George Mpanga, aka George The poet, is a street savvy Cambridge-educated 23 year old from North West London. His debut collection, Search Party, espouses a blend of spoken word and rap which explores life in the capital’s inner city housing estates, of which he also has much experience.
Arguably, not since Gil Scot Heron has a young black artist captured the attention of artists, actors and politicians as George has. He opens the collection with the hard hitting “St Raphael’s Estate”. St Raphael, a housing project located in a deprived area of North London with a history of gang-related crime, antisocial behaviour and unemployment is the “home of guns and staffs,” where “old men in the bookies,” are “watching the effects of poverty getting our youngers.” Painting a bitter snapshot of inner city life, a life from which it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to escape, George observes, “you try and rise above it, but everything around you says, you’re not above it you (simply) gotta love it.”
Search Party offers a personal insight into what it is to be a young male growing up in a city where black men are 28 times more likely to be stop and searched by the police than their white male counterparts. “The Set Up” graphically testifies to that bias: “They grabbed me from behind and threw me against the wall…aren’t you the law? One of them said something about resisting arrest, and I swear down my heart became a fist in my chest, This kid’s fifteen.” George appreciates that the only way to escape from a inner-city life where you either sink or swim is to try and get some sort of education; yet this is something which is extremely difficult for the youth to do imprisoned as they are within the barriers thrown up by the estate. George knows that “the only way he can overcome the hopelessness that claimed everyone around him, is by embracing the likelihoods”; either you accustom yourself to “death and incarceration” or you go out there “in search of purpose.”
The fiscal meltdown and unemployment caused by a programme of austerity receive brief attention in “Payday”; “A generation came of age in the financial crisis,” but “what does this mean in real time?” A banker clocks up a deal in the city, while a mother on a housing estate stares at her kids and asks “what do they eat at mealtimes?” Capitalism and material things are discussed in “See you on the other Side”. While the poet understands that “Market is the new community”, he also demands that we remove our blinkers, begin to understand and take into account his experience even as we understand our own. “Spend time finding yourself, spend time with your girl. Cos time is more precious than diamonds and pearls.”
Of course where there’s hate and anguish, love often offers hope; the brevity of “Full Time”, compares love to an ordinary working day metaphorically and does so brilliantly. “Love is a full time job, it doesn’t start at nine and finish at five.” This exemplifies George’s poetic skill, taking the mundane and juxtaposing it with human emotion. His poetry has the capacity to leave us fulfilled, bitter or indescribably drained.
George the Poet is a new phenomenon, a street artist with an instamatic, all-capturing eye. Despite the fact that this same eye has witnessed hell, he survives and flourishes through determination, “a rose which grew from concrete.” Enjoy George the Poet, share in his experiences, revel in his unapologetic accounts, but most of all listen to what he has to say. As he himself has said, “this book is a chance for me to describe my journey and help others find themselves through poetry”