Pauline Oliveros: Njinga the Queen King

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Njinga the Queen King is a collaborative effort between writer/director Ione and composer Pauline Oliveros, which they refer to as “a play with music and pageantry.” It is based on historical facts.

This fully staged “pageantry” with a large cast weaves the plot around singing, acting, music — including ethnic music and percussion, electronics and dance.

Njinga ruled 17th century Ndongo — now Angola — as a “king” because tribal custom forbade her to rule as a woman. A skilled diplomat and fierce warrior, Njinga kept the Portuguese at bay from Ndongo for the 40 years of her rule.

Flowing freely between time periods, Njinga traces the diaspora of Njinga’s people to Brazil and the United States, linking the ancient warrior’s life to that of a contemporary African-American woman who has lost touch with her heritage.

As storytelling is a deeply-rooted element of African culture, Njinga features two Kilunda (spirit) characters who step in and out of the action, leading the viewers through the play. The final element in the mix is capoeira, the liquid, hybrid movement form of self-defense as dance — which has its roots in Angola and flourishes today in Brazil.

Oliveros’ score, and the use of electronics and spatialization, provides an environment for the extensive use of traditional African music, heightening the drama.

This recording is based on the BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) Next Wave Festival performances of 1993. In addition to Oliveros’ music and sound design, Njinga incorporates traditional Kongolese music arranged by Titos Sompas, and Brazilian music arranged by Nego Gato. 

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