In conversation with spoken word poet/performer Kai-Isaiah Jamal on black masculinity, queerness and media representation.

Kai - Isaiah Jamal - 4 Blog (1)

Courtesy of  @amaeliafearn

Courtesy of Mandem. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=57&v=DPNCwXA-Jsk

Kai-Isaiah Jamal is a spoken word poet and performer whose work centres around his trans identity and also his blackness and queerness (“blaqness” as he loves to call his identity). Kai hopes to dismantle ideas and outdated perspectives with the art of storytelling in a performative manner.

He also challenges varying social injustices throughout his work and uses his voice as a way of bringing visibility to issues and people who are misrepresented or unrepresented.

Working alongside the Tate Exchange, BBZ london, Consented, Cause & Effect and soon The Barbican Kai’s master plan is to show not only do trans men exist but they also have the ability to shed light on so many matters.

Kai tries to keep his work as uncensored and as authentic as possible, he believes if you feel something there is usually a problem, to ignore it makes you part of that problem.

What first fascinated me about Kai is the way in which he discussed gender in an interview with Elias Williams , founder of Mandem, an extraordinary online platform, whose aim is “to reach young black males who perhaps feel disenfranchised and unrepresented in the media”.

His answer resonates with the genesis of my blog, as he remarks that “Gender is a social construct, a construct that confines you, a system that is put in place in order to make everybody fit in this ideal role. [To me] ideas of hypermasculinity, hyperaggressivity and hypersexuality are attached to black masculinity by mainstream media.”

BOY1

Courtesy of Kai- Isaiah Jamal

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Courtesy of Kai- Isaiah Jamal

BOY XC

Courtesy of Kai- Isaiah  Jamal

As Kai-Isaiah states, “‘Boy’ is a new piece of work which explores a new format. It is very Slam Poetry inspired with use of repetition and an explicit manner that isn’t always present in my work. I often hide between metaphors and create imagery to sometimes disguise my true emotion throughout my work. This whole body of work is about the process of healing and unlearning and relearning trans bodies. Its a look into the labour that there is both physically and emotionally whilst transitioning. People often talk about good days and bad days but for me it can flick as quickly as a minute apart. One moment you feel like you pass and you feel confident in your identity and how it is presented. Other times you are conscious and exhausted with the battle you have with your body. Throughout the poem the ‘boy’, who is based on my feelings but can be interchangeable with anyone goes through varying emotions, it creates a tempo that rises and falls throughout. This is the closest thing I can give to a day or an hour in my life.”

In my opinion, his poem ‘Boy’ clearly draws inspiration from Romantic poets like John Keats (one of the most prominent inspirations for Kai Isaiah) but also from the sampling of grimes music: in doing so, Kai beautifully deploys natural metaphors (metaphors such as grow, sprout, spring, breathing vs dying) to convey his experience of masculinity.

Nature, in the form of plants and trees, reflects Kai’s internalised feelings and emotions: furthermore, his delicate yet powerful poem reminds me of Paul Harflett’s Pansy Project,  which is born out of the need to remember people who died of homophobic abuses all over the world.

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Courtesy of Kai- Isaiah  Jamal

Talking to Kai about this poem’s genesis, he said “I do was a weird one to write. I often write about death and dying as a inventible. I think it is something many queer people find normality in due to the safety compromises that we face daily. Trans people of colour are the butt off so much abuse and violation that the thought of death is something that comes up regularly in my writing. In this case it also relates to black and brown bodies and their treatment in both society and in power institutions. ‘I do’ is a poem that explores how many things TPOC never get to fulfil in their life due to either their identity or their life expectancy with includes suicide and hate crime and violence. There isn’t a lot of protection for us, therefore we are always hyper aware of our visibility and safety. This speaks to the ‘woman I propose to’ about how we will still be married and still in love even if I am no longer alive. It also covers the complexities of same sex marriage and the problems that still arise even in a generation and time of some equality”.

Overall, this poem aims to raise awareness on the importance of giving more visibility to TPOC (Trans People of Colour), discussing issues like mental health, abuse and suicide which are still considered taboos for a considerable part of society.

Check more about Kai-Isaiah Jamal’s work on his website https://kaijamal20.wixsite.com/-theblackmessiah , social media https://www.instagram.com/kai_isaiah_jamal/ (Instagram) and his feature on Neighbourhood http://www.neighbourhood.tv/neighbourhood-watch-kai-isaiah-jamal/

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