Review: Jonzi D - Lyrikal Fearta - The Letter and other works

Performance: 25 - 27 October 2012
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Friday 2 November 2012

Jonzi D. Photo: Antonio Olmos

Performance reviewed: 25 October

Older and wiser, Jonzi D returns as a performer after many years, bursting onto the Lilian Baylis stage with as much zest and attitude as he did when he last trod the boards of theatres in his super cool sneakers. His idiosyncratic mix of poetry, theatre and hip hop is punchier and wittier than ever, while his political and social commentaries are delivered in his afro-cockney-rapper style as fluidly as his moves. Guests and friends join him: the charismatic poetess OneNess Sankara, the sinewy dancer/choreographer Jane Sekonya and the Ugandan hip hop dance troupe, Tabu Flo.

Lyrikal Fearta’s women make a welcome impact, and feistily challenge the macho world of hip hop. Sankara raps angrily about physical abuse and sings about a useless lover. In Untitled , Sekonya’s choreography responds to Sankara’s lyrics which brilliantly parody the fickle content of advertisements. The performer’s body contorts and writhes as she interprets the false promises about food, sex, beauty and lifestyle and along with Vanya Reid’s atmospheric music, she communicates the absolute absurdity of what the media feed us through her choreographic prowess.

Tabu Flo crank up the volume of the evening with their physical explosiveness. Mixing African dance styles with break dancing moves, raw energy surges through their athletic bodies. Less full of showy tricks than substance and skill, they are a potent force and contribute an uplifting finale to the first half of the show.
Jonzi D’s The Letter is a longer solo inspired by his dilemma about whether or not to accept an MBE. He takes us on his journey through the streets of Bow, his birth-place, and charts the reactions of his family, friends and neighbours to his decision. Such as the pride of his drug dealer’s mother on hearing that Jonzi, the boy next door, has ‘made it’ into the elite of the white establishment. Or the horror of his black friends that he should accept anything which contains the word ‘empire’, a creepy reminder of Britain’s racist, colonial past. Finally he conveys the dread of telling his matriarchal big sister, lover of Queen and everything English, that he has rejected the award. Each imagined conversation is performed with such heartfelt emotion and vivid description that we are sucked into his torturous decision, regardless of our backgrounds or views.

Jonzi’s visceral utterings draw the audience right into whatever situation he’s recounting, whether it is his addiction to sneakers, or his jealousy of a rival MC. The content of his messages hit out at each one of us through a seductive interplay of words and motion and carry a similar resonance to that of the political ballads of the jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron. While their delivery has the flow and fluency of the rapper Jay Z.

What I enjoy about Lyrikal Fearta is its energy and the upbeat mood it inspires. There’s no hatred or resentment in Jonzi’s rapping, just a benevolent curiosity about the injustices and foibles of society flavoured with heaps of humour and loads of style.

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

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