Proving definitively that hip hop is no monolith, writer and performer Marc Bamuthi Joseph's frenetic amalgams of spoken-word and dance are filled with trenchant observations about everything from his relationship with his father and the nature of hip hop to the plight of people in Haiti.
He brings his breathtaking live show the break/s: a mixtape for the stage to the August Wilson Center for African American Culture for two shows this week.
Bamuthi's stage work incorporates dance -- everything from breakdancing to tap to ballet-style leaps to modern movements -- and poetry. He barely loses his breath after whipping around the stage and practically beat-boxing out poems.
Bamuthi's bona fides are unassailable. He's a National Poetry Slam winner and has been a featured artist on Russell Simmons' Def Poetry on HBO. He has also appeared in the Tony-award winning Broadway production The Tap Dance Kid. Bamuthi, 33, has traveled and taught extensively, from spoken-word festivals in Tokyo and Cuba to dance apprenticeships in Senegal and teaching appointments in Bosnia, as well as universities across the U.S.
He wrote the break/s while serving as the Arts Institute Fellow at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The New York Times called the show "gloriously eloquent in its physicality" and the San Francisco Bay Guardian said it offered "sharp, elegant and always urgent verse."
A video clip has Bamuthi explaining to the audience that while he was in Haiti, locals began calling him by a term his grand-mere told him refers to the metaphorical tunnel that connects Haiti to Africa.
"That's like, the real shit. ... That's like, super-black. It's a strike," he says in the clip, affecting a slightly smug and self-amused smile.
Then, his diction and delivery change, into rapid-fire, cadenced almost-rap: "I wonder what they'd say if they knew my kid was half-Chinese and my girlfriend was white." A multimedia mix of scratching, video footage of people talking about marriage traditions and metaphors, and a Lauryn Hill bassline start up. Bamuthi's body is unlocked from the standing, storytelling posture, dancing all over the stage.
Expect sly humor, astounding physical grace and compelling tales of growing up in the midst of hip hop as it formed and solidified itself as a true art form.
Marc Bamuthi Joseph performs the break/s: a mixtape for the stage 8 p.m. Wed., Oct. 28 and Thu., Oct. 29. August Wilson Center, 980 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $22.50-28. 412-456-6666