It’s poetry, but not as we know it!



He’s the hottest act on the spoken word scene and earlier this year sold out the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room within 24 hours. And this autumn, former rapper, George the poet will be hitting the stage at the West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge on 25 October, performing his latest work, Malik, as part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. This will be his third and final performance of Malik.

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George Mpanga is a 22-year old spoken word poet, public speaker, writer and recording artist from north-west London who has performed on the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky TV. He was also the first ever spoken word poet to appear on the BBC 1Xtra Live Lounge in May this year. George offers social commentary through poetry, drawing on his life in the inner city as well as the Politics, Psychology and Sociology course he studied at Cambridge University.
The son of Ugandan immigrants, George was born and raised on the Stonebridge Park estate in Harlesden, London.
“The estate had its ups and downs. On the up side there was a strong sense of community, but on the down side that was pretty much lost on my generation. Growing up in NW was good because there’s a lot of diversity; I benefitted from being exposed to so many different kinds of people,” George said.
It is this understanding of diversity that is so prevalent and underscores much of George’s work, which, as he states in a recent interview, hopefully encourages people to think more deeply about certain societal issues often negatively portrayed in rap and grime.
In a few short years, George has had a meteoric journey from a gritty London council estate to the University of Cambridge and celebrated spoken word poet. His fan-base is extensive, eclectic and extremely loyal. His YouTube videos have attracted thousands of views. The reason? His interplay of words is intense, accessible and exquisite; a concoction of rap, social activism, storytelling and instructional idealism, crafted using wordplay and clever rhyme.
In spite of his relative youth, George has mastered his craft. He knows how to pull the audience in with stories that hit hard and are both intensely relevant and poignant, taking the listeners on an emotional rollercoaster and keeping their attention fixed on his every word. For instance, Malik is the story of a young gang member from a broken home who finds redemption in jail.
George’s performances are also renowned for their humour and the surprises, often bringing something extra to the stage. It’s not unheard of for a small choir/group of backing vocalists to walk through the crowd or the inclusion of a cello and piano acting as support to his words.
His interest in words started at a young age. George was eight-years old when he first started listening to rap. He explained: “I was fascinated by how language could be used cleverly to do whatever the user wants. That started when I was a kid, around eight-years old. I started to rap, but found that within my circles there wasn’t the space to talk about what you wanted through rap. You were expected to conform to negative stereotypes and if you went against the grain you stood out in a bad way.
“I decided to rap without music so that people were forced to listen to my words, people called this poetry because it felt more conversational and less performative. This all happened when I started Cambridge, prior to that, I didn’t have much interest in poetry but now it’s all I want to do.”
Through his performances, George, is helping to break the stereotypes about poetry and bringing it to a new generation. Poetry is no longer the bastion of people standing around in cramped rooms at the top of spit-and-sawdust pubs, or in late-night tents at festivals, or stuck in the four walls of a classroom. Poetry is cool. Poetry is hip.
Further spoken word and rap events taking place at the Festival of Ideas include:
Poets vs rappers: Thursday 24 October: 7:30pm – 10:00pm. Take three poets and three rappers. Take away the music, the props, bands and beats and leave their words. Give them 15 minutes each on stage and let the audience decide who the true lyricists really are.
Wonders of the night: Thursday 31 October: 8:00pm – 10:00pm. Drawing a salt circle around the chaos of Halloween, FLACK presents an evening of scientific, literary and musical perspectives on the idea of night. Where else are you going to find a filmmaker, biographer, astronomer, performance poet and a neuroscientist on the same bill?
Now in its sixth year, the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, which celebrates the rich contribution the arts, humanities and social sciences make to our culture and understanding of the world, encourages visitors to explore the world around them on a local and global scale. Subjects range from the economy to international development and smart drugs to conspiracy theories, presented by an eclectic mix of speakers including researchers, journalists, politicians, philosophers, poets and artists.
The theme this year is ‘Frontiers’, which explores how borders, boundaries and margins are being either challenged or reinforced around the world with a programme of events to suit people of all tastes and ages.
Those taking part include Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury; artist Quentin Blake; writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg; leading academics ranging from David Reynolds and Noreena Hertz to Mary Beard, Anthony Giddens and Richard Evans; journalist Michael White; author MJ Hyland; columnist Owen Jones; teen writer Anthony McGowan; and Paralympian Claire Harvey.
The University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas is sponsored by Barclays, Cambridge University Press and Anglia Ruskin University, who also organise events during the Festival. Event partners include Heffers Classics Festival, University of Cambridge Museums, RAND Europe, the Goethe-Institut London and the Junction. The Festival’s media partner is BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and its hospitality partner is Cambridge City Hotel.

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