TBB Talks to… poet and writer jahmar ngozi about his new show ‘broken English’

Jahmar Ngozi defines himself as a creative and contemporary sociologist …

Since winning the prestigious Emerging Artist Award from Arcola Theatre in 2016 Jahmar Ngozi has cemented himself as a writer, director, and producer to watch with his original works including, ‘When Harlem met Kenya‘ for the Camden Fringe, ‘Amsterdam‘ for the Edinburgh Fringe and, ‘Van Gogh On The Beach‘ at the Voila festival getting rave reviews.
His love for poetry is deeply embedded and plays a huge part in the way he conveys his work, taking into consideration that he was Poetry Slam Champion 2017 and his aptitude for writing he must be one hell of a performer, we caught up with him to talk about his highly anticipated run of ‘Broken English‘ …

Introduce yourself …

Jahmar Ngozi, 1st generation of Carribean Windrush, born and raised in South London.

Tell us about Broken English

In 2015 I recorded a collection of poems called ‘Broken English’. It reflected a style of poetry that uses a lot of double entendres, slang, similes, and metaphors. Time passed and as a lecturer, I saw how language amongst students had become much more homogenous, though it stemmed largely from the African-American and Carribean culture. As a sociologist, I questioned whether language was exclusively a method of communication or indeed a respective culture. The lineage of broken English spoken in parts of the Carribean and African continent is a story that deserves respect and preservation. In this play, I use a contemporary approach to explore and portray the journey of the English language from both a historical and personal viewpoint. I use a fusion of performance poetry, physical theatre, and traditional drama, to tell this story that transcends geographical regions and the concept of time from a historical and current viewpoint.

In what ways does your play celebrate cultural diversity and creativity?

Initially, English was used as a tool to control, intimidate and isolate. Today, the variations of broken English reflect the adaptability and resilience of people from all over the world, whilst the developments and uses of the language from music to scripts, show the dexterity and humble beauty that the English language carries. Arguably, it does not sound as eloquent as some foreign languages, though for me it’s still a juggernaut when it comes to creative expression and cultural diversity. How I portray this in the play has to be seen and experienced, rather than described. 

How does your background influence your creativity and the stories you tell?

My father was a great story-teller and knew loads of Anansi and traditional Caribbean stories by memory. My Mother loves art and introduced me to performing arts and professional Black artists from an early age. Reading books was a huge part of my childhood, now I feel there is a part of me that is meant to tell stories that people enjoy listening to.  

You are multi-talented a poet, creative writer, lecturer, and fashion designer, how do you balance all the different aspects of your work? 

It’s a lifestyle.

Is there anything that you haven’t done that you are interested in pursuing?

Marriage. Producing a professional film/documentary. Being a Millionaire, living abroad. Walking the Red Carpet with my crew or my boo and winning a famous Award.

Tell us about the platform you founded www.poetryhouse.co.uk…

PoetryHouse is a platform for my creative projects and collaborations. The fashion Brand allows visitors to buy sustainable attire without compromising on quality or creativity. It’s my space to share ideas and keep people updated on performances, ventures, and recommendations.

How do poetry and fashion go together, what do you hope to achieve by combining the two?

Poetry is verbal expression, whilst fashion is more visual and lifestyle expression. I offer a fashion option that has elements of individuality, art, expression or culture, whilst staying true to my principles by sourcing Fairtrade material and ensuring everyone involved with the production of the garment is celebrated and treated with integrity.

Can you remember the first poem you wrote and what it was about?

I wrote my first poem when I was about 9. It was about going outside to play with friends and being happy because I had money in my pocket. The first poem I wrote as a young adult was about daydreaming in the sun. 

You were selected as a 2020 Oxford Playhouse Playmaker how do you think being involved with the initiative will develop your skills as a playwright? 

It’s really interesting to work with a dedicated group of people and share ideas, especially as being a writer can be quite isolating. To have a mentor who is a recognised professional, provide support and facilitate classes to get the best out of your writing by developing you as a writer is something that I find really exciting, encouraging and intriguing. Not sure what’s going to happen, but I intend to push myself and my next piece of work may be quite different.

You have also previously won the prestigious emerging artist award from Arcola theatre and have had original works at Camden and Edinburgh festivals with rave reviews, it must feel amazing getting such positive feedback and recognition how do you digest it all?

It is really nice to be recognised by the respective industry. I really enjoy the experience of the performance itself, also the process of developing an idea with a group that grows into a team. Working with such brilliant people from the variety of performers, to coordinators, administrators, technicians, media, support staff and so on, there are so many contributors to a single project being successful, with Edinburgh Fringe I enjoy the whole journey, from the writing in solitude to the culmination of a good after-party when we can all celebrate together.

Goals for 2020

Respective recognition from professionals and peers, capitalise on great opportunities including sharing my work with a larger audience, internationally and regionally. Travel to Asia or Africa and Europe.

What’s next for you?

Broken English [then], the Hands & Words exhibition at the Oxo Gallery in February. It’ll include a display of art, live performances, and a fashion show. Write and produce a show for my third run at Edinburgh Fringe.

Broken English runs at The Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden 20th-22nd January 2020. Further information and to book tickets here


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