What is Inspira?

Inspira is a performance project that incorporates audiences' feelings and thoughts in our improvisational presentation of West African, jazz inflected spirituals. From the opening notes of "Hush, Somebody's Calling My Name" to a classical violin mashup of text and voice featuring Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and Dr. King's speech; from Tiananmen Square protesters' "We Shall Overcome" in 1989 to the piece's climax "Ferguson Diaries," INSPIRA creates breathing space for people to share grief, anger and love. Book performances for January-March 2016 and 2017 now.

A multiracial and multigenerational ensemble, INSPIRA includes Francis Wong from San Francisco Chinatown on tenor sax, classical violinist Michael Jamanis, Philadelphia vocalist and community organizer Matthew Armstead, and playwright Amanda Kemp.


Why Inspira: The Power of the Spiritual is Important Now.

Inspira means breath in Latin.  And it's especially necessary when so many of us "can't breathe" right now. 


To me, African American spirituals are miracle music!  How did people create such fierce beautiful and effective art when everyday brought pain, fear and fatigue?  I love spirituals because they were created in community and reinforced our humanity even when the world said we were not quite human.  But spirituals aren't just about the past, spirituals can help us connect with our personal and collective power right now. Sometimes we're too angry to sing.  So we chant.  But we need to sing if we want to get from protest to creation!  Moreover, 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery!

So I'm bringing forth Inspira as a space to breathe, and sing and feel the power of the spiritual  today whatever your religion, culture or race.

Many of you know me as a playwright, but Inspira is not a play!   It's a performance project that I am creating with jazz saxophonist Francis Wong, my husband violinist Michael Jamanis, and Matthew Armstead, a community organizer/storyteller/vocalist. Inspira is unlike anything I have done before, and to create it requires extended real time collaboration and discovery.  The musician/composer Sun Ra is a patron saint of the project.  The ensemble gathers for weekend intensives to refine and imagine new pieces.  No two shows are alike.  Our next intensive will be at Haverford College.


The virtuoso violinist Michael Jamanis has crafted a dramatic setting of the Chaconne to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and the effect is nothing short of breathe-taking. Amanda Kemp's impassioned recitation of Lincoln's liberating words feels perfectly balanced with Jamanis' sometimes explosive, but always masterfully nuanced violin playing. The two onstage ... give the impression of a pair in the grips of a great new idea.

--Willie Ruff, Jazz Legend and Professor, Yale School of Music

I'm still inspired and blessed to have attended ...  It was brilliant and powerful.

--Robb Sauerhoff, Black Rock Sangha

"You and your entourage are truly gifted!! And that gift is to be shared with the world!! ... I appreciate you and the other artists ...!! Looking forward to next year's performance already!!! "

--Jamee Nowell, Director, Chester Senior Ctr.

"My son asked if we could go to Inspira performances instead of Church on Sundays."

Lancaster Parent

I hope to see you at the next Inspira Performance!



#SayHerName is a new multimedia performance-Lecture focusing on Black women who have resisted slavery, jim crow and our crimiial injustice system.

Written by Dr. Amanda Kemp, it features poetry, narration and film excerpts.  The presentation is scored by soulful violinist Michael Jamanis whose renderings include Bach, African American spirituals and improvisation.   Running time: 45 min.