Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (the Hood Opera)

The unforgettable Melvin Van Peebles’ movie Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) is an iconic work of Afro-American cinema and the beginnings of Blaxploitation. It was one the biggest successes in the independent film-making and still has a huge influence over the hip-hop culture. Melvin Van Peebles’ own compositions really determine the action by inventing something completely new, a funky cinema, thick, sweaty, and panting.

The freedom of speech and coarseness of some scenes, strongly contrast with Hollywood’s puritanism as well as the way he shows the Afro-American community from the inside. The sexual exploits of the hero, his runaway to Mexico with the police on his trail, the ceaseless race on the verge of exhaustion of this man, still standing up, always at odds with society; the whole story composes a significant metaphor of Back men difficulties in the American society of that time.

The film becomes now an opera, and a world premiere for Sons d’hiver festival, led by Melvin Van Peebles himself! Greg Tate and Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber provide the musical part. As a matter of fact, the idea is not to replay the original but to adapt this unique work for the stage in a contemporary way. Co-founder of the Black Rock Coalition, Greg Tate and his Burnt Sugar Arkestra seems the perfect ensemble to take up the challenge, carrying on the heritage of a certain Black music from Duke Ellington to the Art Ensemble of Chicago to Funkadelic and Sun Ra.

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (the Hood Opera) is a musical adaptation written,  composed and directed by Mr. Van Peebles: developed in residence at The Apollo Theater Salon Series, Harlem NY and at BRIC Arts | Media | Bklyn, Brooklyn, NY.  The production will have it’s world premiere at the Sons d’hiver Festival in Paris, France at Maison des Arts on Friday, February 19th & Saturday, February 20th, 2010 procured by Jared Michael Nickerson for Burnt Sugar Index LLC.

Best known as the “Godfather of independent film and modern black cinema,” Melvin Van Peebles has also distinguished himself in an impressive list of other aspects of the entertainment industry – as a director, producer, writer, and composer.  He is an Emmy award-winner and has received two NAACP Awards in addition to three Grammy nominations and eleven Tony nominations.  He published five novels in French, one of which became the basis of his first feature, a French film entitled, La Permission” (The Story of A Three Day Pass), which won the Critic’s Choice Award at the 1967 San Francisco Film Festival.  He became the first black director to shoot a film in Hollywood with his film Waterman Man and he used the money he earned from this project to finance his next feature, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. He later went on to write and compose two Tony Award-nominated Broadway musicals, Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death and Don’t Play Us Cheap.  In television, Van Peebles wrote the screenplay for a CBS movie pilot Just an Old Sweet Song (1976) followed by the sequel Down Home.  He wrote and acted in Sophisticated Gents and also wrote the Emmy award-winning after school special, The Day They Came to Arrest the Book.  Most recently he starred in his off-Broadway show, Unmitigated Truth (Life, a Lavatory, Loves & Ladies), directed and starred in the film Confessions of a Ex-Doofus Intchy Footed Mutha, and was also awarded the prestigious French Legion of Honor.

Written and Directed by Melvin Van Peebles
Featuring the Hood Opera Cast and Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber

Alfred Preisser            Creative Consultant to the Director
Jared Nickerson        General Manager
Grier Coleman            Wardrobe Supervisor
Kimberly Glennon        Wardrobe Coordinator
LaRonda Davis            Company Manager
Naima Ince            Director’s Assistant

(in alphabetical order)

Chelsea Adewunmi
Roger Binette
Alex Dittmer
Jeffery Glaser
Jeremiah Griffen
Tracy Jack  – Choreographer
Karma Mayet Johnson
Derrin Maxwell
Kimberlee Monroe
Jacqueline Thuener-Rego
Lelund Durond Thompson
Gillian Wiggin
Rejinald Woods

Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber – Sweetback Edition
(in alphabetical order)

Lewis “Flip” Barnes Jr.         Trumpet
Mikel Banks             Harmonica, Flute and Freak-A-Phone
Jason DiMatteo             Acoustic Bass
Christopher Eddleton         Drums
Avram Fefer             Tenor Sax
Micah Gaugh             Alto Sax
“Moist” Paula Henderson     Baritone Sax
Andre Lassalle             Guitar
Bruce Mack             Keyboards
William Martina         Cello
Jared Michael Nickerson     Electric Bass
David Smith             Trombone
Mazz Swift             Electric Violin
Gregory S. Tate         Musical Director, Guitar