Lyrics And Theatre — An Interview With Jonzi D (@Jonzid) !

I was giv­en the great oppor­tun­ity of meet­ing with Jonzi D, dur­ing his rehears­al of ‘The Let­ter’ part of Lyrikal Fearta at Sadler’s Wells, to find out more about the show as well as him as an artist.  Jonzi’s approach­able atti­tude turned the exper­i­ence more into a catch up con­ver­sa­tion with an old friend who you’ve not seen for years but feels like you’ve not spent much time apart. Maybe because we both shared that same pas­sion for theatre and dis­sec­ted the lyr­ic­al con­tent and accur­acy of the inter­est­ing char­ac­ter­isa­tions he per­son­i­fies. I found myself imme­di­ately engage with his lyr­ic­al rhym­ing and artist­ic expres­sion as he intrins­ic­ally mastered each move­ment fol­low­ing his words. This inter­view only cap­tures a mere glimpse into Jonzi the Artist.

Q. Let’s start with your show. Tell us about your latest pro­duc­tion ‘Lyrikal Fearta’ and what we can expect?

The term Lyrikal Fearta has become an umbrella term for all my shows. And with­in it there are three shows.

The first will be per­form­ing with a guest artist between GREEds, Zena Edwards and One­Ness Sank­ara, which is really nice because I’ve worked with these musi­cians in the past. Doing a show is always about shar­ing the skill.

The second is called Broken lin­eage which is a duet with Ivan Black­stock. We’ve worked togeth­er on a piece about old skool and new skool val­ues of Hip Hop and there are also ele­ments of aban­don­ment issues.

And the third part is The Let­ter – this is a solo per­form­ance about Jonzi’s  MBE award.


Q. You’ve been in UK Hip Hop from the early 80s, tell us a bit about your involve­ment in the scene?

When you say ‘Scene’ I asso­ci­ate that with when I first became known which was in the late 80’s when I worked with MC Mell’O’. I always prac­ticed most parts of hip hop in my area of bow and grew up there and learnt a lot about being a man. I actu­ally first began explor­ing Hip Hop through dance, where I was also doing con­tem­por­ary dan­cing – there is such a con­nec­tion between the two even though they were kept so sep­ar­ated back in the day but I always had a dream of com­bin­ing the two in theatre. But I rapped too. It was all rel­ev­ant in my under­stand­ing of Hip hop — I see it all as per­form­ance so it’s a com­bined thing. Afric­an tribes for example all danced and sang.

Q. How has UK Hip Hop changed and evolved over the years? Would you say that it has lost its true essence of bring­ing a voice to the voice­less and become overly commercial?

In the early days of hip hop there was an inno­cence about what we were doing because there seemed to be no bound­ar­ies of what we could say. It was excit­ing to hear what rap­pers were talk­ing about in their albums. Cov­er­ing top­ics from School to talk­ing about being a pimp so there no value judge­ment. But it all came down to what KRS1 said:

‘You could be a mack, a pimp, hust­ler or play­er but make sure live you is a dope rhyme sayer’

What has happened since the early 90’s In terms of the com­mer­cial side of Hip Hop, it star­ted to bubble into this one dimen­sion­al voice of gang­ster­ism – being tough, selling drugs, being rich and wear­ing bling – And Hip Hop’s nature just isn’t like that. This form is a brand­ing that’s been cre­ated because most MC’s I know don’t rap about those top­ics only com­mer­cial rap­pers do. Record com­pan­ies def­in­itely have some­thing to do with this.

Q. And are most of these rap­pers underground?

They all are yes.

Q. Do you think then that there’s a hypo­crisy that these under­ground MC’s feel when con­sid­er­ing approach­ing big­ger record labels. Are these artists try­ing to reach that level of suc­cess and would they accept?

I think most of them would take the oppor­tun­ity. I can’t see why not.

Q. But you’ve also rejec­ted your MBE for those reasons…

AN MBE is very dif­fer­ent from sign­ing a record deal which is an income. The MBE don’t pay you. Its a badge which sug­gests how good you are – it feel like a brand­ing say­ing ‘you’re good and you’re a mem­ber of the Brit­ish Empire and you wouldn’t be good if it wasn’t for us because we know what good is’. There’s a lot of bag­gage which comes with that badge.

Q. Hip Hop is one of the most power­ful and diverse forms of artist­ic expres­sion, which is why it works so well in theatre. Was it hard try­ing to bring the cul­ture to a main­stream theatre audi­ence? Did you ever face any set­backs or find your­self hav­ing to play the cul­ture down slightly so that it appeals to a wider audience?

When I first cre­ated Lyrikal Fearta I was really excited about present­ing the cul­ture and I used dance to express that fusion between Hip Hop and Con­tem­por­ary. But audi­ences were used to hard­core polit­ic­al inform­a­tion. When I first per­formed at the place theatre in 1995 – a con­tem­por­ary dance theatre where I trained —  people were shocked because I was swear­ing on stage.

Q. What was the demo­graph­ic of audi­ences at the time?

I have an audi­ence which was developed in the mid 90’s. The theatre hadn’t seen so many young black people before and they even spoke about get­ting secur­ity even though there weren’t any fights. Those of the types of ste­reo­types we had to deal with as being mem­bers of the Hip Hop com­munity because we’re not often seen in that environment.

That was 15 years ago but right now Hip Hop is one of the most com­mer­cial vehicles. Its present­ing this image of nihil­ist­ic young black males going crazy like Kanye or being obsess­ive like Jay Z and this cor­por­ate image of suc­cess. Where­as Hip Hop is revolu­tion­ary and what happened to that voice? Rap­pers are doing it but why don’t we hear from them.


Q. You don’t ever hear about big com­mer­cial artists get­ting involved with revolu­tion­ary polit­ic­al move­ments . Mainly because the major­ity pub­lic don’t want to hear about it. Do you then think they’re being con­trolled and shunned away from it or that its a decision they’ve made themselves?

They’re shunned away from it and encour­aged down anoth­er route.

Q. Tell us a bit about the his­tory of Breakin’ Con­ven­tion, why did you feel there was a need for it? And what is the aim of it?

It star­ted as a tour in theatre’s around the world after see­ing oth­er examples of hip hop theatre. I hadn’t seen that in Eng­land and that bridge hadn’t yet been made. I approached Alistair Spald­ing (now Artist­ic Dir­ect­or of Sadlers Wells) at a time when he was present­ing my show ‘Aero­plan Man’ and I men­tioned the idea of doing an Inter­na­tion­al Hip Hop Dance Theatre fest­iv­al. Then when got the job as Chief Exec­ut­ive here at Sadlers Wells he asked me to try it out. All I needed was someone to believe in Hip Hop. Someone who trusts the artist with what they’re doing and its amaz­ing how the Hip Hop cul­ture has been able to thrive because of that trust.

Q. What do you look for in break dan­cers? Do you ever scout for dan­cers on the streets?

I inter­pret Hip Hop dance as being a very wide thing with many dif­fer­ent types. Dan­cers who can explore the­at­ric­al devices and not neces­sar­ily routines interest me. I’m always look­ing for some­thing new maybe because of the con­tem­por­ary back­ground I’ve had. But under­stand­ing break­ing in par­tic­u­lar is also import­ant – those are the fun­da­ment­al found­a­tions to this fest­iv­al. But those two ideas help me to think of some­thing fresh.

I’ve found dan­cers in clubs in the past but now I’m con­stantly inund­ated with dan­cers. And I get great chances to travel the world and watch so many shows. Breakin’ con­ven­tion will be going on a nation­al tour next year using the man­tra : From loc­al to Glob­al. Using the best dan­cers from around the world and around the corner.

Q. How do you respond to being offered an MBE? Do you think this is a move for­ward in your work or a step back­wards away from your roots?

Come and watch the show to find out more!

Q. Tell us about Jonzi D the rap­per; have you had a lot of time to make music? What sub­jects do you feel need to be exposed and explored in UK Hip Hop?

I feel embar­rassed about answer­ing that. I’d like to think of myself as an MC by trade but i haven’t recor­ded any­thing for 15 years. I’ve nev­er giv­en myself that time. Theatre has taken over and really excites me so I’m happy with what I’m doing at the moment. There will always be a side of me that says ‘Jonzi, you’re an MC too’.

Click here to buy tick­ets for Lyrikal Fearta at Lil­an Bayl­is Stu­dio, Sadler­’s Wells!

Join Jonzi D and spe­cial guests at Sadler­’s Wells from Monday 9 Decem­ber — Wed­nes­day 11 Decem­ber 2013!

Monday 9 Decem­ber – GREEdS
Tues­day 10 Decem­ber – Zena Edwards
Wed­nes­day 11 Decem­ber – One­Ness Sankara

Click here for Tour dates

 By Subika Anwar

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About Subika Anwar

Playwright & Actor. Brand new website. Take a look to find out more about me

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