Nina Simone and the music of Goat

Yshani Perinpanayagam, Music Director for Goat, on the brilliance of Nina Simone and how it feels to perform her music

“I am on the train up to London. I am about to start making a piece for Rambert Dance Company… I thought of Nina Simone. Not because our situations are comparable (they’re definitely not), but because she said that an artist’s duty is to reflect the times.”

Ben Duke, choreographer of Goat

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The complexity of Nina Simone‘s sound defies categorisation. The breadth of her music ranged from jazz standards to musicals, from folk to pop, all accompanied by her fiercely trained classical fingers. Drawing on these vast and varied influences, she became known for her genre-bending piano improvisations, such as the extreme and extraordinary examples that feature in Feelings from her 1976 Montreux set.

However, it was more than Simone’s obvious technical prowess which hooked audiences. Simone’s life was turbulent to say the least; she was navigating a violent marriage, racial inequality and possible bipolar disorder. The unashamed rawness with which she presented herself on stage offered her audience a glimpse of the mysterious, vulnerable and dangerous woman behind the music.

Nia Lynn in Goat. © Hugo Glendinning

Knowing what we do now about Nina Simone’s incredible journey, it is hardly surprising that she hated being compared to any other performer. Her sound was an intensely personal and often painful account of her very self, as an artist and as a woman.

The arrangements used in Goat aim to represent the original Nina Simone versions as truthfully as possible – some are close to direct transcriptions.

Nia Lynn rehearsing Goat. © Stephen Wright

The sense that Nina Simone really wrote herself into her arrangements makes performing them feel at once deeply intimate and infinitely intimidating. It leaves you determined to convey your own personal truth through her music, smearing each song fearlessly with every secret you carry, every imperfection and every pain. To buff it into fakery would be an unforgivable offence.

Find your nearest upcoming performance of Goat here

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The original Nina Simone recordings of the music featured in Goat

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