Marc Bamuthi Joseph is a whirlwind of activity. To paraphrase KRS-One, he's a "sandstorm taking human form." Having just returned from a performance in Chicago, he squeezes in this interview between teaching tomorrow's poets at the Youth Speaks organization's SF classrooms and prepping for his upcoming solo show Word Becomes Flesh at his home in Oakland.
Talk to Bamuthi for just a few minutes, and you'll be enmeshed in a world of hyperconscious ideas, thoughts, and concepts. There's the "hybrid nature" of his work; the "future aesthetics" involved with bringing a hip-hop sensibility into a theatrical space; the "evolution of the storytelling tradition"; and the "disconnect" of the absentee father syndrome, which has factored heavily into the hip-hop generation's overall outlook on life.
Stream-of-consciousness mode is the spoken-word artist, educator, and neo-griot's everyday reality. In one breath, Bamuthi reveals that his latest piece started as a series of letters to his then-unborn son. The next, he's riffing on B-Rock & the Bizz' "My Baby Daddy," explaining that the infamous inner-city-hoochie-mama anthem symbolizes how the black male parent has been reduced to "the hook in a song. He becomes a two-dimensional motherfucker, basically," Bamuthi relates. Which leads to some discussion on the irony of bringing a perfectly innocent child into an imperfect, flawed world.
With such a vibrant muse -- what could be more inspirational than a newborn baby? -- to guide his artistic endeavors, Bamuthi's new show, which has its East Bay premiere Thursday at the Alice Arts Center (1428 Alice St., Oakland) as part of the Hecho en Califas Festival, could be his most emotionally resonant project to date. Sociologists might speak volumes about the breakdown of the black family structure, but, as Bamuthi explains, "those words aren't necessarily being spoken by folks in the generation they're talking about, using the language that is most pertinent and most relevant to our generation. That's what this piece addresses."
Word Becomes Flesh is admittedly, a "very, very personal work," Bamuthi says. But at the same time, it's part of the larger narrative context of hip-hop theater, a constantly evolving, cutting-edge movement rooted in the Bay Area and New York City, which has begun to attract interest across the United States and in Europe. Bamuthi's contribution to the emerging genre began with the "Living Word Project," which premiered at La Peña in 1999.
Bamuthi goes so far as to say that the Hecho en Califas festival, along with the Living Word Festival and the Hip-Hop Theatre Festival, is "really pushing how we perceive hip-hop, and what its role is in this future that we're developing." He speaks of the need to institutionalize hip-hop "from the source," as opposed to external forces who don't really understand the culture because they're not a part of it. The direction of his thrust, he says, is "to push beyond the music, beyond the fashion, beyond the dance, and really push through the theatrical walls as well." Spoken word and theater are as essential to hip-hop's cultural expression today as rapping, he adds. "You can't talk about hip-hop and just talk about MCs."
Spoken like a true poet.
The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets cost $10. Visit LaPena.org or call 510-849-2568 for more info.
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