Baba Israel uses a mix of spoken word and hip hop to honor his father’s legacy as an activist and comedian. This is a never before published story about Israel’s performance in dountown Brooklyn.
Baba Israel touched down in Brooklyn around this time last year to do a slew of performances at the BRIC studios in downtown Brooklyn. The performances were part of the overall multimedia exhibition titled The Spinning Wheel. The show touched on a lot of themes including gentrification, protests, and Black Lives Matter which resonated with the crowd. It also touched on local themes which the crowd related to like subway musicians with their pitches and performances on the train. Baba has been working on the concept and show for a very long time and it’s the first time being done in New York City. “To see the show come to fruition is great and bringing it to New York feels like we brought it home” says Baba.
The crowd was multi-generational, but many of the attendees were people Baba knew throughout his life.
“I’m blown away so many people from my life came to the performance. People like Wavy Gravy and people from the Living Theater who worked with my father” says Baba.
The house was packed as the audience watched Baba put on a show which was a mix of hip hop, speeches from his father (Steve Ben Israel), and a little bit of spoken word. Steven was a comedian, performance artist, activist all in one from the 1960s and 1970s. He died of lung cancer in 2012 and was an icon to many in progressive and performance artist circles. On the stage, there were boxes which according to Baba represented the boxes in his father’s room he had to go through after his death. They also served as the projection screen for videos of his dad’s speeches or performances.
As Baba performed, he was accompanied by his partner Yako 440, who handled the music aspect of the show. He talked about his parents and their adventures including their time in Brazil. At that time, his mother was among a group of people being held on drug charges. According to several media outlets, they were in Brazil doing performances protesting the dictatorial regime in the country. Baba’s father had to be snuck out of the country. Baba also discussed his childhood, becoming an adult, and even the role reversal that had taken place between him and his parents. The show ended with a call and response freestyle from Baba, where they would say something they were worried about like world hunger or poverty and he would include that word into his freestyle. Yako said
“We have done the show in the United Kingdom and Norway, but the New York vibe is different. It feels like we landed and to have a gallery in addition to the performance cross-pollinates the ideas and makes the show deeper.”