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History, generational struggle and legacy will be the unifying themes of “Louverture Exchange: A Musical Dialogue,” a performance featuring the World House Choir, hip-hop artist and local resident Tronee Threat and headlined by international performer Napoleon Maddox on Thursday, Oct. 13.
The performers will also hold discussions and educational events for students at Antioch College and Yellow Springs Schools on Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 10 and 11.
The News spoke with Maddox, Tronee Threat and World House Choir Director Cathy Roma over the last several weeks in the lead-up to the performance.
Maddox, a Cincinnati native currently living in France, has a performing career spanning several decades that includes hip-hop, jazz, blues, funk and theater. He is a founding member of the Cincinnati hip-hop trio iSWHAT?!, and went on to form the Franco-American duo Sorg & Napoleon Maddox with French beatmaker Sorg.
Working with Sorg, in 2017 Maddox created a musical and visual piece, “Twice the First Time,” which employs jazz, hip-hop, spoken word and scenography to tell the story of famed 19th-century conjoined twins Millie and Christine McKoy; Maddox will perform excerpts from “Twice the First Time” during his Yellow Springs appearance.
The McKoys — who often signified their movement through life in a shared body by stylizing their names as Millie-Christine — were born enslaved in Whiteville, N.C. in the mid-19th century. The pair were, at different points in their enslavement, sold and kidnapped and compelled to work as sideshow performers. Following their emancipation from enslavement, the women continued to perform for much of their lives, and were known around the world as “The Carolina Twins” before their deaths at age 61.
“Twice the First Time” examines the exploitation of the McKoys, setting their story upon the foundation of their enslavement, ruminating on how the sisters maintained their dignity and autonomy despite being objectified and posing queries about how they would view and interact with the modern world.
Maddox told the News that he chose the McKoys as subjects for his work not only because of a family connection — they are his great-grand aunts — but because of an artistic connection to the lives they led.
“Their story has some parts that are difficult, but they also have a story that we can be proud of,” he said. “Where I always go for inspiration is … ‘What is there for me to learn from this story? And how can I personalize it? … Then when I start to create, I have something to offer the audience.”
One thing audiences can glean from the McKoys, he said, is perseverance in the face of persecution — a thematic element also present in his 2021 performance work, “L’Ouverture de Toussaint,” excerpts from which he will perform in Yellow Springs as well.