Word Becomes Flesh is a fluid evening length choreopoem, the latest in a long tradition of narrative verse plays whose contributors range from Shakespeare to Ntozake Shange. Presented as a series of performed letters to his unborn son, the piece uses poetry, dance, live music and visual art to document nine months of pregnancy from a young single father’s perspective.
Unfortunately, our current social condition is such that a man might be ridiculed for walking out on a family, but is not socially condemned for it. While women continue to fight for their right to make choices about their bodies, the elements of patriarchy and male privilege give a man the social right to choose domestic absenteeism, refraining from offering either emotional or financial support. WBF critically, lyrically, and choreographically examines this phenomenon. In the process we confront the intersection of the physical reality and mythology of the black male body from the cotton field to the athletic field to the digital plantation and all spaces in between.
Though it is performed as a solo work by National Poetry Slam Champion Marc Bamuthi Joseph, the fullest breadth of the work is the process of collaboration between the poet and the primary partners on the piece, dancer/choreographer Adia Whitaker, and composers Paris King, Sekou Gibson, and Ajayi Jackson. Bamuthi is hailed by many as the Bay Area’s most passionate and engaging spoken word performer, in large part because of his ability re-define the parameters of the spoken word by punctuating his language with directed and technically proficient dance. Word Becomes Flesh fully showcases the unique crossroads of searing politics, theology, poetry, photography and endless avenues of Black dance, including Tap, Modern, Hip Hop Movement and West African Dance.
The absent father has become a stock type in our modern mythical canon. Joining sambos, bucks, and pickanninies is the post-post modern caricatured experience of African American paternity, commonly referred to as the “baby daddy.” Scholars and social critics have deconstructed the environment that would allow such a social phenomenon to exist and preachers and demagogues berate absent fathers for their behavior, but an essential element of this discourse is the voice of the father himself. This piece attempts to fill this critical void in our musings about the trajectory of Black manhood in America.
Word Becomes Flesh also draws from an observation Bamuthi made while in Bosnia and correlates to a similar circumstance that seems to be pervasive in present day Oakland. While in Mostar, Bamuthi noticed that most social occasions were inclusive of the very young and a host of elders, but there was an entire portion of the population that seemed to be missing: men in their mid 20’s and 30’s. It occurred to him that this was the generation of young boys who went to war a few years earlier and had never come back. Among the collaborating artists, downtown Oakland looks the same way. The proliferation of incarcerated or jobless Black men suggests that the wars on crime, drugs, and education are turning out significant casualties in our community.
Black boys are leaving our social strata shortly after their 18th birthdays, and fewer and fewer are coming back. Witness that of the 100+ homicides recorded in Oakland this year, more than half are black men between 16 and 30. WBF advances from the posng of the rhetorical question which asks how many of those murdered men grew up in the home with their fathersor for that matter, how many of those murdered men were fathers themselves.
Word Becomes Flesh takes a candid, philosophical, and richly textured position on this phenomenon, intelligently addressing the concerns and aesthetic of the hip hop generation without conforming to the two dimensional contours of the mainstream media’s portrait of young black men on the cusp.