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Home / Neighborhood / San Gabriel Valley / Pasadena Independent / Emotional Season Finale at Cal Phil with Sarah Culberson’s Recitation

Emotional Season Finale at Cal Phil with Sarah Culberson’s Recitation

by Terry Miller
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John Williams’ Music and poetry byBernard Dadie performed by Sarah Culberson led to an emotional season finale for Cal Phil – Photo by Terry Miller

Emotional Season Finale at Cal Phil
with Sarah Culberson’s Recitation
‘Dry Your Tears – Africa’

By Terry Miller
Maestro Victor Vener’s concert season finale was not only a sellout on Saturday night at Santa Anita but it was a skillful homage to the prolific John Williams and the movie business which has helped thrust him into legendary status. From Superman to Star Wars, War Horse to Indiana Jones, Harry Potter… the list goes on. Williams’ countless scoreshave touched each and every one of us at some point in our lives.
Some of Williams’ most successful film scores were brought to life Saturday during the cool evening summer finale at Cal Phil’s new home, the Santa Anita Race Track. However it was the music of the film Amistad and the reading of a poem “Dry Your Tears, Africa”that ,without doubt, made the final evening unforgettable.
The artist who read the poem‘Dry Your Tears – Africa’, Sarah Culberson, is an American woman of Mende ancestry from Sierra Leone on her father’s side. She is the biological daughter of one of Sierra Leone’s chiefdoms. Culberson was adopted one year after her birth by a West Virginia couple and was raised in the United States with little knowledge of her West African ancestry. However, in 2004, Culberson hired a private investigator to track down her roots, and discovered that her uncle was, in fact, a Paramount Chief, and by birthright, Culberson is a now officially a Princess. Her story garnered international attention and was the focus of numerous stories in print( including Beacon Media) and on national television news shows. Culberson also has co-authored a book with Tracy Trivas entitled‘A Princess Found’ which is her extraordinary story. The book is available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble Booksellers.

Since then, Culberson has established the Kposowa Foundation to alleviate the suffering endured by her people particularly in Sierra Leone.The Kposowa Foundation’s purpose is to raise funds and rebuild a boarding school, provide clean drinking water, provide economically sustainable opportunities, and improve the overall quality of life for the people of Sierra Leone.
With that in mind, Maestro Victor Vener’s decision to invite Sarah (early in the inaugural season at the race track) to read the insightful “ Dry Your Tears – Africa” was quite literally, a stroke of genius and blended perfectly with the orchestra and chorus.
With a record setting 5000 guests on the infield, one could almost hear a pin drop as the audience listened intently to the passion in Culberson’s commanding recitation of the 1967 poem.
“Bee ya ma yee ah,
Dry your tears

Bee len geisia bee gammah.
Your children are with you

Bee ya ma yee ah,

Dry your tears

Bee len geisia tee yamanga.

Your children have returned

Mu ya mah mu yeh,

We have returned home

Mu ya mah mu yeh,

We have returned home

Mu ya mah mu yeh, Afrika.

We have returned home, Africa”

Culberson read parts of the poem in Mende and then the English translation of the powerful struggle for freedom and the joy of going home as it was first written by Bernard Dadie in ‘67.
One of the most effective features of the film Amistad, director Steven Spielberg’s epic reenactment of an 1839 shipboard slave rebellion, was its musical score, composed by John Williams. In addition to the instrumental background music typical of film soundtracks, Williams fleshed out the action with various kinds of music appropriate to the film’s time and place—African drum rhythms, American religious music, and a song in the Mende language of modern-day Sierra Leone, listed in the film’s credits as “Dry Your Tears, Afrika!” The poem’s original language was not Mende or English, but actually French, curiously enough.

Beacon Media spoke with Culberson on Monday following her two performances over the weekend. Culberson said “It was an honor to have the opportunity to work with California Philharmonic and Maestro Victor Vener with such a profound poem.” It was an incredible and spectacular opportunity,” she added. Culberson admitted that she was “ choked – up,” at times when she first practiced reading the poem and the poem’s magnificent depiction of coming home was nothing short of awe-inspiring for the audience.
Hundreds stood up to applaud Culberson as Maestro Victor Vener looked on and thanked the princess for her talent and time.
Amistad is a 1997 historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg based on the true story of an uprising in 1839 by newly captured African slaves that took place aboard the ship La Amistad off the coast of Cuba, the subsequent voyage to the Northeastern United States, and the legal battle that followed their capture by a United States revenue cutter. It shows how, even though the case was won at the federal district court level, it was appealed by President Martin Van Buren to the Supreme Court, and how former President John Quincy Adams took part in the proceedings.
Cal Phil will return to Santa Anita next summer with lots of surprises and appearances by The Beach Boys.

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