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Shake the Dust Festival Finale Review: Southbank Centre, London

Here are just a few thoughts on the Shake the Dust festival and, more specifically, the event I was lucky enough to witness on Thursday, 5th July, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (QEH):

1. With a well balanced mix of humour and sincerity, Charlie Dark and Deborah Stevenson were great hosts from the onset. 

2. The youth poets explored, amongst other issues, sexual abuse, murder and last years’ riots, with not a moment dedicated to folly or irreverence.  Each poem hammered home the fact that to be young in Britain 2012 is an unenviable task.    

3. One such poet was Indigo Williams. Her piece, which begged a female friend to not be a victim of sexual abuse for the rest of her life, was almost too painful to listen to, but was too beautifully constructed and delivered to not listen to.

 4. Kate Tempest deserves all the props she gets. Her performance contained fear, anger, sorrow, arousal, amusement and more, with near flawless delivery, bags of charisma and total commitment behind every word, both in delivery and sentiment.

5. And then Saul Williams performed.  

Words on race and racism, war, the masculine and feminine aspects of ‘God’ and gods, love, hip hop, the solar system and a million other issues were woven together in such fine detail that I am still only at the surface of what his words, both exoteric and esoteric, fully contain within their strands.  

6. A short Q & A and signings / photographs with Williams followed; he greeted every fan with warmth and a complete focus on them and, I am sure, if not for the QEH closing at eleven, Saul would have stayed there all night. 

7. As a youth, I fell in love with spoken word through projects like the Lyricists Lounge album; this is where I heard Williams for the first time.  Around the same time that I heard Saul on that project, I went to my first poetry event.  It was a reading by two very highly rated poets, Lemn Sissay and Dana Bryant, at the wonderful West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.  To say these two moments were culturally significant to me would be an understatement.  So, to witness Williams some fourteen years later was mind blowing.  Secondly,  when I think of how the Yorkshire youth poetry team won Shake the Dust’s poetry slam competition - and that their heat took place at the West Yorkshire Playhouse - I feel a great sense of pride and poignancy.  

8. Why aren’t events like Shake the Dust snapped up by television companies? I do not hate on X Factor, Big Brother, Pop Idol and the like, but there has to be a balance in what these TV channels show.  Would the TV Channels say that there is not enough interest in such ‘niche’ cultural activities? The QEH was sold out, I am sure every other theatre, playhouse and hall that has hosted a Shake the Dust event has been filled, too.  There’s your proof of an audience.  Events like this aren’t commercially viable?  Ticket sales, merchandise sold out after the gig. I rest my case.   

9. Shake the Dust was more enriching and inspiring in it’s few hours than all the mainstream TV and Radio channels will be all year.  Combined. 

10. Props to everyone involved with 'Shake the Dust'.  Amazing.

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