George the Poet is a thoroughly nice young man with impeccable manners. He says thank you at the end of each of his poems, confesses that he always feels nervous when performing and smiles a lot. In short, he’s the kind of person you’d happily set up with your sister. Given these traits and the fact that he’s in the final year of his degree at King’s College, Cambridge, you would be forgiven for stop reading at this point on the grounds that he sounds like a bland do-gooder.
Fortunately he’s far more complex than the opening paragraph of a review. And his surname is not Poet. It’s Mpanga. It’s worth dwelling on his choice of stage name for a moment as ethically, it pretty much sums him up. ‘Poet’ is a statement of intent. There is no ambiguity about who or what he is. If he’d gone by his real surname this would open up an entirely different dialogue - it’s Ugandan in case you’re wondering - and if you were wondering then already you’re straying from what really matters, the person in front of you. Poet on the other hand is gentler, more inviting, requires less explanation.
I mention this because all of Mr the Poet’s lyrics resonate back to the same theme: control. Control is a mechanism that allows an individual to shape their life in a particular direction. Free will enables us to make decisions about our relationships and career. We are all products of our environment and so it is important that we create the kind of environments that we want to live in. Lack of control leads to poor decision making. Poor decisions ruin lives.
Can I have a Word?
These issues are important to Mr. the Poet as he grew up on the notorious Stonebridge Park estate in Harlesden, north-west London. Education has offered a means of reflecting on the harsh inequalities of his upbringing as well as the capitalist system in ‘My City’ where the economy is booming ‘for the have-a-lots’. But instead of whining on about inequality and blaming others he constantly probes deeper, turning the lens inwards. For example, in Can I have a Word? he examines language and how the ‘N’ word has been negatively appropriated:
When did anyone own the right to a word? We're
All standing on the verge of a great schism it's a
Word that creates division, relates to prison but in-
Stead of embracing its brotherly connotations
You want me to preserve it in racism?
Mr Poet is aware of how the system can trap people, particularly young uneducated Black men and so is particularly scathing of corrosive forms of rap and the glorifying of violence that only serves to further entrap individuals. It is no wonder that he comments on his chosen medium: ‘You call it poetry I call it prayer.’
Pink Matter was requested by the Nottingham audience...
Mr Poet performed for just under an hour, taking requests at the end. His calm demeanour and lack of gesticulation demanded your full attention, enabling the lyrics to speak for themselves. He commanded the stage like a young Obama, delivering mini-sermons and vignettes into urban living. In the great tradition of the Homeric poems he is a man of Areté, deploying every skill at his disposal to achieve real results. Judging by the applause and occasional scream from the audience at the ‘Tempreh, his message is getting through.
George the Poet was supported by happy, happy Harleighblu, whose debut single is now out and is a confirmed act for Splendour. She was simply spellbinding, a delirious bundle of loveliness who is destined for great things. It never fails to amaze me what beautiful noises can come out of a mouth with such a strong Notts accent. Harleighblu did have one slight diva moment when she confessed she was used to singing a particular song accompanied by ‘an eight-piece band’ but we’ll let her off this time with a slap on the wrist. Ady Suleiman was equally lovely, messing up the intro to one song but playing it to his advantage through good humour which had everyone laughing.
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