In Between Two.
Written, composed and performed by Joel Ma and James Mangohig. Directed by Suzanne Chaundy. Dramaturges William Yang and Annette Shun Wah. OzAsia Festival. The Space. Adelaide Festival Centre. October 5 and 6 2017
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
|James Mangohig and Joel Ma in In Between Two
From the sound of crackling static, the rasping voice of Pauline Hanson utters her racist bile. Dynamic, charismatic Chinese-Australian hip hop artist, Joel Ma, with musical backing from Filipino-Australian music producer James Mangohig, launches into a beat rocketing rap attack on bigotry. It is the anthem of a new generation of hip hop artists, born of two cultures but staunchly Australian and proudly acknowledging their Chinese and Filipino heritage. Ma’s rhythmic beat is electrifying, ricocheting through one’s consciousness, ridiculing ignorance and assailing prejudice. Articulate, passionate and relentless, the poetry of hip hop salutes the voice of a new generation of artists claiming their identity, saluting their cultural legacy and celebrating diversity. I am immediately blown away by this proud voice of rebellion, ripping away at the veneer of conformity and finding in their music and their poetry a voice for all Australians who have been born and raised between two cultures.
In turn, Ma and Mangohig take centre stage to tell their family history. Ma is the child of a Chinese father and an Australian mother. Mangohig’s father comes from the Philippines and his mother was born in Holland and migrated with her family to Australia. Theirs is the story of a nation enriched by the union of two cultures. But it is also the story of struggle, of personal sacrifice and displacement. It is the story of the clash of cultures and personality. And it is the story of triumph over adversity and the emergence and acceptance of true identity .
With the use of slides of the family, Ma and Mangohig narrate their stories. Personal, honest and engaging in their accounting, and told with affection and humour, they captivate their audience, painting in words, music and hip hop the unique nature of their family background and their lives. Ma recounts the story of his grandmother, and her involvement with the infamous and widely celebrated Sydney club, Chequers, associations with shady businessmen, bankruptcy and her struggle to crawl out of debt and survive. Her son, Daniel married and later divorced Ma’s mother, Patricia, and Ma rebelled against his father and his privilege. In hip hop he found the voice and the music that fueled his passion and inspired his purpose. It is the religion of his tribe.
Mangohig’s story follows not dissimilar lines. His attachment to his grandmother has a profound influence on his life and he too rebels against the strict religious upbringing of his pastor father. His too is a tale of revolution, discovering salvation in his love of music, his talent as a bass player and his allegiance to a new tribe. Married in secret, separated and discarding his belief in God, Mangohig pursued a passion that would see him emerge as a prominent music producer and a nominee for an Aria award.
Underscoring each other’s stories on synth, bass and electric guitar, Ma and Mangohig excite with their inspiring, and delightfully recounted tales of two cultures. The universal quest for identity and ownership becomes a fascinating, absorbing and illuminating secular sermon on multicultural diversity and opportunity. With the guidance of storytellers William Yang and Annette Shun Wah, both uniquely experienced in raising awareness of Australia’s crucible of different cultures, Ma and Mangohig, also assisted by Suzanne Chaundy’s steady and empathetic direction, have found their individual voice to tell a tale that announces through their different cultural experience the similarities that we all share. Its power is in its universal voice and its individual charm.
In Between Two may not beat out the rhythms of universal conversion, but it will raise a powerful and profoundly human voice against racism, sexism, homophobia and intolerance. If it ever appears in your town or city do whatever you need to to get a ticket.