*By Joseph Atkinson
Brothas Speak was billed as a live streaming theatre evening of spoken word, rap and song as a part of the Black Voices Solo Festival at the Whitefire Theatre curated and hosted by Juliette Jeffers.
Ms. Jeffers, a noted solo performer/producer in Los Angeles assembled a passionate group of six African American male artists who provide brain stimulation and insight while steadfastly adhering to the isolation restrictions of Covid-19. Jeffers’ request of the participating artist was simple, just think outside of the box.
First out was Charles Reese, a spoken word artist and thespian who mysteriously appeared on stage fully masked. His bearing witness allowed iconic phrases and songs of the Civil Rights movement to surface, complete with his sharp evocative critique. His enunciation of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was deliberate and slowly delivered, but not unscathed. Reese’s call to avoid another “Band-Aid solution…a tool for a deep-seated wound for systemic racism” echoed something that is contemporary, familiar and timely. Reese’s theatre roots burst forward, straddling one juxtaposition after another, challenging the audience to question whether to laugh or cry.
Next up was Hollywood Slam Team poet, Kito Fortune who gave a powerful voice to the iconic African American consciousness we witness but rarely speak out loud. He opened with his critique of our current struggle with Covid-19 testing. Unlike Reese, he wore no face mask, but instead presented a full body cover–a colorful 60’s dashiki and a big bush with an Afro comb appropriately inserted. He reminds us there is no quick fix vaccination and batters the audience with a series of questions related to one’s well-being. Fortune’s verbal visions are quick and rapid fire, coming so fast that it felt like a flood.
King Cassisus, a 19 year old hip-hop artist and sophomore at NYU Clive Davis School of Music, was a great surprise of the evening with his rap song, “Heaven’s Gate” touching on the nihilistic world of African American youth in which daily living can be a simple challenge to survival. Rounding out the evening with motivational speaker, Jason A. Benefield’s examination of historic images, reviewing pain and destruction; spoken word artist, Markhum Who traveling back in time to revisit his childhood friend, who just happens to be white; and closing out with vocal stylist, Reverend Leon Campbell, accompanied on acoustic guitar by David Neal, offering songs of hope and redemption.
Given our new age of social distancing, the audience was rewarded with “outside of the box” thinking and more, streaming live. The artists were not limited in any aspect, creatively reaching out to an unseen audience through the lens of a small digital camera. The artists, as expected, sought out multiple life experiences from different angles but were singular in their search for dignity and respect. Their hearts were laid bare, for all to see, transcending the limiting digital parameters.
Brothas Speak: An Evening of Spoken Word, Rap and Song live streamed on Saturday, September 26, 2020. 7pm (PST)/10pm (EST) at the Whitefire Theatre as a part of the Black Voices Solo Festival. The festival runs through November 15, 2020. Tickets are $15.99. For complete details and listings for all live streaming shows, please visit:www.whitefiretheatre.com
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