Monday, January 12, 2009

Under the Radar - "the break/s: a mixtape for stage"

Photo/Umi Vaughn

Granted, it was a Sunday afternoon, but in Soulati's preshow pump-up for the break/s: a mixtape for stage, hardly a creature was stirring. Moreover, his questions to the audience drew a lot of blanks, such as the honest reply from one woman that she didn't know much about hip hop--that's why she was here. After all, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, the solo performer, is the artistic director of The Living Word Project, and he works to teach important social issues, like, I guess, hip-hop, to audiences.

In other words, it was the wrong sort of audience, but moreover, it was the wrong sort of teacher. Joseph's talented, as he demonstrates in his verbal and physical patters, but he's operating at another level, and his "mix tape"--an assortment of clips from his life experience--doesn't come with any liner notes. We can follow the physical actions--he lies on the floor, in a spotlit outline of a vinyl record; a stage-right Soulati plays drums, a stage-left DJ Excess mixes the beats, and images spin across three screens. But when it comes time to understanding the message, it's all scratched up and distorted: what opens with insightful comments on the double identity of the black artist who must either assimilate or assail turns into a dream sequence in which Prince describes the true story of the Mona Lisa. Joseph's trip to Africa cuts off before it becomes eye-opening so that it can spin into the time he wasted an opportunity to interview Jay-Z in 1996; this mix of the good and bad, meaningful and irrelevant makes the sampling frustrating.

Perhaps Joseph has taken one of the lines from his show to heart: "Real love is what you do, not what you say." There is, after all, no denying his sweating passion for the subject, or his dedication to the craft, a dedication that gives him a certain skill at spitting. But if actions do speak louder than words, then the words you choose need to be even more precise: the break/s is just an unedited passion project.

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