By Taylor Kendal
“I’m standing in a boat next to Muhammad Ali, floating down a dark river…”
There are very few opening lines that can invoke such a sense of wonder, confusion and interest in so little time. Yet, these are the inflicted emotions, brought upon by the first words spoken by Omar Musa; rapper, poet and the creator and performer of Since Ali Died. There is an almost eerie yet hypnotic presence on stage, with Musa on his own under a single spotlight, dressed so casually and addressing the audience with such a comfortable ease that it is easy to fall under the spell of his voice.
Using the death of his childhood hero, Muhammad Ali, as a running thread through his piece, Musa creates a world on stage that depicts such raw emotion in an hour that many performers struggle to do in an entire evening’s performance. With his unique style, telling his ‘yarns’ amidst a rap based soundtrack of his own devise, Musa uses his effortless gift to speak to a crowd, invite them in to listen and hang off his every word with such a confidence and a comfort, that it feels like you have been talking for years. It is here that Musa promises the audience, and his vision of Ali, one simple thing; “I will give you everything.” And give us everything he certainly does.
Born and raised in Queanbeyan, New South Wales Malaysian-Australian Musa wastes no time in painting the picture of his youth to the audience. His skilled and vast lexicon, and commanding use of words creates a stunning visual within the darkened space of Fairfax Studio. It is with this practiced, seemingly effortless turn of phrase that we are brought into that little town he knew so well; the sights, sounds and smells of the river where he spent many a day. The audience is brought along as we learn of life in Queanbeyan and the folks that inhabited it; particularly of ‘The Boys’, fighting the teetering edge between being a boy and becoming a man.
It is not an easy feat to be able to own and command the stage all on your own, for an audience that is comprised of such a diverse group of people; but Omar Musa makes it look as easy as walking through a door. The flow of his poetry, whether spoken word or lyrics set to a beat – never in the same style or rhythm as the last – is as smooth as the river he is riding with Muhammad Ali; effortlessly weaving between focus of prose and having a good chuckle and a chat with audience members. Though word and song (accompanied on two duets with the lovely Poppy Zanderigo), Musa tells insights into his home life growing up; a father who held religion as law above all else, a mother who taught him to question everything, and a best mate who once held the same cause as him, but took another direction down the line.
Musa’s charasmatic nature and his powerful delivery of prose delve deep into some heavy topics in quick but seamless succession. The power of religion in his household growing up and his questioning of its existence, falling in love with someone and giving them your all when they don’t quite reciprocate, and the harsh and brutal honesty of racism in Australia, just to name a few. All are handled with a raw and at times painful honesty, but with a smile and quick wit that Musa delivers with brilliance. There is no shame nor hesitation in putting himself completely out there, one hundred percent vulnerable and giving insight into the pains of loss and sorrow and feeling on the edge.
Throughout the performance, Musa speaks in reverence of his idol, Muhammad Ali, and how he found inspiration in a dark time in his youth to follow the teachings of this legend among men. He called Ali a circuit breaker for his people, and how he himself tries to do the same thing for others as Ali did for him. But Musa is much like his hero in many other ways too; his tenacity for what he believes in, sharing his gift and his talents with the world, being light on his feet and have this unbridled love of life and his craft, this master of words is truly something to be experienced.
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