AN INTERVIEW WITH MALIKA BOOKER
Wednesday, June 18, 2008.
Apples & Snakes is celebrating 25 years as the leading pioneer of the spoken word genre in the UK. To mark this momentous anniversary, it has released Twofive, an album which is described as a "state-of-the-nation commentary on multi-cultural Britain."
Featuring a host of leading spoken word artists and musicians; the album is a combination of astute storytelling and a visceral musical experience with its fusion of poetry, spoken word, comedy, theatre, hip-hop, jazz-soul and grime.
Malika Booker is an established writer, spoken word and multi-disciplinary artist, and one of the many artists featured on the newly released album. She tells The Newblack Magazine why Apples & Snakes remains a leading figure on the spoken-word scene.
When did you start working with Apples & Snakes?
I started working with Apples & Snakes in 1994. I was one of the spoken word artists featured on Tongue and Grove’s poetry complication album One Hell of A Storm. The album featured the likes of Patience Agbabi, Charlie Dark and Lemmy Sissay.
How did your working relationship progress from that first album in 1994 to what it is today?
I began to perform on a regular basis for Apples & Snakes; I also began to work with them as one of their education poets for their PIES Scheme (Poets In Education,) where they placed poets in schools nationally to teach poetry workshops.
I have done a large amount of my creative and educational work with Apples & Snakes. They have also commissioned, produced, natured and supported my development into solo theatre monologue pieces. These are hour long shows like Absolution written and performed in 1999 at Battersea Arts Centre for a two week run, and Unplanned written and developed over six years with the support of Apples & Snakes.
Unplanned started with a three week run at Battersea Arts Centre then toured the United Kingdom. Apples & Snakes have very friendly staff. They are very passionate about every aspect of spoken word and that love shines whenever you deal with the organisation.
Apples & Snakes have also enabled me to mentor new writers within its programmes and instrumental in facilitating several writing residencies for me. I was Hampton Court Palace's Poet-in-Residence in 2004 and Writer-in-Residence for Croydon Museum in 2006.
We are the leading organisation for Spoken word in the United Kingdom. Here the term ‘Spoken Word’ encapsulates poetry, comedy, monologues, storytelling, rap, to name but a few. They also understand that most of their artists use spoken word as the starting point of their practice – and can stretch to work with music one minute, and then create a one-hour theatre piece the next. It is this ethos, which has enabled me to maintain a long and fruitful relationship with this organisation.
Have you continuously worked with Apples & Snakes or have you had other projects by the side?
Apples & Snakes is a performance poetry organization that works with freelance artist. We all do other work and projects. I have represented the British Council as a writer and poet. This has enabled me to tour and work on projects in Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, Azerbaijan and Slovenia.
My work with the British Council has enabled me to perform, teach in schools and universities, as well as mentor writers around their writing or setting up and maintaining spoken-word events. I have also written a musical play for Nitro theatre Company, called Catwalk, which toured Britain culminating in a two week run at the Tricycle Theatre in London and I’m constantly collaborating with other artists or working with organisations, institutions and theatres developing different projects of my own.
How would you describe your form of the Spoken Word?
I am a writer and an amazing storyteller. I have an amazing gift for gripping the spine and heart of a story and presenting it. So, I craft narrative poems that are simple magnification of everyday life. I make these small stories extraordinary yet intimate.
I am at heart a storyteller, who comes from a long line of Caribbean oral storytellers and this is reflected in my work. I am best know for writing and performing engaging character monologues and poetry which beautifully capture the contradictions and passions of modern day living and I consequently transform this personal insight into universal appreciation and that’s the art.
I describe myself as a good writer who crafts for the page and creates work that performs on the page. I am also an engaging reader of my own work. My rich voice, distinctive looks, and the honest emotional intensity of my voice, engages and seduces audiences and brings the work alive to a listening audience. I want to have a dialogue with the audience, where my experience connects with a similar experience or epiphany that they experienced creating a new state of consciousness. The work at the very least is woman centred and deeply honest.
What excites you the most about the new album from Apples & Snakes?
That Apples & Snakes are twenty-five years old and have expanded so much as an organization. The Spoken-word genre has grown and is now a part of the everyday landscape. This album serves to define, yet illustrate how illusive the term Spoken-word really is, how varied, how hard to pin down, how transitory yet fixed. It leads to the question; what is the common denominator in this art form?
It shows that Spoken Word can range from Ty – one of the UK’s most celebrated spoken word artists - to Sally Pomme Clayton an established storyteller. I can listen to Zena’s sultry tribute to spoken word, Roger Robinson’s evocative and emotional modern day hymn for angry Black man, or the comedic collaboration between three of the most unlikely poets ever placed together: Francesca Beard, Cricis and John Hegley.
It showcases new voices alongside more established developed artists easily. It includes poetic heavy weights like Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze and the Denis Bovell Band, and Michael Rosen.
Yes, I am excited about this album because it is a living record of some of the great voices that make up the UK’s spoken-word scene and I believe it is a good representation of the art form.
You are described as a multidisciplinary artist with work across literature, education and cross – arts; tell us about this aspect of your work and how you manage to combine all of them?
I am a writer. I write poems, monologues and have begun a novel. My writing experience is varied; I began primarily as a poet, but soon found that poetry was not the right medium for some of the new work that I was developing.
I have quite a varied artistic track record. I have been the writer in Residence in Kinetika (a carnival organization) exploring the way text can be incorporated into the visual spectacle of Carnival, either on the costumes or with me performing live on a truck at various points of a parade. I worked closely with the carnival designer Ali Pretty for over four years in Notting Hill, the Isle of Wight, Canterbury festival and Luton Carnival.
I have been commissioned to create my own monologues for various BBC Radio 4 programmes. I have written a five character musical play entitled ‘Catwalk’ about racism and the fashion industry. I write and perform my own poetry and I have collaborated with dancers and theatre practitioners to create work.
I teach poetry, monologue writing, storytelling and performances workshops in schools, colleges and universities.
I would say that firstly I am a writer. I find that as I write and create my work it seems to dictate the form that it wants to take, and I have to develop my skills as either a writer or a performer to encompass any new developments.
This is both challenging and yet the fear of stepping into the unknown with new work, or having to trust another artist or director in order to realize my work is what keeps developing me as an artist. It also helps that I work from project to project so I can concentrate on one aspect of the art form at a time.
I love the educational work with young people, women and beginning writers. I love helping them to understand the beauty and freedom one gets from being able to give voice to their own story. I love the way creativity can be so very liberating and help initiate change.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently writing my poetry collection and developing a new solo piece that explores death, grief and immigration, I am also developing a collaborative piece of work with Yusra Warsama -an amazing writer from Manchester. We are looking at women in war; what happens, the hidden stories. I'm organizing launch event to celebrate the publication of my poetry collection ‘Breadfruit’ by Flippedeye Publishing. And lastly, I'm teaching a lot of creative writing courses in inner city schools.
What should spoken word lovers expect next from Apples & Snakes?
They should look out for solo work from artists like Polarbear, which will take place at the South Bank Festival (London), as well as new and exciting work from the artists who are currently undertaking Apples & Snakes ‘incubate’ project. It is a development program for artists interested in taking their work beyond the stage and the microphone, into theatre and other venues.
It’s an exciting project as the artists are doing workshops with top artists for the field of puppetry and physical theatre to name a few. I feel that the work which will come out of this initiative will shake up and further extend the parameters for what we know as the Spoken-Word.
What is your ultimate aim as an artist?
My ultimate aim as an artist is to create work that engages people, orchestrates some change, no matter how subtle. Raises an understanding of a situation or raises questions. At the core of my work is the desire to explore women’s role in society.
I want to raise awareness and give voice and social consciousness to the hidden and untold stories, whether because the featured woman, or women have no voice or because history has hidden or stolen their stories.
I want to always explore new uses of text, theatre and the performance space to shift the audience from viewer to participator through intimate storytelling of factual, fictional or semi autobiographical material. I want to always be creating dialogue and change. I want to always be able to make quality art.
Interview by Belinda Otas. Belinda is a London-based freelance journalist and The New Black Magazine's features and theatre editor. She can be reached at email@example.com
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