D’bi.young Anitafrika shines in word!sound!powah!
9 November 2011 No CommentsBy Anya Wassenberg
written and performed by d’bi.young anitafrika in repertory with blood.claat, and benu
Trilogy Premiere continues to December 4, 2011 at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre
Fifty years done pass and nothing change. Jamaica get independence and we poor de same way
d’bi.young anitafrika is a mesmerizing performer, a controlled tornado of energy on stage as she fleshes out a dizzying range of roles from naive schoolgirl to strutting revolutionary and sinister cop in word!sound!powah! It’s the final piece in her sankofa trilogy, currently playing at the Tarragon Theatre.
As it begins, young Benu is being detained and interrogated by a raging police constable about her role in an election day rally in Jamaica that ends in a hail of bullets and an assassination. The fictional – but not so fictional – story is set against contentious elections taking place in 2012. It’s an ingenious idea that wraps the Jamaican story in the context of the actual uprisings and Occupy movements that are grabbing the headlines today, giving it a much broader context; watching the rich get richer and the politicians spout meaningless promises is certainly not exclusive to the people of Jamaica.
d’bi shifts seamlessly between anguished Benu and her savage captor, and the interrogation scene punctuates the piece at various points. Along the way, we see her joining with fellow students at the Cultural Centre and the Poets in Solidarity movement five months before. She illuminates a host of characters and segments from smiling politicians giving speeches to the swaggering leader of the revolutionaries, (the self-styled ‘Robin Hood of Poetry’). It unfolds as storytelling, dub poetry, movement and music, ranging from humourous to intensely dramatic moments and everything in between.
Stage design is both simple and effective, and largely in black and white. A Jamaican flag adorns the front of a desk, and behind it a lyrically twisted white rope structure fans out along the ceiling. The rope structure is elegant and adds a rhythmic element to the stark black, cleverly expanding the stage to include the entire back space of the Tarragon theatre and by extension us in the audience too. At various times in the piece, we were part of the play as fellow members of Poets in Solidarity. d’bi, her lithe form all in white, fully inhabits all the characters she plays down to subtle inflections in voice and accent and physicality. It’s a tour de force performance.
Three musicians are on stage to provide a combination of sounds, cues and musical accompaniment under the leadership of talented multi-instrumentalist Waleed Abdulhamid. They play an intriguing combination of percussion, guitar and bassoon; their presence is both instrumental to and part of the story as it unfolds.
“It’s time to break these chains,” she chants in one of the poems, and d’bi challenges the audience’s perceptions at times, pushing buttons about Gaddafi, Africa, single mothers and poverty, among others. Those political points are swept up in her captivating performance but remain in the air, no doubt as intended.
It’s thought provoking theatre that never loses sight of its twin goal – to entertain and captivate the audience.
word!sound!powah! is alternating with the sankofa trilogy’s earlier pieces, blood.claat and benu – check the Tarragon Theatre’s schedule for specific dates.
d’bi.young antiafrika is an afrikan-jamaican-canadian dubpoet, monodramatist and educator. She is the founder and artistic director of yemoya international artist residency, and is the curator of badilisha poetry x-change in Cape Town, South Africa.
She is curretly on a 15-month global tour of her new album, 333, which launches December 5th at the Lula Lounge in Toronto, and of the sankofa trilogy which is due to be published this winter by Playwrights Canada Press.
Written and performed by d’bi.young anitafrika
Set and costume design by Camellia Koo
Lighting design by Michelle Ramsay
Musical direction by Waleed Abdulhamid
Musicians: Jeff Burke, Kurt Huggins and Laurence Stevenson