Apphia Campbell returns to the Edinburgh Fringe in stellar solo show Black is the Color of My Voice which sees her step into the role of a jazz musician and civil rights activist inspired by the legendary Nina Simone. With a fusion of music and raw performance, Campbell crafts an intimate and engaging experience worthy of seeking out.
Black is the Color of My Voice is centred around Mena Bordeaux (Campbell) seeking redemption after the untimely death of her father. As part of a Liberian cleansing ritual, she reminisces about dreams of being a concert pianist, early romantic interests, and life with her mother and father, embedding musical numbers into these reflections. Her early instances with racist attitudes, abusive husband Arthur, and her role as a civil rights activist provides further rich emotional content.
With simple yet effective staging set up to resemble a hotel room/bedroom, Campbell is joined by an old trunk containing artefacts with significant meaning – including her father’s clothing, her mother’s hat, and love letters from old boyfriend Eddie – each of these items serves as the stimulus to unveil an emotive memory or make way for an impressive musical number. A small photograph of Mena’s father looks on from a table as the performer addresses it directly whilst reminiscing.
There’s a poignant tone of reflection shining through Black is the Color of My Voice with the music choices fully heightening this. Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair, I Put A Spell On You, Mississippi Goddamn and Feelin’ Good are standout moments with Campbell avoiding attempting to imitate Simone yet packing these performances with an emotional weight and nuance, as well as an impressive vocal range – all the while paralleling the narrative.
A contemporary resonance is also found in Black is the Color of My Voice with Mena’s description of her early experiences with racism (her parents being removed from a concert venue, particularly hard-hitting), the fight for civil rights, and the death of Martin Luther King – all showcasing that despite being something a period piece, this work and message is still relevant for the 2020s.
Campbell’s research and embodying of Simone (despite going under the Bordeaux moniker here) is truly impressive and she captivates throughout, whether delivering a monologue or performing a Simone classic, she is a massively engaging presence with the ability to transfix. Weaving and adapting elements of Simone’s life is no easy task – and particularly ensuring this has an emotional connection – yet the performer does this with an undeniable finesse.