Spoken Word Performer Koko Brown on Why Political Change May Be a Beautiful By-Product of Her Work

Spoken Word Performer Koko Brown on Why Political Change May Be a Beautiful By-Product of Her Work

Photography: Conor Clarke

Styling: Femi Ayo

Interview by: Bethany Burgoyne

Koko Brown creates experimental pieces of musical performance, resiliently telling her stories through a blend of spoken word and looping sounds. A refreshing new style that stings with painful truths; honesty is Koko's policy. Displaying a multitude of talents and ambitious drive, Reform The Funk asks this young artist about her journey so far.

Where did your journey into theatre start?

I’ve always been in theatre. It’s my little world, I don’t know anything else! Unlike Geography or Maths, I could absorb Drama, the information stuck. I learnt about the whole craft of theatre; shadowing technicians, lighting designers, producers, stage managers, studying straight acting and writing.  Doing that before has helped me now. Being a young, emerging artist, you don’t have a team for lighting, sound and directing, so for the first 6-12 months of my first show, White, it was just me. I’d take what skills I had and put it together. This style of blending spoken word and looping sounds started from questioning how I could make work on my own, it was a massive experiment, and it paid off!  I feel so fortunate to be working in the field I love, it’s really a great privilege to wake up and do this every day.

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Where has the drive and determination that’s got you to this point today stemmed from?

I reckon if you ask anyone who knows me, it’s always been in me. Knowing that if I’m not going to do it, who will? If I’m not going to produce my show for free then who else will, who else will sit up filling in application forms at two in the morning? I am a one woman battle axe, I have to be driven but I also have to know that I can be driven and keep running into walls or I can get a contractor to build a door. I now have a great team of creatives working with me on my next show ‘Grey’. I thoroughly believe the way to get the best work done is to work with people who are better than you. If I'm the best person in the room, I’m in the wrong room.

White and Grey are part of a Triology of shows, where did this idea come from?

I am an associate artist at Oval House and knew on application that I would have two years to create projects. I proposed three different shows about three different subjects. My relationship to being mixed race, mental health and depression, and gender, sexuality and the colour pink. 

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Your shows are all created from autobiographical narratives. Do you draw a line between sharing things that are private and public?

I have a “rule” for the current work that I’m making: that it is true.  Not telling the truth is also great – it's theatre, make it up! But for this specific work I’m making, everything that in the play texts are true experiences, feelings I’ve gone through. I don’t dramatise anything or make anything bigger than it is. It gives me a safety net to say “I’m speaking my truth”. I wonder if I made up characters or dramatised situations in my life for the shows, whether I would feel that safety.

I thoroughly believe the way to get the best work done is to work with people who are better than you. If I’m the best person in the room, I’m in the wrong room.
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There’s a discussion about how art can, or should, be used with activism.  Do you use the word activism to describe your art form?

If someone calls my work a political show or activist work its lovely, it’s not bad being political. But whether I actively do that, I’m not sure. In Grey, I talk about mental health openly. It's important that we talk about black women's mental health and how little help they're getting. It could be seen as an activist thing, I reckon it’s a beautiful by product.

Do you feel your process of working with your own experiences is a form of therapy?

I know some people make work for therapeutic reasons, I don’t in a conscious way. What I do know is that I don’t get triggered and it doesn’t hound me when I recall these memories and do the show again and again and again. I aim to cultivate an environment when people feel protected. I’ll tell my team that I will never share anything that makes me feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Sometimes I do say things bluntly or directly or in a way that shocks people. I’m aware that some people find it hard to hear.

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Have you been given any advice that’s stayed with you?

Your reputation is what people say about you when you're not in the room. And I think that’s really important because I want to make sure if I'm not in the room people will say the exact same thing as if I was in there.

“Your reputation is what people say about you when you're not in the room. And I think that’s really important because I want to make sure if I'm not in the room people will say the exact same thing as if I was in there.”

Follow Koko Brown on Twitter @thekokobrown and Instagram @thekokobrown .

Credits:

Photography: Conor Clarke

Styling: Femi Ayo

Interview by: Bethany Burgoyne

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