Hip hop accents, hip hop theatre

Keri Glastonbury talks to Morganics

Morganics, Swipa and the Bowraville Mob

Morganics, Swipa and the Bowraville Mob

Morganics, Swipa and the Bowraville Mob

Morganics might rap that “in the land of the mosh and the ecky, it’s hard to rocksteady”, but I doubt any forces of national resistance could ever impede his advance on the vanguard of hip hop’s ‘glocal’ culture. Last year he released a solo album, invisible forces…, as well as producing the album All You Mob! Recordings of young Aboriginal hip hop from around Australia, which includes the track Down River by the Wilcannia Mob (www.morganics.info). Down River exemplifies hip hop’s geographic focus, the 3 young boys rapping over sparse didge and beatboxing to celebrate and situate their experience of the everyday and local landscape. Morganics [Morgan Lewis] is also fresh from a bodypoppin’ underground tour of the US in 2002. His new hip hop theatre show, Crouching Bboy, Hidden Dreadlocks, opens at Sydney’s Performance Space in April.

Let’s start with some background to the show.

It was about 2 years since the last Hot Banana Morgan show and I’d just done a series of workshops and the whole Wilcannia Mob stuff was welling up. I was home one night and—it’s really corny—but at 2am I woke up in a fever and I had all these ideas going round my head and so I just got up and went into my lounge room and wrote out 29 monologues in about 2 and a half hours and that’s pretty much going to be the show.

Is it a show that reflects on the process of doing community workshops?

Yes, definitely. The show will reflect the character of people I’ve met in workshops around Australia. Like I did a project out at Long Bay Gaol, working with violent offenders down there as part of an anti-violence program—and talking to some of those guys and hanging out with them for 6 weeks and then bumping into them up at [Kings] Cross afterwards—it is just classic material and pretty amazing stuff I’ve been privy to. I’ve also travelled to the Pitjanjatjarra communities and Uluru and remote Aboriginal communities teaching hip hop, and from that I went to the States last year for 5 weeks performing—going to San Francisco and the Rock Steady Crew Anniversary in New York—just getting that sort of national/international perspective on it all and working with people from a lot of different backgrounds. A lot of people from pretty rough backgrounds generally. It definitely pulls some heartstrings from time to time. There are a lot of different little stories and stuff and I feel like they need to be told.

This show is going to be more specifically hip hop theatre—there’ll be more of a dedicated focus on the elements of hip hop-beatboxing, freestyling, breaking and stuff. I’m also hoping to take it to a hip hop theatre festival in New York in June. I attended it in Washington DC last year and it was really inspiring to see, so fingers crossed I’ll be able to tour this over there.

Is there a genre in the US called hip hop theatre as well as the forms that are exclusively associated with hip hop, like battles?

Yeah, it’s a festival organised by Danny Hock, who was out here and organised Jails, Hospitals and Hip Hop for the Sydney Festival. It’s a pioneering thing, though it’s always what I’ve been doing from the get go I think—not very different from [the performance persona] Hot Banana Morgan.

So it’s a show reflecting on the different interactions that you’ve had working in community contexts and also performing as an MC?

Yeah, with the Wilcannia Mob thing there’s been a lot of bandwagon elements, a lot of people jumping on it and freaking out about it. It’s been a very interesting experience to go through that—so I’m going to have a whole section of just crazy questions that you get asked, emails that I get sent, things that people yell at you at gigs. To a degree it is quite autobiographical: in this one I might be talking about performing on the Gold Coast when a guy in the crowd tries to attack me because I’m from Sydney…A bouncer gets him in a headlock and smashes a beer glass all over me and clears the whole crowd out and I have to keep rapping. Then the crowd comes back and the show keeps going: so Aussie hip hop. The craziness of gigs—I’ve been touring a lot, not just doing the community workshops.

You’ve got community work, your own recordings and performances and now the hip hop theatre works across it and produces something in a different language?

I don’t find it that different—I did a gig on Sunday night at the Bat and Ball, a small pub on South Dowling Steet [Surry Hills, Sydney]. I was up for about 40 minutes, did about 5 or 6 songs, a lot of it I was just freestyling and talking to the audience; it is almost like stand-up. Hip hop is a very old tradition anyway—though with the show at Performance Space it’ll be nice to be able to stretch beyond the normal concentration span that you get at a hip hop gig and go into a bit more depth.

You obviously do a lot of work with people whose voices aren’t usually heard, even in hip hop—there’s been a sense that there’s an Anglo male voice in Australian hip hop that speaks with an Aussie accent…Do you think local hip hop is also speaking with Indigenous, Asian, Arabic and other accents?

Yeah, I don’t work with many white people when I do workshops. I did one workshop on [Sydney’s] northern beaches and it was weird because they were all so quiet, when I’d just been in Kempsey for 2 weeks going “shut up, shut up.” In the northern beaches I’m going, “Make some noise.”

Aussie hip hop is a predominantly white thing, you know I’m a white fella too. Though my next album will be a double CD, it will be my album and the sequel to All You Mob—with all the tracks done by Aboriginal MCs. I’m sitting on 60 tracks to choose from.

I was glad there was a Wilcannia Girls track as well.

Oh yeah. Hip hop is traditionally male dominated like most music. Though I’ve got a great track by young women in Broken Hill called “Desert Sky,” done by young mums with some beautiful lyrics.

Hip hop originally came from the streets and is a voice of the people—people who can’t afford to get into a recording studio—but they are living extreme and interesting lives in their own way. It’s both political and also delightfully non-political—I’m not trying to push any agenda, just record what they want to say.

My biggest agenda to push is that I have to put my foot down and say I’m not going to record that if you sound totally American—you’re going to have to change it—I’m sorry I don’t want you talking about “niggers” if you’re a Koori.

Crouching Bboy, Hidden Dreadlocks, Morganics, Performance Space Studio, April 16-26 ; www.morganics.info

RealTime issue #54 April-May 2003 pg. 38

© Keri Glastonbury; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2003