"Improvisation is leaving room for the spirit to come down."

This wisdom that vocalist, composer, and cultural worker Imani Uzuri shared with me also sums up her approach to performance: open and deeply spiritual. Through her music—which pulls texts and textures from known songs and conceived soundscapes of the enslaved population in the United States from the 17th and 18th centuries—Uzuri aims to render visible some of the narratives from countless undocumented people. With her voice as her guide, she embarks on WILD COTTON and invites others to take the journey with her. The aim: to find internal freedom. I recently caught up with Uzuri to find out what exactly audiences can expect from her presentation of WILD COTTON at the David Rubenstein Atrium on February 8.

Hillary Bonhomme: With this being a conceptual and improvisational performance, what can you share about the themes and ideas that are feeding WILD COTTON?

Imani Uzuri: WILD COTTON is a conceptual-ritual piece. I'm meditating on undocumented soundscapes in the context of African-American slavery on this continent. The performance is improvised, so it's my job as the artist to set that intention for the room. So just by virtue of being in the performance, we'll experience a ritual of remembrance.

The idea of WILD COTTON is being free at all costs, so within my performance, I'm responding creatively and intellectually as a protester and as a fellow human. With this piece I'm asking myself and my audience: How do we push an agenda of liberation for our personal lives and in support of the community around us?

HB: With so much of this being a remembrance of those enslaved, how are you thinking about freedom as you go into this as a performer and person?

IU: In the context of enslaved people, sound—either through song or prayer—amplified their true condition. Their true condition was liberation outside of what was happening to them. People can be free regardless of their conditions. I think we are liberated and that is who we truly are. So as a performer, I want to tease these modalities out. It's our birthright to be happy, liberated, and free.

HB: What would you say to someone considering attending who might be afraid that the performance style could be a little out of their comfort zone or go over their head? Or someone who feels like they don't have much to offer to the remembrance of slavery?

IU: Everyone can think about ways in which they have felt in bondage or sought liberation in their own lives. We're all trying to traverse parts of ourselves, and expand upon ourselves. Given the climate that we're in in this country, I think people crave to be in touch with what's happening in the world and also to connect to their personal lives. People are trying to be healthier, people are trying to have clean water, eat food that isn't genetically modified. So this is just a bigger picture, for me, and WILD COTTON is a continuum of these kinds of conversations. I think the only thing you need to have to meditate on these themes is the ability to think how they've affected the world and the individual.

Hillary Bonhomme is a writer, radio producer, and musician in New York City.