Comedy, New York-style.
Cultural observations, Las Vegas-style.
Two strikingly dissimilar performers — Windy City-bred poet Kweisi Gharreau and Big Apple-lovin’ satirist Kent Jackman — help wrap up Black History Month with free shows here in Sin City.
"It allows me to look universally, but also within myself as a young black male in America," says Gharreau, an urban poet reciting his original verse tonight as part of "Gospel Fest 2009" in Henderson. "Where poetry is right now is where rap used to be before it became hip-hop. It takes poets like myself who believe in their art to continue to be in the underground, but willing to take the next steps to make it a mainstream art form."
Art such as "hisphace" ("His Face"), relayed in urban dialect, about the murder of his brother and the grizzly condition of his body right after its discovery, which begins:
"Tha ryte syde uv his head had a whole in it tha syze uv a grape phruit."
The vivid recollection — and the traumatic inspiration for his career as a spoken-word poet — was born of pain from the brutal 1992 slaying of Gharreau’s 17-year-old brother, Lemont, who intervened when a 14-year-old girl was confronted by two gang-bangers armed with a 12-gauge, sawed-off shotgun. After telling the girl to go home, Lemont was grabbed, stripped naked, forced to his knees and murdered, execution-style.
"I became depressed in dealing with my brother’s death and very self-destructive," says Gharreau, who eventually met with the killers to "make peace" with them. "Writing the poetry helped me to heal my heart, deal with my own pain and ugliness. Once I saw this talent I was blessed with, I wanted to take it to its highest level possible."
Gharreau forged a poetic path throughout the city, sharing his work at poetry gatherings and on a local radio show, earning a reputation as Chicago’s top-ranked poet. Speaking engagements throughout the U.S. and Europe followed, then a book titled "n’nocent RAGE," as well as a collection of works for children, "of poetry one, two, three, i LOVE poet-tree." From the tragedy that stirred a poetic soul, Gharreau expanded to express universal emotions, as in his poem titled "Soul Seachin’," again penned in his dialect-rich style, unencumbered by grammatical correctness:
"I sit in the sun to soak away sin, sittin’ in the soul of my silohette; like stars in the universe i kannot sea behind the space of the sun; slowly settin, still sounds swayin; sayin i want to sea the sky as my soul seeks the silence of stillness …"
His works span a range of topics from relationships to politics. "This empowers me, therefore I’ve been able to empower the community at large," says the artist who embraces the "urban poet" label. "People need poetry they can connect with. Today, ‘urban’ encompasses white, Latino, Asian, everybody, not just black America. It represents the culture of America."
Chronicling the rhythms of a different city with a different style, Jackman turns the Clark County and West Las Vegas libraries into a minimetropolis this weekend, starring in "MaD from New Yawk!," a one-man, multimedia romp through the town where people ride in a hole in the ground. "It’s a montage of characters who are all representative of types you’d see in New York, and the through line is the survival tactics used to make money in this city," says Jackman, formerly of TV’s syndicated "Apollo Comedy Hour," who portrays 14 characters in the piece, echoing the approach of Broadway shows created by Whoopi Goldberg and Lily Tomlin. "With our economic stimulus package being such a big deal, everybody can relate."
Peppered with hip-hop music, drop-in news bulletins and sarcastic audio inserts, the journey kicks off by boarding "The Insane Train," as the mass transit system frames a bit called "Lifestyles of the Poor, But Determined." Another takes a swipe at street-side vendors and subway hustlers skirting the margins of outright scams. Ten-dollar gold watch, anyone? "I bought one once, and as soon as I got it too close to water, it became obvious I had made a bad deal," says Jackman, noting that the program does dovetail into Black History Month. "Because it’s based on my own point of view, it does have an African-American premise," he says, citing his game-show parody "Afro Jeopardy," quizzing the crowd on knowledge of black culture.
Incorporating footage from "The Apollo Comedy Hour," the 75-minute show is structured "Saturday Night Live"/"MADtv"-style. Other segments include a dig at Disney-ized 42nd Street from a rat’s perspective, plus "The Old School," a philosophical rumination on conditions in the ‘hood, and "The Curbside Congregation of Common Sense," exposing the "sin-filled" practice of rent parties.
"It deals with the need to find ways to reinvent yourself to make a living," Jackman says. "I can either be upset and complain, or I could create a vehicle that speaks to the madness, the absurdities."
This weekend, Kweisi Gharreau and Kent Jackman speak to the diversity of expression, mining the poetry of the soul and the comedy of the streets.
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0256.Preview
Poet Kweisi Gharreau at "Gospel Fest" 2009
7 p.m. today; additional performances 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday
Black Mountain Recreation Center, 599 Greenway Road
"MaD From New Yawk!" starring Kent Jackman (recommended for teens and adults)
7 p.m. today at Clark County Library, 1401 E. Flamingo Road (507-3459);
7 p.m. Saturday at West Las Vegas Library, 951 W. Lake Mead Blvd. (507-3989)