It’s 6:00pm on a sunny May evening and I’m waiting in Waterloo Train Station for one of the most active contributors to British hip hop culture. Jonzi D…
It’s 6:00pm on a sunny May evening and I’m waiting in Waterloo Train Station for one of the most active contributors to British hip hop culture. Jonzi D has been rapping and b-boying since the early 1980s and after graduating from the London Contemporary Dance School in 1992, he has gone on to develop a reputation for being an accomplished poet and a captivating theatre performer. He has also hosted Apricot Jam, the hip hop and poetry event that featured performances from the cream of London’s underground talent with accompaniment from a live acoustic band.
As Jonzi has got some business to take care of and is too rushed to do a sit-down chat, we decide to conduct the interview on the move. At 6:07pm: I press ‘record’ on my dictaphone…
Crate Digger.: OK Jonzi, you’ve got the Aeroplane Man show happening at the moment. Could you explain the format of the show?
Jonzi D: The format of the play is telling a story about this geezer who travels all over the world trying to find his spiritual home. When I was young, I grew up in an environment where Grenada was considered as ‘home.’ Mum and Dad referred to this place as home all the time. So, for me, I definitely had a sense of ‘my mother’s land is my motherland’. But then, I went out to Grenada and people there called me ‘a English boy’. I was like, ‘Damn, I’m part of a lost generation!’ So I thought that’s a great idea to do a piece about…
My performing style is very much about audience participation. I’m an emcee – I can’t help but talk to the audience. I welcome that and I encourage the other cast members to do that. In the arts world it’s known as ‘breaking down the fifth wall’ or something like that. That’s one of the characteristics of hip hop theatre – using the qualities of an emcee, the qualities of an actor and the qualities of a stand-up comedian.
C.D.: What kind of music is there in the show?
Jonzi D: We do a broad spectrum [hip hop, calypso, dancehall, traditional South African music…]. We don’t mix, but we definitely section-off. It’s not like I’m trying to create some kind off new hybrid music. The whole play is about this hybrid person experiencing very stereotypical environments and trying to fit in.
6:16pm: We arrive at the Information Desk at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, in London’s South Bank Centre, in search of promotional material for ‘Aeroplane Man’. We discover that the marketing department is on the other side of the building and so start making our way there…
C.D.: So Jonzi, what was the first thing that got you interested in hip hop?
Jonzi D: The first thing that got me into hip hop was seeing a [breakdance] head-spin. I saw this geezer on [the TV show] Arena and I couldn’t believe it! But actually, it was before that when I first heard ‘Rapper’s Delight.’ I learned the whole rap, all 15 minutes of it, man – okay, give or take a few bars! That was around the time of my puberty. I was about thirteen – I was just coming in to becoming a man, having my own mind and being able to choose what I could relate to. I could definitely relate to hip hop – every aspect of it… B-boying and breaking – I did a little bit of that; emceeing – definitely, I did a lot of that. I used to tag up the area. Them old skool days were very deep and I suppose they set the foundation for why I’m still into it now. It was never a ‘scene’ to me.
C.D.: So, how would you describe it if it wasn’t a scene
Jonzi D: It was exciting. It was a culture and it was becoming a way of life. It definitely didn’t feel like a fashion. I definitely know that.
6:20pm: We arrive at the Artists’ Entrance of the theatre and wait for a member of the marketing department to come and assist Jonzi…
C.D.: So, is there a certain message that you are trying to send out with Aeroplane Man?
Jonzi D: I suppose it’s about acceptance and questioning the idea of belonging. I suppose my conclusion within the piece is like ‘listen man, be proud of who you are and where you come from.
C.D.: What are you planning to do with ‘Aeroplane Man’ once this run ends?
Jonzi D: I want a West End run of this shit. That’s what I’m looking for. I’d like to tour this around the world, do long runs in big theatres, earn lots of money and ‘edutain.’ The show is definitely strong enough. At the end of the day, we’re constantly working on it and redoing thing and adding to it so that the show grows.
6:30pm: We leave the South Bank Centre with Jonzi lugging a rucksack full of flyers and posters for the show…
C.D.: Mission One accomplished! Where are we off to now?
Jonzi D: Now we’ve got to go to the Young Vic Theatre, which is a short walk from here. I’m going to meet a woman called Josette Bushell-Mingo. She’s one of the premiere Black actresses in England. She’s just recently done the role of Rafiki in [the stage show of] Lion King and I know she’s done some TV work also. She’s the Artistic Director of a theatre festival that’s happening this summer in which she’s asked me to direct a night there.
6:33pm: Outside Waterloo train station, we bump into a friend of Jonzi’s who happens to be a rapper. After a brief exchange of handshakes, brotherly hugs and the latest gossip…
C.D.: Yo, so you’re an emcee, yeah? What’s your name?
Jonzi’s friend: Shot Slinga the Skyscrapa
C.D.: So do you wanna kick a little rhyme?
Shot Slinga: Do I wanna kick a freestyle? I guess I oughta do/ considering I’m under the bridge at Waterloo./ Oh my god, I might slaughter you/ Shit, someone help – that woman got stuck in the portaloo!…
(Cheers of praise from Jonzi and me, plus a load of strange looks from passers-by!)
6:34pm: Jonzi and I part company with Shot Slinga, having recommended that he goes to see Aeroplane Man and handing him some flyers to dish out to his mates.