I’m on Uplift again folks

30 03 2010

Check out my latest piece at Uplift Magazine about b.supreme, the UK’s only hip-hop festival for women.

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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 david22barnes@aol.com

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”