The Spinning Wheel – Roundhouse, London

Writer/Performer/Co-creator: Baba Israel
Music: Yako 440
Director/Co-creator: Leo Kay
Reviewer:Ruby Isla Cera Marle

The Last Word Festival is The Roundhouse’s annual spoken word platform, vibrant with its diverse programming and a true celebration of some of the kaleidoscopic range of talent that exists in the current poetry scene. One such act is Brooklyn-born Baba Israel, whose piece The Spinning Wheel premiered at the Roundhouse before it embarks on a UK tour.

A tribute to late father Steve Ben Israel, who was a poet, a radical, a non-violent anarchist, and all-round performer on the underground jazz scene. Using a fusion of hip hop, projections, video footage and anecdotal memories Baba paints a picture of a fascinating man and all round eccentric but, above all, a man he admired and who continues to inspire his work.

The phrase ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man’ feels like it could be applied to Israel’s upbringing. He was raised going to political rallies, attending his father’s shows, and had the power of free speech and an inquisitive mind ingrained in him from a young age. These ideals reverberate throughout The Spinning Wheel;Israel is principled and his natural warmth exudes. The Spinning Wheel is a very personal tribute to his father; he projects some video footage onto a stack of cardboard boxes – structurally it’s very poignant to listen to Israel talk so fondly about his late father and then build towards seeing his face. It almost feels like we have been invited to Israel’s house, heard some familial anecdotes and then settled down to look at a family photo album.

There are a lot of concepts to get our heads around.It feels like the type of show that takes a while to digest and perhaps could do with multiple viewings. One of the brilliant standout moments is an audio recording of a conversation between a young Israel – he sounds like he could have been no older than four at the time – talking to his father about how he wanted his audiences to react to his shows. The key message from this sweet interaction is that Israel Sr. wants his audiences to listen and to think. Like father like son, the Israel dynasty certainly makes their audience actively listen, and leave them with a lot of food for thought.

Israel is joined on stage by musician Yako 440, who adds another dimension to this multimedia-filled production. Israel describes The Spinning Wheel as a tale told ‘through spoken word, video, and live music’, the show preserves and animates the collectivist impulses of New York counterculture while carrying on a family legacy of generosity via a son’s loving tribute to his father.’ That is a rather fitting description.

Reviewed on 5 June 2016 | Image: Contributed

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