Listen to George Mpanga's heartfelt social commentary on the power of today's inner-city youth
200 years ago the masses could be found swooning over the likes of Keats, Shelley and Byron. Sadly, poets have found themselves somewhat maligned in the modern world, replaced in the nations heart by crumpled rock stars and chiseled actors. George Mpanga, otherwise known as George The Poet, is doing his best to bring a bit of wordplay back into our lives, through his compelling form of performance poetry and the deft social commentary within it. Growing up on an estate in North-West London and educated at the prestigious Kings College, Cambridge – where he graduated last year with a degree in Human, Social and Political Sciences – George’s work covers an impressive scope of subjects pertinent to today’s youth, from teenage parenthood to the British obsession with all things American. Dazed and AllSaints aren’t the only fans – he’s recently scored a BBC Radio 1 sessions and an appearances at The Proms. His EP - The Chicken and the Egg – is out soon.
How important is poetry is the modern world?
George The Poet: “To be honest, it's not as important as other forms of culture. Music, for example, reaches more people, as does film and fashion. Poetry used to be for the more educated and affluent, but myths around privilege are quickly falling out of fashion and consequently it isn't as celebrated as it used to be.”
How did you get involved with street poetry?
George The Poet: “I'm not sure what street poetry is but I've always been a fan of rap. It's a specialist form of poetry which I found more accessible and informative than the poetry we studied in school. But I was always frustrated with the boxes that society puts rap music in, so I rapped without music. Then at 19 I changed the style to become more like spoken word and people started listening.”
Which of your poems are you proudest of?
George The Poet: “That's a hard one but it has to be my poem ‘Baby Father’. It touches on a million things I always wanted to address and I don't think you can listen to it without understanding how fucked up teen pregnancy is.”
What does it mean to you to be selected for AllSaints Manifestos?
George The Poet: “It's perfect. I think popular culture needs agents that are actually about something, and as a leading designer brand, AllSaints is stepping up to the plate with 'Manifestos'. I love their stuff and they seem to like mine.”
Which emerging poets do you admire?
George The Poet: “I rate Kate Tempest highly. She's creative, engaging and unpretentious, and I think that's ‘cos she actually has stuff to say. A lot of people try to force a message but her poetry is clearly an extension of her natural being.”
You've previously said that rappers squander their power to do good, but are there any MCs that you think actually are challenging the status quo?
George The Poet: “To be fair, most rappers challenge the status quo by voicing uncomfortable truths. Over here, Akala has always been a strong presence of cultural and political awareness. Nines, from my part of North West London, can give you a balanced perspective on the realities of social injustice. In the US, artists like Mick Jenkins do the same thing. It's all there, if you're listening to learn and not to judge.”
What advice would you give to burgeoning poets?
George The Poet: “Be you! Don't chase the idea of what you think a poet should be. You'll only be worth listening to when you find things inside yourself that are worth sharing. Same goes for aspiring rappers.”
You run poetry workshops in London - what has teaching others taught you?
George The Poet: “That individuals are probably the richest and most useful resource on the planet. There's so much to learn from people that there's not enough time to learn it. I wish I could use more than 5% of my brain.”
You recently performed as part of the BBC Proms - how was that experience?
George The Poet: “Performing at the Proms was great. I spoke honestly to the kind of audience I don't typically get to speak to, and they received me well. Can't wait to do it again.”
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
George The Poet: “Got my co-headline show with JP Cooper on October 13th at the Scala - you better be there. I've also got an EP coming soon. It's called ‘The Chicken and the Egg’, and I've worked very hard on it. Hope you like!
George will perform at The Scala on October 13, get tickets here.