We caught up with Akala after the performance of ‘Richard II’ at Bristol’s Thekla (1st October 2013) to find out more about The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company...
TSC (TheSpeakersCorner.co.uk): Could you tell us a bit about ‘Hip-Hop Shakespeare’ please?
Akala: The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company is a music/theatre production and education company, set up in 2009. The mission is really to re-brand and re-examine the way Hip-Hop is looked at, the way Shakespeare is looked at and to present these two art forms in a different, new and unique way.
TSC: It’s interesting that they’re built of the same building blocks, yet they’re perceived so differently, aren’t they…
Akala: Yea of course, because public perception is controlled by power and by the way power defines who is and isn’t intelligent, who is and isn’t an artist, et cetera et cetera.
Hip-Hop traditionally spoke against power. Shakespeare examined power definitely, but he was aligned with the elite of his time to a certain degree, even though he didn't totally come from that background… it’s a bit more complex… Shakespeare has been co-opted certainly, to a much greater degree than Hip-Hop… well actually, even that’s debatable… but yea, they’re perceived very differently.
TSC: We could hear definite elements of your own work in ‘Richard II’ tonight with lines like, ‘Power – take it back!’….
TSC: …What was the creative process with this project? There are so many people involved with so many different backgrounds and specialties… how did that actually work?
Akala: So, essentially what happened was I took the text of Richard II and thought about how we could present it in a different kind of live format. I chopped out the key speeches of Richard and of Bolingbroke, his main rival, and we used those as building blocks. Next we thought of song titles that would move the narrative forward and would relate, then we jammed with the musicians and wrote songs that could push the rest of the narrative through.
TSC: Cool... How was tonight?
Akala: Tonight was the opening night – it was really good, busy, the crowd was lively… everything you could ask for.
TSC: Brilliant, and what’s the plan for the rest of the tour and onwards?
Akala: The plan for the rest of this tour is to have more good shows and hopefully they get better and better each night! Hopefully people enjoy it and spread the word... we want to tour this again on a bigger level some point next year and I’ve also got my own tour coming up at this same venue in early December as well too.
TSC: It seems to us that there’s a growing demand for intelligent content and that people want a little bit more from their entertainment…
Akala: Yea, absolutely…
TSC: What do you think is driving that?
Akala: Well I think there’s always been a demand for that kind of intelligent content, but I think the difference is that - and again this comes down to power - that power benefits from people being dumbed-down and therefore that type of content is not promoted and is certainly not promoted to average, everyday people… however you want to define that. So, people have to go seeking out intelligent content… content that questions, content that makes you think about the world.
The ruling elite don't want to awaken people, so they don’t generally promote art that wakens people and so we have to go and seek it out, so it seems that there’s not as much of a demand… whereas if you talk complete bullshit you’ll be promoted to high heaven.
TSC: You’ve got your new tour coming up, but are there any more projects that are happening or any parting words that you’d like to give?
Akala: Just to look out for the ‘Theives Banquet’ tour from the 19th November and also the Hip-Hop Shakespeare tour for the rest of October!
Akala: … and check out Hip-HopShakespeare.com!
TSC: Nice one!
Akala: Big up, thank you very much!
Interview: Darren Paul Thompson