Power to the people

2009-09-12 00:00

“COMMIT yourself to it, live it — no fear,” shouted award-winning playwright and performer Will Power to a group of University of KwaZulu-Natal movement students during a workshop held at the Hexagon on the Pietermaritzburg campus last week.

Although he was referring to the performance practical, where he had the students moving, rapping and making noises that remind them of their neighbourhoods, like art, his lessons are open to interpretation and adaptable to anyone.

“I’ve been giving them crash courses on hip-hop theatre,” said Power. “I only have about one hour and 15 minutes with this class, but I hope that this workshop will stay with them.”

Power, the founder of hip-hop theatre, said he doesn’t expect the students to understand everything right away — in fact, he said he doesn’t expect any of them to learn anything at all. He is “planting a seed that might blossom someday”.

“It’s like something you’re grandfather will tell you and you will only get it years later,” he said.

He said he told students to think of a sound in their neighbourhoods because any artist is the storyteller of his or her community. “Even if it’s going to the shop or the park, or just in the street, there are so many stories to be told in our own communities and we are familiar enough with it to explore and write about it.”

When Power started making a name for himself in the early nineties, he was part a rap group called Midnight Voice. Most of its music spoke about the struggles of the black community in the United States and it incorporated other art forms such as acting. Years later, this type of performance would be dubbed hip-hop theatre. Power also went on to write for the popular sitcom Moesha and his theatre productions have gained him much acclaim.

Back at the workshop, after much encouragement, Power performed one of his pieces for the students. He spoke about 9/11, the plight of people of colour in the U.S. and the U.S. “war on terror”.

“One of the problems I see with the world is the gap between the rich and the poor,” said Power on the phone before leaving to perform at Bat Community Arts Centre. “I see it in the U.S., I see it here in South Africa. There are many really rich people and there are many really poor people. There is no balance and it’s just wrong.”

He said that being an artist means that you have the responsibility to speak out against the wrongs of the world. “Most people don’t have the guts to stand up in front of people and express themselves. Artists do — so part of being an artist is being an activist too.”

Coming from a freestyling MC background, Power said that although he might have been tempted to call mainstream artists such as P Diddy sellouts when he was younger, he realises that although their music is superficial, these artists are giving back to their communities in other ways.

Most people don’t have the guts to stand up in front of people and express themselves. Artists do — so part of being an artist is being an activist too.

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