SLAMbassador Poet Mentor and ex London SLAM Champion Chris Preddie has received his OBE from the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Chris has been a valued member of the SLAMbassador Poet Mentor team since winning the London championships in 2006, and has travelled the UK alongside the Artistic Director and other Poet Mentors like Louise Hill, PACE, Jay Bernard, Naga, Hussain Manawer, SinOne and Kayo Chingonyi, delivering workshops and performances in schools and colleges.
He is a powerful advocate of the spoken word and free speech, and of how words can quite literally change lives. We have all heard now about Chris’s journey from the gangs to youth leadership – but the very little has been written about HOW he affects those who are at risk of being in or are already involved in a gang. Having worked alongside him in workshops and gigs for 6 years I can confidentally tell you that it is through the strength of his poetry and the charisma of each of his perfromances. He makes words seem vital again to a generatuion increasingly estranged from them. He brings each stage alive, whether it is a school canteen, a youth offending unit or live on stage at the Word Cup.
But don’t take my word for it. Come and see him LIVE alongside Dizraeli and the SLAMbassador UK slam finalists on April 1st at the 100 Club, 100 Oxford Street, London 7pm. Want a ticket? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime, read this rather prophetic article written after first performing with Chris in 2006, published in Poetry News:
Chris Preddie Circle of Trust
On the softest part of his right forearm, Cashman has etched an epitaph. A complex black crucifix is haloed by the words Circle of Trust and supported by the date 15/04/03. This is the day his brother was murdered in a Brixton barber’s shop. He shows me this when I ask him why he chooses to write, why I had met him on a cramped and sweating stage in the Rise London-wide Youth Slam Championships quarterfinals last April. He explains that three close family members had been slain in gang executions, each one in April – 2001, 2002 and 2003. When it came to 2004, Cashman shook himself, put down his weapon and picked up a microphone. He figured that the stage might be the safest place to be: a place that allowed him to shed his ‘gangsta’ skin. “Words are my shield, my voice is my weapon”, he says.
And a powerful one it is too. His performance at the northern heats of the slam, his precision rap-poetry, is why I call him for an interview. And it has also led Poet Laureate Andrew Motion to describe him in Time Out as “a genuine new talent”.
Cashman writes from the mouth. His relationship with paper is compromised by dyslexia so he works words like music: “I’m going back to lyrical blues”, he says. “My words are passionately related to music. I want to write poems like Bobby McFarrin sang. I want to make music with the mouth. There is poetry in music and music in poetry.”
Now aged eighteen, he immerses himself in artists like Grandmaster Flash, Ella Fitzgerald, Gil Scott Heron and – refreshingly – Shakespeare. You can’t get much more old school than that. The attraction lies in the way Shakespeare writes for an audience and the layers of meaning in his plays and sonnets.
Two years on from the inked date on his arm, Cashman has become a youth arts worker and dedicates weekends to taking disabled young people away on breaks. He is a valued part of City Hall Outreach Project, and one of thirty emerging artists that make up the London Urban Collective. As a part of the collective he has performed at Carling Academy and MINT in Camden and – as an actor as well as a scribe – stage work is clearly a passion. On the stage he is calm and focussed and, dare I say it, nervously relaxed. This oxymoron is something that most professional performers live with: “I was supposed to go on stage at the MOBO (Music of Black Origin) Awards but when it came down to it I was too shy”, he admits. “Since that day, no matter how I feel, I just get on the stage. Deliver. I don’t want to miss another opportunity”.
In a real sense Cashman writes for his life. Every sentence he spits takes him that little bit further from the streets that stole his brother and cousins. He came close, too close, to joining them. He talks about what he was like at sixteen: “I didn’t know how to channel my energy. I was an angry child. It’s been long. But I write to dig out the hurt inside me, and the more I do it the more I feel released.”
His poem for the Rise Slam is intense, gritty and somehow beautiful. A slight change of rhythm and sentence structuring and it easily becomes a page poem. It tells his story, and sadly the story of hundreds of our young people, both male and female. This genuinely is the ‘Gangsta Rap’ we have heard so much about, and the shock is that it’s real – not self-aggrandising, li’l boy boasts but the true story of a young man fighting for his next breath:
Why his mum put him
Legs wide open
Also on bended knees
Smoking a pipe
What chance has he got?
Thinking of bad thoughts
’Bout going on the block
Eleven years old
To the fins on the street.
Lost in the government system
From 98 block council estates
On the hill where I live
It ain’t good to trust one of ya mates
Just the hustle
Block to the block
Paper gats shanks and rocks
Even the local authorities are letting off shots.
from ‘Insight’ by Cashman (aka Chris Preddie)