The media preview of Sabrina Francis’ ‘Meet Me at the Mango Tree’ was more than just a concert but can be described as an experimental multi-sensory musical experience that marries music, theatrical play and visual art in an awe-inspiring location high up in the hills of Mt. Agnes, St David, Grenada.
Sabrina’s Treehouse appears in a secluded spot after a seemingly endless drive up a winding dirt road, past country houses and farmland. Upon arrival, a handful of special guests were given the red carpet treatment before being greeted with a sip of fresh passionfruit cocktail on entry.
Before Sabrina’s performance began, the audience was encouraged to indulge in light hors d’oeuvres and drinks by the bar. As part of the preparation for what was to come, the audience was given explicit instructions to place their headphones over their ears, which was then followed by a suspenseful silence as members of The Treehouse Band walked on stage and took their respective places.
The Treehouse Band includes the likes of composure and keyboardist Dieter Burkhalter, background vocalist and percussionist Laura Lisa Richardson, Guitarist Alesia Aird, flautist Amorelle Browne, Drummer Godson Browne and Keane Jules on bass drums.
The electronic keys of Burkhalter’s keyboard followed by the dimming of the stage lights signalled the start of a brief musical sound test by the band, which set the stage for Sabrina Francis’ quiet entrance to assume her position in the left-hand corner of the stage. This was then followed by her angelic vocals performing her first new single “Lullaby”.
Then, Sabrina took the audience on a deeply emotional journey down memory lane by paying homage to Grenada’s rich oral tradition of storytelling. She expressed elements of everyday life growing up in Grenada through songs never heard before music like “Broken Promise,” “I’m Gonna Be Famous,” and “If It’s For You, It’s For You,” while also incorporating immersive visuals, ambient sounds and lights controlled behind the scene by Light Engineer Jana Caniga helped beautifully captured Grenadian cultural nostalgia that ordinary people can relate to.
This added to the sensory experience as she performed a total of 12 songs from her discography. The performance incorporated stage props into short skits for every song, presenting diverse stories that explored themes such as love, friendship, mental health, forgiveness, and redemption, defying the expectations of traditional concerts.
Can a Concert Transcend Music?
But it was the harmonized vocals of both Sabrina and Laura Lisa singing the song entitled “Just Like You” that brought the curtains down on her 1-hour performance. After months of tireless effort, Sabrina and the entire cast were met with enthusiastic applause from the audience as they bowed and raised their glasses of champagne in celebration. In the world of live performances, one question emerges: can a concert transcend mere music?
Every sound in Sabrina’s performance was captured and recorded, with storytelling elements woven throughout the concert.
“This story is not an autobiography. I wanted it to feel like a Grenadian story. There are certain elements in there. I hope that a lot of people can relate to,” she said.
“So it’s not necessarily a Sabrina Francis story, but there are parts that I could relate to. And I feel like Grenadians could relate to some of those experiences as well.”
Two of the main technicians behind the scene were Dieter Burkhalter and Sound Engineer Hervin Hood.
Dieter explained his decision to curate a live band performance that utilized headphones for listening.
“Using headphones has its benefits. The volume control is in your hands, but when it comes to the loudspeaker, the sound engineer sets it, leading to a dilemma as some people prefer it loud and others prefer it low. Furthermore, the presence of a microphone on stage leads to a problem of speaker bleed, causing the sound to become distorted and unclear in both the microphone and stage monitors. Using headphones eliminates sound leakage and greatly enhances sound production,” Dieter explained.
Sabrina’s performance left Teddy Frederick, a Grenadian artist, photographer, and videographer, in awe of the level of artistic detail.
“Sabrina took it to a place where this is more of like a musical journal. It’s kind of like our own personal convictions inside of her music. And that’s authentic,” he said.
Teddy had advice for those planning to witness this live performance. “I would say to them, be open-minded.”
Indeed, Sabrina’s performance gives new meaning to the phrase “music to my ears” and couldn’t come at a better time as Grenada prepares to celebrate its golden jubilee, marking 50 years of independence. This level of unchartered territory of musical creativity will certainly be repeated on February 9, 2024, this time for members of the public.