Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review: The Poetry Express by Elias Mutendei Akhaya Nabutete

I purchased Elias Mutendei Akhaya Nabutete's book Shadow Walkers: The Glory of Kings at the recent Toronto International Book Fair, and received The Poetry Express as a bonus gift. I was drawn to read the poetry first, after reading the individual titles, taking a quick scan of the images, and realizing that this snippet of creations from Nabutete would be a great introduction into his other projects.

In this first edition of The Poetry Express, entitled "What Would I Want to Be?" Nabutete presents 17 pieces that explore a variety of topics, emotions, and writing styles. One thing is consistent: Nabutete is a compassionate artist, and also a thinker. A deep and critical thinker.

For me, it is difficult to assess and review poetry because the perception of each piece and each message will depend on the reader, the reader's state of mind, and their knowledge of poetry and experience with this form of writing. As a fiction writer--and someone who is admittedly not extremely familiar with the unique and beautiful art form of poetry--I was challenged to look at each piece as its own story and at the end of my reading, take a look at the collection as a whole.

There are 17 pieces, and they all resonate well on a social awareness level. Readers of all backgrounds can find familiarity, truths, and will be moved by the carefully constructed phrases, and the numerous questions that are highlighted within the writings.

In Vision, Nabutete discusses leadership, responsibility, and what we base our personal evaluations of life on. The Day I Met Myself explores the progression of life and the internal quest to self-discovery by challenging oneself. The Question is Why investigates why he has chosen the field of poetry/spoken word to express himself, while The Wave that Swept Away the Sea gets romantic and describes Nabutete's time with a particular woman and how he learned to put her needs first.

The poem The Wind That Blows explains how we never really know which direction political powers will move, and What Would I Want to Be explores the creation of Nabutete's art and how it should always evoke a positive feeling, elements of leadership, and reflect value. Few and Far In-Between investigates thoughts about time, opportunity, human hope and belief, while I Didn't Pretend continues to explore a romantic relationship and his role as a man.

How You'll Remember My Name reflects on racism, and Nabutete's understanding of Canada (I loved the line that read "they didn't realize I was a king"), and I The African Leader continues in the same direction, as he contemplates how he will create an inspirational image and legacy. The poem Nathaniel's Ode is about a childhood locale named Spruce Street, his humility and coming of age as a quiet soul, with a few words of encouragement for setting a plan and purpose for life.

Shisha and Tea (my favourite poem in the book) describes the shared pleasures between a man and woman, highlighting their deep connection, and the impact that special moments have on their lives.

The Horn of Empty, the longest piece in the book, is a writing that addresses the political upheaval in Kenya following the presidential elections of 2007, and the resulting climate. In this piece in particular, Nabutete's passion for Kenya is evident, as well as his dedication to understanding leadership, his hopes for the future of Kenya, and his recommendations for change.

Honey and Creation is a charming play on the natural beauty of honey, while comparing it to the emptiness of money and what it represents to the human soul. Coin Flip proposes that it is a sin to hide one's talents, and the importance of staying true to one's heart. Love and Joy reflects on the two "pillars that have been tried and tested," and I Took A Walk outlines the writer's reflection through his own personal history, and his journey towards self-knowledge.

From love to violence, politics to honey, internal exploration to external questioning, this book of poetry leaves you feeling as though you have touched on a variety of subjects, yet they all still hold the same central themes: understanding, awareness, progression, and purpose.

Through exploring these themes by constructing these poems and spoken word pieces, Nabutete proves to be a writer that is not afraid to expose his personal weaknesses and challenges, yet is also not afraid to celebrate his natural powers and culture, while aspiring for continued greatness. There is a quiet strength to his writing, and as a result lends to the perception that as a writer he is someone who is prepared to take on the toughest of challenges and subjects, but with the sensitivity and insightfulness to understand the bigger picture and social implications.

I was pleased with this introductory book of poetry from Elias Mutendei Akhaya Nabutete, and recommend that others use is a tool for self-evaluation through the various questions posed. It is an entertaining read, with helpful social messages as well. A great combination of Nabutete's knowledge and creativity.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Movie Review: Beyond the Lights

Beyond the Lights. Top to bottom, my kind of film. All I needed to see was that Gina Prince-Bythewood directed and wrote this movie, and I knew I couldn't go wrong. She was a writer on A Different World and Felicity (two of my favourite "childhood" television programs), and of course, she is responsible for the film I watch at least twice a year since it came out in 2000, Love and Basketball.

There is a simplicity to Ms. Prince-Bythewood's stories; she always creates characters that speak to me. There is a cultural reflection that is always subtle, but definitely strong in impact. I am admittedly biased...I love (and prefer) to watch a "Black" film with Black characters, and Black writers. It is something inherent in me that I can not change. And as a story writer myself, I am moved by tales that are representative of my generational experience, whether in print, on television, or on the big screen.

It happened in Love and Basketball when Monica and Quincy were at the high school dance, jamming to Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, and then going off to college and living in the social climate that was personal and familiar to me as a viewer. It happens in Mara Brock Akil's television work as well (Girlfriends, The Game, Being Mary Jane). It is the images, and the surrounding soundtracks to screenplays like Beyond the Lights that document even the most commonplace and ordinary cultural occurrences...powerfully.

I admittedly wasn't prepared for a "love story". I thought this movie would be about the fast life, wild party scenes, and Hollywood fanfare that we are accustomed to hearing about. I watch TMZ and E! News regularly...I scroll through Instagram and Twitter, read blogs and consume products, and like to believe that I have my digital fingers on the pace of pop culture and urban entertainment.

So to get an up-close-and-personal glimpse at this behind-the-scenes love affair with Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Kaz (Nate Parker) was endearing. She started off in the film with full confidence, beauty, sex appeal, and all of the glitz and glamour that we imagine a Rihanna, Beyonce, or even a Britney, or Lady Gaga having. Being on top of the world with all eyes on them, admirers everywhere, and all of the perks and access a young woman could dream of.

But Noni's strength was quickly depleted when her suicide attempt was essentially the opening scene of the film. Again, I didn't realize the story was going to look at the dark side of fame, but I realized that I was in for a sombre look at stardom, and I was hoping that the reality of it would be very clear.

The connection between both Noni and Kaz--in the midst of Noni's dramatic incident...and in the midst of Kaz's own life-changing situation, as his father (played by the great Danny Glover) consistently encourages him to pursue a life in politics--was well depicted. Again, there was a simplicity to the love story, and a real naturalness to how and why the characters connected that it didn't matter that Noni was a superstar, or that Kaz came from a circle of dignitaries that shunned her image.

Perhaps it was their differences that made their connection so sweet...and perhaps it was because they were both striving to live up to the aspirations of their parents, while still just trying to navigate daily life on their own accord. Noni's mother (played by Minnie Driver...who I have adored ever since her role in Good Will Hunting and her hilarious guest appearances on Will & Grace) was a typical stage mom, trying her best to help her child achieve greatness, while sometimes compromising her integrity in the process.

Reminiscent of Kris Jenner, of the Kim Kardashians of our day...hell, and even of Brandy and her mother back in the 90s, these are characters and caricatures that we are all familiar with, as a result of pop cultural norms. Even in the unfamiliar world of pop stardom that few of us will ever actually live/achieve...there is a familiarity in the story behind the face, and the actions that drive the machine. We have seen the end results numerous times...but we rarely get the true, tabloid-free story.

Outlining Noni's journey towards self-love, self-understanding, and essentially her mission to find her voice amidst the politics and agenda setting around her, this movie really and truly is just a beautiful love story, set to an interesting backdrop of the exciting world of entertainment. A love story between a starlet and a police officer, and a love story between a single mother and her talented daughter.

This movie didn't try too hard, or present any images or situations that would be unbelievable in today's media climate. It felt like Noni was the face of many singers we have seen come, and go, and get destroyed by the industry, and rise up again. It felt like Kaz was a brother we all know, humble and well-intended, who falls hard and loves deep. And Macy Jean...she was the mother that exists in all mothers: wanting the best for her child, and sometimes not knowing where to draw the line between support and control.

Needless to say, in the end, all situations resolve themselves comfortably, without cliche and without disappointment. There's just enough humour, enough lust, enough seduction, and enough emotion to make the movie keep your attention throughout, and still lead you through the plot with a few surprises, and without seeming predictable or cliche-ridden.

Gina Prince-Bythewood is an expert at capturing a moment in time, telling a tale to the backdrop of a perfect soundtrack (oooh, I need to get my hands on THIS's full of soul and vibes), and in conveying messages of strength, of self-respect, and restoring faith in human relations and love. Regardless of the race of the characters...they are great stories, in general.

I had to see this movie right away (it was just released yesterday, November 14, 2014), and I'm pretty sure I'm going to watch it again in the next couple of weeks, AND I'm going to eventually add this DVD to my collection, and sit it right next to my all time faves Love & Basketball and Brown Sugar. I will watch it dozens more times in the future, for sure. As simple as it is, this is definitely the type of story that drives me to write MY stories, and I left the theatre today feeling great about the power of a fabulous narrative. The inspiration alone was all I could have asked for, and then some.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's Urban Toronto Tales blog.