Writer and Performer: Giles Terera
Director: Dan Poole
Giles Terera is best known for his role as Aaron Burr in Hamilton, for which he won an Olivier award in 2018, but, as he demonstrates in Black Matter, he is also a talented musician and songwriter. As a response to last year’s Black Live Matter protests in the UK, Black Matter is an hour’s worth of songs that have black lives at their hearts.
Filmed at the Crazy Coqs in London’s Soho, Terera’s song cycle begins with its title track and is his most blatant attack on the racism in Britain. Opening with the words ‘London Bridge is falling down’, Terera goes on to discuss the recent Windrush scandal, the idea that confident black women are often seen as angry, and the murder of Stephen Lawrence. One of the last songs he performs is about the photographer Khadija Saye who was killed in the fire in Grenfell Tower. Terera proclaims In A Picture of Britain ‘ the people in power don’t give a fuck about Grenfell Tower’.
The songs that discuss the nation’s racism are the most successful in this smoothly edited concert which makes sure that it doesn’t show Terera performing to an empty theatre, creating, instead, an intimacy with the audience. This closeness is perhaps undermined by the lack of chat between songs, but they mainly speak for themselves.
There’s the calypso inspired Be Good To Yourself, which conjures up visions of beaches in sunshine and the old school R&B track The Ballad of Pasadena, played again on the guitar. A few songs are played on the Crazy Coqs’ piano, but one of the songs, The Flats, isn’t as incisive as his others charting black lives.
Terera’s musical background is invoked in the songs Shadowlark and the romantic Charing Cross Road, which tells the story of a love affair that starts upon the London street. However, the most interesting track is the jazz infused Holy, full of rhythm and which really shows Terera’s agile guitar-playing skills. It’s a shame that there is not more of this move into jazz.
Terera began writing these songs after he witnessed an incident in Soho when two black men were wrongly accused of causing an altercation in a cafe. And it’s when Terera responds in a direct manner that Black Matter works best; some of the other songs are perfectly pleasant, but they feel empty in comparison.
Still, Terera can write a catchy tune, and all of these songs, each preformed solo feels complete, and although they work well through the computer screen they definitely will generate more warmth, and certainly more anger, when they can be played in public.
Runs here from 24 March until 31 March 2021