As the Music Box Village looks ahead to larger, more ambitious music projects, it's also looking at the community around it to grow in parallel. In tandem with the conclusion of Women's History Month and the beginning of spring, a women-focused performance March 31 represents an intentional community-building that doesn't tick a diversity checkbox but hopes to build an inclusive space where women and gender-nonconforming people and people of color have the resources to create meaningful art.
"We want this project to be more about giving female artists in New Orleans an opportunity for their work, to create new work, to lead other artists — whether they be male or female or gender fluid — in our space, so it becomes more of a composer collective instead of a run of shows that are female-focused," says Music Box Village producer Leah Hennessy.
"From These Roots ..." features New Orleans musicians and Music Box alumnae Aurora Nealand, Helen Gillet, Tif Lamson, Meschiya Lake, Leyla McCalla, Sabine McCalla and Joy Clark performing a suite-like arrangement of original material. Each movement synchronizes with the seasons — from frost and devastation to springtime rebirth and renewal. The performance utilizes the Music Box Village space, an open-aired arrangement of unique pieces of musical architecture — shacks and structures designed to make a variety of sounds — accompanied by the performers' instruments and women dancers from Dancing Grounds.
"As we listened to their music and the types of things they like to do and the types of stories they might be able to tell about the female experience, this idea of roots formed, whether roots are here in New Orleans their whole lives or they formed roots here, or a lot of them play roots music," Hennessy says. The performance merges "their style of music, the season and also telling the story of the human experience of dealing with strife and struggle and finding a way to persevere and grow again."
"From These Roots ..." sprang from the success of a Prospect.4-related show "Remember Us," a New Orleans Airlift production celebrating women in the history of jazz and blues amid contemporary scrutiny of sexism and harassment.
A separate discussion and performance series in concert with the New Orleans Jazz Museum's "Women of Note" exhibit also concludes this week with Esther Rose, Meschiya Lake and Dayna Kurtz at 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 28.
Entering the Music Box's second year at the end of Rampart Street, "From these Roots...." marks the debut of an evolving women-led artist collective the organization will help produce original compositions or work with a cast of other artists. It's the latest programming in a span that includes Peaches performing with an all-women cast, OperaCreole staging Scott Joplin's Treemonisha and Animal Collective's two-night site-specific performance alongside women musicians. The Music Box's upcoming work includes The Residents' first-ever Louisiana performance, an installation at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and a long-term project working with veteran communities for an immersive art event.
"The way these women work together collaboratively is really impressive," Hennessy says. "Fans ... get to see [them] on one bill together for one night, bringing them together to do something that's a little bit different."