by Kamal Kolade
With raps written so loud you could actually hear the scratches on the page; award-winning Jazz saxophonist/lyricist Soweto Kinch’s remarkable The Legend of Mike Smith took to the stage. “I’ve got bars for days” was a statement fully embraced on Friday. Only a fertile mind could display such extraordinary lyrical abilities. Jonzi D, a “Pioneer of Hip Hop theatre” provided the genius choreography to accompany a hip hop masterpiece, with projected animations by Soopernatural Productions.
The Legend Of Mike Smith is about Mike, a young talented emcee from the inner city area. Like the rest of us Mike has to deal with the daily struggles of keeping on top of his imperfections (7 deadly sins) but even the strongest men appear to fall under pressure. A mass tale of social commentary is spoken through the depiction of Mike ‘like an actual mic’ — his name is quite fitting.
There have not been so many Smiths seen in one place since The Matrix. Although Mike Smith is mainly played by a brilliant Ricardo da Silva, Soweto also comes in throughout the show as the narrator/ego layer of Mike. The third Mike is played by Tyrone Isaac Stuart or as this reviewer likes to call him, “The Tormented Krumper” because of his semi-gangly movements on the song ‘Invidia’ (Envy), and the awesome expression he showed throughout the duration of the show.
Soweto’s use of wordplay is admirable, on the song ‘Gula’ (Gluttony) coming up with lines like “I’m never B&Q’d, I’m a Comet I’m on Topman, fasten my Boots in any Habitat, adapt to sand Dune to Monsoon eating Mango” (yes!). He had a uniquely dynamic flow — when the music became more intense, the word density of the bars increased and trust it when he says “punch lines hit you with the force of four soldiers”.
The wild crowd interaction on the animalistic ‘Luxuria’ (Lust) and the crowd battling on ‘Superbia’ (Pride) were the things that really stood out in this production because the common thing about performers is that they care too much about what people think about them — but in this show, the script was definitely flipped.
Drummer Shane Forbes added his own character to the time signatures of the score, playing a wide variety of drum patterns to suit the scenes –from swift improvisation in sync with Soweto’s sax playing to cleverly applied syncopated drum patterns in the hairier moments of Mike’s journey. Bassist Nick Jurd provided the groove, switching between the textures of his upright bass and 5-string electric bass guitar.
The Legend of Mike Smith deserves top marks not because the audience is afraid Mr Kinch might diss them, but because Soweto and Jonzi D kept it real — authentic to the art of Hip Hop. They have shown people how far the art has gone and the potential it still has. From a theatrical point-of-view the bounds were pushed to the limit and the production was very enjoyable. Highly recommend you go see it wherever it appears in the rest of the UK.
Keep up to date with Soweto Kinch
It was a pleasure to meet Soweto Kinch after the show to talk about his career and his influences. We filmed the interview, which you can watch here: