MLF in association with Young Identity, Contact, Speakeasy and Commonword present Saul Williams, one of the outstanding Slam poets of his generation – a poet, writer, actor and musician known for his blend of poetry and alternative hip hop.
Winner of the 1996 Nuyorican Poets Cafe’s Grand Slam Championship, he has featured in the documentary film SlamNation and star of the 1998 feature film Slam. He has performed with The Fugees and Erykah Badu, as well as with the poets Allen Ginsberg and Sonia Sanchez. He is a self confessed dodger of all the labels that are ascribed to himself, his classification being that of a free artist.
Band on the Wall is full, hot and host to an amazing carpet. Everything is running late and yet the crowd don’t seem in the slightest bit bothered. One guy is doing press-ups and telling his friend how he eats a pound of turkey or chicken - this is sure to be an interesting night.
Before the acts start, the man on camera, aka Winston, tells me that the support act Speakeasy is about “Expression of the mind,” this philosophy stays with me through the entire experience, anticipation and all…The artist we are all waiting for appears 2 hours later than scheduled, and the crowd shuts up to the still of his immediate start into Untimely Meditations from the 1998 film, Slam Nation:
I lack the attention span to meditate
My attention spans galaxies here and now are immense
seconds are secular
moments are mine
The crowd is swept under by the rhythm as Williams hypnotises us:
No man is an island but I often feel alone
So I find peace through OM
He moves seamlessly onto Rise and Shine:
a quiet mind
is labelled sound
and coloured purple
my little boy
has not yet learned
to colour within the lines
The words flow effortlessly as he embraces the language of us all. As the man himself explains, “In music I think of myself as an explorer participating in the construction of the soundscape of the new world that is being hatched out of our dreams, hope and visions, peace and harmony... that don’t necessarily mean my shit is soft though."
It is far from soft – his lyrics and tempo cut through any wanderings of the mind to jolt you back into the here and now. The name – The Saul Williams Experience – is self-explanatory. It is a journey with the word, we move into Coded Language. Williams describes every person as beings of sound, as the rhythm gets into the underbelly of us all the mood is transported beyond that of Manchester. You can hear him read for yourself here.
As the evening draws into the early club night hours, Williams speaks about how he didn’t like himself when he was younger because he wasn’t white, opening us all up to thinking about the phases in our own personal growth.
Ending on the song Black Stacey, he explains it’s titled so because Stacey is his middle name. The lyrics speak for themselves, as he vocalises the song he originally wrote at high school:
Black Stacey. They called me Black Stacey. I never got to be myself 'cause to myself I always was Black Stacey, in polka dots and paisley, a double goose and bally shoes, you thought it wouldn't phase me. I was Black Stacey. The preacher's son from Haiti who rhymed a lot and always got the dance steps at the party. I was Black Stacey. You thought it wouldn't phase me, but it did 'cause I was just a kid
Williams says that poetry and music make sense of all that he has been through, he works harder on himself to become a better artist and no-one could argue that he hasn’t crafted the skill of performance art to an exceptional standard. From crafting a name for himself on the New York poetry scene at the infamous Nuyorican Poets Café, Williams has rocketed into multiple genres.
“It's not that I balance [those arts] out, all the different arts balance me out. There is a certain type of emotion that is more easily accessible through music than poetry. Some things are meant to be written, some are meant to be sung, some things are meant to be hummed, some things are made to be yelled, and so that's just how life works".
An artist of such calibre was a great addition to the Manchester Literature Festival. I had been especially excited about this event after seeing Saul Williams, donned with a feather head piece, perform at ATP festival back in 2008. He leaves you swimming with words and beats in your head, bringing out the natural highs a good gig leaves you feeling. If you haven’t checked him out before you really should embrace this dude, I’m certainly going to be exploring more and am especially looking forward to watching Slam.
by Rebecca Guest
Rebecca is a freelance writer and workshop host, she welcomes any collaborative projects. You can find her on twitter @babamonchichi