatre workshop at which women heard Reagans songs and pushed to develop these within a singing group.
Each participant has contributed to the gospels, spirituals, jazz, blues, rap and traditional African songs that the group has navigated. With its beginnings in the African-American tradition, Sweet Honey contributes to and creates a flowing stream of culture and political expression that it is a pleasure to be drawn into.
Carol Maillard, a founding member of the group, spoke recently to Green Left Weekly.
Question: Where does the name of the group come from?
One of the first songs that we did was called "Sweet Honey in the Rock". It is based on a parable told to Bernice by her father about a land that was so rich and so wonderful that when you pressed a rock, honey would flow abundantly. It was like the land of milk and honey. This seemed like a good name for the group.
Question: Sweet Honeys music covers issues from South Africa to AIDS, from Third World debt to womens rights. Where does the inspiration for the songs come from?
It comes from people individually. If it is an issue that someone has a feeling about or has thought about, they write a song and bring it in. There is no central aim to the music. It isnt calculated.
Every one of us has a conscience, is a humanitarian. The things that we write about are things that concern us as mothers, daughters, as taxpayers [laughs], as spiritual beings, as mindful human beings. The songs are about things that affect us, and there are people all over the world who feel the same way about many of the things that we sing about. Thats how we connect with people.
Question: There is obviously a rich and unique collaboration within the group. How does this mould your music?
You have a thought. You write it down. We learn all the different things that each of us has to offer. When we are on stage, different flavours come through as the music is shaded by each persons ability and each persons musicality. As we perform them, songs change between this year and next. They develop a life of their own as we switch things around, just as we change personally and the group develops.
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