The Insulting Cabaret. Nuff said mate.

15 04 2010

There’s a festival of world literature going on in town. Oh yes.

It’s called Free the Word! and this is its 3rd year in London.

International PEN are in charge of it all. They believe words make the world go round. And ya damn right, too! Read about them here.

If you only make it to one of the Free the Word! events, you should go and see the Insulting Cabaret at the Southwark Playhouse tomorrow night (Friday 16th April 2010).

Why? Cos it’s gonna be an effin’ trip.

And also cos I haven’t seen it promoted anywhere. And I work in the Southwark/London Bridge area. I was lucky enough to be told about it by the Thayil half of Sridhar/Thayil*. So of course I’m gonna share this valuable information and implore you to get out there and do something different.

Sridhar/Thayil will be on that stage doing their thang with a bunch of other musical, wordy performers. This year’s theme is love and hate. Those universally elusive concepts.

You should also go cos it’s bloody well called the Insulting Cabaret. And if that doesn’t spark even a little curiosity in you, then your brain cells have obviously been numbed by the inane Leader’s Debate that was on TV earlier. So I suppose you can be forgiven.

I haven’t given you a potpourri parcel in a while, have I?

Here you go:

The Insulting Cabaret: Love Vs. Hate
Venue: Southwark Playhouse
Date: 16th April 2010
Time: 9.30pm
Price: 8 quid.

*if the name Thayil sounds familiar, it’s cos back in January I blogged about the anthology he edited (and contributed to). The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poetry. Remember?

(photo provided by whatmegsaid)


Back in a sweet minute

12 04 2010

I know, I know, I’ve been rubbish at posting.

I started a new job recently (yay!), and between that and shopping for bathroomy stuff for a loft conversion and other eastery family stuff, and a laptop with crappy internet, I’m surprisingly knackered. That ain’t right. I’m only 23.

Anyway, I promise to be back up on this soon as I get my act together.

In the meantime, you should join me at the Writer’s Block 2nd Birthday Party happening THIS Wednesday 14th April at Cargo in Shoreditch, London. If the name Writer’s Block sounds familiar, it’s cos you read about them here.

Jesse Boykins III will be performing specially for me.

Oh. I mean us. The audience. I guess.

And there’s a phenomenal line-up of other outta-this-world spoken-word artists, poets, musicians and general pioneers of creative beauty. I’ve seen them all before on the humble Writer’s Block stage at their usual Juno headquarters, and I can’t wait to see them tear it up again at Cargo.

You can buy your tickets in advance here.

Join in the celebrations. Bring everyone. It’s gonna be big.

If you like words

8 02 2010

The most awesome proprietors of the revolutionary Writer’s Block (see blogroll to the right, yo) are putting on their first show of the decade! And you should come along for these reasons:

  1. You are guaranteed to see/hear the most inspiring and talented acts this century, whether they’re poets, musicians, film-makers, graffiti artists, the DJ or the most charming compere, Tracy D.
  2. The bar, Juno, serves fantastic food.
  3. Because I said so. Obviously!

But seriously. I first got into spoken word and performance poetry while studying in NYC where I frequented the ultra-quirky Bowery Poetry Club. Their regular Tuesday open mic night, the Urbana Poetry Slam featured some of the MOST blindingly talented wordsmiths I had ever come across. Every time I went, I left the buzzing atmosphere with goosebumps, and probably fancying one of the poets for I am, indeed, a sucker for a well-articulated mofo.

I came back to London desperate to witness the same level of overly inspiring, vibrant and unique showcasing of talent. Of course poetry is around in many forms and personas in the city, but I had yet to experience the bumpin’, audience-participatory, almost-party vibe that the Bowery had offered.

My poetry-prayers were answered in the form of Writer’s Block. After failing to successfully make it down to the Shoreditch location a few times, I eventually reached it in June of last year and was completely blown away! With the warm June sun shining outside (yeah, remember when the sunshine was actually HOT?) the bar was packed and after each act, there was a buzzing consensus that we had all just witnessed some of the rawest and genuine talent to come from this fledgling, ‘lost’ generation in the past few years.

And although never exactly the same, subsequent Writers Block events have always featured the same high level of talent from already-established as well as up-and-coming artists. And with people from all kinds of backgrounds, the stories they bring to the stage are always infallibly varied and fascinating. There’s bound to be something that grabs your attention by the collars, comes right close up to its face and lays on a gigantic smacker, leaving you enamoured, if only for a sweet minute.

If that’s not enough to persuade you, then check out the review of the September 2009 Writer’s Block on the Bookfreeq blog here. (If you take a quick glance at the blogroll you’ll see her freeqy self perched among other very cool links!).

I’ll now present to you, as always, all the finely-scented details in a neat little parcel pour toi:

Writer’s Block “Passion” Show
Date: Thursday Feb 11th 2010
Time: 8pm onwards (but I’d advise getting there early as it gets packed fairly quickly)
Location: Juno, 134-135 Shoreditch High Street, London, E1 6JE
Price: £5

If you want to stalk Writer’s Block (they won’t mind):

See you there fellow wordlovers!

Writing in a common language

23 01 2010

Today I’m just gonna share a poem with you.

It appears in an anthology I received (after a few obvious hints) for Christmas a couple years ago. It’s The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poetry, edited by Jeet Thayil. [click the picture to go to the Amazon page]

It covers 55 years of Indian Poetry written in English, featuring the selected works of 70 poets, all of Indian descent, living either in or away from India.  It’s a beautiful mass of diverse and varied poems. Though they’re all Indian by origin, you can see how the poets are influenced not only by their own shared Indian culture, but Western and other traditions too.

The one I want to share is by Sridala Swami an I’m dedicating it to RB:

All Music is Memory

All music is memory:
a lone wind trapped in the chimes,
a window rattling dolefully
in time to the movement of the night

If my life were stretched
across the drum of centuries
I might have time to discern
the pattern in the creaking of trees.

But destinies drown through time.
A million years are lost
and I try in vain to cup my hands
and hold a note, a scale, a song.

Introspection an’ ting

20 01 2010

<<< This is Rodney Smith, aka Roots Manuva

On Monday night I attended a lecture on how his works are reminiscent of the romantic tradition as set by a one William Wordsworth:

And Lord Byron:

And Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

Oh, and he’s also influenced by another well-known Lord, Jesus Christ:

(as if you needed a picture!)

I found myself in an undoubtedly new and unique position this night. Bare with me here as I explain.

Firstly, I’d agreed to attend it with someone who was at that point basically a stranger (someone I’d met on the last train home from Euston about 5 days ago…) but who had benevolently notified me about it on facebook. (And what with this new blog venture, how could I turn down the invitation?!?)

Secondly, this lecture was not any kind of lecture in an auditorium or public venue. It was at someone’s home. A stranger’s home. Who even the original stranger didn’t know. And I didn’t know anybody else there. I was attending a strange lecture with a stranger at another stranger’s house with other strange people.

Yes indeed, I do like to live dangerously!

I guess I should explain a bit further…

The lecture was arranged via a unique little phenomenon known as the Universettee. The premise is very simple – and here it is, efficiently copied-and-pasted by yours truly, from the Universettee website:

“The Universettee is a series of mobile lectures that happen in people’s homes with a variety of speakers from different walks of life. The emphasis is on learning about all sorts of issues in a non-threatening environment. The lectures are free but participants are asked to bring some food or drink to share.”

…Effin’ genius mate!

So I headed to Vauxhall, met the original stranger of this story and eventually found the extremely swish residence overlooking the river at Vauxhall (breathtaking!) where the night’s lecture was to be held.

The informal part of the night (the bit that involves food and drink – success!) went from around 7.30 til 8. I was able to discover that a few people there had attended Universettee lectures before and even given them on all kinds of diverse and varied subjects. (Just check out the past events on the website)

As 8pm pressed on, we stacked our plates up with as much food as possible and took our seats as Janice Macaulay, the kind proprietor of the Universettee, gave a short intro. She explained that the whole shebang is “fuelled by generosity”. The generosity of strangers no less! Already this welcoming, inclusive movement was a stark contrast to the isolated, even hostile nature of London’s overgrowth.

In a city where people consciously and consistently avoid eye-contact on the tube or avert their attention from unjustified abuse on the bus, here we were sharing, eating, drinking and learning.

Onto the actual lecture then. Our speaker, David Barnes, was to give a talk on how Roots Manuva “bucks the trend” of the egotism and misogyny that saturates mainstream rap music, to give us a “tortured introspection; instead of boasting, he puts his self-doubt on show”.

Presenting us with quotes from Roots Manuva’s songs, even playing us some of his videos (including “Again and Again”, “All Things to All Men”, “Too Cold” and “Let the Spirit Move You”) David analysed his lyrics first alongside the verses of Wordsworth and Lord Byron, and then Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Now I don’t want to get into excessive detail about the lecture because there’s a large risk of skewing some of what was said through generalisation. What there is no doubt about is it was well-structured and thoroughly researched. The connections made between the exemplary UK hip-hop artist and the established torch-bearers of literary English tradition were informative and enlightening.

David took us through his findings on expression of selfhood and spirituality. As a self-confessed “philosophical peacock”, Roots Manuva occupies a stance comparable to Byron and Wordsworth by blurring the lines between author, self and text to take on a multiple and fluid sense of self.

His father was a pentecostal deacon, so religious spirituality also figures quite strongly in Roots’ lyrics. David argued that the Coleridge-esque relation between spirituality and creativity resonates in Roots’ lyrics.

One of the biggest successes of this talk is that David was able to break down the stereotype that UK hip-hop artists and the urban scene in general are tied to. Roots Manuva may on the outside appear to echo the typical egoistic, macho persona, but it’s in a much more introspective self-conscious way. He’s blatantly taking the piss but with wit and lyrical elegance. And in doing so he breaks down the box people might attempt to put him in.

Apologies David if you feel like I’ve done an awful job of summarising your points – it was definitely a complex subject!

Everyone else I encourage you to contact David Barnes for a copy of the lecture, and maybe even some discussion.

He’s available at

Also, more info on the Universettee and upcoming events is here.

I also found out this morning that Roots Manuva will be appearing at the Book Club in Hoxton on Friday 22 January 2010. More details here or here.

And I shall leave you, as David did on the night, with this video. Roots Manuva’s “Witness the Fitness”