On Friday night, as part of the Festival of Ideas, George Mpanga – a Kings graduate from North West London, who performs under the pseudonym George the Poet – left the audience spell bound with his poignant verses and immaculate delivery. His accounts of growing up in the inner-city ghettos of London drew on the prevalent issues ranging from gun-crime and absentee fathers to the inequalities of street-level and parliamentary politics.
His performance is distinctive in its minimalism, stripping out the over-production endemic in modern hip-hop. What’s left is a soulful and authentic blend of intelligent verse and acoustic instruments (varying between piano, cello and acoustic guitar). George made the transition from MC-ing to spoken word poetry so that the full meaning of his verses could be appreciated, and by extension, have the power to inspire change in the kind of environment in which he grew up. In ‘Blame Game’, he laments the paradox many teenagers and young adults find themselves in when they acquire guns to protect themselves, which merely perpetuates the problem: “We know the law, we’re taught to doubt it/ You’re either caught with it or caught without it/ Caught with it, go to court about it, but caught without it, get sorted out quick.”
Anyone at the Concert Hall on Friday, or indeed anyone who’s seen one of George’s many stunning performances catalogued throughout YouTube could wax lyrical about the poignancy of George’s words; but only a live performance can really do this poetry justice.
Far from all talk and no action, George the Poet is enacting the poetic justice which he so eloquently calls for in his moving verses. Having won extensive sponsorship, he is leading workshops, empowering and educating young adults across inner-city London. For myself, and many of my contemporaries, he has destigmatised spoken word poetry and relinquished it from the stereotype of being an archaic, purely literary, device.