Mashing dem Classics

Commissioned I was to poetically mash up a classic story for Queen Elizabeth Hall’s free gig as part of London Literature Festival. I chose the Ramayana, thinking that the text is rife for melding into different landscapes with its universal themes of family, heroism and demonic domestic abuse. Condensing a text spanning 14 years into a 10 minute set was ambitious enough, not least without updating it for now. Mashing up a classic, as it were. I chose to set the Ramayana in Brixton, having lost many an evening there to circumstance, to the brooding rumble of malevolence and to good ol fashioned community vibsing. I turned Ravana into the local dealer, Ram and Laxshman into some likely lads and their dad into a commerce king. Sita remained Sita, pure and emblazoned by fire. Hanuman became the frontman rapper of the Banana Monkey Clan, a play on Roots Manuva’s superior Banana Klan collective. It was a tense 7 minutes, and I got to use slang and ting, like arms mans, or blups, or spars and ting… and wasteman. I got to use the word wasteman. I’m not talking about using slang in the horrendously patronising way Marcus Brigstocke does, to further segregate Radio 4 from the youth and from ethnic people, to prove that teenagers are all idiots with no hope and no potential, outside the boundaries of humour and irony basically saying ‘listen to me, I’m posh and I’m mocking the way kids speak these days before they say idiotic things that you the Radio 4 listener will only come across when your chauffeurs are stuck in traffic and you have to take the bus.’ Sorry, tangential rant, I’m sure Brigstocke doesn’t give a flying fuck what I think about his smug classist ‘liberal’ views of the youth, but then, I no longer give a fuck what he has to say about politics that isn’t already being said by less smug more intelligent comedians like Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver. Fuck you Brigstocke.

So, to the Ramayana, remixed. Yes, it was great, performing amongst old friends and fellow performers like Inua Ellams, Dzifa Benson, Kayo Chingonyi and new friends and fellow performers like Rachel Rayner and Maxwell Golden and Naomi Waddis (someone I’ve seen a lot about over the last few years). It was good to get support from friends such as Riz MC and Nimer Rashed, both excellent artists in their writes. I was afraid that Wimbledon and the weather outside, propelling people towards the fountains and a rave on the beach would dwindle our crowds. But in 10 minutes, the foyer of Queen Elizabeth Hall swelled to about 250 artholes all ready for the poetry. The gig couldn’t have gone better. I was nervous, it being my first time with that material but covered my disco legs with a dhoti. It went well, we all rocked it and I got to rock my ‘Virgil Levy’ poem, which I hope to record at a future gig soon.

That night, I headed to take part in Book Club Boutique’s Standon Calling launch. I was reading a short story with Nicholas Hogg, author of the great ‘Show Me the Sky.’ It was my third gig with the Book Club Boutiquers, and they are amazing. Check out their free night every Monday. Salena Godden, who I’ve seen perform umpteen times, is frackin awesome. She’s a tour de force. She’s a shamanistic energy-box of ideas and invention, hypnotic to watch, watch, electric and fucking hilarious. You need to get to this night. I’m starting to feel like part of their family now and hope to be heading out to Electric Picnic with them later on in the year.

Mashing the Classics. We rinsed them. Big ups to all the London Lit Fest crew (especially Inua’s thrilling retelling of the Death of Mercutio) and the Book Club Boutique crew.

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