Salem's first accused 'witch' was an enslaved West Indian woman. This opera tells her story

Nicole Brooks combined slavery, witchcraft and opera to make literal Black girl magic out of this little-known moment in history.

Nicole Brooks combined slavery, witchcraft and opera to make literal Black girl magic

(Asah Productions)

You may have seen Obeah Opera's world premiere at Luminato a few weeks ago, but if you know about its decade long journey to get to that stage, you may think creator and composer Nicole Brooks conjured up some Black girl magic.

"It's taken ten years to really get the vision and the complete version up on its feet," says Brooks. "My soul is not going to rest until this piece becomes what it is supposed to be." It began with a ten-minute performance workshopped at bcurrent, expanding on the story of Tituba — a West Indian slave woman referenced in Arthur Miller's The Crucible, during the time of the Salem witch trials. Invoking a number of musical styles from spirituals to ska, and after many reincarnations — including one at the Pan Am Games in 2015 — it's blossomed into a nearly three-hour show with an all-female cast, sung entirely in accapella.

Watch the video:

Nicole Brooks and Obeah Opera

2 years ago
The innovative and empowering opera has been ten years in the making. Filmmaker: Lucius Dechausay 4:56

This video takes you into the trenches with Nicole Brooks and her incredible cast of witchy women vocalists a week before their world premiere at Luminato. We were with the cast and its Grammy-nominated musical director Melanie DeMore as the performers worked through the melodies and the meanings — including the painful questions around slavery, colonialism and female empowerment embedded throughout the script.

It's not your average opera, using beautiful music as a way of re-writing Tituba's lost perspective back into history. As Brooks' puts it: "We have to demystify who we are and break these stereotypes and really step into our power."

(Jeremy Mimnagh)
(CBC Arts)
(Jeremy Mimnagh)

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Lucius Dechausay is a video producer at CBC Arts, as well as a freelance illustrator and filmmaker. His short films and animations have been screened at a number of festivals including The Toronto International Film Festival and Hot Docs. Most recently he directed KETTLE, which is currently streaming at CBC Short Docs.