A toyer of words, a champion of self expression and an artist who’s passionate about the creative process: as the son of immigrants, Humble the Poet is all about the courage, the creativity and the departure from comfort zones.
Image from: http://blog.digitology.net/#
As part of the Southbank’s Alchemy Festival this year, Humble graced the stage of the Purcell Room while also being pretty frank at the start of the evening and admitting that at one time he’d been reluctant to perform in ‘auditoriums’. So began an evening in which he demonstrated this commitment to reaching out and communicating no matter what the context or venue, and a revelry in experimenting and trying new things that challenge him. Not only that, he came equipped with his own gear – how about that, then? Who needs equipment provided by the Royal Festival Hall when you’ve brought in your own Mac, phone and DJ-ing skills, right? He provided asides and entertainment for the audience while setting up, asking if his mama (mum’s brother) had shown up yet (he never did, in the end). He was even his own PR, pleading with the bloggers in the crowd to ‘be nice’ in their write-ups. I think it’s fair to say that the Purcell Room hasn’t seen someone like him on stage in a while.
In performance, Humble the Poet is everything you could hope for in an artist. On stage the primary school teacher in him comes out. He is simply himself, his delivery unscripted and void of an agenda beyond that of sharing and expressing himself. If anything, his delivery is simply a conversation with the audience. It flows organically, interspersed with his laughter, swearing and ideas as they come to him for what to do or to share next. This spontaneous choice of content, based upon his whim and the preferences of the audience works both to showcase his creative playfulness as well as to make the audience feel like his guinea pigs. Indeed, he sings for the crowd, testing out what they think of his singing voice. He rehearses his catwalk rap for an upcoming show and is brutally honest about how he’s been picked to model just for the shock factor. The people in the crowd may well have paid to see Humble do his thing, but he’s savvy enough to make the most of the opportunity to try out new things on a willing audience. He makes it clear that he takes serious inspiration for how to go about being an artist from the immigrants around him and in his family who have made themselves vulnerable for the sake of finding opportunities and who like him, took risks in the unknown: for this is how newness comes about.
Humble’s interest in the other, the immigrant and bearing witness comes to the fore when he talks about hip hop. For Humble the Poet, hip hop isn’t just another music form, it’s an outlet for communities who need to express their otherwise dismissed experiences. It’s resourceful, making something out of nothing: scratching, mixing and reusing old records and requiring only a beat. It’s a medium in which taboo content can be tested and explored. It’s its own language and one that voices stories of the disenfranchised: it’s an enabling force, the voice for the voiceless.
Humble traces for the audience his journey from spoken word and performance poetry through to hip hop. He celebrates his successes with us along with being honest about his failures, and this is his very appeal: he’s not mystical about the creative process. He is unassuming and has nothing to lose by sharing what he’s learned. If anything, he seems more interested in learning from times when things didn’t go so well - because knowing what’s needed is what spurns growth. Bumping into him in the Southbank Alchemy Market before the show, Humble seems at ease in his new environment but also slightly baffled at the fact that he’s been invited to perform. He’s so immersed in his own projects and in expressing his own creativity, he seems oblivious to his own appeal. He is, Humble indeed.