Thursday, May 26

Kae Tempest seeks the light | Culture

Kae Tempest, British rap and spoken word figure, at her performance on May 7 in Barcelona.
Kae Tempest, British rap and spoken word figure, at her performance on May 7 in Barcelona.Pep Herrero / ICUB

Aside from her celebrated folkloric rap and praised poetry books, Kae Tempest has been standing in front of the microphone for two decades with applauded shows of spoken word. Everything is part of the same desire to connect with the stranger in front of you, either at parties queer of self-managed spaces or in Louis Vuitton stores located in the most posh neighborhoods of London, in whose working-class periphery it was born 35 years ago. “Reciting poems puts the whole room at the same height,” says Tempest in his recent Connection (Sixth Floor), persisting in ignoring the stellar status it has achieved in recent years: its tickets sell out in a matter of hours and it is forbidden to broadcast images of its shows without the agreement of its representatives.

After a year and a half without stepping on a stage, Tempest managed to get on this Saturday to the auditorium of the Conde Duque Cultural Center, in Madrid, just one day after doing it at the Barcelona Poetry festival. The extreme modesty of his device —an empty stage, a microphone, a blinding spotlight— and of his own poetics contrasts with the emotional, and also political, depth that the verses of Tempest manage to achieve, who defines himself as a non-binary person from the Last summer, which imposes the oulipian exercise of commenting on his work with a language that does not always offer us the tools to do so with the naturalness it deserves.

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In her poetic recital, Tempest took up the verses from her album The Book of Traps and Lessons, released in 2019, when her name was still Kate. This time, without the arrangements of super producer Rick Rubin, which gives them an even greater rawness and power. Two years after being recorded, its stanzas turn into a long narrative poem ahead of the here and now, as if uttered by an insane person spitting lucidity lessons in the rain in a London park. “A parable suitable for the present, where the narrator realizes the darkness that reigns in the world and decides to go to a place of love, tenderness, joy, community and company”, defined Tempest before starting.

Tempest wanders the stage with a childish drama in the best of senses, with which she conveys intelligible feelings even without subtitles

His verses, free and full of invisible caesuras, contain images of biblical breath (prophets, pilgrims, sacred elixirs), but also that dirty realism that the British do so well (beers in the sun, bodies that muddy the water of the bathtub, dates that end without a kiss), the alliterative pyrotechnics of the best hip hop and a borderline dramaturgy with the stand up. Tempest wanders around the stage with an unaffected drama, puerile in the best sense, with which she always manages to convey clear feelings, intelligible even without subtitles, which in her Madrid show shone, incomprehensibly, by their absence. “If you don’t understand every word, don’t worry. I’ll give it an extra dose of heart. We will reach the end together ”, he commiserated at the beginning.

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In the outcome, he had to be right. His show never seems like the memory display of a gifted child reciting the number pi from cover to cover, but rather the tale of a vulnerable being who insists on seeking the light in a sinister world. Bedridden without being able to fall asleep, the narrator finds comfort in the faces of others (Tempest always cites Blake and Jung as references, but there is also Levinas). “There is so much peace on the faces of others. I love the faces of others ”, read his last verses. When reflected in another look, in a disparate but similar iris, one may be able to find, with the mixture of delirium and clairvoyance that his verses give off, the remote and chimerical possibility of starting over.

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