Decca is proud to announce the signing of US composer Carlos Simon and the release of his new album Requiem for the Enslaved. The title work sees Simon infuse the traditional Catholic requiem with music from African American spirituals to create a haunting piece for chamber ensemble and spoken word. 

The album’s central piece, Requiem for the Enslaved, with text by Marco Pavé,was commissioned by Georgetown University, where Simon is currently Assistant Professor of Composition, following a decision by its student body in 2020. A majority voted to establish a reparations fund to be paid to descendants of 272 enslaved people who were sold for $115,000 by the Maryland Jesuits, the founders of Georgetown, in 1838 to rescue the university from bankruptcy. This work honours the passing of those people purchased and sold by the founders. Upon receiving the commission, Simon visited the Louisiana cotton plantation that purchased the enslaved people and delved through the Georgetown archives for historical research as he began work on the pieceThe album’s cover is inspired by this location. 

Carlos Simon says of the work, “I’m so grateful to be joining the Decca family and to be finally releasing this project. It is my hope that I not only honour the men, women and children sold into slavery, but also recognize that systemic racism is still ever present in our society.” 

Alongside the full 50-minute performance of Requiem for the Enslaved, the album features three reflective bonus tracks reworking musical material from the piece. Simon, an esteemed pianist, performs himself, along with trumpeter MK Zulu

Simon, the son of a New Orleans preacher, draws on both his gospel music heritage and his training in Western composition. Requiem for the Enslaved adapts the ten-movement requiem form, featuring spoken word by spoken word and hip-hop artist Marco Pavé, which draws from the West African griot and jali legacy of storytelling. Echoes of Gregorian chant blend into Simon’s distinctive neoromantic compositional voice, performed by the pioneering Boston-based ensemble Hub New Music (violin, flute, cello and clarinet) and trumpeter MK Zulu. Overlapping, multi-cultural meaning is packed into the work. Melodic cells from the spiritual “Oh When The Saints Go Marching In”, a hymn tune often heard played by a second line funeral procession in New Orleans, are woven into the requiem. In a powerful nod to both the bell that rings to direct academic life at Georgetown, and the bells that rang to summon the enslaved people to work on the Louisiana cotton plant, an evocative bell ring reoccurs throughout Simon’s Requiem

Tom Lewis and Laura Monks, Co-Presidents of Decca Label Group, say, “Carlos is a fearless musical pioneer. He is expanding towards new, exciting and important creative spaces and taking audiences and critics along for the ride. We are delighted that he has signed to Decca. He has inspired the whole team and we can’t wait for him to inspire the world.” 

Carlos Simon’s music transcends genre, with jazz and gospel influences meeting cutting edge contemporary classical composition. Often tackling themes of migration, belonging and community, and inspired by contemporary literature and street art, Simon’s work has seen him listed as one of the Washington Post’s“composers and performers to watch in 2022,” with the paper calling him “a modern major composer: an artist whose windows are thrown wide open to the world, and whose musical scope of late lands like a grand panorama of American life”.He was winner of the Sphinx Medal of Excellence in 2021 and is Composer-in-Residence at The Kennedy Center. He has had recent works commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Opera, Philadelphia Orchestra, Detroit Symphony and the Washington National Opera, working with the likes of J’Nai Bridges, Gianandrea Noseda, Andris Nelsons, and gospel stars Mary, Mary. Outside of the US, he has recently had his compositions performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and Chineke! Orchestra in London. 

To pay tribute to George Floyd, whose murder in Minnesota in 2020 sparked global protests, Simon has been commissioned to write a large-scale piece entitled brea(d)th for the Minnesota Orchestra. With a libretto by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, the work will receive its world premiere May 18-20, 2023. 

Requiem for the Enslaved will be released on 17 June, ahead of Juneteenth National Independence Day in the US (19 June), a Federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans. 

International tour dates for 2022 of Requiem for the Enslaved will be announced soon as well as dates for Carlos Simon’s other large works.