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Steph Davis
marimbist, arranger, composer, Africana studies scholar, cultural activist


about my work

Through musical storytelling, my work explores African-American history, culture, identity, and resistance. Drawing upon lived experiences, research, and critical thinking, my performances contest and re-contextualize dominant historiographies, seek liberatory modes of creating, and strive to activate the power of imagination.


Artistic Statement

My mother’s generation would have called it “becoming Black conscious.” I’ve come to know it as “liberatory consciousness.” Becoming Black conscious is the moment, or many moments, when Black people living in pervasive anti-Black environments “wake up;” the moments when they come to [re]embody the truth of their own, and all other [Black] peoples,’ inherent dignity. Aware of our unconditional dignity, I began to investigate the historiographies which communicate subaltern status to Black people in U.S. society. It led me to challenge dominant historiographies in my work, and to reveal life-affirming narratives around Black life, culture, and humanity through music. My artistic practice is a practice of freedom. By centering Black subjectivity, I challenge the notion of the white gaze and its perceived power/authority over Black life and art. Who are we outside of white-supremacy? Translating Black dignity into artistic performances, my work revolutionizes how African Americans come to conceptualize ourselves, understand our history, and engage with our culture. My work invites all people to engage with our culture.

Combining the marimba, research, and cultural activism, I create evening-length musical and multidisciplinary experiences that draw on African and African American aesthetics to share stories about Black history. Fusing together improvisation, dance, and electro-acoustic composition, The Will to Adorn engages African American spirituals and Zora Neale Hurston’s essay, “Characteristics of Negro Expression” to seek liberated consciousness within Black expressive culture. Through the Wall and Bones, Soil, & Song both take on an anthropological approach to musical storytelling. Journeying through West African, African American, and Euro-American musical traditions, these works address generational trauma and other lineages which link African Americans to West Africa, Black freedom movements, and Afrofuturist visions of the future.

Rooted in my belief that African American cultural production enhances the lives of African Americans and all people, my artistic practice involves composing, arranging, and commissioning Black culturally responsive music for the marimba. My practice asserts the marimba as a site for Black cultural production in the United States. My current projects include curating a collection of original compositions, transcriptions, and arrangements of Black music for the marimba and developing evening-length artistic performances and lecture-recitals around Afrofuturism, dignity, and music as protest.

June 2023

Top Photo: Robert Torres, Celebrity Series of Boston

Bottom Photo: Lauren Miller

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