When it comes to spoken-word, there are few places in the UK which can rival the sheer abundance of events that take place in London every month. From the lyrically pugnacious ‘Tongue Fu’ and medicinal ‘Chill Pill’ to the explosive ‘Bang Said the Gun’ and gourmet ‘Come Rhyme with Me’, those with a passion for stand-up poetry are quite frankly spoilt for choice in the capital. It's among this linguistic family that Out-Spoken has emerged, building up considerable steam in its mission to unearth talented UK acts that, as its title suggests, are unafraid to speak their mind.
First established in March 2012, Out-Spoken London is the creation of Anthony Anaxagorou, whose vision to excavate such coveted UK talent has been firmly realised. The bustling crowd for this, the event’s sold-out second birthday, served as undisputable proof that there is clear demand for a night that blends the best of spoken-word poetry, hip-hop and lyrically-driven live music.
Heading to a new venue for their second birthday, Camden’s stylish The Forge, Tuesday evening saw Out-Spoken invite an eclectic line-up to celebrate its anniversary. Whilst an excited pre-show buzz spilled from cocktail conversations, the stage was bathed in a red glow that illuminated a grand piano, turntables and a sparkling microphone; this view was a telling snapshot of what Out-Spoken represents in a single frame.
With regular compère, The Ruby Kid, due to join proceedings later in the night, Anaxagorou kicked things off by welcoming the third member of the Out-Spoken team, Karim Kamar, who alongside being a London-based filmmaker is also an established pianist. Beginning the night with an opening prelude on the gleaming piano which rested stoically on stage, Kamar’s considered chords hooked the audience from the outset.
The first guest, singer-songwriter ‘yoB’, warmed up the crowd with his unplugged folk acoustics, employing politically-driven lyrics that served as a social commentary for growing up in Blair-Britain. Balancing topics such as gender inequality and deceitful politicians with gentle harmonies, yoB was a fitting start to an evening in which each act brought something wildly different to the table.
Known for its diverse programming, Out-Spoken prides itself on booking acts that at once compliment, conflict and ultimately “vibe” with one another to use the host’s term. This was shown most starkly with the arrival of Zia Ahmed, an enigmatic performer whose running monologue, which narrated an internal dichotomy of cultures, differed vastly from yoB’s own brand of folk commentary. This variety flowed throughout the evening although rather than disrupting or jarring the flow of the night, added a tangible excitement every time a new act took to the stage.
Crowned the Roundhouse Slam Champion in 2011, Zia Ahmed’s disarming delivery toyed with prejudices and racial profiling that beset many ethnic groups in this country. Merging subverted snapshots of society with touching memories of his father, Zia’s narrative stream invited listeners to dip in and out of rhyming couplets that were mesmerising in their delivery. Slight gesticulations unravelled words around the room, leaving the gathering spellbound before the unassuming and gentle wordsmith left the light.
Up next, Tshaka Campbell took to the stage suffering from a cold which thankfully did little to diminish this gifted lyricist’s performance that dealt with the fears associated with love. Three poems were dispatched in fine style, each intricately plied with rich analogies, devastating metaphors and language whose depth, one feels, can only fully be appreciated following numerous listens. From serving as a judge of his daughter’s suitors to the gut-wrenching heartbreak following the loss of love, Campbell’s poetry speaks from the heart with a stark beauty and marked him as a particular highlight of the night.
Following a short interval in which drinks were refilled, the room was ushered back to their seats after an impressive first half. Strutting on stage with confidence and charisma, Out-Spoken’s longstanding compère, The Ruby Kid, commanded the room with two powerful poems: ‘The Unreal City Revisited’ and ‘205 Panorama’, both drawing upon the city of London for their subject matter. With an electric flow that painted scenes with a rich lexicon, the urban landscape of the capital was realised with startling clarity. From “Facebook princesses” posing for pictures on buses to “sprawling estates like endless seas”, these lucid vistas were delivered with a focused fervour as the raconteur strolled, unplugged, throughout the room.
Bowing from the light, The Ruby Kid made way for the “catalyst behind Out-Spoken” in the form of founder Anthony Anaxagorou. Acknowledging his first English teacher who sat proudly in the audience, Anaxagorou’s set was given a wonderfully emotive accompaniment courtesy of Karim Kamar on piano. Flicking through a selection of tracks from their EP ‘It Will Come to You’, the short set demonstrated the poet’s lyrical dexterity and erudite sensibilities. Set against the backdrop of tumbling piano keys, which fluctuated with the cadence of his voice, Kamar’s deft ability emphasised impassioned lines that spoke of growing up and the loss of love.
Rounding off the evening’s spoken-word selection, Deborah Stevenson from the Mouthy Poets (a collective which promotes the positive impact of spoken-word on young people) and Belinda Zhawi (who recently appeared on Channel 4’s Random Act series) offered yet more diversity to an evening already brimming with creativity. Stevenson’s poetry highlighted the inequality between kids growing up in a society where segregation often extends from a young person’s background. Supported by Emily Franklin on guitar, the mouthy poet’s bursting passion was plain to see and her thought-provoking lines garnered a deserved round of applause as the duo left the stage. Closing the evening’s spoken-word entertainment came Belinda Zhawi, whose considered and poised elocution in ‘Danielle’ conjured up a link between England and her birth country of Zimbabwe to great effect.
Finishing an evening that had stayed true to its promise of cultural diversity, Irish singer-songwriter Kal Lavelle serenaded the crowd with her pitch-perfect vocals, before hip-hop artist Ty ended on an energetic high, drawing in those who hadn’t taken off to catch the last tube home with plenty of humour and flowing beats.
An evening of brilliantly varied acts that were affecting and captivating in equal measure, Out-Spoken continues in its growth. As word spreads from a proliferation of out-spoken mouths, the future looks very bright indeed for this inspiring collective.
Photography: Karim Kamar