Scourge is a hip hop theater piece which blends the traditions of Afro-Caribbean jazz, spoken word, and contemporary and folkloric movement into a compelling historical narrative tracing the social and diplomatic trajectory of Haiti. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) and Youth Speaks have commissioned poet and spoken-word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph to create Scourge, a full-length work of hip hop theater. Scourge blends the traditions of Afro-Caribbean jazz, spoken word, and hip hop into a compelling historical narrative tracing the social and diplomatic trajectory of Haiti. Bamuthi is joined in his creative process by a dynamic team of artists including 2-time Grammy-nominated Latin Jazz composer John Santos, three youth poets from Youth Speaks, hip hop dance legend Rennie Harris, director Kamilah Forbes, and dramaturg Roberta Uno.
Scourge digs at the root of current cultural tensions through a Homeric lens, using oral poetry and myth as the primary narrative devices. Through a fusion of spoken word, live music and dance, the piece suggests a series of historical factors that led to Haiti’s present-day situation. The work is divided into four parts and jumps between significant markers in Haiti’s past, blurring history with speculation and myth. Through the musical traditions of jazz, gospel, Afro-Haitian spiritual, carnival, soul, and hip hop, Scourge traces the cultural and political connections between Haiti, the United States, Africa, and the other nations of the Caribbean.
Amidst a back drop of political chaos, Haiti celebrated its 200th year as an independent nation in January 2004. This tenure ranks second only to the United States in the post-Columbian “new world.” And yet while the U.S. is clearly the planet’s most powerful nation, Haiti languishes as the poorest country in the hemisphere, plagued by a crumbling infrastructure, political turmoil, and unimaginable debt. How could two countries born of the same revolutionary spirit spiral so dramatically in opposite directions? Drawing from this point of inquiry and inspired by artists ranging from Maya Deren to Katherine Dunham to Ntozake Shange, Scourge advances our dialogue about the historical impulses that have left a great nation far behind its peers. It is the natural progression from Joseph’s last work, wherein he moves from one voice to five, three musicians to ten, and autobiography to allegory.