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Griot Speak

28 November 06 words: Mr Jones
The Griot is a figure from West African tradition, a poet, a storyteller and a means of keeping history alive

We came from the wet and cold November evening into the warmth of the Nottingham Playhouse. There was a strong mix of families, children and groups of teenagers. The lights went down and we waited.

The night was Griot Speak, an evening of spoken word and music. The Griot is a figure from West African tradition, a poet, a storyteller and a means of keeping history alive. Tonight we had a collection of artists gathered together to give a contemporary take on this tradition.

The evening was hosted by the magnificent OneNess. She was warm and welcoming and put the crowd at ease. She clearly had a real passion for poetry and a love of her fellow artists.

The first Griot to perform was Sha Cage who told heart-gripping stories from the American south; stories of women’s struggles and of police brutality. She explored the history of her community and her own personal history and African heritage.

Next up was David ‘Stickman’ Higgins Bajan. His performance was unique and overflowing with energy. Just don’t ask him where he’s from. His reply could last several minutes, an exuberant celebration of race and cultures and an angry protest against atrocities and injustices around the world.

Carol Leeming got our stomachs rumbling with her passionate food poem. Her love and excitement about island food poured off the stage with her soft sensual descriptions of tastes and textures. Her eulogy to New Orleans was clearly from someone who loves the city for its curses and blessings.

Beatboxing poet Mosaique stepped up with his cap low over his eyes. His first piece Blood and Bullets looked at youth culture and the get rich or die trying ethic. His presence was demanding on stage and his hiphop styling certainly got the crowd energised.

Kat Francois showed everyone why she was crowned World Slam Champion in 2005. A slam is a sort of poetry and spoken word competition, a bit like a rap battle. Her performance tonight was gripping and her love of words and writing shone through. We were taken into the interval by the sweet sounds of Haiki, a local singer/ songwriter. Her voice is truly beautiful, and her heart felt lyrics left the crowd stunned.

Another Nottingham-based poet Michelle ‘the mother’ Hubbard started the second half of the evening. We went from the hilarious modern retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk set in St Anns to a heartfelt tribute to young lives lost in Missing Son. Michelle and Stickman are the two founders of Blackdrop, an open mic spoken word night in Nottingham, every first Monday of the month at the Canalhouse Bar.

The star of the evening was without doubt the incredible David J. From the moment he stumbled onto the stage holding one of his shoes in his hand you knew it would be something out of the ordinary. Described as a vocal pugilist, we saw him spa with the audience as he filled the stage with his stories, characters and scenarios. When it was all over the audience leapt to their feet and called for more. But time was short and there was so much talent still to come on.

Next up was Goldie Roxx with her acoustic guitar. Her songs moved between music and poetry, just as her voice shifted from sweet melodies to the sharpest wit. Martin Glynn is another very experienced performer and his work on the night was brilliant. He dedicated a love poem to his daughter and filled all our bellies with a days food from his Jamaican aunt.

The final artist of the night, Floetic Lara, is wise beyond her years, lyrically deep poems performed with an intense energy.

After another captivating song from Haiki, we made our way outside. I felt drained but energised. The spoken word is a very powerful art form and it is rarely presented more positively. I am personally very pleased Nottingham Playhouse can put on evenings like this and hope for many more.

Griot Speak was at the Nottingham Playhouse on Monday 13 November 2006

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