The bumper audience which turned up at the Village Blues Bar, Barbican, St Andrew, on Sunday night knew beforehand that something unusual was in store for the August edition of Seh Sup’m, dubbed ‘Omega Vibration’. An all-female cast of performers had been announced for Manifesto Jamaica’s performance at the Root Cause monthly poetry and music show, but what was presented in about two hours (excluding the obligatory intermission) was more remarkable than the gender specificity.
With all four poets – Kai Falconer, Raquel Jones, Yashika Graham and Sabriya Simon – on stage simultaneously with singer and the night’s host Janine ‘Jah9′ Cunningham and the production organised into themes, the unity among the performers topped the manifesto. Added to the quintet was a quartet of photographers – Joanna Francis, Renae Simpson and Tiffany Lue-Yen and Simon, whose work was shown on the screen above the bar area.
DJ Afifa on the turntables made it nine women, but Jah9 pointed out from the early going that three men were involved. “We no believe in separating male from female. We separate enough already,” she said, introducing musicians Jesse Golding (congos), Jason Wharton (guitar) and Stephen Jackson (violin, for a short time).
The format was established from the get-go and maintained through the tightly packaged night, Jah9′s “bong, bong, bong” refrain anchoring the first go-round of poetry. Until she was still and listened to it, Simon said, “did not know my body was a divine conduit. And Graham ended her stint with the grim observation “blood, sweat and tears flowed inside”.
There was a pause for an introduction cause, Jah9 describing Simon as “ancient spirit”, Graham as someone for who “language is her sport”, attributing Jones with “the voice of the masses” and remembering her first encounter with Falconer when she was reserved and shy.
The interweaving of music, song and poetry continued. The visual of the women swaying, seated on high stools behind the person or persons at the microphone was as powerful as the aural of their delivery.
It was an atmosphere of extended listening, more so than spontaneous cheering during pieces, Tracy Chapman’s Talking ‘Bout a Revolution‘ from the turntables setting the stage for Jah9 to sing to the wanna-be bad men “Do you know what a defibrillator is for?/well if you don’t I don’t think you are ready for war“, then cutting to Anthony B noting “you end it a go bitter”. The poets addressed the theme from different angles, Graham saying “we all know that magic grows on trees” and, after Jah9 did a line from Burnin’ and Looting, Jones demanded “is this what Bob died for/what the Wailers wailed for?”
Simon asked, “Black woman, do you know how stunning you are?” and the mood soon shifted into sex, Jones the most verbally aggressive as she cut a braggart down to size “me see the six-pack/Let’s see if the bottom half match … it’s microscopic“.
There was a good laugh all around.
Falconer tried to exorcise the determined demon of lover past from her writing (“I want to write about other things/I want him out of my poetry“), but confessed her weakness with: “I’ve never said this out loud/But I’m afraid to live without him“.
Omega Vibration resumed after the break without fanfare, the pull of Jah9′s voice quelling the mingling. Matters of the heart and the bedroom dominated down the stretch to the preset ending time, 10:30 p.m. Simon sent on a sub-standard swain with “ride on, brother, ride on” and Falconer announced the night’s final theme, energy.
Graham approached it from the environmental perspective (“the sea is sick to its stomach”), while Jones spoke to the poet’s task (“I bleed through this microphone for Jamaica”) and, after Jah9 sang “this one is a warning”, Simon did the popular Dead Man Walking centred around sexually-transmitted infections. And Wharton’s voice anchored with a line from Buju Banton – “put some rubbers pon yu willie”.
Falconer was caustically honest about the situation the black woman often finds herself in, “squeezable, grabbable, just not loveable”. She asked the telling question: “Isn’t it interesting how we adopt to the characteristics of those who whipped our bodies in the past?”
Symbolically the women removed earrings, a bracelet a necklace and Jones her shoes, placing them in a basket beyond the microphones at the front of the stage, before the Omega Vibration ended with Jah9 singing Gone is the Day.