• Allison Lewis (USA)

    Allison Lewis is a Doctoral student in the American Studies Department at the University of Kansas. She holds a BM in vocal performance with a focus in operatic studies as a mezzo soprano and an MA in African and African American Studies from the same university. Allison’s research focuses on disparities for African Americans in music education and advocates for the use of more Afrocentric teaching techniques in the classroom. Her intent as a researcher and creator is to produce academic and theatrical work that is in conversation with current activist movements and uses operatic studies and stages as a place for radical transformation, Black liberation, and justice. Allison is a two-time FLAS (Foreign Language Area Study) fellow in Wolof. Her previous work includes musical consultant and singer for the KU Theater production of In the Blood (2019), director of an outreach program for Black middle school singers at the KC Melting Pot Theater (2019), and co-founder of the activist group KU AESM (Alumni for the Empowerment of Student Musicians), a grassroots organization committed to fighting for decolonial and equitable education for KU’s most underserved musician populations.

  • Genevieve Arkle (UK)

    Genevieve Robyn Arkle is a lecturer and researcher whose work focuses on historical, cultural, and intertextual investigations into 19th- and 20th-Century Austro-German music, specifically the works of Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler. She is Co-Founder and Deputy Director of the Institute of Austrian and German Music Research (IAGMR) and is the Leader and Co-Founder of the Gustav Mahler Research Centre Postgraduate Forum (GMRC). In 2020, she was awarded the Wagner Society’s Young Lecturer’s Prize for outstanding research on Richard Wagner and also earned the title of ‘PGR Student of the Year’ at the University of Surrey’s Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for exceptional contributions to research. Alongside her research, Genevieve has used her platform as a young, black-mixed, female academic to speak out on issues of black and black-mixed representation in Music Higher Education. She currently sits on the board for the EDI in Music Studies Network (EDIMS) and is Digital Communications Team Lead for the organization. She is passionate about creating safe and inclusive spaces for people of color in music and educating others on the importance of diversifying and decolonizing our industry.

  • Mandla Langa (South Africa)

    Mandla Langa comes from Durban. He went into exile in 1976 and has lived in Botswana, Mozambique, Angola, Hungary, Zambia and the United Kingdom. In 1980 Mandla won Drum Magazine’s Africa-wide story contest and in 1991 was awarded the Arts Council of Great Britain bursary for creative writing. Mandla was the Cultural Representative of the African National Congress (ANC) in the UK and Western Europe. He has been a columnist for various newspapers and was the Convenor of the Task Group on Government Communications (COMTASK) in 1997, which restructured apartheid’s communication systems. From 1999 to 2005 he chaired the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA). In 2007, he received the National Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for his literary and journalistic contribution to democracy. In 1999 to 2000, he wrote the book for the musical, Milestones, which featured music by Hugh Masekela and Sibongile Khumalo. His published works include Tenderness of Blood (1987), A Rainbow on a Paper Sky (1989), The Naked Song and Other Stories (1997), The Memory of Stones (2000), The Lost Colours of the Chameleon (2008), which won the 2009 Commonwealth Prize for Best Book in the African Region and The Texture of Shadows (2014). He co-authored Dare Not Linger with Nelson Mandela’s archives (2017) and was a fellow with STIAS (Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies). A recipient of honorary doctorates from the Universities of Fort Hare and Wits respectively, Mandla has a MA in Creative Writing from Wits. He sits on various boards such as Multichoice’s Phuthuma Nathi and Primedia and is a trustee of Media Monitoring Africa.



Jun 17 2021


12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Charting ‘Black Opera’

What is Black? What is Opera? When does something qualify as ‘Black Opera’? In the second of its series of inaugural panels, BORN grapples with the parameters of its own terms of reference. Taking as a starting point the ‘Black Opera Database’ created by BORN affiliates Allison Lewis and Nicholas Newton, the conversation interrogates the politics of racial categorization and generic classification. We ask what institutional integration might mean for works of art that resist prevailing taxonomies of opera and Blackness. Finally, panellists ask if it is possible to circumscribe the field of ‘Black opera’ without allowing practitioners or their works to be co-opted into a politics of inequality and/or exclusion.

Talking points include:

  • diverse demarcations of Blackness in different times and places
  • works of art as ciphers for racialized expectations
  • operatic Blackness as ‘vernacular’ or ‘folk’ construct
  • opera and its generic others
  • what should or shouldn’t be included in a database of ‘Black’ operas?
  • the potential co-option of Black opera as an antidote to white liberal guilt



Naomi André (USA)


  • Genevieve Arkle (UK)
  • Mandla Langa (South Africa)
  • Allison Lewis (USA)


Read an interview with Allison Lewis and Nicholas Newton on the development of the Black Opera Database here.

This event was recorded. Watch a video on vimeo:

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