Nick Sample’s immersive new theatre show Hoodoo draws you into the music and myths of Southern Louisiana via live performance, party and Creole soul.
A cool and earthy bassline starts an irresistible groove; the drums kick in, followed by a sharp guitar thwack. Then the rich vocals: “Now’s the time for all good men to get together with one another…”.
Yes We Can Can is the name of this funky, upbeat and sophisticated song with which the Pointer Sisters impressively introduced themselves to the music world in 1973. The optimistic hymn of harmony and female solidarity, written by Creole songwriter Allen Toussaint, struck a political chord when it was released during US President Nixon’s tenure. To music mastermind and Hoodoo creator Nick Sample, the song brings together all the magic of Louisiana Hoodoo culture: “It’s a positive message we evoke with our show. Especially in light of the destructive government we have in the US today,” he says.
Nick Sample has worked with a dizzying array of musical legends from Randy Crawford, Rod Stewart, Art Garfunkel and Engelbert Humperdinck to, of course, his father; legendary jazz pianist, Joe Sample, and his band the Crusaders (Street Life). But Sample was tired of the formulaic setup of live concerts. “Music is more than just watching people on stage with instruments,” he explains. “Music is always immersive; it’s a collective experience, but it’s also an emotional amplifier and driving force for communities and rituals. The spatial separation between musicians and audience is actually a hindrance.”
The concept behind Hoodoo emerged from a desire to dissolve the gap between stage and audience and allow complete immersion in the music. Sample is testing this idea out in Berlin — for him, the most avant-garde city in the world.
From spectators to players
The ethos behind Berliner Festspiele’s immersion series, “Go in instead of look at”, applies perfectly to this hybrid performance of installation, party, and live concert. Hoodoo draws its inspiration from the mysteries and magic of swampy Louisiana, the Creole homeland of blues, New Orleans funk and Zydeco.
The show is staged by Michael Counts, the immersive theatre luminary labelled a ‘mad genius’ by the New York Times. Counts creates large-scale spectacle and intimate, detailed worlds that the audience traverse in their own time.
Hoodoo should, according to Nick Sample, work like “a house party to which one is invited. You drink, eat, meet people, listen to music, share stories and watch short impressionistic scenes that happen spontaneously between characters at any given moment.”
Sample and his producer wife Victoria Lucai, long-time assistant to Quentin Tarantino, cast actors from Berlin, but brought musicians from the US in the form of the Creole Joe Band created by Joe Sample, Nick’s famous father. And, of course, they play Yes We Can Can.
It’s no coincidence that Yes We Can Can sounds like Barack Obama’s election slogan ‘Yes we can’: confidence instead of fear, unity instead of discord and division like Obama’s successor in office. But “Trump isn’t alone, he can rely on the ultraconservative movement” says Sample. “What we focus on is creativity — that’s our positive message. Our show is an ambassador for the other America, for the melting pot-America, which does not separate, but brings people together.”
Translated from original text by Friedhelm Teicke
10th April – 19th May | Wed-Sun 6.30pm-11pm | Admission €65
Spiegelpalast am Bahnhof Zoo, Hertzallee 41, 10787 Berlin
Director: Michael Counts; with Nic Allen, Alex MacDonald, Lola Gulley, John Fontenot, Josh Washington and others