Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell is an actor, playwright, director and poet with special skills in film, photography and singing. He has successfully completed his BA in Fine Arts, with a special in theatre arts and a minor in film. His first national play debut ‘Precious’ came in 2005, written by Sir. Hilary Beckles and directed by C.M. Harclyde Walcott. He has done several plays such as ‘Yellowman’ directed by full bright scholar, Meredith Coleman Tobias, ‘Dutchman’ directed by famed Nigerian director, Dr. Esiaba Irobi, ‘Odale’s Choice’ directed by Sonia Williams, and ‘Looking Back at Sodom’ directed by Winston Farrell, amongst many others.
In addition to winning several awards regionally and locally, Matthew is also the founder of emerging Barbadian group Yardie Boy Theatre, which is dedicated to showcasing Barbadian/Caribbean stories. Their works are focused on social and political issues, and seek to be the voice of a generation.
Yardie Boy Theatre’s Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/yardieboytheatre
Greetings and Blessings in the name of the most high, no matter how you see or revere him or her, my name is Matthew De Vere Andre Murrell, also known as Kupakwashe, but you can call me Kupa for short. I am young playwright, director, actor and the founder and Creative Director of Yardie Boy Theatre.
For my first entry, I would like to show respect of two men today as I write this blog (May 11th). R.I.P to the honorable Robert Nesta Marley, who passed on this day in 1981. I read a few days ago that the kind of music a child grows up listening to, determines his taste, my mother against her father’s wishes was an avid reggae music fan, and so am I. Listening to Bob’s words and music has influenced me in my art and ideologies. R.I.P. to the Father of Reggae and a powerful Caribbean cultural icon. R.I.P. to I’Akobi Tacuma Hembadoon Maloney, a young prodigy of the Rastafarian faith whose life was cut short and whose spirit cries out for justice. I have never met you, but I feel as if I’ve known you all my life. RASTAFARI LIVE!
Just my first week in Fresh Milk was a humbling experience. Living on the south coast of Hastings, trying to write without hearing ZRs, a stray gunshot, loud music and whatever noises that fumigate the air makes it a task to concentrate. But being in the clean air of St. George, seeing the abundance of foliage, hearing birds, cows and the lyrics of Bob in my ear was the prescription I needed.
My first day, I had no idea how to start, many ideas came into my head about this play. I just didn’t know how and where to start. I wanted to write a piece, yes about I’Akobi, his life to his unfortunate crossing, but I want a deeper message. My message to people is that this situation is NOT just a Rasta ting! It is human ting! We have seen how the system claimed many of our people, from Emmitt Till, Trayvon Martin, Walter Rodney, I’Akobi Maloney and many more. So hence my stance ‘I AM I’AKOBI’. After posting the above picture on Facebook, I received so many great responses. Herbal Specialist Everton ‘Heru’ Holligan, did two videos of his kids with the same stance, Margurita Maloney, mother of I’Akobi Maloney said “GIVE THANKS for ALL of your support my SUN Matthew Kupakwashe Murrell, ’BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY’!!! May WE ‘eventually’ get the legislative reform WE seek” and “You know, there are times when I ‘feel sooo alone’ and THEN……THIS…GIVE THANKS for ALL of my comrades who ‘CARE’!!!”. The picture garnered over 12 shares from Barbados and across the region to the USA.
So far my research comes the literature of Marcus Garvey, ‘The Philosophies and Opinions of Marcus Garvey’, ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ by Walter Rodney, ‘Rastarian Theology: From Garvey to Marley’ and the DVD ‘The I’Akobi Maloney Conspiracies: A Mother’s Perspective’. I’ve already meet Maggie, I’Akobi’s mum, and I plan to meet her again, along with Mandela, his younger brother. My great friend and “twin sister” Ayesha NuRa, already has her foot on board to help me with anything I need in my research and development in this piece. Ayesha knew I’Akobi personally and they were the best of friends.
So far in the script, the piece has taken many different shapes and forms as I am still trying to formulate the script. I’ve tinkered with the mode of ‘totality theatre’. The most commonly known play I can think of right now which emulates that idea is ‘For Coloured Girls’. I’ve done it before in other plays like ‘JAHovah Witnesses’, ‘De Angry Black Boy Tantrums’ & ‘Demons in Me’. I’m incorporating poetry, as I’Akobi was interested in poetry, as well as the music of Bob Marley.
I chose this topic because it spoke to me. I’Akobi Maloney and I are both born the same year, 6 months apart. Two weeks after his crossing, I remembered being stopped and harassed by a policeman for no reason. At the time I had an afro which I wore wild and drove a car many wouldn’t be proud seeing. But like I’Akobi, I was an intelligent young man scrutinized not for what is in my head but what is on top of my head. I do believe in the work of ICAR, The Justice Committee and the Maloney Family to fight for justice. This could happen to anyone’s son and anyone’s daughter. Many Barbadians, I noticed, didn’t join in actively or speak out about it, because of the feeling that it was a Rastafarian affair with the police. Then so, what about Trayvon Martin and Emmitt Till? Was that only an African American thing? What about Brenda Belle? Is that only a female thing? Anne Frank? Only a Jewish thing? It is ALLAWE!!!!
“…until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned. That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; that until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained..”
Emperor Haile Selassie I
I remember as a student under Sonia Williams, she said that creating art is like satisfying your God complex. And the more I go into the work that I am doing, creating a piece despite the story being told before, I have my own vision of it. Adding layers and layers to the piece satisfies my God complex. I don’t want to add any “spoilers” to my work, but I think I’ve found the structure and formula to tell my story and every day of research and reading excites me more to this creation. Listening to Maggie Maloney in the documentary and talking to her personally, she has such a poetic way of speaking. Her words and inflections have to be duplicated and not modified in writing the script, so natural and poetic. Listening to her talking about her son and the memories, and then continuing to read, gave me the impression of Isis and Horus or Jesus and Mary Pieta. Therefore, the ancestral conversation between mother and son as a spiritual African concept should be embedded. That said, I am making it the story told through the eyes of the mother, son and the soul of the movement, a holy trinity. The most memorable play that I know that deals with this concept is ‘Shepherd’ written by Rawle Gibbons of Trinidad, in which the story centres around the struggle of the Spiritual Baptists and rise of new dispensation within the movement.
This week I was grateful to receive a book about Rastafarian Theology. Only few chapters into the book, and already I have more appreciation and respect for one of our Caribbean indigenous spiritualities. The history I was always informed about, the theology and struggle for acceptance is another. It always had me wondering why we as Caribbean people frown upon spiritual concepts that are not foreign and that are ours. I mean, I know why! Christianity and Islam were ‘forced’ upon us and defined our socio-economic status for hundred years, our tongue, ideologies and culture washed from our brains and forced to morph into a belief of ignorance. Not just Rastafarianism, but Spiritual Baptist, Revililism, Shango Baptist and many others. I hope we recognize and respect them as our cultural thoughts and spiritual connection to our heritage, even if we chose another spirituality to believe in.
Thursday evening, we, Fresh Milk artists were the host for 15 students from the University of Northern Kentucky. Telling them about my residency and what I was writing about intrigued them plenty. The students seemed genuninely interested in what I was writing about. The story about I’Akobi Maloney captivated these young thespians and started conversations about injustices or hate crimes against minority groups around the world. For other students, what interested them was the religion of Rastafarianism. Of course the obvious image for them would be that of Bob Marley, but what is it? Is everyone who has locs a Rasta? Who do they believe in? The students were also interested in Caribbean theatre, two young women came up to me to ask me specific questions about it. I honestly feel we are still defining the concept of Caribbean Theatre, as wonderful and amazing it is. They never saw or read any Caribbean plays. On the top of my head I listed a few – my favorites, of course. The two girls also asked me what was the difference between Caribbean plays and American plays, to which I said ‘the culture’, when you travel around the island and everything new and amazing you find in the way we live, talk, interact with each other, our music, our movement, and if you find it different from when you are in the US, then that’s the difference. I find it interesting that despite the fact that our young people may be bombarded with cultural intrusions from the US, their students were very interested in who we are. Be true to yourself; people find you more interesting when you are you.
At the end of a productive and art full filling evening, we the artists hosts, myself, Mark, Sheena, Marla, Conan, Versia, Shanika and Juan…eerr I mean Ewan! went to Mojos. One thing I love, is hanging out with artists, no other people stir up stimulating, enjoyable and entertaining conversations like artists do. Oh, yeah we took the Canadians (Conan and Marla) to Oistins. I’m not a fan of crowds, so I won’t comment much about it except that I’m sure Marla and Conan appreciated the culture.
So the plan for week 3, complete the book, which by the way is entitled Rastafari Theology: From Garvey to Marley. Add the extra scenes that contain a hopefully warm ancestral conversation of the holy trinity. Keep writing, keep thinking, keep being grateful for all small mercies.
“…Spirituality is not theology or ideology. It is simply a way of life, pure and original as was given by the Most High of Creation. Spirituality is a network linking us to the Most High, the universe, and each other…”
― Emperor Haile Selassie I
If anyone who knows me when it comes to writing, I can be very paranoid. In art I don’t believe anything can reach perfection, but the chase to unattainable perfection is a journey to become greater at what you do. Some may see that as destructive, but if you reach the top of the mountain where else can you go? Forget reaching moon, stars and clouds, I prefer to prove Pluto could still be a planet. So as I enter my final week, I’m still in slight disbelief that my residency will end in a matter of days. Boy, when time flies, it flies! I didn’t get everything that I wanted for my script, but however I am satisfied for what I have as a first draft. A story has been developed, my scene objectives are clear and characters have some depth. I’m still going to work on the script beyond the time frame of this residency. A lot of work I have to do. The journey was a rewarding one and I’ve grown as a writer as I should.
One part of the week I did some extension and cleaning on scenes. The way I wrote the story, was by just writing scenes and puzzling them together. Every scene I asked myself ‘what is the metaphor?’ thinking of different ways to tell the situation. I realize my scenes were fairly short, not sure if that was a good or bad thing, but I got my point across without being didactic or repetitive, so I guess that’s not too bad. Plus, I’ve been writing pieces how I would personally direct them, that way I have a security blanket of being organized, precise and the work is tight. Of course, that direction and script can change! Which is ok, it has more room than 8 bedroom house for improvement.
Now for the second and final part of my residency which is preparing to showcase my work. With that, I would be showcasing my third strength, my directing skills. For those who don’t know the first, that would be acting (some think I’m a stronger writer than actor, doesn’t matter, I love both). So I will be doing two excerpts of two scenes from my latest project ‘The Brightest Red’. I prefer the number 3, I have a thing for the trinity, but the spirit of the play isn’t finished, so wunna getting 2! So I won’t give out too much information about the two scenes but I will tell you this much, the scenes will have actors, poets, singers and dancers. I just hope I’m not being overzealous, which I don’t think I am. There was some difficulty in casting, as usual. Transportation would’ve been the issue for most people. Some people wanted to be a part of it but other things would’ve hindered the opportunity. I know most would ask why not people from Yardie Boy Theatre, I usually look and scout other talents, and if we work well, and everything gels together, then I’ve added to the production company. So far my cast comprises of Levi King, Kim Weekes, Adrian Green, Deevon Clinton, Dorhonda Smith, Ashley ‘Skittlez’ Garnes, Joseph Volney and Teila Williams. I’m currently in the process of trying to find a male dancer, one who can mirror Levi.
This week, my theatre family from Jamaica Quilt Performing Arts Company (QPAC) performed on a Jamaican morning show, Smile Jamaica. They did their award winning piece ’73…….?’, a piece about the Tivoli Gardens massacre which took place three years ago surrounding the extradition of kingpin Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke. I could easily say this was one of the pieces that inspired the style of directing I have been experimenting with for a year now. A multimedia piece with dance, song and acting to tell the stories of a tragedy that marred Jamaica in recent history. What I love about this performing arts group, is that when I did my research for documentaries about the massacre, everything that I came across would’ve been overseas documentaries, local or international news media. These young performers to my knowledge were the only ones I saw documenting this catastrophe. The voices of the people, from their stand point. The voices of the people, the victim’s story, they didn’t allow for anyone else to tell their story. Large up Rayon McLean, Nadia Roxburgh and the talented members of QPAC. Another artist in action, hailing from Jamaica, Randy ‘Kreativ Aktivis’ McLaren, who is doing his part documenting the Armadale tragedy, where 6 young Jamaican women perished in a fire by bombing in a government industrial school. His work like mine is pushing for an inquiry for justice for the victims and their families.
In approaching a festival where creativity is becoming scarce and true lyricists have their work cut short by CBC, reformatted by NCF or little to no air play on radio stations for their stance on pertinent issues in Barbados, we need artists to remain strong and not buy into the bullshit for a silver sand dollar but rather in the interest of headucating the masses. Last Friday, I heard the music from the Cavalcade which was slated down the road from Fresh Milk, ah well…there goes my peace. Not that I don’t engage in Crop Over (I barely do, but I love some of the music, don’t get me wrong), I’m just not into tourist art or a bastardised culture for money making purposes. My favorite part is Pic-O-De-Crop, because I love it when artists can attack powers that be, but as I said before, muzzles are now an accessory. We seem to love to put on a show for tourists as well, a fairly coonish show at that. Never liked the concept of tourist art, we love to give them flying fish, without the Bajan seasoning (pick sense from it, nuh!). Ah well, lemme not go on a tangent.
Remember people, May 30th, Fresh Milk! Come and support Marla (Happy earthday!) & Conan as well as yours truly in ‘The Brightest Red’.
“…A purely materialistic art would be like a tree which is expected to bear fruit without flowering and to sacrifice grace and beauty for mere utility…”
“A well informed public opinion is essential to the growth of political and social awareness. Only he who is informed can comment intelligently on his nation’s development and only by such comments can errors be corrected and progress stimulated”
-Emperor Haile Selassie I
Ah boy, what a week, what a time, what an experience. So last week I turned to my third superpower, directing. As stated in a previous blog, I decided to take two scenes and these are the scenes I felt were somewhat ready. The whole play is still under development. Both scenes will be treated as a reading/dramaturgy. I prefer to present them for those purposes, for constructive criticism and to hear it out loud and to make the necessary changes.
In casting I chose three of my members from Yardie Boy Theatre as well as other performers who I am currently ‘scouting’ for my company. We have a thing that you must do three finished productions to be a part of the company, based on talent, professionalism and chemistry. Cast is as follows:
We had three days to do rehearsals, two being at Fresh Milk and one at the Good Life café. Being with most of my cast the first day and their reading the excerpt for the first time, they all agreed they felt it was a necessary piece to do. Deevon felt Yardie Boy is always pushing the envelope and without apology bringing pertinent issues to the fore. Adrian felt the conversation between mother and son felt authentic and really mimics I’Akobi’s and Maggie’s character. They were all happy to be a part of the piece.
The scenes I chose are the following:
The company or the body of actors started off with one of Emperor Haile Selassie I’s most famous speech ‘War’ (most famously known when Bob Marley ‘musicalized’ into the song ‘War’.
I chose this speech because of the ongoing tribal war and friction between the armed forces and Rastafarians and other indigenous spiritual concepts in the Caribbean. The profiling is real, it is not a myth. When Selassie spoke these words that were very uncomfortable to an audience at the UN, his beloved Ethiopia was under siege by Italy, being the last free sovereign African state. Not to be mistaken as a speech of defeat, but a warning of what you put in, you will get back.
“…And until that day, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship, rule of international morality, will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained… now everywhere is war…”
The scene captures the three policemen’s (Adrian Green, Deevon Clinton & Joseph Volney) testimony of the event that took place on the day that I’Akobi died. I chose to break the 4th wall and let the characters address the audience to plead their case of innocence and how they respond in matters of dealing with ‘suspicious characters with dread locks’. The dialogue goes in and out of two spaces, one where the characters explain how the procedure works and the other dialogue in dealing with how they felt dealing with I’Akobi. The actor playing I’Akobi (Levi King) stayed silent, slumped over bareback in boxer shorts with his locks draped over his face. The policemen repeated the mantra ‘We have done nothing wrong, we took orders and we followed them’.
After the final mantra, the singers Deevon, Dorhonda and Teila broke into song ‘Guiltiness’ by Bob Marley (I’m a huge Bob fan, as I am writing this, I’m listening to Bob).
As stated previously, I am experimenting with the notion of ancestral conversations between I’Akobi and his mother Maggie. This scene Conversations II, brings about the reason for the colour Red and its significance to his funeral and to this play. I’Akobi converses with Maggie about his defiance against death, his love for his spirituality all through professing his immortality. When you really study it, the brother isn’t dead at all. His graduation picture is ever present all around Barbados, from shirts, posters, pins, murals, the internet, I’m sure its gonna be just as iconic to Barbados sometime as Che’ Gueverra’s image in Cuba…doan laff…I serious. An image of injustice and immortality.
I decided to use the image of the pieta, for those who don’t know, that is image done by Michelangelo depicting Mary holding Christ’s naked tortured body after the crucifixion. During this, Maggie wraps her son in a large red clothe. “…Red is the sign of life…Once you plant me in Red, I will never die…”
After the scene, the singers sang ‘Selassie is the Chapel’, Bob Marley’s last recorded song about his devotion to his savior. Within the scene I’Akobi talks about his devotion to his faith and how he wants to be planted into the ground through Selassie’s name. I had a conversation with Adrian Green about some people who always have that thought provoking conversation in which they describe how they see death and how they want their celebration to be. I remembered talking to my best friend Michael St.Hill before he died when we were 17, he said he wanted to live to 100, and last year in memory of 10 years of his passing, I sprayed painted on my set of ‘De Angry Black Boy Tantrums’ ‘RIP Mikey’.
One of the patrons and fellow artist Sheena Rose said she felt eerie about seeing Levi’s locks covering his face with his locks, and the stigma dread locks still hold till this day. Though the actor was faceless, it didn’t matter it could happen to anyone.
Friend and fellow theatre practitioner Ayesha Gibson-Gill credits my mentor Sonia Williams for her strong influence on me for tackling ritual theatre and the good effort into it.
The response from the audience was very positive one. We recorded the performances and posted it on youtube here.
So far the biggest question we have been getting is ‘when is the full product coming out’. I really cannot answer yet, I’m still working on this draft and will continue to work on it to perfection and till I am ready to showcase it.
I wanna large up and big up de massive and put de people pun God and Goddess status:
Annalee, Katherine, Ewan, Conan, Marla, Mica & Rico for great hospitality and the opportunity at Fresh Milk.
My Yardie Boy Theatre family and performers involved in the process. Vi, Kimmerts, Green, Joe, Jennalee, Dee, Tequila and the fun 3 nights.
The Good Life Café, for the one good night for our reading.
Sonia Williams for the large uncontrollable red clothe
My art family for coming, doesn’t matter who came late, you came.
The Justice Committee, Ayesha, Kudos and of course Mother Maggie for the support and love.
To a special person who called and check up on me and kept me positive, you know who you are.
An’ de largest one, de Fada above who bestowed upon me talents and surrounded me with wonderful people in my life.
YARDIE BOY THEATRE, de REALIST TE’ATUH BOUT BIM
“…A house built on granite and strong foundations
not even the onslaught of pouring rain
and strong winds
will able to pull down.
Some people have written the story of my life
representing of truth
what in fact derives from
But they cannot shake the truth from its place
Even if attempt to make others believe it…”
– Emperor Haile Selassie I