Friday, 27 November 2009

On hip-hop Shakespeare

A correspondent (son Ben in this case) has sent me a link to an amazing BBC Blast programme, being broadcast today, which I just have to share. It tells the story of how hip-hop artist Akala worked with a group of young people off the street to present Shakespeare's Othello in his genre. Ben did a workshop with them, and uses the hip-hop parallel in his book Shakespeare on Toast, where he uses an Akala quote at one point.

It's an unexpectedly moving experience, to hear the familiar lines used and reinterpreted in this way, supplemented by the hip-hop rhythms and rhymes. Throughout there's a respect for the original text that is impressive, and the encounter with the play was evidently a Pauline experience for some of the group. One affirms he's going to read more Shakespeare. Another, on a visit to the John Rylands Library in Manchester, to see a real First Folio, talks about feeling humbled at the sight. From being scared about the language they end up mastering it. All evidently fall in love with the poetry of the lines, and perform it well. The extracts from the final performance are enthralling.

Having a blog allows me to congratulate Akala and the whole group in a public way which would not otherwise be possible. Any teacher who's having trouble getting the message across to a class of reluctant teenagers that Shakespeare is relevant, accessible, and generally fantastic will find this programme immensely helpful. I just hope that the BBC will make it widely available in due course.

One of the best bits for me - and something which will surprise a lot of people - were the sequences where lines in Shakespeare and hip-hop lyrics were mixed up, and people were asked to tell which was which. Most got the answers wrong. And I must admit I had trouble myself once or twice.

The show will be online for several days, so if you've got a spare hour, watch it. If you've ever doubted the proposition that Shakespeare can be made interesting to young people today, this will change your view. Here's the link:

Othello Retold.

13 comments:

Greg Watts said...

Thanks for spotting this, David. I've posted it on my blog. As you say, an inspiring story, especially for teachers.

molly_twiselton said...

I went to an open day at the University of Edinburgh and he was running this workshop out on the street it- looked really interesting but I didn't have time to sign up. It's really exciting to see the final product so thank you!

Annie said...

That's miraculous - Shakespeare's vasty power! He reaches out to literally everyone.

But what would you say to this, Professor? - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1230194/Young-actors-stage-modern-version-Julius-Caesar--street-slang.html - Shakespeare is given a makeover in street slang.
Don't You think there is hardly anything positive here as far as students' normal acquaintance with Shakespeare's original text is concerned and that's simply something absolutely else with only a shadow of Shakespeare lurking somewhere at all? Or do You think that's another approach to the Bard which may inevitable bring the students to wish to get acquainted with the original Shakespearean text?
I cannot make up my mind thereon really.

Tabby said...

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Tabby said...

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DC said...

It's difficult to tell. One would have to wait and see. I do have my doubts about an approach which claims to 'strip away the language', because (as Akala's group show) the language is everything. Take away the poetry, the wordplay, the imagery, and the complex characterization (expressed through language) and what have we left? Just the plot, which (as many critics have pointed out) is often very thin and not usually original. The Mail report doesn't give much away, though, There are hints that there's more Shakespeare than the quotations illustrate, and certainly 'ambitious', 'beware the ides of March', and suchlike don't show much slang.

Rana said...

Haven't seen the programme, but the concept has been done before?

A few years ago I saw the play "A Bomb-itty of Errors" in the West End. Described by Wikipedia as "a hip hop theatre retelling of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors"
Twas "part play and part rap concert" with a live DJ.

Anyway, that was not a criticism, this type of ad-rap-tation is very welcome.

arthur said...

Arrgh! The link is UK only...

DC said...

But not with kids off the streets, no? And not put together, from beginning to end, in two weeks. That's what makes Akala's show so impressive.

DC said...

Ah, yes, we've had this before with the BBC (see the post on 'It's Only a Theory') - but someone put the item up on YouTube soon after!

trav said...

akala is mint

Pyroclastic Flo said...

Reading this, and wondering too if you ever saw the Reduced Shakespeare's Othello Rap? Great stuff.

DC said...

Certainly did. In fact they did it once in the Ucheldre Centre, the community arts centre in Holyhead, where I live.