Boy Blue Entertainment on Blak Whyte Gray
The Skinny chats to Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante of the award-winning East London hip-hop company, Boy Blue Entertainment, about their latest work, Blak Whyte Gray
The programme for Blak Whyte Gray reads ‘A world in flux; a need for change. The time is right… to break free from a system that no longer works.’ What in particular about today’s political landscape did you latch onto when creating?
To say it’s totally political is an understatement and a little bit incorrect, because it is more about the world as a whole. For instance, the advent of social media, its effect on psyches and information that exists… the ways you can feed your brain as opposed to twenty years ago, when there were only five TV channels.
The internet alone is allowing people to delve into situations and scenarios they once thought they never could. And there’s the advent of the camera phone, which allows us to get to the source, to see what is actually happening.
Then there’s the adverse side to all that, the misinformation. To quote MrTrump, ‘fake news’ and all that crap. So it’s more a conversation surrounding that.
You and Kenrick 'H2O' Sandy are co-artistic directors, yourself as the composer and Kenrick as the choreographer…
Me and Ken have been friends since we were 12 years old. We have trust but we also challenge each other, we know how to get each other going. We’re still hip-hop at the end of the day, it’s the battle mentality. I think, 'Here, I’ve got something that will make Ken go crazy.'
Blak Whyte Gray was nominated for Best New Dance Production at the 2017 Olivier Awards: what do these awards mean to you?
I talk for myself, not on Boy Blue’s behalf or Ken’s. People noticing the work is powerful, especially coming from our community, it helps us promote the need for more of this work. It is not the driving force, however. It’s never for the applause, it’s to try build a relationship with the audience.
You have many youth platforms: what is the aim of these platforms? Do many of the dancers go on to dance professionally?
This is the big debate for me and Boy Blue. With industry, for people of, one, my colour, and two, my community, there are not many spaces where their dance is being sold or presented. The debate is about where. We are in the GCSE syllabus now, young people will learn our work: where’s the next set of jobs for them, the next set of spaces? It’s about retention of skills, especially if these young people are going to say "I can’t do this because there’s no work for me."
Your website says you are bringing hip-hop beyond streets and clubs: is anything lost or gained in the theatre?
I think the misconception about street or hip-hop is that it has to be in those spaces to make it happen. But the most powerful thing about hip-hop, that makes it one of the most important art forms in the last forty years, is that it relies on the freestyler, on their personal truth. So, as a breaker, you learn your six-step, you learn your power moves, but then you have to put it into a sequence. And that sequence is you, defining you as an individual. And it doesn’t discriminate. Hip-hop or breakdance borrows from gymnastics, Capoeira, African dance.
And that’s what makes hip-hop powerful, it wants you. It wants you to take all your vibes, all your experiences, and put it there. So I don't think it loses anything, it expands. Because a space is a space, a dancefloor is a dancefloor, so let’s go.
Blak Whyte Gray, The Lyceum, 16-19 Aug