Been hard at work on a first draft of Mehndi Night, which is going to be fucking great if I do say so myself, so I hope you enjoyed the half-time entertainment. I thought I'd share some early scribblings from my research for We Are Shadows, my new series of monologues for teenagers. None of those speeches will actually appear in the play, but they did form the stimulus for a workshop day at Half Moon some time back, which fed into the main piece. They've been sort of dormant since so I thought I'd dig them out. Needless to say, please don't perform without permission and all that.
I'd like to indulge in a little non-theatre foray for a moment, if you'll permit me. Long-time readers and friends will know that political hip hop is one of my great passions, and which I had a great time exploring on stage in last year's play Locked In. I'm also fascinated by the political situation in France at the moment, which has reached a head with the recent election of Nicolas Sarkozy. What interests me most is the approach that this parallel society just across the Channel has taken to immigration and multiculturalism in relation to our own. Whilst on the surface, Liberte Egalite et Fraternite (how do you do an e-acute accent on Blogger?) seems a great idea, far from uniting people this otherwise honourable notion appears to have come to define a very narrow vision of 'Frenchness' and required newcomers to French society to give up their roots and ethnic identities in order to assimilate into a united vision of the country. The film La Haine, an extraordinary and depressingly prescient portrayal of doomed Parisien youth locked into a deadly cycle of revenge with the forces of the state, was perhaps the first time French popular drama addressed the subject. The 2005 riots were like that film come to life, and things are only going to get worse under Sarkozy.
However, one good side effect of a sort, has been the explosion of truly brilliant French political hip hop and vibrant banlieu youth culture which this civil unrest has given rise to. My MC of the moment and hot tip for future greatness is a French-Moroccan rapper from Lille called Axiom, who is so new and exciting he hasn't yet got a Wikipedia biog I can link to. However you can check him out on MySpace here and watch some of his videos (turn it up loud for best effect). The site also contains links to the other movers and shakers of the French hip hop scene, who I'm in the process of checking out.
Now my French isn't up to understanding every word but I can catch enough of Axiom's lyrics to feel reassured this guy is about more than the usual bitches and guns. His track 'Ma lettre au Presidente', set to a sarcastic sample of La Marseillaise, is a heartfelt lyrical protest from the disenfranchised youth of the Lille slums. Apparently he also wrote it down and sent it to the outgoing Jacques Chirac as well as releasing it as a single, but French media promptly banned it. But the internet being what it is it's been doing the rounds, and rightly so. It's a great track and a great album.
There is a spurious theatre link to all this, and that is the forthcoming talk at Soho Theatre From Brixton To The Banlieus about disenfranchised urban youth on the move. I feel strongly that modern writers should be in touch with debates like this within sociology, so it's great that this is on in one of the leading new writing venues.
Funnily enough in Mehndi Night the girls came up with the idea (completely independently of me) of an estranged middle sister who was kicked out of the Bengali family home for hanging out at pirate radio stations and largin it with the black boys, so I've had great fun this week writing some lyrics for her. In the middle of a blazing row with her mum one of the older characters steps to the girl's defence and pleads with the parents:
"Allow your children their identity crisis. There is so much for them to carry today. They are Bengali, they Muslim, they are British, they are East London, they are young, they are women. Is it any wonder they can’t manage it all at once? Allow them to drop a few. They will come back for them when the time is right. You just have to wait ... Allow them to celebrate who they are, piece by piece. We are lucky that we are in a country that allows them to do that."
It's a moment of clarity for which I am grateful to Mulberry trainee teacher Noorzahan Begum for pointing out to me.
I spent a large part of my early life hating the stuffy old UK and only ever seeing what was wrong with it, and plenty of aspects of it still exasperate me at times. But as I've got older and wiser, I've become increasingly proud of our country, in particular its tolerance and celebration of diversity. Our version of multiculturalism, in London at least, is something we can rightly be proud of, particularly considering the alternative mess across the Channel. I'm not saying it's not without it's problems, or that there's no work left to do (winning the hearts and minds of the white working classes is the next big step), but overall I think the good outweighs the bad. If my own recent experiences as an accidental chronicler of East London life are anything to go by, the tabloid scare stories about immigration are the same old blinkered bullshit they always have been. Multiculturalism is our own home-grown good news story.
It perhaps means that we don't do political hip hop quite as well as the French, but I think I can live with that.