If you’ve ever felt stuck between two groups, both suspicious of you and neither accepting of the other, you may have the slightest indication of what Koko Brown is trying to communicate in WHITE, her solo show about being mixed race in modern Britain.
An eye-opening glimpse into what it means to straddle two worlds.
Brought up in Northwest London by an Irish mother and a Jamaican father, Brown explores the evolution of her mixed identity throughout her life, and dives into the questions she faces every day from both white and black communities: What are you really? Where do you belong?
Brown is clearly accomplished in both music and spoken word, the two dominant mediums of her work. Her creative use of the two live looping stations she has onstage is particularly impressive. Not every lyric fits the rhyme or meter perfectly, but the impression overall is wonderful. The integration of the two mediums is also used to fascinating effect – unlike most “plays with music”, the music more often forms a background or a transition effect into spoken word pieces, rather than the other way around. In addition to beautiful music by Brown, Martha Godfrey’s lighting did amazing things with a very limited festival rig, silhouetting Brown in various combinations of colour and haze matched to the mood of the moment.
Though the performance isn’t immaculately polished, it is clearly heartfelt and alive in a way that transcends the need for perfection. Some of the sections leaned heavily on very millennial language around privilege, and the types Brown may or may not possess as a mixed person and seemed to go over the heads of some of the audience, but the majority was accessible to those with a variety of degrees of knowledge about racial politics and clearly engaged everyone in the room.
As Brown moved through her journey from clinging to a specifically ‘mixed’ identity and her white heritage to a more nuanced understanding of how societal anti-blackness had influenced her thinking and a closer embrace of her blackness, repetitions that seemed strained at the beginning clarified and deepened to carry great meaning to brilliant effect. For those of us from a single racial heritage, Brown’s work is an eye-opening glimpse into what it means to straddle two worlds, and a much needed reminder to look for nuance when we think we see simplicity.