Review: The Break/s by Marc Bamuthi Joseph
There are a million things to love about New York (for that matter a million to hate as well) but one of my favorite has to be how vibrant the Arts are here. Recently, I had the chance to check out one of my brothers weave his craft in the city. Marc Bamuthi Joseph is the truth. Read that again, the man is the truth! I have been familiar with Bamuthi’s musings and deeds since the mid-90s but his recent show The Break/s: A dream journal presented as a mixtape for stage, which headlined the Hip Hop Theater Festival demonstrates not only that he’s a great performer but that he is beautifully human.
Lately I’ve been reading Black scholar’s takes on the Black experience and one theme that continues to come up over and over again is the difficulty of displaying humanness and complexity with the Black experience. How does one write about a people who are de-identified yet identified, homeless yet at home, the contradictions are multitudes. Well, if Cornel West is right in saying that Du Bois failed to capture the humanity and love of Black people in the Souls of Black Folks. I hope West takes the time to see Bamuthi’s performance of double consciousness and beyond.
The Breaks is a performance piece that takes the viewer on a journey with Bamuthi as he travels from NYC to Africa to Europe and all stops in between. As you watch Bamu wind through his history and experiences, you begin to understand why his tales are the Break/s. Initially I wasn’t sure what to expect, of course, the break beat is a blessed moment in Hip-Hop, that moment when reality and fantasy meet in a fury, the moment when B-Boys and B-Girls would go into a frenzy to create something dangerous, alluring, and sacred by those who knew what it meant to uprock, freeze, and get off. On the other side, the title reminds me of Kurtis Blow’s classic song about the ways that life deals us obstacles and the dynamic responses we answer with. Well from the opening when you watch Bamuthi spin slowly on the floor, you’re taken into the turntable of not just Hip-Hop but life as lived through Hip-Hop.
There are too many themes covered to really expound on any one, but let me say, that I was touched. For me, there is art that moves and there is art that moves you to be better. The Break/s challenged me personally and socially to think about how I understand myself, the actions of my past, and what is to happen as I experience the Breaks. Years ago, I had a discussion with Bamuthi when he opined that Hip-Hop is young people’s. He said to me “bruh, it ain’t my and your music anymore.” The throw back to the “golden age” is just an idealized past, but most importantly past. I painfully chewed on his reflection but still felt that I was Hip-Hop, just a different Hip-Hop than the one that I would hear commonly.
In watching Bamuthi work through his performance, I saw, heard, and felt the twoness of past and present. The warring souls, that were represented by my aging body, my love for the people, and Hip-Hop. He tugged at my psyche to he discussed acceptance, rejection, imperfection, broken promises, all while telling his life (possibly both real and imagined).His performance challenged me to think about how distant am I from who I was and who I will be. I kept searching for the break beat to bring me back to my groove, only to realize that my groove is not a singular break, it’s a compilation of the breaks of my life and those that surround me. For most of my life I have attempted to find solace from the breaks of life in hip-hop, sometimes successfully and other times unsuccessfully. The battle for balance and transformation are beautifully captured in Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s piece The Break/s, more so than any other performance piece I’ve seen in years. Check it out at until Saturday (1/18) in NYC at the New York Public Theater with Under the Radar or catch him on the road as he brings The Break/s to the nation.