Towards the final scenes of Restless City, Jessye Norman’s solo soprano voice scales the great buildings and the conveyor belts of vehicles, between all of which a small red scooter navigates, carrying the slim bodies of Djibril and Trina. They are here, in this city, with all their desires clenched in their mouths. It is Norman’s voice, following the music composed by Richard Strauss to the poetry of Herman Hesse, that lifts our two immigrants’ desires up on the currents of her song, skylarks freed into the night sky.
In Toronto-based Dan Yon’s documentary of Sathima “Bea” Benjamin, the Cape Town-born jazz singer, the narration moves back and forth between New York City, where Benjamin was a long-term resident, and Cape Town, where she began singing as a young girl during the forced removals instituted by the Group Areas Acts. The narration bridging the two cities, and Benjamin’s multitude of losses (and gains) is interspersed with the melodic imaginative leaps that only a voice such as hers can bridge. Only her voice lies between two cities, and immeasurable, oceanic longing: her song making tentative vocal incursion and excursions, in and out with the tide and forces beyond her control.