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Interview: Afrofuturism hits Soho! Nwando Ebizie is The Passion of Lady Vendredi

In April something is coming to Soho Theatre that’s going to blow your socks off. Mythopoetic, blaxploitation super heroine, vodou priestess popstar and – no hyperbole – force of nature, Lady Vendredi is on a quest for revenge and she’s inviting us along for the ride.

The Passion of Lady Vendredi looks at the tension between freedom and control, personal gods and demons, censorship and intimacy. It's an invitation to take part in a ritual that will change you, if you let it. And who are we seeking revenge on? “Ha!” Nwando Ebizie chuckles about her alter ego’s mission, “That would be telling. But they're gonna get it!”

Ebizie is an experimental performance artist, musician, producer, DJ and dancer from Nigeria. After starting out in the National Youth Theatre and a stint in Brazil “I pretty much turned my back on performance for a few years but connected with (my now collaborator) Jonathan Grieve, which re-inspired me,” she explains. “What I realised was that I could create a whole world; a mythos using all the elements I feel a strong connection to - pop and experimental music, cinematic influences, evangelical rituals, experimental theatre, performance art. We've created a process called Secular Ecstatic Art that is strong enough to hold all these clashing elements.”

Ebizie and Grieve’s company MAS productions is behind The Passion of Lady Vendredi, along with co-producers nitroBEAT (formerly Black Theatre Co-op & Nitro), Britain’s longest running black theatre company, now resident at Soho Theatre. “Lady Vendredi connects with nitroBEAT with our shared interest in Afrofuturism,” Ebizie says when I ask about the collaboration. “Afrofuturism means different things to different people but what I love is the mythologising and forward thinking nature of the term. Looking backwards and forwards and sideways whilst reimagining the world.”

The show is also a launch pad for the new Lady Vendredi EP, with the live pulsating soundtrack of synthetic rhythms made up from the record. With support by Floating Points, Emanative, Four Tet and Gilles Peterson it’s going to be an impressive listen and another example of the polymorphous cultural output from a performer who wilfully defies categorisation.

Run Riot sat down with Ebizie to discuss science, spiritualism, insomnia, podcasts, space travel, and her penchant for West End musicals. Sit back and buckle in for the ride.  

Honour Bayes: Who or what inspires you – either worldly or otherworldly?
Nwando Ebizie:
I’d say at the moment one of my main influences comes from my insomnia. I sometimes have trouble sleeping so I'll listen to the Infinite Monkey Cage, which is a science/comedy podcast. They end up being interwoven with my dreams, with people in my dreams speaking the podcasts word-for-word. I can actually recite some of the episodes. My favourite ones are about: reality; perception; space travel; quantum physics; and infinity. I'm obsessed with the idea of going into space and visiting CERN. Maybe in my lifetime commercial space travel will become affordable – it’s not such a distant dream!
Aside from that there is a huge list: Nick Cave; Ben Okri; Angela Carter; The Fall (Mark E Smith, not the TV programme); Comic books (currently reading Monstress and Sandman); sci-fi short stories, Octavia Butler, T.S Elliot, and Floating Points.
One of the most profound influences is Haitian Vodou. We have been researching the ritual dances and music for the last two years. There is a beautiful dance called the Yanvalou which makes you feel as if water is flowing through your body.
Can I say water is an influence? I think that sounds strange. But yes, water - the feeling of being in a deep dark pool of water, the feeling of drowning, of floating, of a world beneath you that you can't connect to.

Honour: You call this show contemporary music-theatre. The other company you make work with – who are also co-producers here – nitroBEAT, work in unique ways with music in theatre as well. How is this work different to straightforward musical theatre?

The thing is, I love musicals. I can pretty much replicate whole dance sections of Cats, Les Mis' and West Side Story.
But saying that, if you want to see Cats and you came to see Lady Vendredi you'd be in trouble.
In our work there's a crossover between an evangelical ceremony, a transformative ritual, a grind house film, a music video and a gig all happening at the same time. So the music isn't used instead of speaking, the music is there because you are really in a gig, and you are really in a transformative ritual.


Honour: What immersive elements can the audience expect to be placed within The Passion of Lady Vendredi?
I don't think it's immersive like we're going to pretend you're a character in the show, or create these fantastical sets for you to wander through. It's immersive like you're part of something that is really happening - like when you go to a wedding and you see the ritual enacted in front of you - you're literally part of it - you know what you have to do and when and it happens around you. You know when to clap, when to dance, when to drink. Some people are more or less involved, but everybody is part of the same ritual.
So the audience will be immersed in the way people are immersed in rituals.
Honour: Your company with Jonathan Grieve, MAS Productions, talks about engendering ecstatic transformations within the audience – how do you evoke such a dramatic response?
Our work begins with the performer and the transformations take place within them. We have a long process, which is about building up a layered performance through psychophysical actor training and performance art exercises. The idea is that if we create a strong enough ritual space then the audience aren't just spectators, they are participants who experience what we are going through.
Honour: Your work is very spiritual - Vendredi means ‘saint’ and the ‘passion’ of the title seems to be a reference to Christ. Where do you think the place of spirituality is in a secular world?
I love secularism. I love reason and the western scientific process.
But ritual and myth are essential to the way we try to understand the universe and our place in it.
I massively believe in physical ritual when entered into fully, as a way of engaging with one's psychodramas whether tantric Buddhism, Haitian Vodou or Sufi Turning. I find it interesting that these are the practices that dogmatic religions end up outlawing or claiming are evil or degenerate. I'd say it’s dogma that can be dangerous.

Honour: How does the character of Lady Vendredi fit in with your other work?
I’d say over the last 3-years all my creative work has had the same inspirations, but is filtered through differing contexts. For example I did a gig at The Royal Opera House last year which was harp, electronics and voice (with a harpist called Holly Lowe) and my starting point was – ‘how can I create a sensual experience so people feel they are immersed in an environment as well as listening to a piece of music?’ So the end piece ended up being durational and involving perfumes we'd made. I actually ended up using the electronic part in a Lady Vendredi show, so things seem to get reconnected into her world.

Honour: With Lady Vendredi being such a powerful force, do you think if ever in the future you'd want to make work as Nwando Ebizie you’ll have to actually kill her off?
Ha! Great question. Lady Vendredi has her own timeline and dimension so in a way she could exist forever in other media that doesn't require me to perform her. I suppose she'll exist for me as a performance identity as long as I feel the need to explore the elements she contains. It's true that she's totally swallowed up my performing, musical and creative life for the last year, but I'm expecting that after The Passion of Lady Vendredi she won't require so much of my energy and some kind of space will be created for me to think about something else.
Honour: What lies in your future?
I’m really interested in exploring our perception of reality. I want to research Palinopsia, a rare neurological condition that manifests as visual hallucinations.
More Music. More Art. More Science!


The Passion of Lady Vendredi
Tue 12 – Sat 30 April
Soho Theatre (downstairs)
21 Dean Street
London W1D 3NE
Tickets and info: sohotheatre.com

Single Available Now ’What Time Is it?’ by Lady Vendredi here
Debut EP released in April 2016.