A collaboration between Philip Glass and West African griot and master kora player Foday Musa Suso, The Screens was an enchanting and exotic synthesis of African and Western musical traditions with an Arabic twist. The Screens was performed in jazz and world music series, intimate concert halls and outdoor festivals.
It was personally important to me that a non-white, African composer work on The Screens. I also wanted someone who really knew theatre and who understood my work. Suso and Philip turned out to be a dazzling combination. Their music supports and embraces Genet's rich and complex theatrical poetry with a musical feast I never imagined.
The Screens, Jean Genet's last and greatest stage work was first seen in Paris in 1966 at the Theatre Odeon. This landmark work appeared as nothing short of a theatrical explosion during its premiere performances, complete with riots and grandarmerie. The present score, composed collaboratively by myself and Foday Musa Suso, was written for a production of The Screens presented at The Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, and directed by JoAnne Akalaitis in November 1989. The play takes place in the early 1960's in Algeria during the revolutionary struggle for independence from France. In the process of combining themes of colonialism, exploitation and the European notion of "Arab-ness," Genet has given us a rich and enduring dramatic vision.
JoAnne Akalaitis had originally asked Suso to do the score in collaboration with a western composer. I heard of the project and volunteered myself as Suso's musical partner. We had known each other for some time having traveled together in Africa in the mid-80's as preparation for my recording of the film Powaqqatsi. In fact, when it came time to record that score, Suso participated as a performer and made some original contributions as well; with this as a background we went to work.
The idea of combining Western and African musical traditions, of course, came from the play itself. JoAnne joined us in the recording studio and we followed her through the script, composing music for each scene as she described for us how she would devise the staging. That meant that either Suso or I would begin the composition and then add to it the contributions of the other composer as things progressed. Besides this "back and forth" kind of collaboration, we each contributed individual pieces as well. The result is, to my mind, the closest I had come at that point to a real collaboration with another composer. The music for The Screens is clearly something neither Suso or I could have done alone and was full of surprises for the both of us.
The present recording was made about a year after The Guthrie Theatre production and contains almost all the music of the original production as well as some new material. In returning to the studio, we had the opportunity to rethink some of the music and to include Suso's original performances as well.
— Philip Glass