Theatre and Hip Hop artist Baba Israel is celebrating the life of his late father Steve Ben Israel, a New York jazz musician, stand-up comic, counter-cultural activist and member of the iconic Living Theatre, with an exciting international collaboration with Unfinished Business Artistic Director, Leo Kay. Combining spoken word, live music by Yako 440 and video by AlbinoMosquito, their dynamic show The Spinning Wheel is here this Saturday 22 November, 7.30pm. Baba Israel answers some questions ahead of its only London performance:
Why were you inspired to make this show for your father?
Losing my father was very difficult and early on I knew that creativity would be an important part of the healing process. I did a poem for my father 8 days after he passed at his favorite jazz club smalls in the village with Omer Avital’s band. This was the first moment I started to dream about this show. I also made a promise to my father hours before he passed that I would carry on his creative legacy. I did not want his work to be lost and wanted to share it with new audiences. I felt that it was relevant and that there were people who did not encounter him who would dig his material. Another key inspiration was when I was Artistic Director of Contact in Manchester and I presented my collaborator Leo Kay’s show it’s like he’s knocking which dealt with the loss of his father. It has been important to have a co-creator who has worked with such personal material but also brought an objective eye. Leo also really challenged me to find a honest an open space as a performer and writer that I think makes the show deeper, richer, and more present for the audience.
What is the influence your father has had on your work?
My father introduced me to jazz and to improvisation. He also nurtured my love of poetry, humor, and bringing politics into art. I started going to my father’s shows at the age of 4 and was raised in the theatre world. I also witnessed his artistic interventions in the everyday world of parks and subways and as part of protests. He was committed to art as a medium to inspire change and to find utopian moments in the midst of the injustices of our modern world.
What do you think your father would think of The Spinning Wheel?
I think he would have dug it.. His intention was for people to leave his shows laughing, thinking, uplifted, and connected to what makes us human. So far we have been getting feedback from audiences that they are having similar reactions to The Spinning Wheel.
Are you excited about performing at the Albany? And why?
I am very excited! I have a lot of respect for the Albany and its engagement with community and its diverse and rich program. It is also the first place Yako and I ever performed in London so it is special for us.
What do you hope London, and even Deptford, audiences will get from this production?
I hope that they will enjoy a personal story and enjoy learning about my father’s work and journey. I also hope that it will connect with their own experience of family and of the need to stay engaged with making the world a better place to be. Plus there is some great music from Yako 440 and stand out visual work from Richard Ramchurn of AlbinoMosquito. Hope to see you there!