The Bruce Hayden Auditorium at Malcolm X College grew silent as singer Theaster Gates opened Friday’s poetry and dance performance at the college with a prayer and libation, where he poured water from a vase onto a plant in tribute to those who had departed in the past year.
Shortly thereafter, Emcee and poet Armen Ra took the stage and thanked the audience for attending.
The 8th annual Poetry and Dance Corps’ “Tell It Like It Is,” festival offered several other memorable examples of expression.
“We will be featuring many of Chicago’s most talented poets, Armen Ra told the audience. “We hope that listening and sharing of experiences will bring us all closer together as a community. That’s what it’s all about.”
The event took place at the college, 1900 W. Van Buren, featuring several up-and-coming Chicago poets, singers and dancers, addressing in their various performances issues and topics such as poverty, spirituality and education.
Among the performers were, poets Clear Vision, M’Reld, Triple Blak, Keith Perry, Brother Mike & Welela, Momentum, and Underground Railroad.
Several poets dealt with the inequities of society, particularly Hurricane Katrina and failure in the government’s response to the tragedy.
“Katrina Kisses” by Brother Mike and Welela began with a re-writing of the “pledge of allegiance” ending in “With injustice for all,” and the government’s promises to rebuild New Orleans for “all those who lost their homes.”
Clear Vision’s “I am a child left behind” addressed the educational gap and President Bush’s “ignorance of the unfairness of his educational forum.”
Not all poets recited works about politics. Neo-soul female trio Underground Railroad performed two songs about felinity and identity. “No One Can Take Who You Are” and “The Mission” dealt with the issues of religion and self-esteem.
Poet Momentum recited about his own troubled past and his spiritual awakening that turned his life around.
“There are forces at work everyday to try to test my dedication,” said Momentum, who worked into his performance the trouble with the microphone he was using. “That microphone mal-function is an example, the devil doesn’t want me to speak but I will speak anyway.”
Momentum’s greatest attribute is his ability to create the emotion within the poem through, not only the power in his words, but the pain in his voice as well. In “What’s In Me?” he uses a reoccurring metaphor of “a thing inside me” to stand for his inner demons, his motivation toward self-expression, his love of his mother and the Lord.
M’Reld’s recited her work in more of a traditional storyteller fashion.
M’Reld’s “What About Love” describes a woman whose decisions lead her to contracting HIV from a lover. She recites in “Heather Iris Vaughn” about a stripper whose reputation is destroyed through exploitation.
The Najwa Dance Corps gave three elaborate performances throughout the show where they interpreted African dances to both drum solos and in one performance by Marvin Sapp “One Thing”.
As many as eight dancers and three drummers occupied the stage at various points through the performance.
Najwa, choreographed by Cheryl Barnes and founded in 1977, has been a Malcolm X College program for 15 years.