13 October, Brighton Up Bar
The art of spoken word is an ancient oral tradition. Over the centuries poetry and music have collided creating an almost transcendental experience that lives beyond the physical realm. Although popular music is ridden with poets, often poetry is reserved for textbooks or to be studied in quiet reading rooms. However, rules are there to be broken and preconceptions do change over time.
Australian poet Luka Lesson is an artist that challenges artistic norms as he embraces full heartedly the art of poetry/spoken word with a live music performance. Lesson has many accolades including winner of the Australian National Poetry Slam in 2011, but his most recent endeavour is the feat of taking on a modern re-telling of Homer’s ancient Greek epic The Odyssey in collaboration with a full orchestra from the Sydney Conservatorium. As if this monumental project isn’t enough, Lesson also recently announced a national tour supported by his musician buddy Kahl Wallis calling it the Living Artifact tour.
In the intimate Brighton Up Bar, a tiny but enthusiastic audience was ready for some moving music and thoughtful messages. Wallis, despite arriving on stage with only his acoustic guitar, got everyone’s attention with his mighty singing voice and moving folk songs. Wallis told his story of growing up in Cairns and Adelaide and having Aboriginal ancestry that he represents proudly. Compositions such as Peace Not War, Freedom Fighter and Children Of The Revolution (which is not a cover of the T-Rex song) are all encompassing of Wallis’ talent in writing soulful protest songs in the vein of Ben Harper and John Butler.
Following Wallis’ moving performance was Lesson opening his set with a solo spoken-word piece and then adding his band to the sonic ingredients of the show. Lesson’s band consisted of drummer Chad Blaster and singer Cat Dominguez Fisher and some very melodic backing soundscapes. This minimal approach actually optimised the performance as it made it easy for the audience to engage in Lesson’s poetry whilst propelling you to stand up and dance while enjoying the music.
Lesson’s music has a hip hop aesthetic, but it also channels his Greek heritage mixed in as samples and beats. Blaster even had the opportunity to exercise a drum solo with an infectious Latin groove in between Lesson’s poems. The singer added vocals with lots of heart and soul especially on the more song-orientated compositions that were featured on Lesson’s album Exit.
As outstanding a wordsmith as Lesson is, he also has a great amount of humility and respect to those who support his work and attend his shows. He spoke about his journey beginning as a rapper and then becoming entranced by poetry. Lesson is not the first poet to come from a hip hop background but he is one of the very few artists in Australia that is professionally writing, recording and performing poems for a living. He told the audience that he is doing what he loves and encouraged us all to pursue what we love. Lesson’s poems have now been included in the national HSC curriculum even though he admitted that he had no interest in poetry when he was in high school.
For the last song of the evening Lesson brought Wallis back on stage to perform a composition they wrote together called Living Artefact. He told The Music the song was “About living cultures and people so often encased behind glass and regarded as ancient primitive coming back to life.” It was a nice composition to end the night with all of the performers together on the stage and giving the audience an opportunity to do some call and response chants. This was the last show of the tour and was dedicated to a personal friend of Lesson’s who is no longer with us on the anniversary of her birthday.
As a musician, writer, performer and genuinely nice guy, Lesson’s art is all about healing and empowering people who are often forgotten and not counted in our political discourse. He carries on this revolutionary tradition of artists who stand up for justice and equality and truly mean every word they say. He channels artists such as Gill Scott-Heron, Bob Marley and Nina Simone in his own individual way, addressing the concerns of today and helping us all to live up to our higher selves.