“Rarely do word and movement mesh so seamlessly and elegantly that the audience is left with the thought that drives them. But such is the case with Marc Bamuthi Joseph whose stories put sound and gesture on a single continuum of expression.” —The Washington Post
“. . . dynamic display of facile wordplay, percussive music and phenomenal physical movement.” —The Courier Journal
Poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph upends the phrase “think globally, act locally,” striving to inject core community values into his work as an international hip-hop artist. He performs the world premiere of the Walker Art Center-commissioned the break/s Thursday–Saturday, April 10–12, at 8 pm in the William and Nadine McGuire Theater. This multimedia excursion across planet hip-hop, presented in verse, dance, and film, dramatically unfold a living history of the hip-hop generation through Joseph’s performed personal narrative. the break/s draws its inspiration from his emergence in a time of hip-hop globalization and Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, a 2005 American Book Award winner, which captures the creation of hip-hop as a local political and artistic movement inspired by a generation’s longing to make culture that impacts the world.
“I’m not a stereotypical emblem for what hip-hop culture is or how it gets broadcast around the planet,” says Joseph. “Hip-hop is definitely in my body, but I also don’t have a gold grill in my mouth, don’t have rims on my car, I pay my taxes, I have a family. On the flip side, I’ve been able to travel around the planet because I use hip-hop as an idiom and forum to express not only personal narratives, but allegorical ones.”
Joseph is a vital multidisciplinary artist whose work combines theater, movement, spoken word, poetry, and personal storytelling. He is also a dedicated educator—he founded the national spoken-word organization Youth Speaks—who turns hip-hop into a curriculum of personal and political investigation and expression. All those facets came into play as Joseph conducted an ambitious residency with 15 young artists that will culminate in an April 3 performance by the youth. Along with the Minnesota Spoken Word Association’s Sha Cage and e.g. Bailey and local videographer Rachel Raimist, Joseph and the break/s collaborator Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi spent the early part of this year working in residence with a handful of teenage spoken-word artists and young videographers to create personal expressions that explore the question of “Who and what do I represent?” In addition to the free performance on April 3, those pieces will also be available for viewing on the Walker’s Web site, walkerart.org. Joseph’s latest work the break/s premieres the following weekend, April 10–12, and features live music by remarkable human beatbox/percussionist Tommy Shepherd and DJ Excess. Joseph’s “travel diary,” constructed as a series of dream journal entries, takes audiences to the Philippines, Bosnia, Senegal, France, and Cuba, as well as to Madison, Wisconsin, Miami, and other American cities not generally associated with hip-hop.
Part of his mission, Joseph says, is “to eradicate some of the monolithic images that we have not only of hip-hop culture, but of some of these places. This is where it’s very important for the personal and global to collapse, in these little battles. The ethos of traveling and the times I travel throw everything into a little bit of a mist for me about what’s real and what’s not, and there’s almost a feeling of narcolepsy in there. There’s this thing of ‘representing’ in hip-hop, but when I come home, I don’t represent anything. The battle for me at home is more about family and personal decisions, how I relate to my partner, my son, my family. That’s the tension in the piece, and it’s definitely a struggle.” Joseph has devised another method for engaging local audiences: “I have this whole Prince poem I’ve been playing with, and I keep trying to cram it into the break/s. I think it’s great, but my dramaturge says ‘Hmm, that’s interesting, not sure it belongs in this piece,’ ” Joseph says with a laugh. “But after the performances, if no one’s throwing anything at me, I might try to put it in as an encore.”
In addition to artistic consultant Chang, collaborators include director Michael John Garcés, filmmaker Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi, dramaturg Brian Freeman, video and co-set designer David Szlasa, lighting and co-set designer James Clotfelter, choreographer Stacey Printz, and composer Ajayi Lumumba Jackson. Together this team of artists explodes the genre of hip-hop theater through inventive presentation and narrative.
Marc Bamuthi Joseph
(playwright, performer and Artistic Director of The Living Word Project), originally from New York City, is an arts activist currently living in Oakland, California. He is a National Poetry Slam champion, Broadway veteran, GOLDIE award winner, featured artist on Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry on HBO, former Stanford University IDA residency artist, and inaugural recipient of the United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship. In the fall of 2007, Bamuthi graced the cover of Smithsonian Magazine after being named one of America’s Top Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences.
Bamuthi’s evening-length works have been presented throughout the United States and Europe and include Word Becomes Flesh, Scourge, De/Cipher, and No Man’s Land. His performances have been described as everything from “electrifying” (The Houston Chronicle) to “ever-elegant” (The Washington Post) and have compelled The Seattle Times to name him their “cutting edge performer of the year” for 2003. In their recent review of Word Becomes Flesh, the New York Times declared his work to be “eloquent . . . seamless . . . and remarkable,” and The Chicago Tribune named it the Best Solo Show of 2006.
Bamuthi’s next project, red black and Green: a blues, utilizes performance to document the eco-equity movement towards green collar jobs in Black neighborhoods. His current evening length work, the break/s was developed while completing the prestigious Arts Institute Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. His critical writing is currently featured in Jeff Chang’s Total Chaos and his first non-fiction book, Line Breaks: A Source Guide to Hip Hop Theater, will be published by The University of Wisconsin Press in spring 2008. A resident at ODC Theater and Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco, Bamuthi’s proudest work has been with Youth Speaks where he mentors 13–19 year old writers and curates the Living Word Festival for Literary Arts.
(performer) is a pioneer in the world of scratch music, who refuses to adhere to musical boundaries, and is constantly searching for new and innovative ways to blur the lines between genres. His efforts in melding standard music production with his turntable skills have solidified his place as one of the great scratch musicians of his generation. He is part of the world-renowned DJ Crew Ned Hoddings and of the up-and-coming crew The Crate Bullies. DJ Excess, along with fellow New York native IXL, is the main force behind Hop-Fu, a project melding Hip-Hop and Kung-Fu into an exciting audio-visual experience, created by John Carluccio and Barry Cole. Other scoring projects include No Condition Is Permanent and Apostrophe for the graffiti collective The Barnstormers. Studio production credits include releasing mix CDs and vinyl Bringles (break record/singles) through his own record label Styluswars; scratches created for Pepsi International, Sesame Street, and Schieffelin & Sommerset (Hennessy Cognac); and music featured in the 2004 Showtime series Street Time, as well as on the 2005 Playboy video game The Mansion. Excess has performed extensively in North America, Asia, and Europe. He won the 1999 International Turntablist Federation East Coast Advancement Class Championships and the 2000 U.S. Advancement Class and Western Hemisphere Scratching Championships. DJ Excess has been featured in URB Magazine‘s “Next 100” issue as well as in other publications, including Newsweek, Scratch, The Source, XXL, and Fader.
Tommy Shepherd aka Soulati
(performer) is an actor, playwright, b-boy, rapper, drummer, and beatboxer. Most recently, Shepherd created and performed his first one act solo performance piece The MF in ME, premiering at Intersection for the Arts’ Grounded Festival of New Works. Shepherd is an actor on the children’s cooking show Doof and performed and toured internationally with Marc Bamuthi Joseph in Scourge. He also created the score for Donald Lacy’s Color Struck. Shepherd is the co-founder of the hip-hop band Felonious: onelovehiphop, which plays throughout the world and also develops and creates theatrical productions. Shepherd is a long time Hybrid Resident Artist at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco and is also a member of resident theater company Campo Santo. Most recently for Intersection for the Arts, Shepherd acted in and created the live score for Hamlet: Blood in the Brain by Naomi Iizuka with Campo Santo, and he created the sound design and score with Howard Wiley for A Place To Stand. He performed with Erika Chong Shuch’s ESP project in San Francisco in the sold-out runs of the dance theatre piece one window and 51802. He also acted, beatboxed, and composed a live score with Scheherazade Stone for Domino by Campo Santo. In 2004, he was an actor, the musical director, and live vocal musician for the play a fist of roses by Philip Kan Gotanda created with Campo Santo and Intersection for the Arts. He is currently collaborating with Dan Wolf on the creation of Stateless, which will tour Europe in 2008.
Performance: Youth Showcase
Thursday, April 3, 7 pm
Free tickets available from 6 pm at the Bazinet Garden Lobby desk
Local young spoken-word and video artists present works created during their residencies with Marc Bamuthi Joseph and hip-hop filmmaker Eli Jacobs Fantauzzi, demonstrating how spoken word and media can serve as vehicles for personal expression and positive civic and social dialogue. The works explore the question of “Who and what do I represent?”
Tickets to Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s the break/s are $22 ($18 Walker members; $14 Thursday) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.