Who is Jamal Gerald?
Before we take our seats, we are anointed with rose water to the sound of melodic chanting and singing led by the warm honey tones of musician/performer Pariss Elektra, an excellent singer, who is accompanied by the hypnotic drumming of musician/performer Azizi Cole. Jamal Gerald kneels down and prostrates himself before the altar of photographs of African -American singers and musicians from soul to rap, hip-hop to R’n’ B. Candles have been lit before their images, as a shrine to Gerald’s favourite African- American artists, Beyonce to Prince.
Although Gerald pays tribute to these artists, he doesn’t take them or himself too seriously. His humour, used to entertain, mock and critique, shines through. Who is Jamal Gerald? Is he a writer, dancer, actor, raconteur, super fan, my spiritual guru? Although he is not my spiritual guru, Gerald’s artistry encompasses all these roles. Idol is the perfect showcase for his talents; yes I know he wrote it so it should be. Gerald is a brilliant raconteur, regaling us with witty anecdotes from his childhood, teenage years and young adulthood. Gerald’s storytelling employs a range of media; song, dance, spoken word, videos and some nudity- which is an essential part of the journey through his life so far- he is only 25. Gerald is funny and irreverent, whilst being respectful, he is critical of organised religion, specifically Catholicism, in a smart and very funny way; I love his one-liners. There are references to his Caribbean heritage, which resonate with me; he humorously, and without malice, highlights the superstitions and spirituality of his Caribbean heritage.
Gerald intelligently references hip-hop and pop culture in ways which are hilarious and serious. He mines his personal experiences and reflects on the careers and lives of black American celebrities, to discuss racism in America and criticise colourism amongst black people, including black gay men. He chooses to use a video of Nina Simone, explaining her need to raise self-awareness amongst black people, to find self-worth, that they-we are the most beautiful people in the world in every sense. The need for her message of valuing ourselves, appears not to have waned. Gerald slams Christianity and Catholicism for their oppression of black people. He seems to hold contradictory views about black celebrities; he admires them for their lyrics, music and talent, but criticises them for not being aware that they are being used as products for the entertainment industry, or as he succinctly states, they are “making money for the massa.” Jamal Gerald powerfully illustrates this when he lists the different record labels founded or co-founded by black artists, but owned by white multi- national companies. Gerald believes Kanye West is guilty, not just for having right wing political views, but for not realising that there is only so much he can do, as a black man in a white world.
Nevertheless it is clear that Gerald is a super fan, who has empowered himself by drawing on the positive elements and sheer enjoyment these black celebrities can bring to people’s lives. These artists should feel honoured that such a talented writer/performer like Gerald, has been inspired by them to be their cheerleader and more importantly, to become an engaging and entertaining story teller who believes in his own self-worth.
Idol is at The Yard Theatre from 11 to 15 February 2020. Idol will tour London, Derby, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Cambridge, Brighton and Leeds from 11 February – 23 May 2020.