INTERVIEW WITH ‘MIKEY J’
By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Wednesday, March 4, 2009.
With a sell-out Theatre Royal Stratford East run, an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre. Pied Piper – A Hip Hop Dance Revolution returns after a 3-year break. This time, Pied Piper arrives at the Barbican as part of EAST - a festival celebrating the best of East London.
Established in 2001, Boy Blue Entertainment is the street dance company responsible for the show, as well as various theatrical hits such as Generation Next, The Book of Koraka and Lost in Translation G: NEX 2
The dance troupe whose aim was to encourage youth to embrace dance, while teaching discipline, team-building and introducing performance and storytelling, has now trained more than 500 young people.
Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante are the two-man team behind Boy Blue. And the two have made their mark across London’s theatreland, from the Sadler's Wells to Hammersmith Palais, as well as performances at Royal Festival Hall, the Royal Opera House and Hackney Empire.
In addition to his production work, Mikey J is also a singer-song writer.
The New Black Magazine caught up with him as he prepares for the opening night of Pied Piper.
How are rehearsals going so far for Pied Piper?
We’ve been in full rehearsal since September, so everyone’s fully prepped.
Although you are not responsible for the choreography, this is a dance related show, what about that and the stage direction – are there changes there as well?
You’re right. Choreography is not my department but I’m just as informed as Kenrick is as informed with the music. Choreographically, a lot has changed. We’ve got a different space, a different stage and set; it’s a big, huge stage now at The Barbican.
At the same time the world has changed, the community has changed…. we’ve grown so much since then. We sat down, things progressed and kept majority of stuff because it worked and brought other stuff to make it look better.
After the last run of the show at Theatre Royal Stratford; for which you guys won an Olivier, was there a lot of encouragement to bring the show back?
Oh man...People kept asking us: ‘when are you bringing it back?” There was a lot of fan support and public support for it to come back. Some people missed it last time; it sold out and this run gives everyone another chance to jump on it.
Do you hope for a West End or longer run?
There’s an opportunity, a possibility, for the show to run for the whole year. Through tours ; up north and back - Birmingham, Edinburgh, then back to London, then to Newcastle, Exeter, all of the major cities... Edinburgh, Sheffield. As to the West End? Maybe, that’s a big maybe.
The show is obviously a commentary on the controversies of youth crime and violence, and the way the youth are being marginalized and targeted by the media and by the society as a whole.
Of course; that’s one of the biggest questions we’ve been asked all the time. What is crazy is that we did it back in 2006, and when we won the Olivier at that time, that was when the first youth killings started.
What was nuts was no one really reported from the angle that two Black boys - from the types of areas where these things and situations were occurring - had transcended that lifestyle.
The issue is we can achieve. With dedication and persistence. We try to create the opportunity to bring those things out rather than talk, talk, talk. We contribute by encouraging youth to come to classes and come to learn. We are always prepared to help, however we can.
How did you start in the entertainment world?
I had always been singing, or dancing from a young age, always. I've never, ever changed; everybody's always known Mikey for being into some kind of music. My interest in production got solidified from about 14 years old. I was always tinkering about with production. I was studying Commercial Music at Westminster University, and then I quit at 20 years old and said: "I’m going to go at this hard”. From then on, I was an engineer for Terror Danger, and others on the grime scene. I then hooked up with Kano and I’ve been working with him ever since.
You have an interest in singing and performing, making music and song-writing, as well as your music production skills. Which do you prefer?
Music is music; that’s the truth. Performance - I love performing and I don’t perform as much because I don’t get the time. As for preferences, singing and production - I love them to death and I’m hoping to do both until I can’t do it anymore.
Are you grounded by the Boy Blue stuff; working with the youth? Does it keep you aware of what’s going on out there; keep you fresh, alive and vibrant?
I remember myself when I was 13-14 years old dreaming about all these things.
I try and use that same spirit and energy; I just do it. I love working with the kids, I enjoy and love it, but grounding comes from me… respecting where I am now and looking at what I was at 14. I wasn’t even 'Mikey J' at that time I was just Michael Asante.
When I take my self back, I take that passion and that drive towards my music career. The only problem now is trying to find the time. The problem now is that the situation is more intense. There is no time to breathe. Time is always taking on other projects.
Who are your influences in music?
Musically from back in the day - R Kelly, Timbaland, Teddy Riley, those were the kinds of people I was listening to and looking up to and trying to figure out their sound. Now as it’s gone on, it’s Kanye West, The Neptunes; people like that, who have come through and done their thing. Now I listen to all music. Movies as well have influenced me.
How do you go about creating music for a story and dance show like this?
I think the first thing is you want to consider the narrative, and how to get a message across. Music obviously involves emotions. Get that right for the defining scene and the vibe in a scene. Then go to the music to visualise, imagine and put yourself into that scenario and put the sound together with that vibe. I might write a beat, get an idea and put it down. Once it's put down and the feeling is right, tweak it and tailor it to make it right, so it works for the piece. From there - round it out so it works for the piece.
How are things going with Boy Blue Entertainment?
With Boy Blue it’s cool. It’s tough. Myself and Kenrick are the driving forces of that. I’m one guy and Kenrick's one guy. If we had four of us it would be cool. We have now got a creative team that is helping, who we can delegate stuff to. At the same time, when we have free time, you try and work on something else.
Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine's arts editor and a London-based freelance journalist.
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