Since Ali Died

The word poet, derives from the Greek, poiētēs, meaning he who makes, fashions, creates.

It’s a fitting description for Omar Musa, who uses as his materials – verse, music, story and us, the audience – to ‘make’ Since Ali Died, on stage before us, with us.

His tools are many. He’s a disarming and sometimes self-deprecating humour, essential when you need to take the temperature of the room quickly and react to it even quicker. He’s a true talent as a lyricist, hip hop artist, performer, raconteur and poet (the ‘writer of verses’ kind). He is also possessed of an easy going kind of ‘relatability’.

In Since Ali Died, Musa weaves together songs from the album of the same name, poetry from his collection, Millefiore, along with new material and playful exchanges with the audience. As cliché as it sounds, he takes us on a journey … kind of literally.

Picture a boat with Musa and his hero, boxing icon Muhammad Ali, travelling down a “restless, brown river” (Musa’s words) through memories of Musa’s boyhood in his hometown of Queanbeyan. He draws us into a hazy imagery of beautiful, sometimes painful, often really funny, always believable, stories and raps of his father, mother, troubled friends, and of a deep, unrequited love.

The river, of course, is an allegory of Musa himself, of his own struggles and his own path in life as the artist he is, one that has seen him branded “un-Australian” and placed him at the receiving end of the worst kind of vitriol for daring to call out racism and other injustices he has seen and lived. True to the essence of the hip-hop and spoken word genres it straddles, Since Ali Died, is as personal as it is political. And it’s very, very current. I took my teenage daughter along and she loved it just as much as I did.

She loved the beats the most, and that it was “personal and emotional”. My inner muso (or maybe it’s my inner ‘Westie’) loved the bass vibrating up through the bench seats of the Stables Theatre and Musa in rapper mode, most of all.

As a musician, he’s even better live than on recording, bringing a bigger energy to the songs, intense but still contained, through his movements as much as through his voice. (He has this one move – a pivot or a kind of pop – that he does when the beat drops or at a break … and it’s really, really, good).

And Sarah Corry? Love. Love. Love. She joined Musa for two songs and was just gorgeous. Smooth, rich but sweet, sweet vocals. She also brought a real counter-balance to the masculine energy in the room.

Since Ali Died is at Parramatta Riverside Theatres from 22-25 Jan and I’m tempted to see it again there in the knowing that the audience might be more of a ‘home-crowd’. It’s the sort of show that needs a certain type of energy from the audience to feed it, and Musa is the sort of performer that goes from really, really, good to pretty fricken brilliant with that.

First published on Audrey Journal

Blak Box Four Winds

Blacktown Showground Precinct is very pretty and very welcoming on this ordinary Sydney summer evening.

Families sit at benches. Little ones run through the water park. The basketball courts are buzzing. Boardwalks stretch through the reeds and over the still water, invitingly. Getting there was easy. Parking was a breeze, too. You get a handy map link and directions emailed to you the day before your session.

There’s a café, a bar by donation set up by Urban Theatre Projects and a temporary performance space for talks and live music – part of the Sunset Sessions that compliment the Blak Box Four Winds installation.

But what I was looking forward to the most, for days beforehand, was setting my phone to flight mode and the promise of silence and stillness.

Before we’re led over to the purpose-built Blak Box, we’re briefed on what to expect and what is expected of us.

We enter, find our seats, get comfortable. The door is closed. The light is low. Some people shut their eyes. Immediately the senses are heightened.

The sand feels nice beneath my feet. I feel more grounded. I notice blades of grass poking through the sandy floor, a curious reminder that there is life growing inside and sprouting inside this seemingly inanimate space we’ve all found ourselves in.

Then, the sounds of piano, violin and clapsticks flow from different points behind the walls, followed by the voices of people in dialogue. The four featured artists, all Blacktown locals, are elders Uncle Wes Marne and Auntie Edna Watson, and two young leaders, Savarna Russell and Shaun Millwood.

They talk about identity, fears, family, intergenerational trauma, institutional abuse, culture, language and conservation. The young ask the elders questions. They all share memories. Every breath, sigh, silence and inflection of the voice is amplified in the stillness and low light of the box. It’s an intimate and personal deep listening experience. An emotional one at times, too.

The spoken excerpts are broken up with song and music by Emma Donovan and Eric Avery. At times the music is a lament. At times it’s hopeful, with Emma’s voice like a balm, beautiful, soulful, grainy and deep. There’s an earthiness to every note she sings, a resolve and strength in the resonance of every. single. note. The music tells the same story as the conversations we hear, bridging the contemporary with the traditional; the young with the old.

By the end of the 45 mins in the box, a deep calm had set in. The feeling stayed with me for a long time afterwards. And of course, what still lingers, days after experiencing Blak Box Four Winds, are my thoughts around the very real issues it explores, like how our increasing reliance on digital means of communication is replacing face to face, interpersonal, interaction.

And then of course the question: Is this contributing to the erosion of knowledge and culture across generations or is it helping to conserve it and make it more accessible?

In the words of its curator, Daniel Browning, Four Winds “is a speculation about the future as much as a recollection of the past”.

I felt it in that way too. As January 26 approaches and as plans about how to spend this public holiday are made all around, opinions on dates and on the difference between celebration and commemoration will abound. Maybe this is the perfect time to set your phone to flight mode. To sit in stillness, listen deeply and hear the truth in the stories, histories and messages of First Nations people.

First published on Audrey Journal

I ♥️ BPS

Bankstown Poetry Slam is hands down, the most welcoming and inclusive arts/cultural/creative space in Sydney. BPS finds the common  – intercultural, intergenerational and intersectional – ground effortlessly.

It gives a leg up to the shy, the curious and those testing the sound of their own voice. It holds the space for the disheartened, the heart-broken, the fighters, the survivors, the thrivers, the achievers, the thinkers and the imagineers all at once.

And the poetry… sometimes rough and raw; sometimes polished and precious. Always honest, authentic and biting. The themes last Tuesday night included: mental illness, abandonment, love, loneliness, borders, war, fragility, gender inequality, sexuality, racism, private schools, privilege and politics.

I think I’ll be making the monthly pilgrimage from here on.