During this year’s OzAsia Festival, we attended the closing show of In Between Two – a ‘contemporary Asian Australian performance’ brought to us by director Suzanne Chaundy, featuring Australian hip-hop artists Joel Ma and James Mangohig.
The dynamic duo share similar stories of growing up in Australia, both part of multicultural families. Both James and Joel’s fathers are Asian and mothers Australian and their stories detail the hardships they, and their parents, faced at the height of racism in Australia in the 80’s.
The pair took turns sharing their lives with the audience in spoken word, accompanied by the other’s hypnotic background instruments while perfectly timed moving imagery projected behind, captivating the room.
Joel began at the very roots of his family history, detailing the life of his paternal grandmother, Edith, and her adventures that led her to become the hostess of the award-winning nightclub Chequers, and one of the most prominent Asian socialites in Sydney. He later goes on to tell of his parents’ childhoods and their intercultural whirlwind romance that defied every societal expectation at the time. Interweaved with Joel’s monologues, James also told of his family history, beginning with his father, who grew up in the rice fields of the Philippines, and Australian-Dutch mother’s pen pal friendship, which blossomed into love and eventually marriage.
Both went on to relate stories of hardship in their childhoods, with James second-guessing his own belief of God against a very religious father, and Joel battling the difficulty of growing up between two households as a child of divorce. Coupled with the extreme racism and stereotyping they experienced, the only thing that both gave them each solace as well as brought the two of them together was music.
After trying multiple instruments, as soon as he held a bass for the first time, James knew it would be the one to stick and Joel, originally put off by Australian hip-hop, became drawn to the rap and sampling world. Fittingly, their personal and heartfelt stories were broken up with comedy and perfectly timed musical interludes celebrating the one thing they are both so passionate about – hip-hop.
Through the entire performance, never once did we zone out or find ourselves wondering what the time was as both James and Joel were amazing storytellers, gripping us with their every word. There was nothing less than genuine, raw emotion and one can really tell the two were truly in their element when they started playing their music.
With rave reviews like The Music calling In Between Two ‘the best kind of example why a diverse cultural landscape should not only be encouraged in Australian but is essential’, we definitely want to see James and Joel come back for more.
Cover image: www.kryztoff.com