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The culinary migrant

Food, theatre and music come together to tell the story of the migration of the humble aubergine, reflected within the context of migration. Adam Brimmer interviews Claron Mcfadden, the brains behind the Nightshade: Aubergine series.

How was the concept for Nightshade: Aubergine series born?

Many years ago I spent the day with the family of a dear friend with Jewish/Yemenite roots. His mother and I couldn’t communicate with words, but I could understand her stories and songs on another level.

She cooked traditional dishes and the whole family ate and sang together. When I left, she hugged me and said that I was always welcome and words are not necessary because we communicate with the heart. This is actually where it began.

Why did you pick the aubergine in particular?

I wanted to try to recreate this feeling of cooking and sharing and, since I adore Mediterranean cuisine, it was an easy choice to make a culinary/musical ‘road trip’ here. I find the aubergine such an iconic fruit (this was a discovery), with a rich and mysterious history spanning millennia.

When I learnt that its origins are actually Oriental and that it travelled along the Silk Road to settle in the Mediterranean, I was captivated by this ‘culinary migrant’. It became a metaphor to me for trans-migration and integration. Everywhere the aubergine went, it adapted itself to the culinary landscape, absorbing the spices and flavours surrounding it, yet always keeping its identity.

How does the production change with every country that it visits?

It is very important to me to give the audience a small taste of what I experienced along my journey. The documentary of the trip is an integral part of the performance, giving the feeling of being right there. But I also wanted to share my culinary experience with the audience, and so I ask each place where we play to present a few aubergine dishes for the audience to share after the performance. Mostly dishes I have already experienced have been served, but since this is our first time in the Mediterranean, I’m hoping to taste a few local dishes.

A lot of negative energy is now associated with the word ‘migrant’, but actually, aren’t we all migrants or descendants of migrants?

What about Malta – what should the audience expect?

The history and heritage here is so rich, for a big part due to its geographical location in this region.  The food, the language, the architecture are a reflection of centuries and centuries of cultural cross-pollenization. One sees evidence of the many different peoples that have inhabited (even occupied) this island. The result is a magical mixture of cultures merging into a unique and powerful identity. I hope the audience here will feel that Nightshade: Aubergine reflects their rich heritage.

What made you decide to collaborate with the Migrant Women Association for this?

A lot of negative energy is now associated with the word ‘migrant’, but actually, aren’t we all migrants or descendants of migrants?

What are the biggest challenges translating this idea to reality?

The biggest challenge has been trying to put my experience into a form which touches the heart, as well as the mind and triggers reflection and discussions, without trying to solve anything. I was not trying to be provocative. I just approached people with an open mind and open heart, and Nightshade: Aubergine is the honest reflection of how people responded to this openness.

How important is it to use music and storytelling to celebrate and raise awareness about diverse cultures?

Extremely important! We seem to be more and more preoccupied with what separates us as human beings, instead of what connects us, what we have in common. Sharing life experiences and knowledge through music and storytelling seem to be an important part of cultural heritage and prevalent in most cultures.

Due to migration and the resulting cross-pollenization, no culture exists, to my knowledge that hasn’t been influenced by at least one other culture through the millenia. At one point in the performance I quote an English herbalist who warned his fellow countrymen in 1600 to “be content with meat and sauce from our own country, rather than with fruit and sauce eaten with such peril”. What would he think of the English culinary landscape now?

What can you tell us about the music that will be played during the event?

Each of my hosts taught me a song, as well as a dish. These songs have become themselves ‘aubergines’, metaphorically speaking. My very talented musical colleagues have changed and rearranged them, according to their own musical heritage, yet the songs still retain their identity. The audience will also hear several original compositions inspired by the road trip. And well, I might have a surprise or two up my sleeve...

What are people’s reactions to the experience, typically?

Most people’s reactions during the performance are spontaneous and emotional. The real discussions come afterwards. I often spend hours after the performances with members of the audience, and this is what I love the most about this project: it triggers discussion.

Nightshade: Aubergine takes place on September 1 at 8.30pm at St Aloysius College, Birkirkara. The event is being organised by Valletta 2018 Foundation. Tickets are available online.

http://tickets.valletta2018.org

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